On the combine

It’s February, which means that the ‘unwatchable’ period of football has begun.  It starts with the NFL combine and then we get to the NFL draft–two of the most sleep-inducing events in sports–before the onslaught of (mostly meaningless) spring ball sessions arrive.  Then there’s the summer camp period and events like the Elite 11 camp, which are overhyped and primarily serve the industry of self-appointed experts who make money off the hopes and dreams of aspiring recruits. 

But back to the combine.  Why anyone would want to sit around and watch players do drills is beyond me.  The coverage of the event has this weird suspension of disbelief surrounding it.  First off, the talking heads sit around and act like they aren’t sure how fast certain players are. 

Take C.J. Spiller.  He’s run 10.22 in the 100 meters.  There’s really no need for him to run a 40-yard dash, as you can’t physically run 10.22 without being able to run 4.3 in the 40.  Nevertheless, they line him up anyway. 

Now, the thing with the 40 at the combine is that the guys are supposed to be electronically timed.  However, every coach and scout is still there with a stopwatch.  Why, praytell, if there is an electronic timer, is there a need for a hand time?  The NFL network will dutifully report the ‘unofficial’ times from the stopwatches.  But why report potentially faulty data at all? 

The other factor is that these 40 times are run under ideal conditions.  Most of these players have been training for the last two months–eating perfectly, getting enough sleep, drinking water, lifting the perfect amount of weight, working on every facet of their starts with a sprint coach and so on and so forth.  The situation in which they run these 40s will never again be replicated.  Once they are on a team, they will go back to their regular routine and will revert back to their normal speed.  Yet, the NFL acts like these guys really run this fast all the time.  These 40s give scouts and general managers plausible deniability if the player doesn’t pan out.  “Well, he ran a 4.3…it wasn’t our fault he failed.  We did our due diligence.”

That said, I think this draft class will go down as one of the best ever.  The running back group alone is filled with so many quality players.  I’m looking forward to seeing all these guys play at the next level.  And I don’t need the combine to tell me how good they are.

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Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of Heismanpundit.com, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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10 Responses to On the combine

  1. Roby March 1, 2010 at 12:08 am #

    I am with you. What can you really learn in a week’s worth of non-football drills that you can’t learn from watching four years of game film? It’s ridiculous

  2. JMB March 1, 2010 at 9:29 am #

    Remember how Malcolm Jenkins’ 40 time was supposedly a big red flag going into the draft on his ability to be an elite NFL player?

    Well he looked plenty fast in the Super Bowl…

  3. Glen March 1, 2010 at 11:06 am #

    I do agree that a certain amount of insanity gets generated around these combines. I don’t think the smartest GMs pay nearly as much attention to it as the media does. (For example, look at Andre Smith last year – from media accounts of the combine, you’d think he’d never play football again, yet the Bengals took him with the 6th pick.)

    However, I will pick one bone on the 40 times vs 100 times. They measure different things. The 40 is more important for football because it measures acceleration much more than the 100 does.

    Example: Usain Bolt is known as a slow starter. His 40 time would not blow you away. He makes up for it on the 100 with some pretty incredible speed at the top end, but it’s rare that a guy gets a chance to get up to top speed with a football in his hand. If you only saw his 100 time you might wind up getting disappointed by his football speed, so the 40 time would be valuable new information.

  4. HP March 2, 2010 at 1:11 am #

    Glen, the 100 and 40 are two different races. The big difference between the two are that the 100 utilizes relatively uniform timing, surfaces, wind readings and apparel. The 40 is not a race, but an unofficial measurement of runners who run on difference surfaces with different shoes and who are timed with the faulty human thumb on a stopwatch more often than not. Therefore, the 100 is more accurate. That said, if Bolt decided to run a fast 40, instead of training for the 100, he would run a 4.0, most likely.

  5. Glen March 2, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    Aren’t the combine times electronic? I think they are.

    As for non-electronic times, I would either totally ignore them or add about .25.

  6. JMB March 2, 2010 at 12:50 pm #

    Why has it become accepted wisdom that the 40 yard dash is the best measurement of “football speed”? How many football plays even go for more than 40 yards of distance traveled for the players? It would seem that things like a “15 yard dash” or “20 yard dash” would be much better measurements of ability to explode on to the ball or pursue players in on-field conditions.

  7. AUman76 March 4, 2010 at 12:17 am #

    the problem with the combine and any other camp like it is it has nothin to do with football. Lot’s of guys can run fast 40’s and jump high but that doesn’t make em all good football players. All I care about is how well did they fair against all levels of competition. The game is played on the field not some damn stat chart.
    The combine is one big reason for so many bad draft decisions that lead to the waste of big bucks on unproven kids. They make millions before proving they can even play at the NFL level while vets are cut to make cap room for snotty nosed youngins.
    They all should start out at a preset rookie salary and earn the big bucks by doin the right things on and off the field.
    All these training camps help to keep a guy in playin shape year round but it also causes a lot of extra and unnecessary wear and tear. They over train these days and it’s shortening careers. The damn preseason is for gettin in shape and learnin any updates in the playbook. Funny thing about all the extra training is…..the fatass linemen still seem to have the longest tenures. So much for six packs, huh? But then again everyone knows a big ‘ol round keg goes much farther. lol

  8. starkweather March 6, 2010 at 12:03 pm #

    I think the combine gets a bad rap because of the idiocy of the media coverage but it is entirely useful. The 40 times and the bench presses and the jumps give a different dimension to the film study that is the true basis of modern player scouting. If you watch somebody running around and past defenders (adjust for whatever position the player is) you might think he’s incredibly fast but then you look at his 40 times in relation to other players at his position and you begin to understand that he’s not the fastest guy in the country he was playing against slower competition. It works the other way, too. If someone from the Big 10 runs a fast 40 time, it’s shock (har har).

    The combine also shows what kind of mentality you’re dealing with. It’s like any job interview you ro I would go on. You might be able to do the job in your sleep but you really should peacock it if you want the job because your potential employer wants to see that. As for the mental tests and interviews and all that other seeming silliness, I’ll even defend that to a degree. How you deal with the people on the team is going to make a difference.

    As a side note to all of this, Usain Bolt might be a slow starter in the insanely rarefied air in which he competes but I’m pretty sure he could blow away any 40 time in this year’s combine without any intense preparation. Is it different? Yes. Is he so insanely fast that he could even out that difference without any real help? Absolutely. The fastest 40 time in combine history was run by Bo Jackson who notably did not have any “combine coaching” and was more or less coming straight from a track to the combine. I don’t have the records in front of me but I’m pretty sure the SEC didn’t have any 40-yard sprints in their meets back then.

  9. starkweather March 6, 2010 at 12:04 pm #

    damned typos!

  10. starkweather March 6, 2010 at 12:10 pm #

    Oh, another thing that ruins the combine is that it used to be a screen Mel Kiper would throw out there to cover the asses of his insider contacts (“I knew this guy would get drafted in this range because of his awesome combine!”) and now that he’s losing a little of that insider edge the reliance on combine statistics seems a little more superfluous.