Why Do We Fall For The NFL Combine Every Year?



Every NFL offseason, we look forward to certain events to take place. In March, it’s the start of NFL free agency. Come April; the NFL Draft takes center stage. July, NFL training camp kicks off. But perhaps one of the most significant events of the offseason comes in February when the NFL scouting combine is the talk of the sports world.


Beginning in 1982, the NFL played host to some of the best college football players in the country. Whether you played at Alabama, USC, Texas, Eastern Illinois, Florida A&M, etc., players are invited to Indianapolis (the home of the event since 1987) for medical examinations, measurements (height weight, hand size, (yes, HAND SIZE) and the fun part, football drills. Given that in the 80s, information wasn’t as available and shared as it is today, the National Football Scouting, Inc. started this event so teams in the league could get a first-hand look at these players. It was a chance to be shown a potential prospect to consider drafting for their franchise.

Over the years, with the rise of cable TV, networks like ESPN have fans craving football year-round. The event would become a spectacle that is now broadcast on the NFL Network also. “Insiders” and ex-players would be brought in during the draft to give breakdowns of these prospects.

They would make their evaluations with some of their input being influenced by what information they would have from players’ combines. “This player should be good because they tested well in this area.” “That player may not work out due to not testing so well in this area.” etc.


But the most significant area that drew the most attention, the most coverage, and the so-called “key factor” was the 40-yard dash. How fast is this player?


Every four years when the Summer Olympics take place, the most-watched event time after time is track and field. We are enamored with the idea of “who’s the fastest person in the world?” As kids, we all would line up and race one another to see who was the fastest, and the same attention and question are directed towards the NFL Combine. Year after year, position after position, the question comes up, “what do you think they’ll run?”

It’s even a big deal when a player doesn’t run. It has become such an issue that players hire coaches to work with them on running correctly. They work on their get off, their form, staying low, how to properly swing your arms, etc. A player can move up or down draft boards with a good or bad 40-yard dash, which results in potentially earning or losing millions of dollars. Sure other drills are done, others that get attention like the bench press or the throwing drills for QBs, but none get the attention of the 40.

Want to be a pro? Want to be able to show what you’ll be able to do on Sundays? Better have a good 40 time then. Apparently, when actual football isn’t being played, how fast you run a straight line (and how often does that happen in an NFL game?) has more meaning behind it. Scouts will break down a player based on the time.

Let’s say you’re a wide receiver, and you run slower than 4.48 secs. All of a sudden, “you’re slow and don’t have that burst.” “You will have trouble separating from NFL cornerbacks, won’t be able to take the top off a defense, etc.” At least that’s what scouts and the so-called experts will say. Does it give them something to talk about on air? Sure. Does it make for drama leading into the draft? Of course!


But does it matter? Not really.


If running slower than a 4.48 means a WR doesn’t have a good chance at succeeding at the pro level, someone forgot to tell Michael Irvin (4.52), Larry Fitzgerald (4.63), and some guy by the name of Jerry Rice (4.71). If the name Rice doesn’t sound familiar, just look at NFL WR records, his name will be at the TOP of almost all of them. Is speed fun to watch and fantasize over? Absolutely. But to the degree it has become now is a bit absurd, especially when you look at the fastest players at the combine over the years, and how they turned out at the next level.

For 12 years, former running back Chris Johnson held the combine record for fastest 40 at 4.24. He did turn out to be a dynamic player with six seasons of over a thousand yards rushing, including a two thousand-yard campaign in his second year as a pro. He’s one of the very few exceptions.

The new leader of the 40 is WR John Ross, who set the new standard with a 4.22 showing. But his career hasn’t taken off like his run time would’ve suggested. Of a possible 48 games to have played in, Ross has only been in 24. Sure he had injury issues in college, but if you were to look at the rest of the top runners of the event, most often, you’ll find players who didn’t pan out for one reason or another in the pros.

This same stance is correct for all other events, look at the top performers at every drill the combine holds. More often than not, you’ll be scrolling through names of players you’re not familiar with, or guys you remember purely because of the coverage they got for this event. Evaluating talent is not an exact science. There will always be the unknown. What is known is that the idea that you can tell how good a player can be in an actual game against competition by seeing them do drills that 99% of the time they will never do again, in an empty stadium in shirts and shorts, is just mind-blowing.

Yet each February, we wait for the results. We wait to see how one does when they toe the line. Then based on their numbers, we then either raise our hopes that maybe this is the player our team needs or nah let’s look somewhere else. The combine itself is good for the unknown players, the guys who were overlooked at small schools, or due to a star player on their team getting most of the attention.


But even then, once they grab your attention at the combine, the real evaluating comes from turning on the tape and watching what they did through their college career on the field against other players.


Enjoying the NFL Combine is not a crime, but what is a crime is the overreacting we do every year based on pointless drills. Despite what’s going on in the world right now, come this April when the draft takes place; just watch how many times a players’ combine numbers are brought up when they are talked about by the experts. One thing has always held…

If you can play, you can play, period. The numbers are for the paper pushers who need something to talk about on air. So, let’s try to stop falling for the false hype. Let’s try to control ourselves when a player is apparently half a second slower than another at their position, and for the love of God, stop taking the combine as an actual measurement for how a player might project in the pros.


That is how you fall for fools gold.

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– Kalani Lua – Franchise Sports Media

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