Greetings Big Blue View,
As you may know, the combine is only a few days away, so for those of you that don't know too much about it or want my opinion on just how much of an impact it really has on draft stock, here we are:
The combine. It's touted as the last chance for scouts to look at players and a chance to cement picks in. It can single handedly sell a player to a team because of their physical prowess and impressive interview taking skills.
I think that's a load of bull. Let's take a look at the drills and what they are supposed to measure, and what kind of impact I think the combine actually has.
40 yd dash: Obviously the star of the show, and one where the most attention is given to. And why not? The league is predicated on speed more now than ever. It has no place for slow moving dinosaurs. Not only does this measure top speed, but also measures acceleration. Players are timed at 10, 20, and 40 seconds, and the differences in velocity and acceleration are measured. This is supposed to simulate the closing speed of a defensive back if he blows a coverage and needs to play catch up, or the explosive speed of a runner trying to get away from said defensive back.
Shuttle and 3 Cone Drill: Of course pure speed doesn't mean much (unless you're Al Davis). This is a measure of agility. By agility, I mean, how fluid are one's cuts. Is the lateral movement smooth and crisp, or does the player have to round off his turns? I'm a little skeptical of alot of these drills, but I'm a believer in this one. You can tell if a WR will have trouble running routes or if a running back has dynamic cut back ability with this drill.
Bench Press: The 2nd most "important" measurable. What is speed without strength? These days, even punters and kickers are jacked as hell. Long gone are the days of pot bellied slobs (unless your Terrence Cody or Andre Smith). The weight (225 lbs) is supposed to be a measure of how it'd be like pushing the average NFL player. The number of reps is indicative of stamina and power (power being how much force one can exert over a period of time). This is the premier exercise for assessing upper body strength and therefore an indicator of how powerful the first push is for both offensive and defensive linemen. Also a measure of how easily a player can shed blocks or break upper body tackles.
Vertical Jump: All about lower body explosiveness. Without using any momentum, players jump from being completely still. Is an accurate measure of acceleration potential.
Broad Jump: Similar to the vertical jump, but this measures lower body power and involves more muscles. Having just taken anatomy, the different muscles needed to push a still body forward is a pretty accurate measure of how strong the lower body is, which is an important characteristic for offensive linemen. It can show scouts whether you can blow back the defensive line and drive would-be blockers for the running game.
Position Specific Drills: Not going to go over individual position drills just 'cause I don't want to write a novel, and its fairly obvious what scouts are looking for. Technique. For WRs, that means route running and ball-catching (pause). For Offensive linemen, its about positioning and stance. Defensive line, its about the arsenal of moves and power. Defensive backs, its about closing speed and play recognition. Quarterbacks, its about going down and completing the route tree.
Now that that's out of the way, how much does this actually affect team decision-making on that fateful day(s) in April?
I'm willing to wager not as much as it's sold to be. These drills and interviews are under a controlled setting. No one can really know a player's mentality from a prepared interview. Prospects have been trained to say the right thing. They perform these in uncomfortably tight shirts and shorts, not pads. Hell, I could look sexy in those, but I would run away from Ray Lewis, soiling myself in the process, once I stepped onto the turf. As we all know, game speed is totally different beast. The combine cannot measure motor, aggression, and drive. Game tape is much more useful for these intangibles.
The biggest impact that the Combine has, I think, is the power to eliminate potential draft picks for teams, depending on what they look for:
If a player bombs a position or relatable general drill, it hurts. For example, A cornerback doesn't need to run a 4.3 40 if they've got the coverage skills of Nnamdi Asomugha. Chances are if you do have that, you won't have to play alot of catch up in the first place. However, a cornerback that runs a 4.8 is concerning. Teams that place a premium on athleticism, like the Giants, can eliminate or downgrade many of these players from their boards.
Character issues can also factor in. Teams which place a premium on work ethic and character, will eliminate players that fail drug tests or bomb interviews. This can go a long way in predicting how a player will react when they get their first payday and if they really have the drive to succeed. I mean come on, you know that you will be drug tested for the combine, which is a chance to shine and impress. If you fail that, it could point to drug issues, complacency, and lack of discipline. Good interviews don't necessarily help you, but you can be damn sure that bad interviews will hurt you.
Also, looking at measurables, if a player looks like they've gained weight (and not in a good way) or has a decline in performance, it could point to similar character concerns.
The biggest positive impact that the combine can have is more so for the players slotted to be free agents or in the later rounds. If they can put out some great tangible numbers, teams will take fliers on them simply because the combine is good for assessing potential. Also, if a player has an INSANE workout, that will probably provide the biggest boost. The best example this year is Dontay Moch, which has rumors swirling that he can run a 4.25 as a linebacker. That is ridiculous. If he can prove that, there will be a team that will look past his marginal (relative to other linebackers) tape simply because of his potential.
As far the combine goes for the early round prospects, if nothing spectacular happens, one can expect a shift of only a few spots either way. That's the reason why many players with high round grades do so little. The potential to mess something up is too great to risk moving up only a few spots.
Therefore, as fun as the combine might be, the potential of it lies in hurting player stock more than helping and is not nearly as important as many make it out to be.