Group Performance Tromps Individual Ability: A New Look Into the Flawed System of the NFL Combine
Written by Erica Siddle; Media by Kelsey Kuethe
The NFL Combine is the unofficial job interview for perspective college athletes hoping to make it in the big time. The week long test measures an athlete’s aptitude both on and off the field by requiring a player to take an accelerated version of an IQ test, as well as participate in numerous physical challenges. Every year, NFL scouts spend thousands of dollars traveling from college to college in their quest for the next rookie of the year. The standardized approach of the NFL Combine is reserved for the nation’s top recruits and is expected to give all 32 organizations an equal look at the value of each perspective player. While the Combine is seen by many as the unofficial make it or break it indicator of these athletes, the test has proven inaccurate in depicting a player’s success within the National Football League.
The question of the Combine’s true importance has been a topic among many football analysts in the last several years, especially when the results from the test are failing to correlate with player success. This leads many to believe the only real value the program offers is draft status. On a broad scale, the drafting of a player into the NFL is of a much larger scale than the job pool for typical employment. Thus, when looking at this level of competition, there has to be a method in which to evaluate these players. This method of using the Combine as an indicator is slowly becoming an over evaluation of a player’s individualized specific talent, instead of overall skill. Instead of focusing on a player’s overall talent, the Combine breaks down components of talent into several performance measurements. Players are tested in the following realms: 225 pound bench press test, 40 yard dash (with 10 and 20 yard split times), 20 yard shuttle, 60 yard shuttle, three cone drill, vertical jump, broad jump, and a written test called the Wonderlic. These measurements are then over evaluated, causing both scouts and coaches alike to make decisions based on high performance in a single realm versus the combination of each.
The largest complaint with this type of testing lies solely in the fact that there is no consistent statistical relationship between the results of a player during the Combine and their future NFL career. For example, the unofficial average score on the IQ test for an NFL quarterback is 24. This score, however, has proved to have no correlation with player success. For instance, Donovan McNabb and Brett Farve, scoring a 14 and 22 respectively, fell below the average but were some of the most successful quarterbacks in NFL history. But who cares about mental capacity when Robert Griffin III can bench press 225 pounds without breaking a sweat? Maybe no one does, but the National Football League should. If the NFL Combine was created as a means to help the organizations of the NFL save money while picking out the cream of the crop, it does just the opposite by creating a false image of a player’s aptitude. Rather than spending so much of the organization’s yearly budget on a four day testing period, the NFL would greatly benefit from approaching the draft from an entirely different standpoint.
ESPN journalist Jonah Leher believes the standardized approach to scouting leads to player downfall rather than success. To see how a player will perform in a game-day situation requires not only individual game-time experience, but a focus on the way an athlete performs in a group rather than individually. The Combine is an individual assessment; therefore, it does not factor in performance in a game environment with other players. That forces the question, why aren’t the players scrimmaging? The simple answer lies in the fact that we live in a society obsessed with maximum performance. Both fans and organizations would rather see up-and-coming athletes shatter old records than a bunch of sweaty players practicing in pennies. But if we truly strive for excellence within the NFL, maybe such a sacrifice should be made. We could call it the Collegiate ProBowl and maybe even invite fans to witness the action.
The NFL Scouting Combine is one of the most strenuous job interviews in the market today. Four days complete with various physical and mental tests seems to be the best way to standardize a large group of individuals. Yet, more often than not, the produced results are often inaccurate when achieving their purpose of predicting player success. The Combine is merely the fast way to pick an athlete from a large selection, which is proving to be considerably inconsistent with the attributes coaches are looking for to strengthen their teams. In order to successfully predict an athlete’s success within the National Football League, the league itself will need to change its approach from individual performance to group performance.