|Running for time and running with a football under your arm and defenders around you are entirely different skills and attitudes.|
I sure hope so. I have long been of the opinion that the whole thing is a monumental waste of time and resources. It has grown into an end in itself. I mean how often does anyone really run 40 yards in a straight line on the football field? Benchpressing 225 lbs. for maximum reps? Who really thinks that has any application to football performance? The combine has basically spawned new opportunities for personal trainer types to make some money. That's about it in my opinion.
Is this the end of the NFL combine as we know it?
National Football Scouting Inc., which runs the combine, is establishing a committee of league executives, scouts, coaches, athletic trainers, team physicians and others to review all phases of the annual event starting this week in Indianapolis, according to company president Jeff Foster.
The NFL’s operations department also is involved in the review process, which will include periodic checkpoints through April’s draft and beyond, Foster said – a sign of increased interest at the league level in a possible overhaul amidst evolving technology and sports science.
“Our first focus is to look at what we do currently and making sure that that’s relevant,” Foster told USA TODAY Sports. “And if it is, great, we’ll continue to do it, because historical comparison is really important to the evaluation process. But if we believe that there’s something that’s not relevant, then what can we replace it with that will help us evaluate the players?”
No, a quarterback’s throwing session on the field won’t be swapped for one in a virtual reality environment anytime soon. But the days of players training for months to score high in tests such as the 40-yard dash, vertical leap and bench press – sometimes derided as the “Underwear Olympics” – could be numbered.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is among those to criticize combine preparation as a waste of development time. Many NFL teams are integrating advanced evaluation tools in the draft process. League officials have heard presentations from a variety of experts in recent months. Commissioner Roger Goodell toured STRIVR Labs Inc.’s virtual reality facilities as part of his annual Silicon Valley tour in July.
“We’re continuing to explore everything in an effort to improve,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “So, if there are ways to tweak, improve, modify anything we do, we’ll explore that (and that includes) the combine. The mantra is, how can we get better?”
On Wednesday, the league will hold its first football performance and technology symposium, featuring speakers including Dr. Marcus Elliott, founder and director of P3, which has evaluated NBA combine participants the past two years in a 3D motion analysis lab.
“Everybody wins when you do these things,” said Elliott, a onetime physiologist and injury prevention specialist to the Patriots. “You start choosing players that are slotted more correctly based on their real physical tools, and you also have insight into injuries they’re at risk for, so you can help them prevent those injuries.”
The NFL combine did add a functional movement screen several years ago, as well as baseline neurological testing and the Player Assessment Tool, a psychological test developed in part through consultation with general managers as a supplement to the Wonderlic test. But many elements – most notable, tests and drills on the field – have been largely unchanged for decades.
Foster said he expects the new committee to review not only current physical evaluations, but psychological and medical evaluations, which generally are more important to teams at the combine.
“We want to make sure that we’re using the technology that’s available,” Foster said. “What I don’t think we’re interested in doing is beta testing. We want some proven elements that will help us better evaluate the players so that we can project college players to the NFL.”
Foster said NFS has done its own internal reviews of the combine since he arrived a decade ago, but its focus has primarily been on streamlining the data collection and delivery process. (A partnership with Microsoft produced an app that should help going forward.) That process continues, with rest time and mental fatigue for players among the issues being examined.
NFS also is looking into fitting players with some sort of devices to record data during on-field drills at the combine, as many NFL teams do during regular training, and motion-capture technology is another area of potential interest, Foster said.
“What I’ve learned in my short time here,” Foster said, “is nothing is impossible in terms of what we’ll do.”
The sooner the league starts collecting new kinds of data, the sooner it could amass enough to draw comparisons and learn from bad outcomes – a process many teams are going through with their in-house projects now. P3 has independently collected data on roughly a quarter of this year’s combine prospects through partnerships with agencies and a prominent training program, Elliott said.
Some changes could translate to not only better information for clubs and players, but a more compelling spectator event as well.
“You can get in on a really granular level and analyze these systems – even overlays of some of the stuff they do,” Elliott said. “They measure vertical jump, but there’s a lot of ways for two guys to both jump 38 inches. There’s potential for this thing to get so much smarter.”
Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero
|Quite a different skill set than running 40 yards for time.|
|An exercise in monumental irrelevance.|