What do NFL combine drills have to do with actual NFL?

FootballSportsNFLChicago BearsDevin HesterNFL Scouting CombinePhil Emery

I still don’t get the NFL scouting combine.

Last weekend in Indianapolis and through Tuesday, football players will wear almost no football equipment while running some drills they practice specifically for this showcase but rarely execute in football games as a way of convincing teams they deserve to play in actual NFL football games.

But here’s the thing: Multi-million-dollar decisions will be made in part because of information gathered at the combine.

NFL teams are looking for measurables. Not just height and weight, but vertical leap and 40-yard dash speeds and running around cones.

Yes, running around cones. How embarrassing: a drill created to gauge defensive ends rushing around Bears tackles.

Drill and test all you want, but I never felt the combine activities measured who can play football. Game tape measures that. The combine drills measure who might star on “Ninja Warrior.’’

I mean, is the game played in shirts and shorts? Then why do people ooh and aah at blazing 40-yard dash times recorded while looking nothing like a football player?

Bears general manager Phil Emery says the vertical leap might be more informative for a team than the 40-yard speed. But even teams that place great emphasis on the combine know that running 40 yards in shorts and shoes isn’t football. What good is a 4.4 if the guy runs patterns like Devin Hester? Game speed is more important. Game speed in game equipment.

Oh, and being able to read a game plan. Now the NFL has a second intelligence/personality test. Yes. Well. Why didn’t anyone give Hester a playbook test?

Teams will drool over a guy who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 267 pounds. The combine doesn’t tell you that Kellen Davis can’t remain on his feet when there’s actual football to be played.

The Packers might as well create a drill that reveals how well a player can do the Lambeau Leap. The Bengals might as well demand a drill that tests a potential draftee’s ability to execute the perp walk.

The most important part of the combine is the medical evaluation, or as the Bears refer to it, winter vacation. Is a player hurt? Is he lying about an injury? Unlike the Bears, some teams don’t want players who come pre-injured.

The only other worthwhile event seems to be the personal interviews, especially when dealing with someone like Manti Te’o and his backstory. Te’o faced media questioning the way he faced NFL team questioning about the fairy tale he either engineered or got suckered into, pick one, or parts of both.

But you know what? If the guy hadn’t played like such a stiff in the BCS title game and instead showed he could dominate Alabama’s NFL-quality linemen, then teams would only ask whether Lennay Kekua had a fake sister at home who was dating a draft-eligible player.

It comes down to playing football. The combine is an awful lot of sound and fury that signifies comparatively little about playing actual NFL football. It’s almost as useless as a Marc Trestman news conference.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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FootballSportsNFLChicago BearsDevin HesterNFL Scouting CombinePhil Emery
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