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Silverman: NFL Combine Drills Often Overrated When Drafting A Player

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Tyrann Mathieu at the 2013 NFL Combine. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Tyrann Mathieu at the 2013 NFL Combine. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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By Steve Silverman-

(CBS) The silly season is under way, as the NFL Scouting Combine has opened in Indianapolis. The idea, of course, is that every NFL team has a chance to get better through the draft that will be held in May. And if you’re going to draft a player, you might as well know as much about that players as possible.

The idea makes sense to a large degree. NFL teams invest millions in the players they draft, and teams don’t like to be embarrassed by off-the-field problems. If a player has a propensity for anti-social behavior of any kind, it has a right to know about it and investigate to get as much information before that huge investment is made.

But the closer teams get to the draft, one area seems to get less important with each passing year: how that player performed on the field for his college team.

The actual scouting reports of college players are informative and chock full of information. Those scouting reports detail a player’s technique, strengths and weaknesses and also label the level of competition.

If the scout is good at his job, there’s almost always enough from the scouting reports to tell teams if a player has the ability to contribute at the next level.

But the combine, pro days and individual workouts often confuse things. General managers, chief scouts and coaches are not that different from you and me. They want to see something that stands out. They want something to hang their hat on. Something that not only tells them a player is worthy of being given a uniform, but also will allow the drafting general manager to tell the world that he is a “genius.”

Not in so many words, but a general manager who can draft that game-changing player in the third or fourth round will get a lot of respect when his next contract is up.

There’s a lot of ego involved when it comes to finding top players to select, and most general managers aren’t completely willing to rely on their scouts.

In generations past, it was easier to do so. There wasn’t as much detailed film on all players, and if a trusted scout provided his report, it was often taken on its face.

In the modern game, the scout writes his detailed report, and the video to back it up is readily available. One scout may look at a player one way, and a second scout may back that opinion up. That’s often not enough for general managers, who want to come to their own conclusion.

Listen to what Mike Lombardi, who was recently fired by the Browns and will be at the combine with the New England Patriots, told the NFL Network.

“There are times in which many people, including myself, have gone to the combine and fallen in love with numbers, then begun to build a case for a player,” Lombardi said. “The combine is an athletic test, not a football test, which means problems arise when teams fall in love with the athlete and not the player. Each time a player has a great workout at the combine, there is a huge push to view the tape with colored glasses.”

Executives want to be right, and they want to get credit. That may not be the sole reason for drafting a player, but even if it impacts the selection one iota, that could cause failure.

The combine often does an excellent job of defining the best athletes available in the draft and often does a poor job of finding the best football players.

A player may open eyes with his time in the 40-yard dash or his quickness in the three-cone drill or impress with his strength and explosive power in the bench press. But that same player may have a hard time mustering that same athletic ability when faced with a nasty, snarling football player on the other side of the line.

Teams need to find out if a player is going to be a man of his word and if he has a tendency to get in trouble off the field or not. Those are important issues.

But the best way to determine a player’s ability is to see him in competition in a game setting. His play during the season, in bowl games and events like the Senior Bowl are real. His performance in shorts and a T-shirt at the combine and pro days is just so much fool’s gold.

Follow Steve on Twitter @profootballboy and read more of his columns here.

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