NFL combine - valuable or waste of time?

Every year at this time, NFL prospects descend on Lucas Oil Stadium in what could be called the largest job fair in the sporting world.  This is like speed dating, only you're talking to prospective teams about your future.  There's not only a physical aspect to it (a number of different drills we'll get to in a minute), but there's an interview process.  In 15 minutes, a team has to judge whether or not this prospect deserves a second look.

There's always a lot of buzz around this time.  Frankly, I think it's because everyone's desperate for SOMETHING NFL related, even if they're getting a hamburger instead of a filet.  At any rate, prospects run, jump, shuttle, throw, catch, and run all sorts of drills supposedly designed to give a team's scouting department some information about the player's abilities.  But some slip through the cracks.  For example, DE Vernon Gohlston impressed the hell out of coaches and front office stuff when he attended the 2008 combine.  He's been largely a bust for the Jets.  On the flipside, Wes Welker wasn't even invited to the combine and he turned out to be the best slot/underneath receiver in the game.

More after the jump...

There are a number of interesting stories surrounding this year's combine, but none is creating more buzz than the Tim Tebow saga.  Tebow hasn't opted out of the entire combine; he'll do the agility drills.  What he WON'T be doing is the positional drills.  You know, the ones where he shows what he can do at his position like, I don't know, THROW THE BALL?

Coaches and scouts may rave about the numbers that are posted during a workout, but the essence of the combine is the competition. Team officials want to see how prospects handle the pressure of performing against other top players at their positions. Those who rise to the occasion earn high marks for their championship intangibles (competitiveness and mental toughness), and those traits highly coveted by decision makers seeking to upgrade their franchises.

Part of the reason is Tebow's re-tooling of his throw.  He's been derided for a slow delivery and has been spending time with folks to fix that.  Hmm... I'm not sure it was wise to re-tool weeks before the combine, but I'm just a blogger with an opinion.  He will, however, perform positional drills during his pro day.

I won't dive into every drill (you can find them here), but suffice to say they're meant to give scouts an "empirical" look at a player.  Scores are the "tangibles", the things you can put into a spreadsheet and use to compare 1 player's numbers against another's.  They don't, however, shed any light on the intangibles like football IQ, mental toughness, and maturity.  The interview process attempts to get to those intangibles, but even that can be flawed.  Some people are very good at interviewing but turn out to be duds and some are horrible at it while turning out to be starts.  I think it's a crapshoot, but it's the only crapshoot in town.

I'm not big on the combine because so many college players spend the weeks and months leading up to this event essentially "cramming" for it.  They hire combine trainers, work like crazy at specific drills, and learn how to interview effectively.  In my mind, it's the scholastic equivalent of testing well, but possibly not having any potential at an NFL level.  Unfortunately, it's the best they have to offer.

For Combine coverage, check www.nfl.com/combine.  SB Nation has got you covered, too.  We have "feet in the Lube" with our NFL Combine Diary.

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