Over the course of this draft process, NFL teams and fans are gearing up for what is one of the most exciting parts of the year: the NFL Draft. Front offices and coaching staffs are making their final arrangements and adjustments to their big boards with players that they feel will contribute to their team. Teams are debating whether they will take the best player available, draft a player that fills a position of need, or even both, as different teams come with different situations. Nonetheless, this is all part of the excitement that builds up to draft day. As pro days and different draft events have been held, I have heard many NFL fans inform me that their biggest wish is for the NFL Combine to be eliminated, since it is, according to one fan, “A waste of my and everyone else’s time.” While I understand where that fan is coming from, I couldn’t disagree with them more. Here is why:
Much of what we know to be true is accumulated through our interactions with others. It is my firm belief that this holds true for some, if not many, NFL franchises. General Managers and Coaching Staffs are able to watch as much tape on a player as they want. They can hire analytics personnel as part of their draft assessment and do all the fancy mathematical analysis that they need to. Yet, statistics can only prove so much. If I were Doug Whaley and I saw a stat about a WR who posted a 4.38 40-yard dash time, then common sense would tell me to take an interest in that player. I could hear all these great things about that WR, yet if I were to hold a private workout with him and he could not perform up to the hype that surrounded him under pressure, then I would not be as willing to draft that player as much as before. Mentally, that player cannot prepare himself for stressful situations no matter how much talent he may have.
Many people will call me crazy for saying this, but the NFL Combine offers many intangibles that watching tape or attending pro days doesn’t. Players are able to meet with teams and both parties are able to gain an accurate assessment and understanding about one another. Teams can have a good foundation for knowing a player’s skills, knowledge, and abilities, also known in economics as ‘human capital,’ through interviews, live workouts, etc. Pro days are a good means of assessment, but they do not offer the full interview process like the Combine does, which can be difficult for some teams’ assessments. Furthermore, many press conferences are held at the NFL Combine, in which players entering the draft are thrown into the fire. The media often ask them pertinent and tough questions. Teams may have the desire to attend or listen in to these press conferences in order to gain an indication as to how a player not only composes himself, but also deals with the media. On tape and at pro days these are not featured as much. The full experience is what allows teams to see what each player has to offer firsthand. Therefore, when I hear this talk from TV analysts on NFL Network or Bills fans that I have talked to, it only disappoints me to see them downplay the importance of the Combine. I hope that they can come to understand the meaning of what experience truly does for an individual, as it provides opportunity for learning, growth, and development. For teams and players, this can certainly be a mutually advantageous two-way street.