NFL GMs should emulate porn producers

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

NFL: Jumping

JUMPING THROUGH HOOPS FOR NO REAL REASON. Coaches and general managers in NFL war rooms put tremendous stock in scouting combine numbers, but perhaps they should just hit the film room.

If you were a porn producer and you were searching for your next starlet, how would you do so? Would you find candidates and pace them through a series of drills â€" calculate body-fat percentage, test endurance on a treadmill, measure flexibility to a fraction of an inch, administer a “Wonderlic” test to determine attitude and enthusiasm â€" or actually watch them performing and pore through hours of film?

I know the topic has been beaten worse than the Masturbating Bear’s penis, but after watching the NFL Network’s coverage of the rookie combine last week, some heavy-duty complaining is in order.

Five, 10 and 20 years ago the combine didn’t matter. Guess what? Nothing has changed. A common â€" and accurate â€" criticism of the combine was that the drills players participate in don’t actually measure any skills that directly translate to the football field. After all, how many times a game does an offensive lineman have to utilize his 35-inch vertical? Or how often does a wide receiver need to bench press a cornerback 25 times? Yes, various tests can be used to gauge certain factors (explosiveness, for example), but in reality they aren’t true indicators of ability.

In recent years a new problem has emerged: athletes are training specifically for the combine. They know which drills they’ll be paced through, which drills scouts drool over, and how to maximize their performance in those drills. Athletes hone their skills in particular areas (shuttles, 40-yard dash, etc.) rather than improving as football players.

Consider this: In 1995, undersized Boston College defensive end Mike Mamula showed up to the combine and blew everyone away with his numbers; 26 repetitions on the bench press, an impressive 4.63 40-yard-dash, and so on. His numbers wowed scouts, skyrocketing his value and draft position. He was drafted seventh overall by Philly.

Now everyone rips off ridiculous numbers at the combine. Sixteen players ran 4.3 40s this year. Didn’t a 4.3 used to mean something? Wasn’t it special, an indicator that an athlete wasn’t just fast, but possessed world-class speed? I saw 37-year-old host Rich Eisen running some 40s in his suit during NFL Network coverage. I don’t know if he’s durable, if he can catch, or if he’s ever played football in his life, but if he’s in the 4.4 to 4.5 range the Falcons will probably take a chance on him on the second day of the draft.

Ridiculously, in that infamous 1995 draft, Mamula tied the combine lead with 26 bench press reps. This year’s leader? Defensive lineman Tank Tyler with 42 repetitions. Yes, athletes are getting stronger and faster. Yes, training is improving. But when you see a meteoric leap like that in barely 10 years, it’s clear potential draftees, knowing full well how much stock scouts put into combine numbers, are prepping specifically for the combine and misleading scouts abouth their strengths â€" and it’s going to screw over lots of teams come April. Mamula’s impressive combine performance amounted to just 31.5 sacks in five forgettable seasons before retirement.

Why teams go ga-ga for numbers, I can’t answer. But after two or three years of watching a cornerback chasing around college receivers, tripping and falling like that gangly kid in Grade 9 gym, teams seem to believe watching him quickly run in a straight line without pads absolves any doubts about his speed or game.

And until the NFL starts thinking like pornography producers, it’ll keep shelling out big bucks for busts like Mike Mamula.

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