I’ve got an addiction to football. Had it for decades.
Any chance I can score a hit of football, I’m all over it.
But I draw the line at the NFL Combine. It has value to participants and personnel staffs. But tuning in for entertainment requires the viewer to re-examine some life choices.
I watch preseason games start to finish. I’ve watched every offshoot knock-off league they trot out: NFL Europe, XFL, USFL, WFL all the way back to the old AFL.
And in the greatest symptom of my dependency of all, I usually can make it through most of the Pro Bowl.
But the NFL Scouting Combine, covered almost around the clock on cable, has very little to do with actual football, and that makes it a sucker’s game.
It is most functional for two factors: Physicals and private interviews, neither of which are televised.
Everything else can be accomplished during on-campus pro days, and at the Senior Bowl where they actually play football.
As Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said this week, “It’s one major spot where we can all gather and do our work.” So, it’s convenient from an organizational standpoint.
The examples are legion of players who measured and tested well, but who couldn’t play the game at the pro level. And there are more who weren’t even invited to the combine who became big stars.
You can watch online videos of Tom Brady running his combine 40 like a high-school backup only to become one of the greatest ever.
You can look at Seahawk receiver Doug Baldwin setting receiving records despite not being considered promising enough to be invited.
Michael Bennett didn’t wow at the combine, nor did Kam Chancellor. But they’re guys 31 other teams would like on their rosters now.
No question, being aware of a player’s measurable data is important. All of which scouts and staffs can get at campus pro days.
I’d say the best thing the Seahawks did to get up and running quickly under the regime of Carroll and general manager John Schneider was a vague and somewhat existential evaluation that they kept under wraps in the early years.
Schneider hinted that they had an extra category on their scouting board. He never wanted to tell anybody about it. Whatever they titled it, we now know that it fundamentally was some measure of a player’s grit.
They latched onto this early and it paid off big with late-round picks turning into stars because they were driven by some deep inner motivation.
They looked for players who had overcome hardships. Do they know what it is to fight back? Will they be motivated to play even after the big checks and headlines start coming their way?
There’s no combine event for these qualities.
The best way to judge if a prospect has this kind of internal impetus is to look at their personal history.
You hear stories of Seahawks scouts who have gotten close to assistant coaches or trainers (who really know how tough prospects are) and used their counsel to take longer looks at certain players.
“The scouts really do the great work behind the scenes,” Carroll said at the combine. They interview assistant coaches, strength coaches. Sometimes they’ll talk to school counselors.
But they still haven’t found a way to predict how a player will respond once he gets that first contract. Maybe he’s fought up from nothing to reach the league, but when he starts collecting more money than he’d ever thought possible, will he work to earn that second contract?
No way to know.
Maybe at the private interview at the combine they should hand the player a fake check for a million dollars and then ask him to quickly outline what he would do with it. If he immediately says, “deposit it on the way to the weight room,” he’s got a chance. If the answer has anything to do with sports cars or diamonds, you might keep looking.
Schneider said this week that when he’s made mistakes, it’s been when he compared a prospect to another known player. The problem, he said, is you never know what’s “at their core.”
You can watch their films, though. How did they play? Every play, winning or losing?
And you can ask trainers or teammates if the guy still had the will to compete when his nose was smeared across his face. And did the game still mean as much to him when he was spitting out teeth?
None of these things can be learned at the combine.