NFL Combine Results – Predicting Potential or Avoiding Risk?

So I’m assuming that most football fans that are finding their way to The Football Educator are going to look at the game with a bit more of a discretionary eye than the casual beer drinking, pom pom waving, popcorn throwing variety.  You’re the type that makes a well thought out decision when penciling in your own fantasy lineup and not so quick to call into your local sports talk radio to give them a piece of your mind because your team wasn’t pursuing Peyton Manning hard enough.  In fact, you tend to break down your football analysis with well thought out schematics and flow charts, almost a scientific approach to gridiron problem solving.

Two sides to this coin

So riddle me this?  “Is the NFL Combine a study in “predicting potential” or “avoiding risk” when evaluating potential draft choices?”  That is does running fast or jumping high indicate you’ll be a great player, or that you’re more likely not to fail in attempting to become a great player?

I suppose it all depends on your perspective and the task that you’re charged with.  Having looked at the process from both angles, it’s hard to imagine that either argument is wrong.  On the one hand we see bigger, stronger, faster on our TV set with each and every SportsCenter highlight.  It only makes sense that if this prospect is the fastest at his position, he most likely will be the best as well.

Nothing on the line

The commentators and pundits tie the drama of the moment, an explosive vertical jump or lightning quick 3 Cone drill, to potential on the field performance.  “How could a team pass by a physical talent of this magnitude?  He has to be selected in the first round!”  We want to believe that the transfer of this ability will lead directly to touchdowns or tackles.  We can see in our mind’s eye that key catch on third down or stopping the ball carrier on 4th and inches.

Those that normally take this angle of evaluation are caught up in the moment of the actual feat itself.  “If A, then most certainly B, which immediately will lead to C.”  How could it not?  Any outside factors that might affect the equation are of non-consequence.  It’s as if their NFL player evaluation is in a sterile Petri dish and each piece of the experiment is independent of the other.  Fast 40, draft him!  Quick 3 cone, draft him!  High vertical jump, draft him!

Everything to lose

The other side is a bit more cautious.  They look for indicators that selecting this player won’t come back to bite them in the behind.  A strong performance is more indicative of sidestepping failure.  The more of these you can check off, the more likely you’ll avoid “the bust”.  Frequently this is the line of the GM or Head Coach looking for the sure thing.  Players with similar skills to successful players of the past are more likely NOT to fail as a result of displaying a particular attribute.  They see the equation more like “If A=B, then more than likely C.”

Their butt is on the line if the pick doesn’t pan out.  They’re the one that gets the “pink slip” two years into a three year contract.  They have to answer the repeated question of bypassing the success of Player X, for the disappointment of Player Y.

In need of a reality check

Somewhere in between are the players and agents who are hoping that all their training and preparation for the Combine will pay off in both predicting potential and avoiding risk.  In the end, it’s really a momentary illusion.  Unless properly put into perspective, a Combine performance can come crashing down on all those involved.   The NFL’s version of the “septathlon” won’t by itself predict a future superstar, nor help avoid a first round bust.

The “Potential Predictor” needs to step back from emotion and take into account the bigger picture.  The “Risk Avoider” needs to understand that all the squares won’t get checked and at some point, someone has to play.  The NFL Combine can provide a wealth of information in solving both equations, but only if the data is used correctly.

So, which one are you?

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