For most people who watch football, but don’t really get heavily into, the NFL Scouting Combine would probably be a little like watching paint dry. For diehard fans, it gives them something to watch while waiting for baseball season to kick in along with getting an idea of who to invest in for their fantasy football league early.
It can be a little mundane watching all the NFL prospects running the 40 yard dash, slashing through cones, and throwing run of the mill out routes. These drills are not quite fourth and goal with one second on the clock in a real NFL game. That doesn’t mean this combine isn’t crucial to the future of these young men and the teams that are checking off endless lists on the players. Tenths and hundredths of seconds actually do matter when it comes to the NFL experience.
Football is truly a game of inches, so the draft is going to be a reflection of that. A casual fan may think that Marcus Mariota being a half a second quicker in the forty than Jameis Winston is no big deal. First of all a half second in the dash is a huge deal. We’re not even talking tenths in this case. How many times have you seen a quarterback escape a pass rusher by just a hair, then pick up a first down? Untold drives have been extended by a QB being just a breath faster than the defender that’s trying to wrap him up. Mariota’s quickness advantage, that was documented in an uninterrupted vacuum, will play a role in whether he will jump ahead of Winston when the draft gets underway.
This combine isn’t going to tell the full story obviously. The on the field facts still outweigh what goes on with players surrounded by stat keepers with clipboards. Would Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin like to have had a faster 40 time? Obviously his 4.52 was one of the best times overall, but slower than he was thought to be coming in. Here, we are just talking tenths of a second, but it still matters to the guys getting ready to scratch a check to either Gordon or Todd Gurley. The reason Adrian Peterson breaks outrageously long TD runs isn’t because he is a full second faster than defenders in a 40 yard dash. It’s that he’s just a few tenths of a second faster than some and a couple hundredths quicker than others. Those micro seconds add up to one player being better than the other 21 on the field.
The NFL combine has become more scrutinized with the popularity of the NFL exploding over the past couple decades. More and more fans are wanting to watch NFL prospects do a vertical leap test and less people are tuning in to watch important baseball games. Yes, I know baseball hasn’t started yet, but I’m trying to make a point here. It’s just a matter of what American sports fans are interested in, and clearly the NFL is king. That public interest makes the pressure of the combine a bit more intense for these players trying to climb higher on the draft pole. Their accomplishments on the field are more important, but there is nothing they can add to those performances. They can only impress teams now with sheer numbers in the combine.
The combine gives players a chance to boost their stock even if only slightly. Others may find that their disappointing numbers in a running drill made them slip just a couple of spots and drop a couple hundred thousand dollars on their rookie deal. The combine isn’t the end all be all, be it is a factor that modern football players have to take seriously. The fans, coaches, and stat geeks certainly do.