Last year, Mario Williams was the guy who had everyone gushing. He vaulted to the No. 1 pick after outstanding workouts, and though he still has a chance to be great, the Texans probably wish they would have taken Reggie Bush or Vince Young instead.
As the Packers' brass travels to Indianapolis to evaluate this year's top prospects for the NFL Draft, here are some words of caution: Do not put too much stock in what is seen at the Combine. It is the most overrated tool for evaluating talent.
Surely Packers general manager Ted Thompson and his staff have a system for scouting players. The Combine is part of that, but it should be at the bottom of the checklist. The week-long showcase is good at identifying the top athletes and who can move the best without pads, but other than that, it does little to separate the best football players.
Imagine how Brett Favre would look at the Combine based on how the event is perceived today. Outside of his strong arm, he probably would not garner much consideration because of his poor mechanics and less-than-superb athleticism. Put him on a football field in game action, though, and a different player emerges. It is the type of player that only Ron Wolf could see eventually excel in the NFL.
Even a player like Bush has a difficult time standing out in such a narcissistic culture. Other players can run the 40-yard dash, shuttle drills, and vertical jump in comparable times, but none of them really have what Bush possesses. He has something that cannot be measured. His best qualities are instinctual. For example, he uses angles on a football field better than anyone else and maximizes yardage gained because of it. Combine that with his speed, and that is why he is a once-in-a-decade player.
Because of the rise in popularity of the draft, Internet mock drafts, and media coverage, the Combine has become a popular event during what normally would be a down time for the NFL. Most general managers and scouting staffs probably take it for what it is worth, but last year's draft suggests some teams probably put too much emphasis on the Combine.
So where do the Packers stand on the Combine? College scouting coordinator Danny Mock had some encouraging and telling words about it on packers.com:
"So much is said about a guy who can raise his stock, and this and that, but it's really just a piece of the pie," he said. "The main thing is what happens in that meeting room, evaluating the players - the scouts in the fall as a group, and where they put them on the board as far as playing football and seeing them on film."
Thompson's first two drafts with the Packers would appear to echo Mock's comments. With surprise picks like Nick Collins (second-round in 2005) and Greg Jennings (second-round in 2006), they have found football players first, not choosing to go with name players at higher picks generated from pre-draft hype.
The most beneficial tool coming from the Combine is the opportunity to meet with more players than would normally be possible. The central location gives each team the chance to conduct "job interviews" in a short time span to find out a little about the players in a face-to-face situation. It saves time and money and makes head coach Mike McCarthy's mission of finding "Packer People" easier.
Be wary, Combine fans, of the numbers and the players that will be headlined this week. In the end, evaluating a player by what he does on game day over what is seen during a few days of drills usually wins out.
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.