Draft

Why don’t top prospects skip NFL combine?

NFL Scouting Combine

I saw this tweet recently by New England Patriots beat writer Doug Kyed.

While that’s probably true, I’ve long believed the NFL Scouting Combine is a waste of time for the top players. (This year’s combine starts Tuesday.)

Now, let me first say that I dominated the NFL combine, so Kyed’s statement doesn’t apply to me. Here were my combine results when I participated in 2013:

  • Bench press: 26 reps at 225 pounds. That was first among wide receivers and three more than the second-place finisher.
  • Vertical jump: 36 inches.
  • Broad jump: 120 inches.
  • Three-cone drill: 6.53 seconds, first among wide receivers.
  • 20-yard shuttle: 3.96 seconds, first among wide receivers.
  • 60-yard shuttle: 10.87 seconds, first among wide receivers and a combine record for he position group at the time. It has since been broken.
  • 40-yard dash: 4.74 seconds. I actually may have been last among the wide receivers, sort of funny considering my other numbers.

The point is this: I finished first in four of the seven drills at the combine, so I have no reason to complain about it because of my results. But that doesn’t change the thoughts I had during the two months that I was training to touch cones and bench-press 225 pounds: How is this going to help me get open against press-man coverage? How is this helping me understand NFL defenses? Why am I practicing a drill for four hours today that couldn’t possibly resemble a pattern I’ll ever run in a game?

Winston

Jameis Winston performed the shuttle drill at the 2015 combine. Yeah, that drill really helped Winston get ready for his rookie season. BRIAN SPURLOCK/USA TODAY SPORTS

I couldn’t get over the fact that all of the current NFL guys that I was going to have to beat out to earn a job were training to be better football players while I was becoming a cone-touching Hall of Famer.

At this point, it’s a foregone conclusion that every player is going to do all of these drills, whether it’s at the combine or his pro day. When a top quarterback decides not to throw at the combine, he is universally criticized for not being a competitor.

Why is that? Specifically for a quarterback, why have we put the teams in charge instead of the player? After all, who is pursuing whom here? Think about it. There are only five or so elite quarterbacks in the NFL today. There are another 10 to 15 that are serviceable. The other 10 to 15 teams are searching for a quarterback that will give them a chance to contend.

If Andrew Luck had decided that he was only going to the combine to get checked out medically, declined to do any testing and only threw at his pro day at Stanford, what would NFL teams have done? Would he really have dropped on draft boards? If so, how far? He’s a guy who was universally considered the No. 1 pick for two years. Would skipping the testing actually have hurt him? We know what we would’ve heard from the draft analysts and NFL personnel: He’s obviously not a competitor and, hey, what does he have to hide?

Well, the first line of defense to that is easy. Throw on the tape and watch just how competitive he is. Whomever the player, if you can’t see competitiveness on tape, that’s where the questioning should start — not because he doesn’t want to run a 20-yard shuttle.

So, what does he have to hide? I view that the same way I would if a police officer pulled me over and wanted to search my car with no probable cause and no warrant. The answer is always “no.” Why? Not because I’m trying to hide anything, but it’s just a waste of my time and I don’t have to. I think the NFL combine is a waste of time for the top prospects. If you’re a first-round guy, why are you going through a four-day combine that’s set up for you to fail? You’re sleep-deprived, mentally drained and expected to go out and have the best physical tests of your life. It makes no sense.

I certainly think the NFL combine serves a purpose. For guys who didn’t have a chance to fully display their skills in college, it’s a great opportunity. The combine should still be held for that reason. But for guys who have spent three or four years putting dominant play on tape and are considered first-rounders, what’s the point?

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