Combine Winners and Losers? Forget About It

Sure, players rocket up and down draft boards based on their testing at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Most of them, however, will wind up right about where they were before the Combine started. It's all part of the challenge of finding that franchise-changing player.

The eyeballs of Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson might have popped out of his head after watching offensive lineman Terron Armstead running his 40-yard dash in 4.71 seconds.

Perhaps he vaulted Texas' Marquise Goodwin up several notches on his receivers board after a rocket-fast 4.27 in his 40.

He might even be contemplating mortgaging a large part of his draft to land SMU's Margus Hunt, who put up practically unprecedented speed/strength numbers for a lineman and would fill a definite need on the defensive line.

And Manti Te'o's 4.81 in his 40? Maybe it took him out of consideration for the Packers' first-round pick.

"It changes quite a bit," Thompson said of the testing results from the Scouting Combine, which wrapped up on Tuesday.

But with two months until the draft, any overreaction from the Combine tends to fade into oblivion. The Combine is just a piece to the puzzle – and a highly overrated one, in many ways. A player's career tends to carry more weight. If a player runs fast on the surface of Lucas Oil Stadium in late February, he probably ran fast on a Saturday afternoon in October. If he put up a bunch of reps on the 225-pound bench press in Indy, he probably showed that strength on a weekly basis.

"Historically, it'll wind up going back to the way it was before you get to the actual draft day," Thompson said. "There's a lot of fluctuation. A guy runs a fast 40 time, all of a sudden he gets bumped up. If a guy doesn't do too good in an interview, you start wondering about him. It's a whole process. There's a lot of change, a lot of work to be done."

If the testing and the production don't mesh, it's up to Thompson and the scouting department to ferret out the reasons. Can a player put up solid production without elite speed or strength? Can a player who was mediocre despite eye-popping testing numbers be coached and developed into a quality player in the NFL?

"I think a lot of people focus on the 40-yard dashes or the jumps or the physical testing. Some people focus on the interviews," Thompson said. "At the end of the day, all of us, all 32 teams, all the 32 people that are in my position at other places are going to have to, when they make that decision on the player they bring in, it's, can that player help them win games?"

What helps win games can't really be tested at the Scouting Combine. Quarterback drills are nice, but where is the blitzer in his grill? Receiver drills can show something, but where's the safety coming in at a hundred miles an hour? Linemen don't go up against dummies on Sunday afternoons. Running backs don't run 40 yards in a straight line in shorts. Cornerbacks don't line up across from invisible receivers.

To be sure, the 15-minute formal interviews are extremely important. Each team gets 60 of them, and the Packers' draft history under Thompson shows that most of the players they select at the end of April they will have talked to at the Combine.

What goes under the radar is the behind-the-scenes stuff, when a player's guard might be down. A player can train for the physical testing and he can prepare for possible questions in an interview session, but what happens when he's interacting with other players? That, more than anything, might have been what Thompson and others wanted to see from Te'o. How was he around the other linebackers during testing or when milling around the hallways at the stadium or hotel?

In a way, Thompson's job is sort of like Yogi Berra's definition of hitting baseball. It's 90 percent mental and the other half is fortune-teller.

"Does he have this inside thing that allows him to go beyond what he maybe normally would do? There's an ‘it' factor," Thompson said. "I don't know how to quantify that, and you can't find it. You don't really know it until you see it, and usually it's already too late, if you know what I'm saying. It's hard to do that just from going to the school, watching tape, talking to the coaches, seeing the player practice, writing a report that night. It's hard to find that ‘it' thing. But you know it when you see it, when you have him on your team, you know those guys with the ‘it.'"

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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