One Day at a Time: Too Much Stock in the NFL Combine

J. AlexanderCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2008

NFL organizations take one day of a college player working out, and say it's more important than his entire career. 

One day! 

That's just what they do when it comes to the NFL combine.  

When I watch the NFL draft each year, all I hear is Mel Kiper talking about players' 40 times, or how many times they benched 350, or which guys have 36-inch verticals. 

Frankly, these numbers mean nothing to me.  Unfortunately, NFL GMs don't feel the same way. 

In 2003, Terrell Suggs—undoubtedly the best defensive end in college—dropped all the way to tenth in the draft, because he had a bad combine.  They said he didn't run the 40 fast enough.  Exactly how many times does a defensive end run 40 yards on one play? 

At most, twice a game (once trying to catch a guy breaking a long touchdown run, and maybe once blocking on an interception return). 

Defensive ends run maybe 8 yards on one play.  The 40 time for this position—along with many others—is completely meaningless. 

Baltimore scored huge, converting Suggs to an outside linebacker in his rookie year, where he recorded 12 sacks and one interception on his way to become Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Randy Moss is another story.  The guy dominates his college career at Marshall, has "character issues," and falls all the way to #21, behind Kevin Dyson. Can anyone tell me where Dyson is now?  His combine numbers pushed him all the way up to the 16th pick. 

Jay Cutler, on the other hand, did not put up enormous numbers in college.  In his junior season at Vanderbilt, he threw for under 2,000 yards and just 10 TDs.  His senior was solid, and he threw for over 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. 

But Cutler's draft stock rose primarily due to his bench press repetitions and 40 time at the combine.  Again, how often do QBs run 40 yards?  Once...when they get picked off and have to chase down the defender. 

Cutler, a virtual nonentity for the majority of his college career, skyrocketed to 11th in the draft. 11th!  And how's Cutler doing now?  As Borat would say, Cutler is doing well—[pause]—NOT!

It's almost like a college football player's career is completely disregarded for the sake of one day.  What's worse, the categories measured at the combine have no bearing on how this player will actually fare in the NFL. 

I don't care how fast a guy is, how high he can jump, or how much weight he can press.  I care about what he's actually done on the field in real game situations. 

If two players are of more or less equal skill and have put up similar numbers in college, maybe it's appropriate to look for physical attributes to break the tie—but never should they be the reason to draft someone. 

It's like the SAT or LSAT.  You work your tail off in high school or college, have a great GPA, but that one Saturday you just weren't feeling it.  Oh well, guess you won't get into Harvard after all.  Looks like community college for you.  Four years of hard work and solid grades mean nothing, because for three hours on a Saturday morning at some ungodly hour, you didn't quite perform up to your ability. 

NFL teams, like colleges and graduate schools, should look at the bigger picture.  If a guy led college every year in receiving yards and touchdowns, who cares if his 40 time is 0.2 seconds slower, or that he can only bench 275?  Clearly, the guy has talent. 

I'm not saying the combine has no value, but it should be used compare players of more or less equal talent.  Seeing someone's draft stock either rise or fall dramatically due to one workout is what makes for so many questionable draft choices in football.