With the NFL combine starting on 27 February, teams and most importantly general managers (GMs) must not obsess over records being broken, or how high someone can jump, but rather must look at the bigger picture.
The draft has always been a game of risk versus reward but in recent years we have seen too many teams make overdraft individuals in the first round purely based on combine numbers and performances. This is not to take anything away from the event, where teams get a chance to meet these prospects and learn more about their mentality and physical attributes.
However, the combine is only one weekend in a very busy off-season.
The 2020 class is slated to have some of the best position depth this decade especially when it comes to wide receiver. Alabama alone has three receivers who could be drafted in the first 15.
Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and also Clemson’s Tee Higgins are also regarded to be of the same talent. As exciting as this is for teams and fans, history tells us not to jump the gun and select 20 wideouts in the first 50 picks.
In the 2016 draft, five receivers were taken before the reigning offensive player of the year, Michael Thomas, including three in the first round, but some are now struggling to make a team (#15 Corey Coleman, #22 Josh Doctson and #23 Laquon Treadwell). All three had great combine performances.
There may be no better example of a player who hasn’t lived up to expectations than the Cincinnati Bengals selecting John Ross ninth overall in 2017. John Ross jumped to the top of team’s draft boards after breaking the 40-yard dash record, running a 4.20.
Injuries, drops and poor discipline have resulted in a below-average first three years for the combine sensation. To rub salt into the wound the next player taken was Patrick Mahomes, the current best player in football.
The best GMs are factoring in as much as they can when it comes to drafting a player. This relies on teams developing profiles for every potential candidate and methodically evaluating their talent. In a recent interview with ‘Move the Sticks’ (MTS) the GM for the Miami Dolphins, Chris Grier, talks about having trust in his staff.
“The scouts are the bloodline of this organisation, I firmly believe scouting is how we will win.”
League veteran head coach Bruce Arians made comments this week warning teams of his past mistakes:
“You might run a 4.3, but your tape says you’re a 4.6. You might run a 4.6 but your tape says your run a 4.4. Tape doesn’t lie. The combine lies. You can fall in love at the combine and get you’re a** broke.”
Vastly regarded as one of the best evaluators of talent, Chris Ballard, the GM of the Indianapolis Colts, also told MTS his process of evaluation, which includes using the opportunity of the combine to spend time with the athletes and find out more about them.
He emphasised prioritising the time to test them mentally rather than only focussing on the physical attributes.
Records will certainly be broken this combine and highlight reels will be played on social media for the months to come. The smart teams will be constantly watching tape, contacting former coaches and looking at the bigger picture all the way up until draft night on April 23rd.