People sometimes bemoan the NFL Combine as pointless — that’s somewhat misguided.
What you must keep in mind, is the combine isn’t the one chance for NFL teams to make all their choices, and it was never intended to be that way. The combine is just there to help coaches answer specific questions, and it does that quite well.
The problem is, fans view the combine as a way to sort everything out. As if they should line up all top WR prospects, have them run the 40-yard-dash and do a few cone drills and then rank them accordingly. As if we can watch some linemen bench press and then pick the guy who did the most reps higher than all of the rest.
People then look at the combine and talk about tape and how you can’t measure intangibles and talent and the ability to play football. And they’re 100 percent right. You can’t measure all of that at the combine, so you have to go to the tape for the vast majority of your research. But anyone who is thinking that NFL coaches aren’t doing that already is looking at it from the wrong perspective.
They live and die by the tape, but the combine lets them address things that tape can’t.
A Question of Speed
For example, there are players whose speed is questioned because they seem to get burned on tape. One of them is Stanford safety Jordan Richards. He’s coachable, tough, a hard hitter and a leader on the field. Those are all things you want in a strong safety.
But there’s one downside that’s been making the rounds in some reports. When he was practicing for the East-West Shrine game, he got burned on a play when he couldn’t keep up. It was an outside run, he couldn’t get there, and it went for a touchdown.
Now, everyone is questioning the kid’s top-end speed and wondering if he’s good enough to play in the NFL. If he can get burned by a RB from South Dakota State, how is he ever going to stay with an NFL back?
This is where the 40-yard-dash comes into play. Yes, it is mostly an overrated drill in the sense that a guy can have lights-out speed and no idea what to do on a football field. But with Richards, the tape already tells you that he knows how to play football and that he’s eager to learn the game.
So getting a reading on his top-end speed is important. It’s the one question that remains, and he can really help his draft stock if he has a good run.
Another place where the combine helps is when teams just don’t have the tape they need. That’s been a big part of the questions surrounding Marcus Mariota.
The guy has insane stats. He’s one of the best Oregon quarterbacks of all time. He barely throws picks, he makes good throws in the system in which he plays, and you can see him dominate. However, that’s Oregon’s system, not an NFL system.
Mariota never goes under center. Can he take a normal snap and use clean footwork in his dropback, or is he going to get tangled up and botch plays? How dependent is he on catching the ball in shotgun, where he doesn’t have to drop and he can make that one quick read?
You can watch all the tape in the world, and you can never know, because tape of him doing that just doesn’t exist.
Again, the combine can get you the answers. It was announced two days ago that he’s going to throw. We have yet to see exactly what that looks like, but hopefully he’ll do a lot from under center, retreating and reading the defense before making a throw.
He’s already going to be a high pick, and we really don’t even need to see him run the 40. We know he’s going to light it up. That’s cool, and he’ll run it and show off that speed, but you knew he was fast from the tape. He needs to use the combine to answer questions about his style.
Get Your List Ready
You can be sure every NFL coach going to the combine has a list. On that list are players and questions. Coaches will focus on specific drills for specific players and fill in the blanks, drawing together all possible information. If you want to get as much as you can out of the combine, get your list ready and know exactly what to look for.