I hate the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins today. It should really be called the NFL Meat Market, as players will be poked, prodded, measured, weighed, questioned and judged in all manner of ways.
Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, most of those ways have nothing to do with the thing that should be the most important characteristic of all. How good of a football player a given prospect is.
To me, the Combine is sort of like meeting a girl on a weekend in Vegas. Or Spring Break in Daytona. Have some fun, flirt with the merchandise, appreciate it for its beauty. Shoot, go ahead and play with it a little bit.
But, for God's sake, DON'T MARRY IT!
That, really, is what an NFL team is doing when it drafts a player and hands him a rich long-term contract. It is a marriage of sorts. The Combine with its 40-yard dash times, bench presses and Wunderlic tests, might tell you about the outer beauty of a prospect.
It is the film, though, and the study of what a player actually shows in game conditions on the field, that shows you the inner beauty, or ugliness. After all, you are marrying what the guy does on Sunday -- not what he does in the weight room or in shorts.
Michael Lombardi of the National Football Post looks at the obsession with the 40-yard dash, and concludes -- as I have been trying to say -- that a player's 40 time is hardly the most important factor.
Running a 40 without pads is great, but playing fast with pads on is what makes an NFL player.
I remember working for the 49ers in 1986 when a pass-rushing specialist named Tim Harris from Memphis State could not run a 40 below 5.0. We were in search of a pass rusher and loved the way Harris played, but we worried that he was not going to be able to translate his skills to the NFL. Harris had enough skills to beat the tackles he faced, but Memphis was not the SEC, so he had to be projected to the next level and with a bad 40 time that made it difficult. I raked some serious frequent-flier miles going to Memphis that year but could never get Harris to run faster than 5.10 on grass, which made us pass on him and select Charles Haley instead. It worked out well, but Harris was a great pro and eventually ended up playing for the 49ers. The moral of this story is very simple: Trust your eyes from watching tape, not the 40 time.
So once the combine begins, teams must always think about game speed -- not necessarily the track events on the field.
That said, I know many of you are intensely (a little TOO intensely?) interested in what happens between now and next Tuesday in Indianapolis. So, I will do what I can to keep you updated.
The best place for Scouting Combine info? Right here at SB Nation. There are five SB Nation bloggers in Indianapolis covering the Combine from every imaginable angle. Mocking The Draft has launched a Combine Page, where you will find links each day to all of the extraordinary work being done by network bloggers. Be sure to check it every day during the Combine.
The NFL also has a Combine Page of its own where you can find the schedule of events and loads of other helpful information.