The NFL Combine Truth

Like free agency, the reaction people have to the NFL combine never ceases to amaze me. This weekend, big shiny objects are going to distract a lot of people from the truth.

What is the truth? Don't let this weekend drastically change your opinion on a given player, just because he happens to run slower than he was originally thought to be, or performs some other bizarre test, in his underwear, that suddenly renders him more or less of a football player.

You don't have to read much about this year's combine before you realize the phenomenon is already taking place. Friday, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford weighed in at a "muscled" 236 pounds. Previously considered something of a beanpole with potential injury risks, now Bradford is thought by some – ESPN's Adam Schefter, for instance – to be a lock as the top pick in the draft this April.

And Bradford hasn't even thrown a pass at the combine, yet. Talk about an overreaction.

It really doesn't take much research to find out just how much the combine can skew a player's draft position, and how foolish teams can look for passing on a player due to his workout in Indianapolis – or vice versa. The prime example from last year's draft is Raiders' receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who posted a blinding 40-yard dash time of 4.30 seconds last February. It was the best time at the combine, and Heyward-Bey was taken seventh overall.

And then he caught nine passes in 11 games. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Heyward-Bey had the lowest catch percentage in the entire league. Even when you play with JaMarcus Russell, that's saying something. Every receiver taken in last year's first round out performed Heyward-Bey, the workout warrior.

Rookie receivers who had successful 2009 seasons were glossed over. Michael Crabtree didn't even run at the combine. Percy Harvin ran a 4.41. Not only are the Raiders kicking themselves for passing on both of those players, but you can probably add a team like the Chiefs to that list. Certainly KC's offense could have used a player like Harvin last season.

Then there's the case of Aaron Curry, who wowed scouts last year by turning in a 4.56 40-yard dash, an impressive feat at his 254 pounds. Curry, expected by many to compete fiercely for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, had a disappointing season.

Meanwhile, Rey Maualuga and James Laurinaitis, who fell into round two because of relatively slow 40-yard dash times of 4.82 and 4.80 seconds, had successful seasons. While Curry's status as an outside linebacker means we're comparing apples to oranges, it still serves our overall point. Laurinaitis' combine was described as "a shocking, unmitigated disaster," and he was "stunningly stiff" in his workouts while showing "no explosion."

It didn't stop him from leading the Rams in tackles, adding a pair of sacks and interceptions. His rookie season in St. Louis was anything but a disaster. Maulauga, thought to be only capable of playing inside linebacker, was stunningly successful as an outside linebacker on one of the best defenses in the league with the Bengals, and a big reason for Cincy's seventh-ranked run defense.

Running back Shonn Greene's pedestrian 4.63 40-yard dash landed him in the third round last April, and one of this other 40-yard times (4.72) really had to raise eyebrows. But ask yourself if Greene looked slow in the playoffs last season, when he led the Jets in rushing and averaged a whopping 5.6 yards per carry.

Perhaps the most embarrassing example may be the Titans' selection of tight end Jared Cook. Tennessee actually traded up to grab him, giving the New England Patriots a 2010 second-round pick. It's not difficult to understand why Cook was so highly coveted. His combine workout was incredible – 4.5 40-yard dash (the second-fastest 40-yard dash by a tight end in 10 years), 41-inch vertical, 23 reps on the bench press.

All those pretty numbers were negated by one, however – nine. That's how many catches Cook reeled in last season, in 14 games. Hardly impressive.

There are plenty of examples of the combine phenomenon on the Chiefs' present roster. Cornerback Brandon Flowers' draft stock fell out of the first round after a 4.58 40-yard dash in 2008, but now he's arguably seen as the best corner from that draft class. The Chiefs may have been duped by Will Franklin's 4.37 40-yard dash and impressive 40.5-inch vertical jump later in that same draft, however, as Franklin was cut and hasn't been able to catch on with another team. Not even with the Raiders.

Does the combine have its merits? Yes. But should it really change your opinion about a player you previously had your heart set on, or even favored slightly? Not especially. If Eric Berry runs a little slow this weekend, the Chiefs could still probably use him. On the flip side, even if Tim Tebow shocks the world and starts firing lasers around Lucas Oil Stadium with pinpoint accuracy, it doesn't mean he's Kansas City's next franchise quarterback.

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