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When Analyzing Potential Draftees, Don’t Put Much Weight on the Combine

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When Analyzing Potential Draftees, Don’t Put Much Weight on the Combine

We’re just a few days away from the start of the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine. Young draft hopefuls will be completing their 40s, benching as many reps as they can, demonstrating their quickness in a variety of agility drills and, yes, participating in a lot of interviews with scouts.

There’s an awful lot of hype that surrounds the combine. It’s the first real league event of the new NFL season. It occurs after several long weeks of time without any football at all, and is a momentary oasis of football before free agency officially begins in March.

Ultimately, while there’s some value to having all the measurables of these players, it is important to avoid falling into the trap of getting carried away by the hype of an excellent combine performance, or on the other hand, to entirely lose faith in a player because of a poor performance.

The Blaine Gabbert dilemma

One of my favorite examples of combine hype gone horribly wrong is Blaine Gabbert, who now plays with the Arizona Cardinals and Is generally considered a first-round bust.

Gabbert was one of the few quarterback prospects who did not throw at the combine. Somehow, this gave him a significant boost in his draft stock. This is a player who through much of the 2010 college season barely received any mention as a potential top 10 pick, but somehow after the season was over and all football had been played, began to vault up the rankings.

Consider some of the following quotes from articles published around the time of the 2011 combine:

“Likely the only quarterback prospect that won't throw in Indianapolis, Gabbert's inactivity may ultimately be the cause of his rising stock after this weekend.” - SBNation

“Teams were disappointed that he didn't participate in the throwing portion of the workout, but his athleticism and football intelligence earned raved reviews. His speed, quickness and movement skills were impressive. He surprised with a 40-yard dash time of 4.62 seconds, only a notch behind Locker (4.59) and Newton (4.59). His vertical (33.5 inches) and broad jump (10'0") also reveal an overall explosiveness. If he throws the ball well at his pro day, he could join the conversation as the potential No.1 overall pick.” –

You get the idea. Despite not participating in the combine in the most important area for a quarterback (throwing the ball), Gabbert’s draft stock rose from the event. Odd, right?

Here’s some great content from a Titans blog that summed up how I felt about the time. It’s worth reading the entire article just to get a sense of how an actual analysis of Gabbert’s play at that time, not tainted by hindsight, pointed out some clear flaws that would manifest themselves in the NFL. Here’s a section that sticks out:

“Last, but not least in my mind, the kid struggles when it matters.  With the Big 12 South Title in their control, Gabbert laid a huge egg against one of the worst defenses in the Big 12, Texas Tech.  12/30 95 Yards 0/0.  To his credit, he had a big game the week before against Oklahoma, but the wheels really fell off after that, culminating in a 1 TD/2 INT game in a loss against Iowa in the Insight Bowl.  Gabbert struggled similarly in his bowl game year before against Navy, completing less than 50% of his passes, and, again, throwing 1 TD and 2 INTs.  Are these really the types of performances you'd be willing to risk a top ten pick on?”

In hindsight, we can see that a lot of the flaws in Gabbert’s game were concealed by having a good offensive line and by running the kind of offense in college at Mizzou that simply doesn’t translate to the NFL.

But at the time, people were getting caught up in the measurables. Gabbert’s stock shot up, and the Jaguars took him with the 10th overall pick. One could argue that this played a role in the Vikings making one of the biggest reach picks in recent draft history at number 12 with Christian Ponder—they saw three QBs going in the top 10, including a rather mediocre prospect in Gabbert, and figured if they wanted to get a franchise QB, they needed to strike right then.

A mostly unnecessary circus

The Gabbert example is just one of many circumstances in which combine hype elevated a player beyond what his draft stock might have been, and a team got burned as a result.

Now, in 2018, the combine almost feels outdated, especially as many players and schools are starting to have their own “pro days.” Do scouts really get that much out of seeing a guy run a 4.4 40 in person versus watching it on tape? Is it really that important to watch lineman after lineman max out on the bench?

For a lot of these guys, there’s four years’ worth of tape on them actually playing the game for scouts to pore over. So why do we obsess over the combine? Shouldn’t we already know everything we need to know about these guys’ physical capabilities before the draft?

The interviews are beneficial, but the combine is unnecessary solely for the purpose of these interview sessions.


For the most part, the energy spent on the combine would be better spent on going back over tape, because in the majority of cases, the combine isn’t going to tell us much about these players that we wouldn’t have already gleaned from four years of watching them play the sport.


Tim Backes is a lifelong Packer fan and a contributor to CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter @timbackes for his Packer takes, random musings and Untappd beer check-ins.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (66) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

The TKstinator's picture

Yes, being a good football player is more than just measurables.
If a WR runs a 4.22 but can’t catch the ball...
OR if a WR has phenomenal hands, runs crisp routes, donates heavily to charity, but runs a 5.00...

Turophile's picture

You take the combine for what it's worth.

Internet big boards change around plenty after the combine, but I doubt the GMs boards change all that much. If they do it is probably more to do with interviews and health checks, than what we see on the field.

For example, I Iook for a 4.6 type time for pass catching TEs. that tells me they can have success going deep up the middle of the field. On it's own it isn't enough (the Packers have had several developmental TEs on the team a few years back, that were fast enough, but not talented enough, to make any impact). If they can show enough talent as a pass catcher and route runner, you know they are also fast enough to threaten the deep midfield.

You can also see how guys move. Some guys just look awkward on the hoof (see TE Fumagalli, an otherwise very polished TE), while others look smooth and effortless.

The other thing I like about the combine is that when the players have done their drills, you can get a RAS from it online (a relative athletic score). This is handy for comparisons to other players playing the same position, both draftees and in the NFL.

Handsback's picture

I agree with Turophile in that the Combine is important in two phases that fans don't see....The Medical report and the interview. You get a chance to do a face to face with most all of the draft prospects. You also can see how badly the knees are damaged or back, ankle, shoulder, or whatever.

You can also see if their times and strength/power match to what you see in the film. One college scout said he could look at a person's walk from behind and almost tell you if he had a balance or speed issue. Not sure I believed him, but I bet some of these GMs can see little things that we miss all the time. Which I also agree with Turophile in that the teams big board doesn't change that much after the Combine. It only changes a lot for the Draft guys who publish their opinions.

So who may the latest darling of the Combine? I will bet it will be a CB/FS or a pass rusher. I'm going to guess that Sam Hubbard the DE from Ohio State. He's got good film, will test out of sight, and is pretty healthy. So I look for him to climb after the Combine.

Turophile's picture

It'll be a QB Handsback, it's (almost) always a QB. I remember the Tebow hype, and the Manziel hype, both QBs who people should have know were very unlikely to make an NFL splash.

Guys like Eisen are told to big-up certain players, usually polarising players, essentially being dictated to by the media chiefs. They want a bit of a circus and a bit of controversy. That gets in the way of good eval comments. Who cares if Michael Sam (actually not a QB, but a DE) was openly gay, not me. He got a ton of coverage, but was barely draftworthy (drafted #246th, waived the same October).

I wish the media was more 'hands off' on the experts. Let Mayock and Davis big up whoever catches their eye, let them point out flaws when they see them, i don't want to see them sucked into the media tornado that surrounds certain mogul-selected targets. Let Eisen fly virtually solo on those media darlings, and I can then just dismiss that and listen to the others.

PS Shaquem Griffin will be at least one of the guys getting the spotlight this year, because he only has one hand. I wish they'd ease up on the guy. Mention the missing hand by all means, but just treat him like anyone else (which is almost certainly what he wants).

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

I disagree. The combine and the times recorded electronically and the distances jumped matter. Pro days are generally hand-timed, and one gets weird reports of Monty running a 4.38 at his pro day. The medicals and interviews matter.

Generally, the combine times should be used to confirm what a scout sees on tape. But for guys from small schools where competition is in question, reps on the bench and the times definitely do matter.

The TKstinator's picture

Electric times are much more accurate than hand times, and back when I was involved in track and field, the standard conversion was to add 0.24 seconds to a hand time to get an electric (aka AccuTrack) time.

carlos's picture

Agree. The combine has its place. Besides, it kicks off football somewhat and is fun to watch if you’re a big fan. It also gives you a look at players you know nothing about. I always look forward to it.

Rossonero's picture

The Underwear Olympics aka The Combine gives some helpful info., but some teams go over board. Take it all with a grain of salt.

Plenty of Combine stars did not amount to much and of course some do poorly, but that shouldn't mean they are dismissed.

The best audition is what the player has already done -- their game tape.

The TKstinator's picture

Or even two grains.

Nick Perry's picture

Jason Spriggs had an AMAZING combine...Need I say more? I remember one of those drills where he turned and back-peddled running backwards. Now granted it was impressive for a man of his size to be able to run that quickly backwords. On the other hand WHO CARES when talking about an O-Lineman!!!!

John Kirk's picture

Lol. Gutekunst gave the post selection presser on Spriggs. He was enamored with Spriggs measurables. I recently went back through some old Gutey pressers to try and get a feel for the guys he likes. I would bet the combine has taken a huge step up in prominence for our org.

In going back through old pressers, Brian seemed to be the guy to speak to guys taken in Round 2. I hope that wasn't because he was the reason we drafted Spriggs and Josh Jones. If so, Brian is clearly about measurables. No question in my mind he's about size and speed.

4thand1's picture

Every sport is about size and speed.

John Kirk's picture

Do you think Ted prioritized it? Brian will. I can't imagine Brian drafting Jake Ryan and thinking he's a great fit in the modern NFL.

My read on Brian is a guy who'll jump on guys with the measurables who are versatile. That is exactlfy what Spriggs and josh Jones were supposed to be and the guys he spoke to after we drafted them. So, I expect to see that same mentality when he captains his maiden draft.

I wouldn't think Josh Jackson would be his kind of guy if he runs like many expect, which isn't very fast. I would expect a guy like Davenport with his freakish attributes to be his kind of guy.

The combine, to me, is now something we better pay more close attention to than when Ted was here. I fully believe Brian will be swayed by what happens in Indy way more than Ted ever was.

Community Guy's picture

interesting thread. another question i have is how much input does TT have on draft weekend? given it is Gutekunst's first draft as GM, it may translate into some sway from TT.. at least when selecting offensive players, which Ted has had a history of success.

Johnblood27's picture

Many things in Life IN General are all about size and speed...

Tundraboy's picture

Maybe he could be a tight end, NP
If he has the hands. Would not be any worse than RRod

carlos's picture

Running backwards if you’re a DB is great, but Jason Spriggs? Not sure if can be an asset to the Packers. Hope I’m wrong and he’s just a slow developer.

carlos's picture

TE? Can’t be any worse than tackle.

sonomaca's picture

People knew Spriggs was a project. That’s why he was a second rounder. I think Spriggs was a risk worth taking. Still do. This may be the year where he becomes a contributor.

carlos's picture

Hope your right. sonomoca.

carlos's picture

Almost spelled your handle correctly. lol.

RCPackerFan's picture

For me the combine is more of who stands out and if they stand out how does it compare to their game tape. If what they do at the combine matches what you see on the field that's a good thing. Means the player is legit.

If the player stands out at the combine but didn't show that kind of playing speed or whatever, that to me is a red flag. But it also forces teams to go back and see if they missed something on those players.

The combine is a tool to see how the players compare. Where they stand up vs other players. It should be used as a tool, not the final decision on players.

John Kirk's picture

Mike Mamula will always be a name linked to combine warrioring.

Matt Jones is one of my favorite combine guys. What a disaster of a 1st round pick he was.

Certain positions like WR and RB rely on 40 time, 3 cone...same for WR and EDGE players. Certain drills are going to push a player up or down the board.

Paul Dawson stands out as a guy who was hurt by the combine. Some would argue character but his 4.93 40 hurt him.

LaDarius Gunter's 4.69 40 time hurt him making his tape less relevant.

If the combine was truly just noise then all 32 teams wouldn't be descending upon Indy annually.

Look at a guy like Austin Ekeler. If not for a regional combine he's never discovered. A scout got a look at his build, his huge thighs, and his speed and he became a factor for the Chargers as a rookie.

Gutekunst is a speed size guy. I went back through old pressers to get an idea of what he was about. He gave the presser post Josh Jones selection. His words indicated he's about speed and size's importance. I would expect this to be the most important combine to our org in 13 years.

Nick Perry's picture

Or the kid from Ohio State taken by the Jets....Vernon Gholston. I heard the comment "Looks like Tarzan plays like Jane" more times when discussing that kid. He look like he'd been chiseled from stone. He played in 45 career games and didn't record a single sack. This from a guy who demolished the Underwear Olympics and had an even better Pro Day.

Cubbygold's picture

Gholston was a stud at OSU, not sure why it didn't translate. I don't remember anything about his pro day or anything, but I'm pretty sure he was a projected first rounder before any of that happened. So yeah, he's an example of a guy who (i guess) killed it in these events, but he was also someone who came with a great college track record.

dobber's picture

The Combine is not much more than a fan event, anymore. It's orchestrated to keep us interested in the machinations of the league in the doldrums of the off-season. What it does do, though, is give a platform to some kids who would never get much look otherwise. They get a chance to make their case and compel personnel guys to look deeper at their film. What it also does is create some context on an even footing as scouts and GMs go to pro days where the numbers and conditions are far more player friendly.

4thand1's picture

I think a lot goes into the interviews by GM's and coaches. They talk to just about everyone.

Community Guy's picture

my understanding is that the Combine was created to allow all the teams in the league to do one medical (say an X-ray) on a given draft prospect. out of convenience, the interviews and athletic testing were added. i imagine the role of the Combine has increased due to all of the communication that goes on between organizations which are all in one place over a long period of time.

carlos's picture

Good point CC. Possibly a place to get some deals rolling.

carlos's picture

You’re right Dobber and I’m a fan who looks forward to it. I get to know a few players,like I posted earlier, that I haven’t heard of. It also helps with the winter doldrums. lol

carlos's picture

Plus it’s football.

EdsLaces's picture

"Here's a guy who wears glasses so he can see better "

Savage57's picture

I'll tune in to watch Run, Rich, Run.

As the most entertaining aspect of the whole affair, it tells you all you need to know about the importance of the combine.

stockholder's picture

You guys must like tape. Or is it you fall in love with players. The combine changes Draft boards every year. Not to mention drug testing. It's a must for every GM now. It gives small schools a chance to be noticed. But it is not without Warning. Yes there are workout warriors. But the biggest thing is who can stand or better their times. Your all missing the POINT!

Cubbygold's picture

Wasn't it a privately held 'combine' in Chicago that got Adam Theilen noticed by Minn?

worztik's picture

I’ve always wondered how an evaluation of a player can be made and be useful, when the majority never play the same opponents, with the same skill sets!!! I love WI Badger players and TT treated them like they were all diseased!!! Look at the players around the league that come from the Badger’s burrow and excel in the league! I don’t feel anything is really gained as far as adding to a player’s resume’, but, a player from a small school, if invited, may show he can hold his own against the BIG GUYS. I really enjoy the draft mags and I’ll get 5-6 of them and compare the differences from one to another as written by the “experts” at the various mags. It’s funny how every one has 2-3 players at the top rated equally but, after that, it’s a crap shoot! As it’s been said before,”It’s a meat market! and nothing more! My advise to Gute would be to look at WI players and Big10 guys, and others, who’ve played at Northern Schools and have played in the cold and know what the weather in GB is like!!! Maybe a minor issue... but, not for Vic Ketchman and pumping gas in the Winter in Green Bay!!! Just sayin’....

Community Guy's picture

if he goes on to have a good career, i imagine folks in WI will talk about the decision to pass on TJ Watt for a while. i always thought that the Packers had an advantage to make a good decision given the Watt's roots in WI. Ted liked Biegel. for me, Ted taking Biegel over Auburn's Carl Lawson is also questionable. then again, we have to remember that, due to the human element, drafting perfectly is impossible.

Cubbygold's picture

100% agree. In fact, Gute should probably eliminate any Wisconsin players that weren't born in Wisconsin since they only have a few years of experience with the cold and didn't grow up in it. He shouldn't look at any B1G players who play in the warm states south of WI either. I bet Canadian players would be even better since they know the cold really well.

Sure, maybe GB hit on a few guys from out of state. But that was all luck...

Rodgers - california
Jordy - Kansas
Cobb - Kentucky
Adams - California
Matthews - California
Clark - California
Burnett - Georgia
Jones (josh) - North Carolina
Jones (aaron) - Texas
Montgomery - California
Martinez - California
Perry - California

worztik's picture

You Cubbypink are a very humorous and knowledgeable dipstick!!! Your vast Packer information puts you right up there with the announcer for the Vikequeens!!!! Or are YOU a Queens fan sneaking into somewhere you’re not wanted!??? Anyway, smartass, I’ll look forward to reading more of your logical comments... CAN’T WAIT...!!!!

John Kirk's picture

I'm surprised Ted didn't draft more Badgers. He was big on fit, well, at least off the field, and who fits better in Green Bay than a kid who played collegiately in Madison?

carlos's picture

Worztic, you nailed it. The drafting of players in their own backyard has me scratching my head. It seems the team is loaded with guys from California every year. Not that I have a problem with that if they’re good players, but just agreeing with your post. Wisconsin has put out some good NFL players.

carlos's picture

Get some guys that can deal with the cold and not some who can’t wait for the season to end so they can fly to sunny skies and 70 degree plus weather.

Colin_C's picture

Unfortunately for scouts, combine speed does not translate to game speed necessarily. For example, there's a .03 difference between Jones' and Williams' 40 time. But when you watch them play, it's clear that Jones plays the game at a much faster speed than .03 seconds above Jamaal. The problem with the 40 yard dash is it's very technique based. A slower guy with better technique will often beat a faster guy who hasn't focused enough on his technique. But the technique for running a 40 is completely different than catching a pass in the flats and accelerating past the approaching LB. Obviously fast guys will still run a fast 40, but it's not the be all end all. The drill I'm actually more interested in is the 3 cone, especially for CB's, EDGE, and RB players.

Combine is certainly still useful (especially for interviews), but I'll always trust the tape over the measurables.

Johnblood27's picture

I would like to see the movement events being held in pads.

Carrying the extra weight and the change in balance (top heaviness) will make a big difference in transferring the skills into an actual football game.

sonomaca's picture

The combine drills are position-specific. The 40 is not that big a deal for RB’s. However, it clearly is for corners and receivers. Another example: Joey Bosa wasn’t impressive in most drills, except the 3-cone, where it counts for his position.

The combine really lets teams know about the overall athletic ability of players, and whether they perform well in drills important for particular positions.

stockholder's picture

Comp picks in. 4 to GB. 4,5,5,6.

Cubbygold's picture

Thats not as good as projected right?

John Kirk's picture

Right. It was projected by OTC to be: 3,5,5,5 From a 3rd to a 4th is a huge loss. That extra 3rd would've been great trade up ammo. A 4th doesn't quite have the same luster. Disappointing.

I wish the league would do away with comp picks. We turned it into a strategy and I don't think it was ever supposed to be that.

stockholder's picture

If the league did away with comp picks, the teams wouldn't have any Cap left. My feeling is they are looking at the Los Vegas Odds! Not at the team record, or the $$$ these guys got from other teams.

John Kirk's picture

? Why? If you don't sign your own you get nothing. Why would you lose cap? You don't have to overpay your own.

I got tired of hearing how if we didn't do this or that we'd get a comp pick and actually aim to do it.

stockholder's picture

TT did get some great players with the comps. But it seems more of a screw job lately. Still I think these guys can help. #133 Trayvon Henderson SS 4.48 Hawaii or Marquis Haynes OLB 4.63 Miss #172 Kyle Lauietta QB Richmond or Madison Cole OG /Ot #174 Auden Tate Wr FL. or jc Jackson CB 4.49 Ck. Past! Maryland #207 Taron Johnson CB 5"11" 4.48 Weber state or DJ. reed 4.47 CB /KR Kansas. You don't really think were going to have cap room after A-Rod gets signed do you?

dobber's picture

Cap room for rookies? Yes.

carlos's picture

Screwed again

flackcatcher's picture

The ability to get extra draft picks was suppose to be the reward its self. You never know what might turn up, so in the big picture it's good. That said I agree that comp picks was never meant to be used as chips in the draft position game. Still, makes the odds of getting NFL ready players higher. I'll take that.

stockholder's picture

Comp Picks trade value= #133-40, #172- 23,# 174- 22. # 207-9 = 94 points ! To trade up from #14 to #13 takes 150.(doesn't seem right) And then add 50 points each pick to get to 8*. So it would take a #1, #3, and their comp picks to get to 10. Thats by a trade value chart. Some vary. Do we need to re-think signing Burnett? R. Rodgers and Janis too?

sonomaca's picture

That’s a great point. In a top-heavy class like this, teams are going to be wheeling and dealing comp picks to get back into top 50. Packers will clearly be trying to do that. The lack of 3rd round comp pick was a real blow to the Packers move-up plans.

I’m guessing the absence of two 3rd rounders is going to cause Gute to be more aggressive in FA.

flackcatcher's picture

My Mom, Mother in law and now my Wife are fans of the combine. (Wife has become a big fan) You can guess why. Without fail it's 'honey maybe you should watch your weight. Darling perhaps you should exercise a bit more.' And that was after I had finished a 10 k run. At least my daughter hasn't been sucked in. Yet. Underwear Olympics indeed.

Bure9620's picture

I put more stock into the 3 cone than 40 time. An athletic player that can make quick cuts and change directions in tight spaces is more applicable to route running and coverage than running in a strait line from a 4 point stance.

Colin_C's picture

Agreed 110%! Especially for defensive guys, as they have to be more reactive.

carlos's picture

College coaches wanted quick twitch for the DB’s and wanted you to run backwards almost as fast as you could forward. Also good hip movement and criss crossing your legs while running backwards.

carlos's picture

Also tackle. Wrap up when you tackle. Fundamentals stressed heavily.

sonomaca's picture

If the Packers feel there is a future top 10 QB still on the board at #14, or perhaps at #13, I think they MUST get him. MUST.

I wouldn’t force the issue, but if they’re reasonably sure, that’s a rare opportunity. You’ve got 1st round QB’s for 5 years! Rodgers will be almost 40 at that point.

The three who may be there are Rosen, Jackson, and Rudolph.

sonomaca's picture

Plus, that solves the backup QB problem, and those guys are going to fetch $10-$15 million going forward.

carlos's picture

Also get a potential good QB on the cheap for awhile.

sonomaca's picture

I think you’ve got to look at the 1st round and free agency together. If QB’s, boundary corners, edge rushers, and left tackles fetch the most money, there should be a premium on drafting them in round 1.

Having them on the roster for 5 years saves you big bank. That’s also why you normally don’t draft guards, RB’s, safeties, or inside LB’s in round 1. Want to save salary cap by having premium positions filled by players on rookie deals.

Chuck Farley's picture

I know one thing, spielman of the vikes places a very high importance on intellegence. Talent and brains are his forte. Over the years they've been the least penalized team. With that said I think Ted's forte was to dis regard players injury history. My take is the pack led the league in injuries due to drafting injury prone guys.
King, serious shoulder injury as freshman, again as a senior, missing lots of games. Now were stuck with his health issues.
Thus the combine can do a lot for you depending on your draft philosophy. Best person available is great when your loaded with talent. No so when you have mucho holes to fill

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