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Combine prep

Posted by Doug on April 20, 2007

On the NFL Network's draft preview show earlier this week, Mike Mayock expressed frustration that more and more prospects --- all of them, basically --- are spending January through March training specifically for combine drills. This makes it difficult to determine whether those 40 times represent real speed that will translate to the football field, or merely track speed that will disappear as soon as the pads go on and the players are having to think and run at the same time.

As a college professor who occasionally participates in admissions-related activities, I can sympathize. Just as the skills (namely speed, quickness, and strength) that lead to good results in combine drills are closely related to the skills that players need to succeed in the NFL, the skills that cause a student to do well on the SAT are indeed correlated with the skills that cause students to succeed in college. But what a student learns at an SAT prep class serves only to improve the test score itself, not to improve the actual abilities that admissions people hope the test is trying to measure. One test prep center advertises, "Spend a little time getting to know the SAT better and you can find out how to use the structure and format of the test to your advantage." In other words, it's not about making yourself more prepared for college. It's about making yourself appear more prepared for college.

If I had access to an honest account of how many hours of SAT prep each applicant had (and in which program), I think I could make smarter admissions decisions by discounting the scores of those who spent the most effort bolstering their appearance.

I, of course, have no such account. But NFL teams do. They know exactly where all these players have been spending their time since January. So this seems to me like an opportunity for smart teams to gain an advantage. Some of these combine training facilities have been around for a decade now. Figure out how many hundredths each of these camps shaves off the 40 time of a typical player. Then figure out whether those hundredths stayed off when the player reached the NFL. In other words, did they teach him how to run a faster 40, or did they actually teach him some meaningful techniques that he was able to translate to the field? If the former, and then add it back on for the purposes of evaluation.

Suppose a guy "played like a 4.6 guy" in college, but ran a 4.45 at the combine. Go look at his rookie year film and determine whether he played more like a 4.6 guy or a 4.45 guy in the pros. You might find that the guys who worked out at Training Facility A were in general able to maintain their speed gains while those who trained at Facility B were not.

Don't be frustrated by it, use it.

On the flip side, if I were an agent, I might at this point be tempted to hire a team of ex-NFL coaches and publicly advertise that my players are specifically not training for the combine drills. Instead, they're getting actual NFL coaching, doing football work, and learning how to train like NFL players train. Essentially, my guys will have a head start in terms of picking up NFL terminology and schemes because they haven't been wasting their time learning to keep their elbows in while they run, or trying to put on weigh-in pounds that are going to come off after three days of real practice.

This entry was posted on Friday, April 20th, 2007 at 4:58 am and is filed under NFL Draft. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.