I've been watching a little bit of the Combine this weekend, though I have to admit a lot of it's pretty dull. My hats off to the NFL Network for presenting it in a way that makes it infinitely more interesting than it actually is. Watching 300+ pound lineman run the 40 yard dash is just bad television, especially in HD.
Every NFL fan knows how vital the Draft is to having a great franchise. The NFL isn't like other leagues. True revenue sharing and a true salary cap create genuine parity in pro football. You can't ignore the draft and build a winner. In MLB you can buy a team. Same thing for the NBA. Do the LA Lakers ever have draft picks? It seems like they always give them up in ludicrous 5-team trades that land the biggest basketball names in Southern California.
But as our newly minted Chiefs head coach can attest to, in the NFL you can't just assemble an All Star team via free agency and expect winning results. When teams like Seattle have drafts like the had last year consistently (a franchise rookie quarterback in the third round?), you're really building a potential dynasty. NFL teams must draft well.
Our old pal Scott Piolo and a cast of other former GMs and coaches and players and scouts have been all over the NFL Network for the past couple of days, talking about what they're looking for out of athletes in the drills. To a degree, the combine is really a waste of time. When is a player going to be asked to do 225 pound bench press reps during a game (and why are they allowed to have such shitty lifting form when they do it? Why is a rep that bounces off a guy's chest counted in his number?)? The answer is never. The only thing the Combine really does tell you is how well these kids can prepare for a test. If a kid comes to the combine in anything less than the best possible shape then that has to be a red flag. I mean, does Geno Smith's fast 40 time today mean he'll handle adversity in the NFL better than he did in the Pinstripe Bowl?
So my thesis question is, is it possible for GMs and coaches to over-think things in the draft as they relate to doing their due diligence on players?
When Pioli was with the Chiefs, I remember him referencing the movie The Breakfast Club. Pioli mentioned Carl the janitor from that film and how he tried to find guys like him to ask how the players really behaved. Pioli also mentioned talking to females who worked in the athletic department to see how potential draftees treated women. On NFL Network this weekend others spoke of talking to people like athletic trainers and equipment managers to get a sense of a player's character.
Each team gets to interview players this week. Do you not think these kids have been coached by their agents on how to handle these interviews? When a coach asks, "Are you a natural leader?" do you think a draftee is going to actually say, "Not really, no."? These guys have been prepped like witnesses at a high profile trial. Many of them have been training at a Florida facility that specializes in Combine preparation.
The Combine is the ultimate dog and pony show in a lot of ways. How can coaches and GMs get anything useful or concrete or honest out of it? Do we need to know all the sordid details about Dez Bryant's mother in order to make a draft decision about him?
Does character matter? Fuck yes, it does. Pioli's idea about the "right 53" is exactly correct. I coached high school sports for ten years and even at that level there were psychological intangibles some kids had that other didn't. Some people thrive in a competitive environment while others flee from it. If I were working for a pro team I would think it vital to try and find out about these kids' characters as much as you can. But can it go so far that the kids get lost in the process?
With all this background work teams do on these kids both on and off the field, is it possible to create dossiers on them so thick that you lose sight of whether or not the kid can actually play football?
I'm a big movie buff and often you'll hear directors talk about being deep in the editing process and no longer being able to get a sense of their movie any more. They've watched the damn thing so many times, they say, that they couldn't begin to tell you if it's any good or not. Do GMs and coaches and scouts run that risk, over-thinking things so much that they can't tell if the kid is a good player or not?
No question the NFL Draft is a huge chunk of building a winner. Do teams miss out on good players because they did so much due diligence they forgot to watch the game film?