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Combine Days

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time when I thought the Combine was silly. I wondered aloud why teams would take into account various drills in shorts when they have a library of game film on each player. Through the years, I have come around a bit on the usefulness of the Combine. While it should not be the only thing people take into account, there are some areas where I believe it has merit.

Medical exams

This is a chance for teams to be able to examine players physically. They can get an idea on the residual impacts of past injuries and take a look at how recovery is underway for current injuries. They can look for conditions that have potential to impact the long-term prognosis of a prospect.

Interviews

While it is only part of the vetting process, interviews are a chance for players to present themselves. Particularly for prospects with red character flags, this is a chance to give their side of the story as to either why an incident or incidents were not a big deal or explain how they have grown from mistakes. If a player has question marks about his commitment and misses a scheduled interview, it can have a major impact.

Context

You know how every high school student has to take the SAT's? Those along with a student's GPA are major points colleges consider when deciding whether to admit somebody. Why do the SAT's exist? One of the big reasons is to see how everybody does on the same test. The student with the high GPA might be taking an easy class that obscures his or her true ability. The same goes for a student with a low GPA whose difficult course load might be obscuring his or her intellect. Think about that small school prospect who is so much faster than his opponent. Is he really that fast, or does he just look that fast because his competition is really slow? This is one way to help teams decide.

Elimination

Speed is not the only thing that matters for a wide receiver. Somebody can be really, really fast and not amount to much. There is a certain baseline level of speed a receiver needs to have in the NFL, though. If a player cannot hit that bare minimum, the rest of his traits do not matter. He probably will not make it in the NFL. The same goes for other attributes at other positions. The Combine can test and help the process of weeding out prospects who aren't athletic enough for the NFL.

Another look

If a player does a lot better than expected or a lot worse than expected on a given drill or drills, it is a sign that a team might want to go back and rewatch film. Maybe that team was missing something either good or bad that the Combine showed. Nobody is perfect crunching the film. Sometimes even the pros miss things. This hint to go back to the film might prove nothing. It also might make a team catch something the second time around.

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The Combine provides more information to a team. It adds an extra layer to the decision-making process. As long as we understand that, it is a useful endeavor.  It needs to supplement the other parts. Where the Combine gets a bad name is when people use it to replace the other parts. I can't count how many times people have watched a 40 yard dash, and as the times come in declare that somebody who ran a blazing time is suddenly a prospect to be a number one receiver. As long as we can understand what the Combine is, and what it isn't we can embrace its proper role in the process.