The NFL Scouting Combine: Buyer Beware

By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //

With the first group of college players beginning to file into Indianapolis today, the annual pigskin prospect pageant is once again upon us. Monstrous men will be walking around in their underwear while men in suits will be scrutinizing just about every ounce of their being. The livestock will be on display as they weigh in for the farmers, who in two months will select their new crop and hope that the harvest is prosperous.

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Now comes the magical time when certain players miraculously shoot up and down the draft board due to their physical and mental evaluations as well as their results in a variety of activities designed to measure potential performance capabilities. Some guys run the 40-yard dash at such a rapid rate that the drool can practically be seen running down the chins of scouts on hand throughout Lucas Oil Stadium.

Although some of the numbers accumulated can be telling for certain aspects of the game, we all know how much these statistics mean without the matching play on the next level to back them up. It seems like every year there is at least one participant that mesmerizes the scouts and team executives with their accumulated figures only to make them regret their fascination in the years that follow.

I am sure that fans of the New York Jets begrudgingly remember the name Vernon Gholston, the workout warrior who hypnotized NFL scouts and executives with his brute strength, terrific speed, towering physique and impressive vertical leap. His phenomenal performance at the scouting combine convinced the Jets to take him sixth in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft.

We all know how that turned out as the perceived perfect pass rusher was unceremoniously let go after three years in which he produced zero sacks and barely even saw the field.

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Mr. Gholston is not the first to fool the experts with his colossal combine performance and he will certainly not be the last. More experienced fans can recall another combine superstar who was selected with the 2nd pick in the 1989 draft. As an offensive tackle, Tony Mandarich flashed a 4.65 in the 40, soared towards a 30” vertical and 10’3” broad jump, and pounded out 39 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. He went on to become one of the biggest busts in draft history.

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Another name that will live on in infamy due to his amazing combine performance and subsequent failure in the NFL, is former Philadelphia Eagle, Mike Mamula. After the Eagles traded their first-round draft pick (12th overall), and two second-round selections to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they chose the Boston College standout with the 7th pick in the 1995 draft.

Mike Mamula Eagles

Mamula’s astronomical numbers at the combine catapulted him to the top of draft boards. Running a 4.58 in the 40, with 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench, a 38” vertical and a 49-of-50 on the Wonderlic Test, was enough to make General Manager Harry Gamble bet on Mamula’s success at the next level. Well, he lost the wager as Mamula never really lived up to the hype in his 6-year career, although he did eclipse the level of performance displayed by Gholston and Mandarich, which a bar set rather low.

There are many more names that could be added to the list of scouting combine superstars that went on to vanish into obscurity, but teams continue to get fooled, year after year, by the chiseled physiques displayed and lofty numbers produced by players in Indianapolis.

As the immortal former President, George W. Bush, once said, “There’s an old saying in Tennessee … I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee … that says, fool me once, shame on … shame on you. Fool me … you can’t get fooled again.”

Despite the massive amount of peak performers at the combine that have disappeared when it came time for the real games to be played, there have also been several players who turned out to be the real deal.

Some of the best performances in the history of the combine came from names such as J.J. Watt, Deion Sanders and Calvin Johnson, all of which are among the best to ever play their positions. There was also Bo Jackson, who could arguably have turned out to be one of the greatest running backs in NFL history if not for his devastating hip injury in 1991, with his legendary hand-timed 4.12 in the 40.

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Over the years, there have also been numerous players whose stock has fallen as a result of poor performances or opting out of the combine, who have proceeded to have enormously successful NFL careers. Jerry Rice, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Antonio Brown, Anquan Boldin, Joe Haden and Elvis Dumervil are all players who did not show well at the annual pre-draft event, but I am sure that any GM in the history of the game would love to have even one of those guys on their team.

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Although you can find out a lot about a player’s mindset and physical attributes at the NFL Scouting Combine, it is also a time for scouts and executives to proceed with caution. May the buyer beware that what they are purchasing may come in a pretty package that turns out to be damaged goods once it is opened. Just because someone is an incredibly impressive athlete does not mean that they will end up in the NFL Hall of Fame.

Despite the fact that you can compile some interesting data on a player at the combine, it is always advisable to take it with a grain of salt and pay close attention to the details of their performance on tape as well. Evaluating players is far from an exact science, but it is the scouting staffs that can read between the lines of on-field performance and combine results that come away with the most success.

Let’s hope that Mike Maccagnan and the Jets scouts have done their homework and are not fooled by the impostors.

Here is the schedule of events for the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine from NFL.Com:

Wednesday, Feb. 24

» Media interviews for running backs, offensive linemen and special teamers

Thursday, Feb. 25

» Media interviews for quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends

Friday, Feb. 26

» Media interviews for defensive linemen and linebackers
» On-field workouts for running backs, offensive linemen and special teamers

Saturday, Feb. 27

» Media interviews for defensive backs
» On-field workouts for quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends

Sunday, Feb. 28

» On-field workouts for defensive linemen and linebackers

Monday, Feb. 29

» On-field workouts for defensive backs

For more information on the combine click the following link:

NFLCombine.Net

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