Part of the reason why the NFL off-season is almost as interesting as the NFL season is debating, comparing, sifting through the players that teams can potentially draft in the NFL draft through the NFL Combine.
Except the NFL combine drills don’t always translate over into information coaches can use to determine a player’s value. New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and NFL Director of Player Development both agree that the drills are performed more for tradition-sake than anything else.
"“We run the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. Why? The only reason anyone can ever give you is, that’s how it’s always been done,” Birk said."
In Kevin Seifert’s article on ESPN.com, Sean Payton explains how a changing league demands a different approach in how you evaluate college players to predict their performance in a professional environment.
"There’s been a ton of studies being done now on your bone length as it pertains to your chances of playing a receiver position, chances of playing a defensive back position. How is your chassis basically made up of? Now when you’re actually putting it to movements other than a cone drill, I think that’s in the long term going to show up in a player evaluation."
While fans are always uncomfortable with the NFL making changes for the sake of making changes, this doesn’t seem to qualify. Every year the national evaluation hides a player of great talent beneath its standardized testing.
Linebackers Terrell Suggs and Vernon Gholston are perfect examples of this. Suggs (10th overall pick) ran a 4.65 4o time at the combine in 2003 and Gholston (sixth overall pick) ran a 4.56 40 time at the combine in 2008. I don’t have to ask you now who you would draft between the two, but everyone always leans to the guy with the better time.
In-depth research conducted by Brian D. Lyons, Brian J. Hoffman, John W. Michel, and Kevin J. Williams in 2011 indicated that the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, 20-yard shuttle, and 3-cone drill test performance have very little relation to a player’s performance in the NFL.
Changes to the NFL Combine drills will only help scouts and teams accurately evaluate players, predict their performance, and select the right guy so every fan is happy.
Just don’t expect the NFL to go cold turkey on the NFL combine drills just yet. Payton believes, “you’ll gradually see position-specific change where it won’t be just one whole new set of drills. It will gradually phase itself in as we know more and more what we’re looking for for an offensive lineman, compared to a running back.”