The NFL Combine is in the books for 2015, but talk still swirls around it as the NFL is reportedly considering introducing new—or altered—drills in the future.
Nothing is set in stone yet, but the NFL admitted one of the main reasons the drills are run the same way every year is simply because they’ve been run the same way for many years.
Needless to say, tradition alone isn’t the best reason to keep doing things endlessly. If there are better ways to really measure what football players can do, the NFL would be wise to embrace them.
Every year, the most common complaint is that some players are great in shorts and a t-shirt at the Combine, but it doesn’t mean they can play football. Conversely, some players falter at the combine tests, but they absolutely kick it into gear on the field.
One change could be to the ever-popular—or ever-hated, depending on which side of the fence one falls upon—40-yard dash. The 40 gets the most press every year, as players at every single position line up to simply run 40 yards as fast as they possibly can.
The change, according to some, could be altering the distances based on position. How often do lineman really need to run 40 yards? Wouldn’t it make more sense to look at quick explosion over 10 or 15 yards?
At the same time, corners and receivers regularly run more than 40 yards. Perhaps the real test at those positions would be seeing how they stack up going 60 or 70 yards.
If a corner is out of breath after 40 yards and burns out, there’s no way he can cover go routes, no matter how fast he runs the 40.
The goal of all of these changes is to focus more on what makes a football player good. The NFL doesn’t want there to be this divide between players who are good on Sundays and players who are good at the Combine. They want the Combine to accurately show who will be good in games, so teams can make better picks.
Some drills already translate fairly well. The cone drills do test the side-to-side motion that is often more important for players than straight-line speed. The reaction drills, where a coach directs a player with the ball in his hand, do test how well a player can change direction.
What the NFL would be smart to do is to focus more on practice-style drills that try to emulate a game setting. They don’t have to put players out there in full pads to go 11-on-11, of course, and they shouldn’t do any full-contact drills, as the chances of injury are too great. You never want a guy to blow out his ACL at the Combine and tank out of the draft.
However, they could bring in 7-on-7 drills, with or without shoulder pads and helmets. Those would be incredibly more useful than the passing drills the Combine uses now. They would actually force quarterbacks to step back, go through their progressions and make throws into coverage.
They would also test things most other tests can’t grasp, like how well a corner can naturally read a route tree and jump on a route before the receiver even cuts.
Remember, Malcolm Butler was undrafted, but he won the Super Bowl because he read a route, reacted and jumped it. Those are the things NFL teams need to see.