The NFL Combine starts this week in Indianapolis. Players are tested in drills, meet with teams, and receive medical examinations. Many people overhype the Combine. If a player does well, sometimes he gets hyped to the point of absurdity. How much should a few drills matter against a library of tape?
At the other end of the equation are people who totally dismiss the Combine. I'll admit I used to be in this group, but that was an overreaction to the hype. The Combine does serve some important purposes.
Teams have a chance to look at players. This is especially important for players who are coming off an injury or seem to have chronic injury issues. Teams can also look for conditions that could impact a player's future success in the NFL.
In many ways, the Combine is similar to a regular job interview. Teams have a chance to sit down with players and get to know them. This matters with players who have "red flags" but teams can start to gauge any player's personality and determine whether they would be a good fit in the locker room and in their city.
Most of the competition Draft prospects face is not NFL caliber. Is that running back actually fast, or does he just look fast because everybody he plays against is extremely slow? The drills can provide some context. It isn't that you necessarily dismiss a player who runs a bad time, but this should send teams back to the film for a closer examination to see whether there is something they missed.
The information college teams provide on the height and weight of their players is frequently inaccurate. NFL teams have a standardized way of getting this information at the Combine. It can also be a quality control test. If a player comes in much lighter than expected and runs a faster 40 time than expected, it might be that the player intentionally slimmed below his playing weight to run a faster time.
There are, however, some players you can eliminate based on the Combine. There is a certain athletic threshold a player has to meet to be a viable threat at an NFL position. You cannot necessarily conclude that a wide receiver who runs a 4.3 40 time will be great in the NFL. You probably can conclude that a wide receiver who runs a 5.1 40 time will not cut it in the NFL.