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Discussion: Is the NFL Combine overrated?

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By: John Whiticar

Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The NFL Combine is an important staple of the offseason. But is the event overrated?

With the 2024 NFL Combine at an end, the chapter turns to the NFL Draft. As player evaluations are finalized in the coming months and draft boards set, the Combine and its tests and drills remain a key talking point. How did Player A run? Which player did or did not disappoint with their athletic testing? Which teams will target which players due to their Combine results?

The NFL Combine plays an important step for teams and prospects alike in their journey towards the 2024 season. That being said, with all of the talk centered around numbers, are we overvaluing the Combine? For as analytical as a sport like baseball is, how successful are numbers at quantifying NFL prospects?

Today’s Question of the Day is:

Is the NFL Combine overrated?

My answer: Yes and no. As a whole, the NFL Combine is a valuable tool for teams and fans, but there are aspects of it that appear more important than they actually are. Inversely, there are parts of it that are undervalued by many.

The biggest takeaways from the Combine week are the numbers: 40-yard times, heights, weights, reps, and more. These are popular because they are easily quantifiable. As former Pride of Detroit writer and founder of Relative Athletic Scores Kent Lee Platte can attest, you can create a massive database from these values in order to perform statistical analysis. When you present it in an easily digestible format, it makes it even easier to compare and share.

That being said, the Combine drills can be misleading at times. For one, many college players train specifically for the NFL Combine in order to post the best possible numbers. A common example is adding a few pounds prior to testing to meet an arbitrary benchmark, such as Bryce Young in last year’s draft.

Another factor to consider is how well the tests actually translate to the football field. The 40-yard dash is by far the most popular of the events, but sprint speed is not necessarily the same as play speed. Florida State receiver Keon Coleman had the second-slowest 40-yard time at his position, but he boasted the fastest GPS speed run during the gauntlet drill. The gauntlet drill, which involves turning, catching, and accelerating, is typically a better indicator of a player’s in-game speed than a pure 40-yard sprint. More often than not, football is played in 10-20 yard distances. Sure, having the track speed to win a footrace to the end zone or cook a defensive back on a go route is nice, but that initial 10-yard split is going to be relevant on nearly every down.

Athletic testing numbers can also pull the wool over your eyes. A common mistake is to double count athleticism. If a player was viewed as a top-50 prospect due to his elite speed, him running an elite 40-yard dash should not skyrocket him into the top-25. University of Texas wide receiver Xavier Worthy stole the show by running a record-setting 4.21 second 40-yard dash, and while that is worthy of attention (no pun intended), it also should not magically make him a first-round lock—the scouting report on Worthy was top-end speed, so this Combine testing is just confirmation of that.

Similarly, some players do not play to their Combine numbers. Johnny Wilson is a 6-foot-6 and 231-pound receiver, but he is not a physically dominant pass catcher like his build would indicate. Michigan’s Blake Corum is a compact running back at 5-foot-7 and 205 pounds, but he is a physical runner despite his small stature. Baltimore Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton famously had a slow 40-yard time (4.59 seconds), but that came from him not running in a straight line—this certainly hasn’t hindered the All-Pro in the NFL. A 6-foot-9 tackle might actually be at a disadvantage due to defensive linemen having better leverage. These are just some examples of the numbers not telling the whole story.

The NFL Combine is just another tool in an NFL scout’s kit. It should never be the be-all and end-all of draft analysis; it should be paired with tape, meetings, and medicals to form a proper evaluation.

Is the Combine overrated? It all depends on how you utilize it.

Originally posted on Pride Of Detroit