Scouting the Combine – What Will the Browns Take Away from It?
Before the 2012 NFL Draft occurs, there is an annual period in late February where a majority of athletes who just recently finished their collegiate career are on display – the scouting combine. This is a weeklong-event in Indianapolis where scouts of the 32 franchises get a first-hand look at the options available in April. Each year, there are five classes of testing that the athletes endure; some are more important than others. The question that always intrigues me, is what does the front office of the Cleveland Browns take away from the scouting combine?
After arriving in Indianapolis, all athletes (regardless of position) report to a large room full of scouts, reporters, and other media members. This is where the players will have their height and weight measured. Depending on the player and what school they came from, this could be a focal part of the combine for scouts. Historically, college athletes have been listed a little taller and weighing more than they will be at the combine, and some schools are worse about this than others. Outside of large discrepancies, this is not an extremely important part of the process; if the player can excel, size should not be an issue.
The next component of the scouting combine introduces players to the IQ test known as the wonderlic. This measures a player’s mental aptitude and ability to make correct decisions in a short period of time. Once again, the importance of a players score may be dependent on position; quarterback is the most cerebral position, where as a position of offensive guard relies more on speed and ability to read defenders (not to diminish the intelligence of lineman). However, there have been good quarterbacks with high (Eli Manning, Matt Stafford) and low (Dan Marino, Brett Favre) wonderlic scores as well as bad quarterbacks with high (Drew Henson, Charlie Frye) and low (Michael Bishop, Chris Leak) scores. Therefore, this is an interesting and noteworthy segment in the process, but it should be the determining factor.
NFL teams send representatives to meet with the players for a “job interview”; here the teams will be able to gauge exactly what is in the player’s minds and how serious they are to become professional athletes. General managers, and other scouts will ask questions about the man’s background and history to help determine passion, work ethic, and what kind of person they could get in the locker room. Obviously, each team is different from the next and some may value “good characters” more than others. Nonetheless, this process is much more important than the two preceding ones, as teams are typically trying to find the right traits and qualities to pinpoint the correct prospects, while weeding out the men who display red flags in the short conversations.
The scouting combine has to include physical aspects of the weekend and does as when the participants go though the various workouts and training exercises. Players are tested in lifting weights, agility exercises (i.e. 40 yard dash, cone drills, etc.), and measurement trainings like a broad and high jumps. This is obviously a results-driven portion of the weekend; the ones who excel are given more notice than the rest.
Finally, the players (mostly the skilled positions – quarterback, running back, wide receivers) get a chance to compete using an actual football. Although these workouts may not be in pads, it shows onlookers how the athletes compete with other talented athletes. This is a more stimulating part of the week, and the better players must be put on notice; but like the workout portion they are not the only indicator of future success.
There are many things that should be taken away from the scouting combine, but overall the week in Indianapolis must only be a factor in determining a player’s value. One aspect missing from the player’s exhibition during the week is actual game film from the prior season. Some players test better than others (like with students and education) and therefore game highlights could warrant more merit than agility drills or workout trainings.
Therefore, looking at the annual NFL scouting combine there are a few areas that carry different weight. Before arriving to the venue, the Browns front office must do their homework (including expectations) on all available prospects that the team has targeted. Following the week, the front office must judge all five aspects just witnessed in addition to several game films of the players.
I believe the front office of the Browns will target the best players who will greatly improve the team going forward. Historically, they have taken higher character guys (Alex Mack, Joe Thomas, Joe Haden) early on in the draft, and have avoided the players with questionable backgrounds (Dez Bryant, Jimmy Smith, to name a few). Therefore, the researching of the player’s background and personality come into play (which is not the case for some teams).
I also value the homework the team does on each player’s physical abilities, including more than the combine. In Indianapolis, Haden ran a slower 40-yard dash time than expected and many assumed his draft position would fall. Fortunately, this did not deter the Browns from selecting him, as they knew a minor injury was the root of the issue and he was still an exceptional player (and he still is). That being said, the next few weeks will be the beginning of the very important part the offseason; the combine kicks off what will hopefully be additional steps towards building a long-term winner.