The Breakdown: Measuring the immeasurable
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Incredible news from Indianapolis, the site of the annual NFL combine: A.J. Green officially has the second-largest hands of any wideout at the workout sessions; center Ryan Bartholomew led all linemen with 34 reps on the bench press, a full 6.4 reps over the average (although, it should be noted his arms are only 33.75 inches long, short by most NFL standards); and … wait for it … Cam Newton officially weighs 248 pounds! Yes, if you’re keeping track at home, that’s five less than Ryan Mallet and exactly three times the weight of Olympic champion gymnast Shawn Johnson.
I know, this is fascinating stuff.
I mean, how could we ever know who would turn out better as a pro player if we didn’t have them spend a weekend clocking in on the shuttle run or sprinting past orange cones or testing their flat-footed vertical leap?
Don’t get me wrong, I loved trying for the Presidential Fitness Award as a kid, but I feel that the billion-dollar machine that is the NFL could advance a bit outside of elementary school phys-ed class.
The combine is going on as I write this. Somewhere, someone is running the 40-yard dash in inappropriately tight spandex shorts, while representatives from all 32 teams get concerned at what their stop watches say – a 4.51 rather than a 4.43.
Gulp, dump him to the third round.
Or, maybe, let’s just dump the combine altogether.
Now, one of the only things I enjoy discussing more than sports is the many pointless stats that come with the games, no matter how remote or made-up they seem to be. (Did you know that Ben Roethlisberger has never won a playoff game in Dallas with a temperature below 30 degrees when the words to the National Anthem are screwed up by Christina Aguilera? Not such a clutch player after all, huh?)
But, when it comes to having a page full of random numbers allegedly supporting the stock of a potential draftee – well, I’d rather take hair advice from Donald Trump.
The fact is, there is no test, no statistic, no physical attribute that guarantees success in professional sports.
JaMarcus Russell had the arm of John Elway and the accuracy of Steve Young in his pre-draft workouts, but he also had the eating habits of Charles Barkley. That wasn’t measured at the combine.
And remember just a few years ago when Alex Smith received a standing ovation at his pro day when he went the whole workout without throwing a single incomplete pass? Well, he didn’t get another standing “O” until last season – when he was pulled for David Carr, another draft-day bust.
I know, I know: For every bust, there’s a guy everyone got right. But, I guarantee you, none of those guys proved to NFL scouts how good they really were by what they did at the combine.
It sounds crazy – possibly even blasphemous – to say this in the day and age of sabermetrics, fantasy football and 24/7 media coverage, but the only way to determine how good someone is is to put them on the field and watch.
As Mike Singletary famously said, “I want winners. I want people that want to win.”
That’s what people need to look at in evaluating talent. There are dozens of guys with the skills to be drafted high as an NFL quarterback or wide receiver. There are far fewer who have the intangibles to make it as one.
Running a fast 40 time doesn’t mean a cornerback can cover Larry Fitzgerald down the sideline. Putting up 30 reps on the bench doesn’t mean a lineman can keep Julius Peppers out of the backfield. And scoring a 42 on the infamous Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test doesn’t mean a quarterback can identify the hot route when the defense blitzes backside out of a Cover 2.
(Sample question from the Wonderlic: Paper sells for 21 cents per pad. What will five pads cost? I heard Vince Young guessed “brown.”)
Anyway, I’m not trying to tell you to ignore the combine. I mean, I watch as much pointless TV as the next person. But, when the numbers are crunched, don’t get fooled; don’t get swept up in the hysteria with all the talking heads.
The only important news that will come out of Indianapolis this week will be that the combine is officially over – and we learned nothing.
Bryce Evans scored a 42 on the Wonderlic. He’s projected as a late fourth-rounder.
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