This is the second of a two-part column. The first part can be read HERE.
The combine needs to be a way to look at raw physical skills and athletic potential. Rarely will someone need to run a 40-yard dash in a straight line during a game. Or make a vertical leap from a standing position. Or perform consecutive reps on a bench press with weights equaling 225 pounds.
What NFL teams should want are football players. Athletes that have tremendous track records with great film of them playing exceptional football. The graveyard of draft busts is littered with guys who had great combine performances.
College performance and film footage should be the first thing steams look at prior to drafting players. The next thing to look at is character, followed by the combine results, which should just solidify the front office’s thoughts on a player, not create them.
Let’s take a look at a few players who are considered top picks in April’s draft. C.J. Spiller (Clemson RB) was one of the best all-around offensive players in college football, tearing up an underrated ACC this year. His ability to catch passes and return kicks in addition to run the ball effectively makes him a niche player in the mold of a Reggie Bush without the #1 pick price tag and with a better knack for finding holes as a runner. He is considered the top rated running back by Scouts, Inc. and falls somewhere in the top 15 of most everyone’s big board. Spiller goes out to the combine and turns in 4.28 40-yard dash to impress scouts. This should solidify to NFL teams that he has the raw skills to connect to his exceptional performance at Clemson. Should it vault him to the number one pick? Probably not. It probably shouldn’t vault him anywhere. Where he goes will depend on team need and with a lot of teams not looking at running backs early because of the amount available through other means and how of all positions in the NFL, backs break down faster, somewhere in the top 15 is still where he will go.
Now let’s check out Joe Haden, a cornerback from the University of Florida. Haden was a lock down corner for the Gators, a team that was atop the toughest conference in college football, the SEC, while he was in school. He was always matched up against the other team’s best receiver and produced with great ball skills and exceptional tackling ability for a corner. He even blitzes off the corner well for his position. He was widely considered by Scouts, Inc. and others as the best cornerback in a defensive back-heavy draft. He grades out as the next Darrelle Revis and has been projected as a top 10 pick, a top 5 pick by others and should be the first corner off the board in April. Then he comes out to the combine and whiffs on his 40 times, running a 4.57 and a 4.60, not the typical speed of your NFL shutdown corner. So now all the scouts are curious about whether Haden can be what everyone thought he would be in the NFL. Questions of if he may slip down in the draft have been asked and anyone who is anyone says that he must have a good 40 time when Florida hosts scouts on its pro day later this month. Like Spiller, however, the truth about Joe Haden can be seen when watching his film. Haden comes as advertised when you watch him cover the best wideouts in the SEC and it is my belief that he should still be the first corner off the board.
And then there’s Bruce Campbell. No, not the guy from Evil Dead, the offensive lineman from the University of Maryland. Campbell was a mediocre lineman at College Park who wasn’t a full-fledged starter until halfway into the 2008 season, only started 17 games in his college career (only 9 last season), received one vote for the All-ACC Conference team, missed multiple games due to turf toe, underwent minor brain surgery to drain fluid in 2008 and was described by head coach Ralph Friedgen as a player who would go to study hall as opposed to taking the field when spring practices begin. Campbell went to Indy for the combine and tore things up, having the best 40-yard dash time (4.85) amongst offensive lineman, finished sixth in bench press repetitions (34) and fifth in the vertical jump (32 inches). Now he is the buzz name as his physical traits have shot him up the board where Scouts, Inc. currently has him listed at 30th with a grade of 91 out of 100 (remember, the top prospect Suh is a 97). How does this happen? A guy who has an injury history, hasn’t started that long, has not been honored with any collegiate awards, shows a lack of quality work ethic and is slammed by his head coach is a first round pick because of his combine numbers? If my Dolphins take this guy, I’ll be furious.
The combine does way too much in determining the viability of these players. They shouldn’t downgrade athletes who had great college careers like Haden nor upgrade those who had mediocre seasons in school but had great combine workouts like Campbell. Picks should be made based on the team’s needs and how the organization feels a certain player will fit into a system, along with his viability as a contributor.
If Tim Tebow is drafted it will be because someone believes he will make a good NFL player at the quarterback position or somewhere else. Will it be because he had a ridiculous vertical leap for a QB (38.5 inches) or a solid 40-yard dash time (4.7 seconds) at a non-speed position? Hopefully not. Hopefully it will be because someone loved the fire he showed and the desire he has to make it. If a team has faith that he will succeed and if the general manager and coach have job security enough to develop him at the next level, then he will be picked higher and have a job somewhere next year.
Did his combine performance change any of that?
What we need to do is to stop relying on this exhibition of track competitions as a tool for evaluating players who have three or four seasons of work to break down. The NFL and its network have done a great job of having the combine and the free agent period bridge the gap between the Super Bowl and the draft, making it so that we never stop talking about pro football (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
But shouldn’t the best way to judge football player’s value be how he plays. . .I don’t know -FOOTBALL? Let’s judge players based upon on-the-field performance, not on-the-track performance.