The NFL Meat Market

If you asked a group of men is they’ve ever watched an all-male beauty pageant, most of them would say no. But if you watched any of the NFL combine on the NFL Network this past weekend, then that’s exactly what you did. The combine has become just another event that NFL viewers tune into to wet their appetite for football. The combine’s most famous event, the 40 yard dash, has become must see TV for many of the avid NFL followers.

College players, if lucky enough to be invited, descend on Indianapolis for a weekend full of workouts, tests and interviews. These results can increase or decrease the potential draft position for many of those attending. If a prospect runs a fast 40 time, does X number of reps on the bench press and has a great vertical jump then they may see more general managers knocking on their doors. Well that’s what the NFL and those promoting the viewing of the combine would like you to think.

The reality is none of those things are really what NFL general managers and scouts are there for. There’s no denying that a strong showing can open the eyes of those attending the combine, but the most important things for general managers and coaches are the medical examinations and the interviews. The boring stuff.

Most talent evaluators do their evaluation based on game film, not how fast someone is able to run 40 yards in track shoes without pads on. Some of the best showings at the combine are by players who couldn’t play dead in a cowboy movie. Instead, those there to evaluate talent want to learn things about the player that game film can’t tell them.

Investing millions of dollars into a rookie player, especially before the new collective bargaining agreement, is a risky proposal. Most first and second round draft picks are the building blocks for franchises. Making sure that a player can actually play is probably the most important criteria when a team considers drafting a player, but knowing how they check out medically and even psychologically carry significant weight as well.

So while the NFL wants you to focus on the numbers that are coming out of the testing, those making the draft decisions are focused on what the medical examinations and team interviews tell them. Can you blame the NFL though? Would viewers really tune into to see an MRI of a knee or a player answering questions about his personal life? Excluding Manti Te’o, I’m guessing there wouldn’t be a lot of interest.

The most amazing thing to come out of the combine isn’t a sub 4.3 40 yard dash time, but the fact that the NFL finds a way to remain relevant all year long. Somehow during the middle of the NBA and NHL seasons, an all-male beauty pageant captures the attention of sports fans across the country. The fact that I’m even writing about it shows the NFL is doing their job. So next year when the NFL trots out the dog and pony show that is the NFL combine, just remember the most important things happening are the ones you can’t see.

 

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