With the NFL Combine kicking off today, the 2012 NFL Draft chatter is set to really ramp up. For the New York Jets and every other NFL team, this is an opportunity to evaluate potential draft prospects. But what is the actual value of the NFL Combine in evaluating football players? The part that gets the hype is almost worthless at this point, mainly as a result of the hype.
The NFL Combine is actually a victim of its own success. The usefulness of the results of the NFL Combine's physical tests has declined as a result of the value that was given to them. It sounds contradictory, but the success of the NFL Combine has been its downfall to a degree.
The bench press, 40-yard dash and agility tests are meant to measure athletic prowess. The original beauty of the NFL Combine was that players were training purely for on-field, football-specific purposes. This meant that the players that excelled at these tests and drills did so without specifically training for them. It was an excellent indicator of natural athletic ability.
The problem is that the results of these tests had a big impact on the draft stock of players and became a major point of interest for the general football public. All of that attention led to more combine-specific training. This has changed the results from actually purely measuring attributes like speed and agility, to becoming a competition in technique at completing the specific drill.
It's great that one linebacker was better at learning the correct body position as he went around the cone in an agility drill to shave one-tenth of a second off of his time, but how does that translate to the football field? When a running back completely changes direction and cuts back across the grain, is he actually going to apply that same technique while wearing pads and focused solely on chasing down that running back? He's more likely to revert back to his natural instincts as he stops and changes direction, and the combine was designed to measure his ability to do that.
That's not to say the athletic feats performed at the combine aren't awesome. It's going to be a lot of fun watching University of Florida running back Chris Rainey try to break Chris Johnson's record 40 time. It was cool to watch Steven Paea pump out 49 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press last year(seriously, get under a reasonable weight for yourself in the 25-rep range for the bench press and compare it to what he did), but it's not an indicator of future NFL success.
Just take a look at the list shown in the video above after Paea is finished. The names Mike Kudla, Leif Larsen, Scott Young and Tank Tyler appear in the top nine bench press performances of all-time at the NFL Combine.
It's an interesting example of the steps that have been taken in physical training. Sport-specific training is great, but combine-specific training hasn't been a great thing for the NFL. You can't blame the players for doing it, as just about anyone would invest time in performing at the highest level possible when a great performance at the event could possibly earn them millions of dollars. Still, as the science behind excelling at the combine becomes more focused, the results become less relevant.
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