NFL Combine: The Greatest Non-Event in Sports?

49ersdraft_mediumAh, the annual cattle call. What's not to love about the NFL Scouting Combine? I mean, there's nothing better than watching men run around in skin tight spandex shorts, right......right? Like the Winter Meetings for baseball fans, much is promised at this yearly summit, but much more is written about what might happen, than what actually happens. We all know the most important part of scouting a football player is if he's got a "good bubble". Am I the only one disturbed by how some of these NFL prospect profiles read?

In fact, these young men who participate in the Combine are more likely to hurt their stock than help it. It's no wonder the top Draft prospects don't do anything aside from weigh in and conduct interviews. In many cases, the best a prospect can hope for is to force teams to go back and watch more film. If you're already a top 10 prospect, that's the last thing you want teams to do. Thank goodness scouts are taking more stock in how they see players perform on the field rather than their computer numbers. You see, the eye in the sky never lies.

Take it from San Francisco 49ers area scout Ethan Waugh,

As soon as we are done watching film on a player, we put his name up on our board based on where we think we would select him in the Draft. In most cases, players do not move up and down very far on our board based on things that occur after these meetings. The Combine and pro timing days give us a better understanding of a prospect’s measured athleticism, medical background and his personality, but the most important thing is how well a player performs on film.

This is a common statement from NFL personnel people, even if it's not always the case. If the 49er brass hold true to Waugh's quote, it's a good thing, considering the biggest mistakes made on draft day are on players who measure in with great 40 times or big arm strength. So why the big deal about the Combine? Sure it's nice to see how high a guy jumps or how many times he can bench press 225 lbs. But what scouts are really looking for is a reinforcement of what they see on film. If a guy looks fast on film, they want to see a fast time. When Darren McFadden can't turn the corner on Patrick Willis on film, then Willis runs a 4.4 at the Combine, it all makes sense. When Kyle Boller can throw a ball through the goal posts from the 50 yd line from his knees, but can't hit the broad side of a barn on film, there should be a red flag.

It's been said that the NFL Combine acts as final exam and job interview all-in-one for these college athletes. That second part goes relatively unnoticed. It's the one aspect that you, I or TV cameras are never privy to, and it's probably the most important--interviews and medical exams. There's nothing like looking a man in the eye and seeing what he's all about, face to face. If a prospect blows it, that team might take him completely off their board. No bad habits, old cohorts, arrests, convictions, skeletons in closets, grandpa's hysterectomy, ex-girlfriends, parking tickets, candy stolen from babies,  arthritic knees or facebook photos will go unnoticed.

So, this weekend, when you're undoubtedly watching 24 hour coverage of the Combine on NFL Network, as I will be--remember, the most important stuff, you won't even get a chance to see.

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