All eyes on the NFL scouting combine but how useful is it?

Mississippi State defensive lineman Montez Sweat runs the 40-yard dash during the NFL scouting combine. Picture: Darron Cummings/AP
Mississippi State defensive lineman Montez Sweat runs the 40-yard dash during the NFL scouting combine. Picture: Darron Cummings/AP
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The NFL scouting combine has been taking place in Indianapolis with the crop of college players entering this year’s draft performing various training drills and strength and speed trials for the benefit of the general mangers and coaches who might want to try to grab them for their team.

The tests the potential draftees are asked to complete involve no real-game situations and they are not even padded up while performing some drills – it’s a real cattle market.

One of the big talking points, however, wasn’t even the performance of potential first-round quarterback Kyler Murray.

Oklahoma’s Murray has been in the headlines since early December when he became favourite for the Heisman Trophy – the coveted award given out annually to the “best” college player of the year. But it wasn’t his drive for the Heisman that had people talking but the fact that Murray had already been drafted by the Oakland A’s of Major League Baseball, and received a $4.66million signing cheque.

After much toing and froing Murray eventually declared he was entering the NFL draft. So the prodigious talent is heading for a league where size matters and the conversation shifted to his height – or lack thereof.

There was a lot of fuss in the media when he checked in at 5ft 10⅛in, confirming he would be the shortest quarterback in the league. More importantly, his hand size came in at 9½ inches… but what does this actually mean?

Very little, apparently. To NFL skills evaluators it means that Murray is now a serious contender to be the No 1 quarterback in the draft.

Among the other measurements at the NFL Combine are athlete’s speeds over 40 yards.

One player who excelled in this test was Montez Sweat, who is projected to be drafted as a defensive end. The Mississippi state player set a combined record for a defensive lineman running the 40yds in 4.41seconds and added to the hype by putting in great showings in other drills.

One scout described him as moveing “like a wide receiver through the bags, exhibiting outstanding lateral quickness and change-of-direction ability”.

In the wide receiver group, the two standouts were also both from Mississipi (is there something in the water there?) AJ Brown and DK Metcalf both put in outstanding performances. Metcalf is 6ft 3in and registered a 11ft 2in vertical leap. Current NFL cornerbacks will probably not be looking forward to covering him.

But it’s not just about physical ability. Coaches sit down with players and run through game film and situations to understand how players process information.

The players also sit the “Wonderlic Test”, a common examination taken by students entering the job market in the US. It consists of 50 questions to be answered in 12 minutes. The questions are aimed at assessing a player’s intelligence, problem-solving ability and general potential. Teams evaluate the scores based on which position a draftee is expected to play with quarterbacks and linebackers expected to score highly.

The combine, however, isn’t the be all and end all. There are only 338 invitations sent out and some players would dispute the validity of the event.

Among current NFL stars not invited to the combine are Seattle Seahawks’ Doug Baldwin, with over 6,500 receiving yards and 49 touchdowns to his name, and three -time Super Bowl champion Julian Edelman.

The idea that the teams will learn more about a player in a non-game, non-contact environment seems silly to me. Outside the physical measurements and sitting with a player, I’m not sure what teams learn from someone running 40 yards unchallenged.

Even the interviews are limited to 15 minutes and all of these players will have “pro days” at their colleges where they will work out in a more competitive environment.

Even Murray – the talk of the combine – chose not to participate in the athletic side of the drills. So while the combine fills many column inches – including mine – the value of the event is more in the NFL reminding us that football is now a year-round attraction.