The smart teams understand that the NFL Scouting Combine is just a piece of the draft puzzle. They recognize the paramount importance of the medical exam and meeting the players face-to-face as they gather extensive information on their physical skills, mental capacities, emotional makeup and medical background.
Keep in mind the logistical flow of the draft process. Every team’s college scouts have seen these players, in person and on film. NFL coaches, for the most part, have not, since the large majority of their time preceding the Combine is spent on free agency.
The limitations of the Combine must be understood. Evaluating players working out in shorts and T-shirts has little value when compared to studying college coaching film.
But here’s the critical caveat: You must have total knowledge of the NFL game and a complete grasp of the significant differences between Sunday football and Saturday football. It comes down to a simple yet basic question, the only one that should be asked: How does a player project and transition to the NFL? That’s what the entire evaluation procedure should be about.
The key in assessing college players is not to be blinded by production but rather to understand the traits and attributes that translate to the NFL.
Let’s look at the quarterback position, the glamour position in any draft. Unlike college football, quarterback in the NFL is a passing position. If you cannot drop back, plant your back foot and deliver the ball to the correct receiver at the correct time and at the correct spot, you cannot succeed in the NFL.
Take this a step further. The NFL is a much faster game with better athletes and players all across the board, especially in the secondary. As a result, arm strength, once viewed as a luxury but not a necessity, clearly increases in importance. If not studying NFL coaching tape with diligence, you might not have the necessary framework to make this judgment.
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It’s difficult to be a quality NFL quarterback without the ability to deliver the ball with velocity at the intermediate and deeper levels of the defense. As a corollary, it’s equally as important to show the willingness to stick passes into tight windows.
One more thing: NFL quarterbacks must throw with timing and anticipation. That means pulling the trigger before receivers come out of breaks. If you can’t do that, you can’t play in the NFL.
Many other qualities are demanded, like pocket movement and the ability to throw with bodies all around you, but you get the idea. This is why it is problematic to evaluate spread option quarterbacks, who are not asked to do much of anything in college that translates to playing in the NFL.
Vague concepts like “he’s a winner” or “he just makes plays” sound good but are irrelevant.
It starts with the ability to throw the ball, and all the ancillary qualities that entails. If you don’t possess those traits, the intangibles don’t
At the Combine, running back and cornerback also grab the spotlight because of the overinflated emphasis on the 40-yard dash. Running fast in a straight line might be one of the most meaningless statistics in football.