For all that find themselves ravaged by football withdrawal, I can only offer the following.
I will rain on your parade.
In fact, consider me a late February thunderstorm after reading these words:
The NFL Scouting Combine is the most useless week on the NFL calendar.
And to properly contextualize this sentiment, consider that the NFL is masterful at making even the most mundane moments of the offseason appear spectacularly relevant. The annual draft – an event highlighted by timed intervals of reading names – is now a primetime event. In the process, the Scouting Combine – once the exclusive domain of medical professionals – is now the showcase preamble for an event that has been hijacked by people with nothing better to talk about.
And to further my point, I would even watch a Pat Shurmur-coached offense to satiate my current Sunday boredom.
The original purpose of the Scouting Combine was to medically examine players potentially entering the NFL Draft. Over the past couple decades, the process has evolved from determining how long before a running back shreds his knee into how well a player can spit out safely worded rote responses. This evolution has created an environment where a player is publicly castigated for going off-script or offering any genuine scrap of reality to their potential suitors.
But then again, the stakes are elevated when millions of future dollars are at stake. NFL executives need to meet firsthand the players who they will soon invest small fortunes of money in. For the players, the Combine is one of the last steps in a draft process that began for many in middle school. After years of football camps, clinics, courtships and improving the resumes of lower-level coaches, the Combine is the professional culmination of an amateur career.
For everyone else, the sole exercise of the Combine is networking. The Combine is a literal LinkedIn for those who capable of tweeting about fluid hips or upper body strength – or at least those who find a knowledgeable source to steal from. In the coming days, look for the lexicon of Mike Mayock to be liberally poured across thousands of "draft analyst" Twitter feeds.
Unless you skip out on the entire week – like the really smart players.
Can you blame them?
Commonly referred to as the "Underwear Olympics", the Combine is more representative of a contemporary cattle call at best or a slave auction on a more cynical note. The NFL's version contains more sophisticated forms of poking and prodding – the shuttle run is a tad less degrading – but the process is still reminiscent of a meat packing plant inspector stamping defective beef.
Beyond the original intent of detecting medical flaws, the Combine features an illogical collection of measures to evaluate which players can succeed in the most physical of sports by doing the most innocuous gym class exercises. While gym class heroes are crowned, there is little else to learn about these future NFL athletes – other than basic mechanical issues.
While running and lifting exercises can be symbolic of a player's overall work ethic, NFL talent has reached an almost egalitarian state of athletic supremacy. There's very little that a Combine exercise can reveal about the fate of a quarterback. Successful NFL quarterbacks typically possess the ability to quickly process information, take a physical punishment and retain the will to endure.
Take Robert Griffin III – or Ryan Tannenhill, if you're a Browns' executive and/or head coach petrified of having to change a 1993 offense to fit a game-changing 2012 athlete's talents. The Combine will reveal little about Griffin that most scouts, executives and fans don't already know. Griffin's 40-yard dash time will be electric, he will lift hundreds of pounds of weights and throw the ball a measured equivalent of a mile.
However, what the Combine will not reveal is if Griffin can process the changes afforded by an NFL defense slipping into a zone blitz or whether his throwing motion changes in the face of a James Harrison helmet to helmet strike.
Or, for a more immediate comparison, think of how little the Combine affected either recent Super Bowl quarterback. Neither Eli Manning or Tom Brady are a workout warrior type of athlete – the sort who excels at the Combine. However, each is a gutty football player fully in possession of the elusive demeanor that creates NFL success.
Everything else is designed to support a cottage industry of people who aren't athletes – or coaches, executives or scouts – but instead possess the means to hyper-analyze an athlete's every missed step. On a grander scale, such criticism is usually shared by media types who are trying to advance an agenda for a particular league general manager or player. On the lower channels of communication, such statements are garbled into gossip and tossed aside once real news is reported.
Either way, the results are easily forgotten. Rarely does the Scouting Combine completely alter a player's NFL fate. Teams usually have a sense of what they're getting in a player before the Combine stage. While an unfortunate interview response or medical examination certainly can be an exception to the rule – think Ryan Mallett and DaQuan Bowers – the results of the Combine are transitory.
Or, remember Joe Haden a couple years ago?
Haden – perhaps the Browns' best secondary player since the 1980's – ran a 4.57 40-yard dash at the 2010 Scouting Combine. Practically every media source from the respected NFL Network to recycled garbage like the Bleacher Report used terms such as "disappointing", "alarming" and "falling stock" to describe Haden's performance. Haden's profile dramatically fell – at least until he improved his 40-yard time at Florida's Pro Day.
Or, once he became a top flight NFL cornerback.
Similarly, Wake Forest's Brandon Ghee saw his "stock" "rise dramatically" after turning in a 4.4 40-yard dash at the same Combine. Of course, Ghee barely made the Bengals' roster in 2011 and played only after Leon Hall suffered a season-ending injury.
What a difference a tenth of a second makes.
What a waste of time.
Yet, this week the exact same arguments will once again surface. Twitter will explode with inane chatter stolen from draft experts with time to kill. Players will offer rehearsed answers to scripted questions and everyone else will be standing around judging a process that no one other than a licensed physician should understand.
But, because it's the NFL, we'll all play along.