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Rich's Rant: Numbers and Nonsense

Rich Passan sounds off about the combine hype and magical 40-yard dash times. Drop by and let Rich know what you think in the <A HREF="">Subscriber Lounge</A>!

I love this time of the National Football League season. The flesh market, a.k.a. the National Football League Scouting Combine for future players, is in full bloom

Scouts, coaches, general managers from all round pro football congregate, swap stories and ready their stopwatches as they seek the next great player.

As the players run, catch, throw, block and do just about everything a football player is expected to do, these grid gurus watch intently. And during the personal interviews, they probe for the little things, the intangibles they believe will help them make the correct choice in the next month's college draft.

They watch finely tuned athletes run the gamut of their athleticism. There's the all-important 40-yard dash; the intense 20-yard shuttle; the super intense 60-yard shuttle; the vital vertical jump; the standing long jump; the cone drill; and the weightlifting.

And when it's all over, the gurus return to their respective bunkers in their war rooms and crunch the numbers and ponder the imponderables. And invariably, they allow those numbers to dictate their eventual decisions on draft day.

They become intoxicated with the 4.42 40 run by a wide receiver with a checkered past at catching a football. They are enamored with a linebacker whose vertical leap is 42 inches. And the linemen who lift 225 pounds more than 40 times.

They fall in love with the numbers, the measurables.

All of which begs one question. What the hell does all that have to do with playing football? Last time I looked, making plays on the field was a lot more important.

What difference does it make if a wide receiver runs 4.5 and 4.7? Is one that much better than the other because he's a fraction of a second faster? Or can leap an inch or two higher?

Perfect example: USC wide receiver Mike Williams clocks a 4.6 40 at the combine. Not good enough.

He's not quick enough, either, at 6-5, 228 pounds. He's not sudden enough. He's not worthy of being a top three pick in the April 23-24 draft.

Many posters on this Web site automatically ruled out Williams as a first-round candidate for the Browns because he was "not fast enough." He didn't blaze a 4.4 or a 4.45 or even a 4.5.

Wait just a Fred Biletnikoff minute. Where does it say a wide receiver must have freakish speed? Since when does catching the football and scoring touchdowns not count? And isn't that what Williams did a lot at USC?

The man has huge – and very sure – hands and gets open. He drops passes as often as Jerome Bettis fumbles.

He's a playmaker. Let that sink in.

The Browns are in desperate need of playmakers. On both sides of the ball.

What these athletes do at the combine way too often dictates what teams do on draft day. Every year, workout warriors push their way into the top two rounds. How else can one explain the selection of Chaun Thompson by the Browns last year?

In 1995, defensive end Mike Mamula posted monster numbers at the combine. One would have thought there was a cape underneath what he wore.

He was a better-than-average player at Boston College, but skyrocketed after the combine and was selected at No. 7 by the Philadelphia Eagles. He lasted five unspectacular years and is out of pro football.

Workout duds drop because of bad combine numbers. Wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Michael Clayton, for example, had relatively slow 40 times at the combine the last two years. Both had bust-out rookie seasons. Boldin'sbad combine showing tumbled him into the second round.

Virginia's Heath Miller, generally regarded as the best tight end prospect this year, will not work out because of recent hernia surgery. Mike Mayock, the NFL Network's draft expert, said the teams will have to rely on game films to determine Miller's worth.

So what's wrong with that? The teams most like will see something on film they'll never see at the combine – a player making a play on a football field. How unique!

That brings us to Phil Savage. Because he has spent the last several years with the Baltimore Ravens, we have no idea what the new Browns general manager's philosophy is on players. We don't know what kind of player fits the Savage profile.

That's something we won't know until draft day. If he's the kind of GM who pores over numbers and lives religiously by them, expect to see more athletes and fewer football players on the Browns during his watch.

Hopefully, an eye for genuine football talent will override any numbers he might hold sacred.

Playmakers, Phil, playmakers. You helped Ozzie Newsome get them in Baltimore. Now keep your eye on the same goal here.

Now that the Browns have all but waved bye-bye to Gerard Warren and William Green, fans have begun to overvalue these No. 1 pick failures.

Warren and Green received their share of criticism regarding their play over the last few seasons with a large degree of justification. Both underachieved in spectacular fashion.

Now that the Browns have gone public with their plans for these two men, a great many fans and contributors on this Web site have reevaluated their worth. All of a sudden,Warren and/or Green can fetch first- and second-round draft picks in trades with other teams.

Other teams are not stupid. They know Warren is a bad actor. They know Green has had off-the-field issues. They understand their true value.

If the Browns get lucky and can move either or both of these players, they should consider themselves fortunate if they can gain a third-round pick for them.

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