The NFL scouting combine is halfway complete. The offensive players were subjected to their dehumanizing workouts on Friday and Saturday. Defensive front-seven players go Sunday. Defensive backs wrap it up Monday.
In other words, we’re only halfway done with 3-cone drills, bench-press reps and broad jumps. And only halfway done with the nonsense.
The combine has become a well-attended and, in some circles, highly anticipated and passionately dissected event. It’s the boulder the NFL uses to hop from the Super Bowl to the draft without plunging into the icy stream of offseason irrelevance. Like everything in the NFL’s sphere of influence, the combine is vastly overhyped. And not just by us fans. By the teams, too.
Oh, some elements of the league’s annual draft-eligible cattle call are truly valuable. Like the medical physicals that await every player who has ever bruised a knee or tweaked a shoulder. And the personal interviews. You can learn a lot about a young man by sitting him down in a room full of coaches and scouts and peppering him with questions. For example, it was reported Friday that the Seattle Seahawks directed Texas punter Michael Dickson to stare as long as he could without blinking. This is an important thing to know about a player when he is up for contract negotiations.
The sham of the scouting combine is the array of physical skills that the 32 teams set out to gauge with stopwatches and tape measures.
Or perhaps I should rephrase that. It isn’t the drills that are the sham. It’s the weight that teams bestow upon them. This fraud is self-perpetrated.
Look at Saquon Barkley. The football world was abuzz as the Penn State running back prepared for his workouts. Barkley is expected to be one of the top five picks of the draft in late April, and he could go No. 1.
He did not disappoint. The first news alert Friday had to do with Barkley’s vertical leap, which bent gravity at 41 inches. But the sirens really started blaring after the running back ran the 40-yard dash and was timed in 4.40 seconds. That’s a nice 40-yard time for a running back. For a 233-pounder, it’s spectacular.
In fact, as Pro Football Focus “senior fantasy analyst” Scott Barrett tweeted, Barkley’s Speed Score — a weight-adjusted timing — was fourth best among all running backs in the past 10 years of combines.
Cannons fired. Fireworks exploded in the sky above Indianapolis. Men in licensed NFL apparel danced and chest-bumped as Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” pumped through the speakers at Lucas Oil Stadium. Barkley’s performance was more than an impressive feat of fast-twitch muscle. It was treated as a harbinger of greatness.
Now check out the three guys ahead of Barkley on the Speed Scoresheet. No. 1 is Georgia’s Keith Marshall (219 pounds, 4.31 seconds in 2016). No. 2 is Auburn’s Mario Fannin (231 pounds, 4.37 seconds in 2011). No. 3 is Arkansas’ Knile Davis (227 pounds, 4.37 seconds in 2013). Neither Marshall nor Fannin ever played a down in the NFL. Davis, the standout of the group, started two games over four seasons and rushed for a grand total of 805 yards.
Their size/speed ratio offered no powers of prediction.
Am I minimizing Saquon Barkley’s NFL potential? Uh, no. He is an amazing runner. It would be exciting if he somehow fell to the 49ers or Raiders. But guess what, people? You didn’t need to see him run a 40-yard dash in shorts and undershirt to know that. You had only to scan his statistics at Penn State (where he had 3,801 yards from scrimmage and scored 45 touchdowns in his final two seasons) or watch video of his 2017 highlights. You don’t need a Speed Score to understand that Barkley is agile enough to create a seam, and fast enough to leave an entire defense in his fumes.