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Combine Bashing Jumps the Shark

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I am not going to link to Peter King. That would only forward a column I do not read nor think is relevant outside of its prominence and distribution. Sorry. It's also why I think pieces that supposedly bash King do little more than piggyback off his success. However, I've traveled enough sites I do respect to recognize when King has struck a chord.

It's that time again: Time for half-smart criticism of the NFL Combine. Here's the formula:

  1. Disparage forty times.
  2. Extend that forty times do not measure "field speed", whatever the hell that is.
  3. Make a glancing mention of "the tape".
  4. Neglect to mention said tape is your half-remembered opinions while watching college football. Drunk.
  5. Create a straw man general manager that makes his decisions exclusively from Combine results.
  6. Knock Al Davis.
  7. Cite a "workout warrior", often Mike Mamula, that excelled at the NFL Combine but then failed in the NFL.
  8. Neglect to mention Mamula was pretty good.
  9. Neglect to mention that Mamula suffered debilitating injuries and retired at 27.
  10. (Ignore the numerous players from every class that fail for numerous, disparate reasons.)
  11. Publish.
  12. Bask in groupthink.

The NFL Scouting Combine allows teams to objectively measure players. It allows them to interview players, run them through drills and conduct medical tests. Game tape creates the foundation for understanding a prospect but the Combine helps fill in details. Would we have known that Chris Johnson was the fastest running back in his class if he didn't run the forty? Probably not. The difference between Johnson and Darren McFadden is imperceptible in live game action, and irrelevant against inferior competition, but allows Johnson to run away from nearly every NFL defender, when McFadden can not.

A Combine performance is not definitive, nor is it ever treated that way. Darrius Heyward-Bey did not jump from the seventh round to the top ten. He jumped from the late first round to the early first round. He was a very good prospect that put up an elite forty time. Personally, I'm not calling the kid a bust until Oakland starts an NFL caliber quarterback. Was it wrong to value Bey above Michael Crabtree? Yes, it probably was. Does that render Bey's forty time irrelevant? Of course not. Bey is faster than Crabtree.

Maybe bashing the NFL Combine made sense at some point, but nowadays it's little more than a red flag for ignorance, because if you don't think being bigger, faster, stronger and more healthy helps one's NFL career, then you don't know jack about football. Reference game tape as much you'd like, it's never been an either/or. The more good information one can gather on a prospect, the better, more informed decision one can make.