NFL expert Lindsey Prather covers how the 2019 Heisman winner’s lack of participation raises a debate about the limitations of professional football’s combine.
The 2019 NFL Scouting Combine kicked off on Feb. 26 and lasted until March 4, providing some tangible numbers to judge the talent heading into April’s NFL Draft. A couple of storylines have surfaced following the conclusion of the combine, most notably surrounding Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray, as well as the questionable utility of the combine for evaluating top-tier talent.
Murray had been a topic of much speculation as the combine drew closer; the question arose as to whether he would participate, in part due to questions surrounding his physique. Following the measurement portion, Murray measured a respectable 5’10” and 208 lbs. This was a massive win for Murray, as some skeptical pundits maintained he was as short as 5’9” and under 200 lbs. — measurements that would irreparably jeopardize his draft stock. Hand size was another area of concern. Murray’s hands exceeded 9”, placing his stature and physique in line with Russell Wilson, a notoriously small yet exceedingly successful pro QB.
Murray declined to run drills at the combine, instead opting to postpone them until the University of Oklahoma’s Pro Day. Nonetheless, Murray had raised his draft stock by easing concerns on his size, potentially vaulting himself from an anticipated mid-first rounder to the No. 1 overall pick.
Murray’s sitting forth has brought forth an old question: does the combine matter? A good argument in favor of the combine’s use is the ability to compare players in a controlled, equal environment.
The drills prevent outside factors from affecting the outcome. For example, a running back with an excellent offensive line will have a better chance to make game-changing plays than another, faster running back with a mediocre offensive line. The combine places the onus on the individual player to put up admirable times and impress the scouts. However, the fact that these drills only measure raw athleticism is arguably their greatest weakness.
Drills in the NFL Combine have remained basically the same since the combine’s inaugural run in 1985. Football is a game that depends primarily on reflex; however, the physical tests in the combine have become “learned” drills. The prospects practice their footwork for the agility drills, strive to perfect their form in the 40-yard-dash and they train to increase their vertical jump and long jump. These drills have limited predictive value regarding the prospect’s ability to play their position.
An infamous example of this is Tom Brady, an obviously top-tier talent who ran a 5.28 40-yard-dash and recorded a 24.5” vertical leap, the lowest of his draft class. The NFL combine dismissed one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history due to arbitrary numbers that had little to no bearing on ability; the combine is useful in determining raw athleticism but falls short in predicting future success from prospects.
Kyler Murray earned a starting job at a blue-blood college football program and led his team to the College Football Playoff with ridiculous numbers.
This places him in a unique position — his skill and ability allow him to forgo the skills portion of the combine and merely use it to eliminate doubts about his size while simultaneously improving his draft stock. Although Murray will run drills at the University of Oklahoma’s Pro Day, the question remains: does the combine really matter? Establishing baseline numbers for athleticism is helpful, but the eye test can be deceiving.
It’s possible that going forward, high value prospects will opt instead to drill at University Pro Days for a home-field advantage, much like Kyler Murray.