With the NFL combine nearing its close, all the teams in the league have gotten a pretty good look at what physical skills the draft eligible players possess. However, the San Francisco 49ers don’t bank on the combine statistics to evaluate the players that interest them. As a matter of fact, the 49ers rely more on game film and personal interviews than anything when they evaluate players. That fact is a big sigh of relief to 49ers fans, since most believe that too much stock is put into the draft. Even around the entire league, opinions of the combine workout are dropping with each passing year. The problem with the NFL Combine is that it gauges very specific feats like speed, strength, and quickness. Unfortunately, it does not provide any insight into the player’s football instincts, work ethic, game time knowledge, and character.
The individual positional workouts can be helpful in terms of arm strength and break away speed, but they are performed without any defense to create pressure. Therefore, how can they be judged for in game capabilities.
For instance, the 40-yard dash has always been a major staple at the combine. It judges basically how quickly a participant reaches his top speed and if he can do it with in 40 yards. And while that is very helpful, it does not demonstrate the more important factors associated with speed in the NFL. There is no doubt that the 40-yard dash is heavily looked at when it comes to wide receivers, running backs and tight ends. They tend to be the ones running the ball a majority of the time. But the 40-yards dash does not evaluate how well a receiver runs a route or how well he separates from defenders. You can be the fastest guy in the world, but if you don’t have the skill set to get open, what good is all that speed? And the same goes for running backs. Speed makes not a bit of difference if you do not have running instincts to put yourself in situations where you can take advantage of speed. A guy that can run a 4.4 40-yard dash might necessarily have the uncanny ability to always hit the hole hard as a premium first string running back.
And the bench press, which is great to measure raw strength, but what if you don’t have the balance to utilize strength to your advantage? The bench press is particularly used when evaluating linemen, which is ultimately useless when core balance and footwork drive most of a linemen’s performance. When rushing a passer or protecting the quarterback, the most important asset a linemen has is his feet and how well he uses them.
Then there’s the broad jump, which is probably the most useless of the tests in the combine. It judges how far an athlete can jump from a fixed position. Unfortunately, there is not a single instance where this would come in handy in a game situation. Mostly because the game is in constant motion on every play, and players would not find themselves in a position to use such a talent. If they had to jump at anything or any player, more than likely they would be already moving their feet, by either running, shuffling, stepping, or back pedaling.
When you think about all the tests performed at the combine, probably the most useful one is the Wonderlic test. It gauges a player’s mental capacity and tests his intelligence. It’s probably the most useful combine test because of the high society standard of living that these college kids are entering into. Money and fame bring with them a multitude of different issues that these kids have not dealt with before, it’s a lot to take in when they switch gears from a college star to an NFL player. And if the Wonderlic test shows that the student is intelligent to a certain level, than they are statistically more apt to making good decisions in life. Granted that is not always the case, but teams stand a better chance of it with high Wonderlic scores.
The combine ends on February 26th, and decisions across the NFL will be made. It’s good to see the 49ers look past the obvious and stick to their instincts, because that, in the end, is all that really counts.
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