As the football fanatics continue to feed their fascination with the NFL combine results, and as we near the "shoe company" combine events as they are underway across the nation, I felt like it was a good time to talk about "The Numbers."
The "numbers" I'm referring to are the height, weight, 40 yard dash time, agility scores, vertical jump, bench press, and standing broad jump. What do these numbers really mean and how important are they?
I will be careful as I discuss this as I, too, operate a combine event which happens to be the most practical and beneficial event to athletes in the entire state.
The "numbers" are important, but only relative. They are simply indicators or potential ability to play at the next level. They can certainly help in the "projection" of what a player could become based on his athleticism IF he has the football skills that these numbers will accentuate.
There are plenty of self-proclaimed "analysts" who have either never played the game or never coached the game and wouldn't know what "high pointing a ball" or "two-gap gap run stuffer" meant if you had a manual in front of them. These are the guys that err in not giving a fourth star to a kid because he didn't attend this event or that event and give that star to a kid who did attend a testing event and blew up the numbers.
The problem is "shorts warriors" as I call them - players who blow up combines with unreal performance numbers - do not always translate into big time prospects. Being a great athlete does not make you a great football player and in turn, not all good football players are necessarily the best athletes on their rosters. Over my thirty years as a coach and/or analyst, I've seen plenty of players who weren't the best in shorts but were freaks on the field. By the same token, in the past several years, there have been plenty of guys put up big "SPARQ" numbers who didn't make it at the next level.
Some guys who are out there doing these "evaluations" for services are myoptic in those regards. They have parameters in their mind on where a player should be in terms of performance/combine testing numbers based on their position and if he doesn't meet those "standards" he is viewed as not as good a prospect as a player who does meet those number. The fallacy in that, again, is that the testing results, while a great tool for measuring the athleticism has absolutely nothing to do with the player's football abilities.
Adding to the problem of this combine testing phenomenon is the emergence of the "7 on 7" or "passing league" industry in high school football. While a great tool for getting your team ready by running your offense and allowing your defensive skills players to get reps, it does not necessarily mean that standing out in this arena will translate onto the gridiron. The game is different when there are 11 on the field in pads hitting each other.
So, back to the original question, how important are these numbers? I don't want to devalue combines or what they do; obviously, I believe there is value to them or I would not operate one. They serve a specific purpose to me and that is to use that data WITH my film evaluation of football players to come up with a picture of the players that includes not only his caliber as a player, but his potential to become an even better player based on his performance numbers.
The bottom line is, can YOU play the game? Yes, height is a hurdle for a lot of players who may be an inch or two too short; or maybe it's a running back who doesn't have great straightline speed in the 40. But I've seen those 5-11 linebackers absolutely blow up offenses with their skills as a player; excellent in key and diagnosis, ability to fight off blocks, excellent pursuit, great tackling skills; the 'slower' running back who has freakish field vision, excellent transition, and deceptive power.
So, numbers are important but more importantly is what you do on the field. Be a football players; learn your position; refine your football position specific skills; play with no fear. The numbers are important but only relative to your abilities as a player. So, guys, as we head into this combine season, don't concern yourself too much with the numbers. Just do it on the field when you strap those pads on this Spring and next Fall.