The Underwear Olympics, otherwise known as the NFL Combine, gets underway on Friday. As always, there will be plenty of players who will see their stock rise and plenty who see it fall.
If you are one of those who watch every rep of every drill the combine has to offer, I’d like to offer a word of warning: don’t get too high or low on prospective draftees.
There is a huge difference between the skills being evaluated in this controlled environment and say, rookie mini camps, training camp, and of course NFL Sundays.
More than 300 collegiate players will be trying out in front of officials from the NFL’s 32 teams. One front office member might see one thing, while another dozen will see something completely different of the same player.
In a 2016 study titled Does the NFL Combine Really Matter? by Paul Park of the University of California at Berkeley the conclusions after tedious hours of research were truly informative.
It definitely comes as a surprise that most of the Combine results lack any prediction power for neither draft order nor NFL performance. Raw athleticism may not be as important as people make it to be at the professional level.
Frankly, every player who has made it to the NFL probably has enough of athletic potential to become an elite player. After that, work ethic, motivation, and attitude are what it takes to really dazzle. Moreover, players will all those values are quite likely to stand out even in their college years, and one’s true talent should really reveal itself in a football field rather than at the Combine, especially when there are many other factors that can test one’s mental strength such as weather issues and crowd noise.
Since they are already considered top prospects long before the actual draft, that clarifies why many players who do not perform exceptionally well in the Combine still get drafted early and proceed to have decorated professional career. There will be special cases of course.
We were able to verify one of them which showed that those who are in running back position show a fairly reasonable linear relationship between their speed, power and NFL performance. Extended research utilizing more data including position specific Combine drills and college statistics could deliver more accurate prediction of NFL performance for all positions. As for building a statistical model from data used in this study, it was actively disappointing, and often times, a mixture of various techniques had to be conducted just to make sure that we were not making up stories.
Only after more research has been conducted better conclusions can be made.
There will always be players who stun organizations with their performances in one or several of the six major workout drills, but several former front office members say they get more out of their 15-minute interviews with the prospective draftees.
In a job interview setting, these players are asked questions that run the gamut of topics. They may be drilled in a review of their college tape, they could be asked ridiculous questions of what they prefer to drink or do in non-football time, and everything in between.
“You are trying to match what you know about the player — his measurables, his statistics and what validated him as a football player on tape — with the person, the face, the personality,” said Reese’s Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage from 2005 to 2008 to the Sporting News Alex Marvez. “You want to marry those two together and say, ‘This is a package we want to try and draft once late April rolls around.’
Closer to home, for the Ravens the interview portion of the combine is one of the most important aspects. The organization likes to to test a prospect’s love of the game, determination, willingness to study, address off-the-field issues and generally see them under pressure. That is more important to them than running around in shorts.
So as you are longing for NFL action over the weekend, enjoy the combine for what it is – entertainment for those of us desperate for some pigskin.
But remember to not get too wrapped up in the hype of a huge vertical leap or lightning-fast 40 time.
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