Is The NFL Combine Irrelevant? My View


“ the will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win”

Vince Lombardi

Bill Belichick on training for the NFL Combine;

“I think that’s a huge mistake that a lot of those players make, but I’m sure they have their reasons for doing it,”

So, who’s right? Is training for the NFL Combine preparing to win or, should the concentration be on what Coach Belichick might refer to as more “football related” stuff?

It’s never easy to disagree with Bill Belichick in New England but, here I go anyway.

First off let me say that I may have invented Combine Training in the eighties. At least that’s what Pete Williams says in his book The Draft. I have trained some great players, some workout wonders and lots of guys in between.

Lets initially look at this from the players and agents perspective. For at least the last twenty years the NFL has loved numbers. Many players have skyrocketed up team draft boards based on combine performance ( think Mike Mamula, Vernon Davis, Eric Swann) Many players have also dropped down based on poor performance or simply based on the fact that although they appeared to be very good at college football they may have lacked the measurables necessary in the NFL. ( Think Maurice Clarett running 4.7 at the combine).

Now, lets deal with reality. The Combine tests are test that can be trained for. A good combine preparation coach can make a significant difference in performance. That difference can alter draft position. Getting drafted higher obviously gets you a better look in the NFL. Why would players not do this?

In my mind players who don’t prepare for The Combine are telling you something about their “will to prepare to win”. I have often called the NFL Combine “the first and biggest job interview of your life”. Training for The Combine to me is like shining your shoes and putting a tie on for a job interview. Who wants some slob to show up for a job interview thinking he’s a shoe in?

Other reasons I’m Pro Combine

  • The Combine allows a level playing field. Everyone has to show up and do the same drills, in the same shoes on the same surface. This gives teams a very apples to apples comparison.
  • The Combine puts all the players in one place. You can see attitudes and behaviors that may not be visible in a “staged” workout at a college. I used to tell our guys “remember, the Bill Parcell’s of the world are watching everything you do. If you fall down, get up and finish the drill. Be a competitor every second”.

Other things to think about?

Teams still need to do their homework. Being great at the combine doesn’t make you a good football player. It only validates that you have the physical tools to play football. Taking guys of questionable character who do well at The Combine is the teams mistake, not the players. Same for taking a guy who is not a great player but, is great at the “events”. In the end, the NFL is not a track meet or a weightlifting contest. I like to use the tool analogy. The Combine is one evaluative tool, not the only evaluative tool. You need many tools to build a house.

Teams also need to track how much Combine prep an athlete has done. An athlete who plays on a non-bowl team may have what amounts to an entire 12 week off season to train to prepare for the Combine. If I am given that amount of time I can significantly alter the scores.

An athlete who plays in the National Championship ( and this list includes many potential first rounders) would have less than six weeks if they quickly began training with very little time to recover. 4 weeks might be a more realistic estimate of training time for those players. This can disrupt our “apples to apples” comparison significantly.

Chase Goodbread’s February 18th blog sums it up well

“Belichick’s argument that excellence in combine drills doesn’t necessarily foretell excellence on the football field is most certainly on the mark. But as for his suggestion that prospects should be doing something else with their time in the weeks before the combine, who is he kidding? In January, most of them are just coming off a 13-game season following a bowl appearance. If they take just a week off to recuperate, they’re then looking at a six-week window before the combine. It’s a competitive environment to impress 32 NFL clubs and stake as much of a claim as possible to millions of dollars in rookie salaries.

For many, pro football is a short-term career that might not pay at all beyond the first contract signed. For some, excelling at the combine is the only chance to be drafted at all, much less flourish as a pro. So forgive them if they’re more concerned about draft position than anything else at this time of year.”

 

Well said. According to the NFLPA the average career length is 3.3 years. Many careers are ended by injury. Training reduces injuries. How can training be bad?

The other reality is that most NFL head coaches have never watched Combine Preparation. When we were prepping athletes for The Combine we followed a nearly identical program to our off season program that we used to get ready to play football. In other words, we did what we will always did. We trained to get faster and, more powerful. The big difference was that we spent an extra 15-20 minutes a day working on “events”. Much like a decathlete would work. We spent time primarily on the 10 yd dash, 20 shuttle and three cone drill as these were the drills we knew we could influence most. We did a few practice vertical jumps and broad jumps for technique but mostly worked to get back to August levels of lower body strength and power. On upper body days we did one set of “practice” for the 225 set.

To be honest, good Combine prep is simply showing that “will to prepare to win” and probably isn’t that different than the “physical football training” that Belichick references.

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