NFL Scouting Combine: There is no ‘perfect’ evaluation tool

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 02: USC running back Ronald Jones II runs the 40-yard dash during the 2018 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 2, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 02: USC running back Ronald Jones II runs the 40-yard dash during the 2018 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 2, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

The Scouting Combine is an annual event that the Detroit Lions and the rest of the NFL use to evaluate draft talent. But how accurate is it really??

The 2018 version of the NFL Combine is in high gear. Which of course means that representatives from every team in the league, including our very own Detroit Lions, are there.

Players from schools all over the country have migrated to Indianapolis so they can be poked, prodded and asked questions that will do no more than give you a headache if you try to figure out what they are supposed to mean.

It is the annual NFL meat market. Players are tested in the classroom and on the field. Those who do well see their stock rise. Those who stumble watch it fall and those that are predicted to be the cream of the crop, will either participate in only a small portion of the events or outright pass on it.

As we see the scouts, general managers and coaches furiously scribbling down notes and liberally using their stop-watches, one would have to think that the NFL Combine is the perfect science.

Yet, the truth of the matter is that while the combine is an important tool for the evaluation of athletes, it is not the end all be all. At least not like the NFL would like to have us believe.

Any general manager or scout will tell you that there is no ‘perfect’ evaluation tool. Players can come to Indianapolis and show amazing speed, strength or agility, but how many of those work out wonders turned into busts when they actually arrived to the NFL?

For anyone to properly understand the real importance of the NFL Combine, let’s use an example. Let’s say the Lions were very interested in the corner back position and had three players that they are scouting at the combine. Player one shows decent athleticism with a modest 40 yard dash time, despite having been a lock-down corner back in college.

Player two has a better showing than player one including a better 40-yard dash. However, while he was a solid cover man in college, he wasn’t at all as good as player one.

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Finally player three blows everyone away. He an athletic freak who did everything not only well, but better than any other athlete at the combine and sets a new combine record in the 40-yard dash. Yet in college he was wildly inconsistent, including getting beat deep occasionally despite his speed.

So if all three are available when the Lions are on the clock at the draft, which one should they choose? You have a player that demonstrated actual high level skill on the field despite not being an elite athlete, you had a solid player that was a better athlete, then you had a great athlete that was inconsistent.

This isn’t even factoring in all the psychological testing and background checks teams do.

The NFL Combine is a great opportunity for players to prove how athletic they are as individuals. In other words, when teams have questions about an individual players athleticism, this will help answer those questions. But just because one athlete is faster than another doesn’t mean he’s a better player.

I often times think that actual production on the field doesn’t get the due credit it should. If a linebacker runs a slow 40 yard dash, but he made every tackle in every game he played in college, then he must be able to play.

Some players will be projected to play another position in the NFL than they did in college. In these situations the drills are very important to evaluate the player’s athleticism in regards to how it translates to playing a new position. Basically do they show the ability as an athlete to make the transition to the new position.

In these situations the drills do mean more, but that is also the exception not the norm.

By Tuesday, the talk will be of players at the 2018 combine who saw their stocks rise and others who saw theirs fall. It’s the name of the game.

It’s also the name of the game that there will be some players that were super productive, but they will drop to the later rounds or even go undrafted because they weren’t workout warriors. Then they’ll turnaround and ‘surprise’ everyone by becoming outstanding players in the NFL.

The truth of the matter is that a player can either play or they can’t. If they can play, then the additional information at the combine can be useful if properly weighed into the equation. If not, then it can cause draft day mistakes that could cause setbacks.

Next: Lions draft - What flavor of running back do you prefer?

The NFL meat-market is open for business. Some teams will eventually walk away with grade ‘A’ prime cuts of beef in the draft, while others who are only interested in the workout ‘wow’ factor may find they are only getting a ham sandwich.