I love the NFL. In years past, when I felt I had more time on my hands, I would gladly immerse myself in at least some of the hype surrounding the NFL Draft leading up to the event. I never made it to the stage of being able to complete a legitimate mock draft, but I did have a pretty good idea of who the first 10-15 picks would, and probably should, be.
So, while there are dozens of things I don’t understand about the NFL Draft and the preparation for it, one stands out above all else: the ridiculous overvaluing of tangibles.
You can’t teach speed, I know that. I know that because I’m not fast. I also know that you don’t have to be fast to be great. There is such an insane premium put on the bench press for linemen, the Wonderlic for quarterbacks, and the 40 time for every other position in the league. Lots of people like to point out that Jerry Rice was slow and would have fallen way down in a recent NFL Draft due to his poor 40 time, and obviously is now the best wide receier in league history, but why not look more recently?
Wes Welker is probably the best or second best wide receiver in the NFL as a sub-six-foot, not that fast, scrappy little guy. The only wide receiver I’d potentially rather have than him is Calvin Johnson, who is obviously a monster/freak/machine. If you need a jump ball, give me Johnson, but if you need anything else, I’ll take Welker.
What sparked all this was the rumor that Alshon Jeffery had run a 4.88 40 and was weighing something like 250 pounds when someone checked in with him in Orlando recently (incidentally, within 20 minutes of seeing that rumor explode on Twitter, I saw three reports that “officially” denied it). My position is this: I don’t care if he’s never run a 40 in less than 4.88 seconds because I’ve seen him play football. He could walk the 40 and I wouldn’t care because he makes plays and finds ways to be successful.
Let me clarify and say that I think he’s the third best wideout in this draft behind Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd (as an avid Notre Dame fan – spare your kind words – watching that guy has been a gift. He’s physical, impossible to tackle, blocks, and virtually never loses a jump ball. I hope he runs a 4.95 40 so he falls to No. 22), but the point is that there’s so much emphasis put on these tangible, measurable facets of a player’s game that we lose sight of what matters: how well they play football.
The NFL Combine would be infinitely more helpful if it consisted of one-on-one blocking drills for the linemen – offensive guys vs. defensive guys – and then dozens of seven-on-seven games for backs, receivers, linebackers, and defensive backs.
In addition to showing off what it might look like to see these players in more situations that are actually related to playing football in the NFL, I would watch it. I have watched a grand total of about six minutes of the NFL Combine in the last few years – it’s never anywhere near as fun to watch as it sounds like it’s going to be – but I would make time to watch some seven-on-seven games where Andrew Luck might be throwing passes over the middle against a team with Dont’a Hightower.
The games last about 30 minutes, multiple games can be going at once, scouts can be on each field, and tapes would be made of each game for further scouting. The fact that they can put this on TV garners more ratings, more money, and more interest, which is exactly what everyone involved in the NFL is aching for anyway, or else they wouldn’t suggest something so ridiculous as to extend the season to 18 games while their main concern is the “safety of the players.”
The only flaw in this plan is that it would increase the chance of injury for the players. The players will probably be very interested in doing it, but their agents will oppose this idea. But it also would serve as a great thing for some lesser-known players, especially since many draft invites don’t go and instead do their own Pro Days. This would give fringe players a chance to get into the fold with some of the blue chips and play alongside/against these guys.
So the seven-on-seven would be in helmets and shoulder pads, the linemen drills would be one-on-one, thus eliminating the possibility of getting your knee rolled on by another player, and the interest is significantly higher than watching 40 guys do the same cone drill for 18 minutes.
Aside from the possibility of injury, someone explain to me why this isn’t a good idea.