Have Pro Days Become Too Much of a Circus?

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterApril 2, 2014

AP Images

The NFL world was watching on April 2 as defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, edge-rusher Chaz Sutton and, oh yeah, some guy named Clowney did some position drills.

Warm sun beat down on Williams-Brice Stadium, testing the stamina not only of Clowney, Sutton and Quarles, but the horde of assembled media as well:

Detroit Lions assistant defensive line coach Jim Washburn headed up a committee of coaches putting the players through their paces. From broad-jumping seven workout bags to picking up and dropping tennis balls while running really fast in a circle, Clowney and others participated in a series of drills whose football value was apparent only to the true evaluators in the crowd.

NFL Network and ESPN both covered the drills with breathless live analysis. As Clowney proved himself not only bigger, faster and more explosive than his teammates, he also appeared much fresher much later into the workout period.

Starting just minutes into the broadcast, NFL Network's Mike Mayock started repeatedly saying he was "done" or "ready go to home now," satisfied Clowney's the real deal.

This begs two questions: What was he doing there to begin with, and why were we watching?


The NFL Circus

According to Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union, all 32 NFL teams attended the University of South Carolina's pro day.

Mary Ann Chastain

Sure, some may have been there to check out Quarles, whom NFL.com projects to go in "Rounds 3-4," Sutton, or any of several other Gamecocks working out. But Clowney was the undisputed star of the show, and teams sent massive contingents of scouts, coaches and executives to catch his act.

But how many of those really need to be there? How many of them saw anything Clowney hadn't already shown many times on tape and at the combine? Why bother flying so many pairs of eyes out to watch a limited, controlled workout?

The answer, according to almost anyone you ask, is due diligence. But let's be real: How much diligence is due from any of the teams outside the top few picks in the draft? How likely are any of those teams to draft Clowney? How likely is it that Clowney running bag drills is going to convince them to make the call to trade up to the top of the draft or hang up the phone?

As San Francisco Chronicle reporter Vic Tafur (jokingly?) tweeted when asked about the Raiders' presence at Johnny Manziel's pro day, "big steak & line dancing" may have been as alluring to the Raiders staff as Manziel.

Is this more about taking junkets on the company dime than evaluation?


The Media Circus

What's even harder to figure out is the media's growing obsession with pro day workouts.

Combine-measured 40-yard dash times are sketchy enough—but at least they're done in an apples-to-apples way, at the same time in the same stadium with the same timers and scouts watching. How much stock can be put on pro day numbers? For quarterbacks, how much stock can be put in drills designed to make them look good?

Any team that has watched a prospect's film, college all-star game performances and combine workouts and still has questions can arrange for a private workout, where it can really put him through his paces.

It's hard to imagine anything that happens on a pro day moving prospects significantly up or down many teams' draft boards.

That doesn't stop media from turning out in droves, streaming the workouts and analysis to thousands of eager draftniks, or from driving day after day of news coverage with reaction to the results.

That would all be fine; NFL fans wanting to be more knowledgeable about the game is always a good thing.

But, with all due respect to President George H.W. Bush, this is silliness:

What are a former president, first lady and their dog doing at a pro day?

Somehow, a pure football exercise has turned into yet another personality-driven, made-for-television, see-and-be-seen event.

Whatever value it has for NFL decision-makers gets diluted by the circus act. As the Houston Chronicle's Brian T. Smith wrote, Manziel's outfit, music, adoring crowd and on-field props turned his workout into a "sideshow," in the eyes of Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.

Pro days aren't great entertainment, either: Regular fans must be hard-pressed to figure out why they snuck time away from work to watch Clowney run in circles and play with tennis balls.

Maybe, for once, the NFL-watching world needs to avert their eyes.