2012 NFL Draft: 5 Reasons Pro Days Aren't as Important as You Think
Plane tickets? Check. Hotel reservations? Check. Per diem? Check.
Fire up the stop watches, keep your lunch receipts and fill out your expense reports, because the 2012 NFL Draft's pro day schedule is now fully underway.
I am usually never one to argue with the process. There are folks out there that believe the combine has no importance, All-Star practices are overrated and pro days are all but useless.
I am not about to try and reinvent the wheel into a newer, rounder, wheel-ier wheel just to sound like the smartest guy in the room. I have respect for the process. I have respect for the money and time that goes into the process.
That said, sometimes it's good to step back, take in some perspective and maybe even laugh at yourself a little bit.
The annual Hooters-and-Holiday-Inn circuit provides as good occasion to do this as any.
Here we will take a look at the top five reasons why pro days are not quite the end-all, be-all that some would make of them.
Throwing vs. Air
Quarterbacks are always the headliners at every stage of the process. The pro day schedule is no exception. Everyone wants to know how top-level quarterbacks performed throwing footballs into imaginary coverage with pretend pass-rushers buzzing their ear.
The pro days of top-level quarterbacks tend to be extremely scripted and rehearsed affairs. They throw to familiar players, making throws they have practiced with their professional quarterback coach specialists, with no defensive backs in coverage, no decision-making process to speak of and certainly no pass rush to think about.
One could easily argue that this is a giant waste of everyone's time.
Tim Tebow can show off a shortened delivery during a pro day in which he has neither reads nor pass rush, but get him into actual game conditions and he quickly reverts back to drawing that ball off his hip like the six-gun star of a Spaghetti Western.
Nothing makes me grimace more than reading pro day reports, even those from someone as legendary as Gil Brandt himself, discussing how very few throws went uncaught, and how this may or may not have been the best quarterback throwing session we have ever witnessed.
You mean so-and-so ran a whole tenth of a second faster at his pro day today than he did at the NFL Scouting Combine?
Is it the shoes? Did he remember to eat his Wheaties? Does gravity work differently in Fayetteville, Arkansas, as opposed to Indianapolis, Indiana?
I have my druthers about "official" 40-times at the combine. There's nothing official about them and they're often really off from what the scouting community puts on file. However, when I see a player like Arkansas wide receiver Greg Childs go from a 4.55-second "official" result in the 40-yard dash at the combine to a 4.40-second result in his pro day, I tend to get a little skeptical.
Notice the surface in the picture above.
Whereas the Indianapolis combine at least attempts to develop standards and practices that make 40-times comparable with one another, pro days are held on a hodge-podge of different surfaces with different practices, indoor and outdoor weather, wind conditions, etc. Every minor difference can affect the measurements by quite a bit.
Differences in the standards do not just apply to the 40-yard dash. I have heard suggestions that different sized cones can affect cone drill times, and that the lack of standardization in the calibration of vertex equipment can affect vertical jump results.
One year, I was able to show with near 100 percent statistical significance that the practices of the folks calibrating the vertex equipment at the combine had changed to the point where vertical jumps were, across all weight classes, about 3.5 inches shorter than in previous years. A whole slew of players attended their pro days and jumped on average, you guessed it, between three and four inches higher than they had at the combine.
That is just an example of the kinds of differences imaginable if the standards and practices at these pro days, conducted at different times, by different people, in different areas of the country, do not remain uniform and consistent.
The running surface topic is an issue of particular difficulty. Scouts have developed a rudimentary system of adjustments based on surface and wind. At some point, when you see people splitting hairs over draft prospects based on differences of roughly 0.05 seconds, these sorts of arbitrary alterations to totally non-standardized 40-times must be kept in mind.
The fact that NFL free agency begins right in the middle of the pro-day circuit, in my mind, calls into question a little bit the importance of these pro days.
At the NFL Combine, every general manager and just about every NFL head coach can be found watching attentively and monitoring performances.
Yet at college pro days, these high-level decision-makers are forced to remain absent even from workouts of interest, because they must host free-agent visits and figure out free-agent strategy back home.
This calls into question how important pro day workouts are in a team's scouting process.
This is a tricky subject. Counter-intelligence is a big part of every draft cycle. Teams lie to the press about their evaluations of certain players.They invite players for private workouts and private interviews that they have no intention of drafting.
The bottom line is, teams do not want other teams to know exactly who they are aiming to draft.
This can bleed into pro day attendance, as you may see teams that are totally unrepresented at a player's pro day end up drafting him come April. The fact that this can happen shows that these pro-day workouts really cannot be an integral portion of a player's draft grade.
The final reason why pro days are not quite as important as some people think, when it comes to the total evaluation process, is just the simple fact that teams can invite select players they really need to see work out to their own facilities to engage in workouts that are controlled by the team, rather than scripted by members of the player's entourage.
There is an element of counter-intelligence that must be reckoned with when it comes to the list of players teams invite for private workouts. However, if a pro-day type workout is really important in teams' evaluation process for certain players, surely they would prefer to conduct it in an environment that is more directly under their control.