The combine is both an overly celebrated and overly criticized event. No, football is not played without pads but, yes, it is played with feet and arms and the faster and stronger those feet and arms are, the better the bodies that own those feet and arms can be expected to play.
It has importance. If you doubt that, ask Joe Flacco (pictured) what the 2008 scouting combine did for his career. Or ask Mike Mamula or Matt Jones, the all-time combine sweepstakes winners, what it did for theirs.
Here's one from last year: Ask Jason Smith what the combine did for him.
Smith was a top prospect when he reported to last year's Indianapolis scouting combine, but not every team agreed that he was a first-round prospect. He had a chance to rise or fall based on the combine, especially after Alabama's Andre Smith mysteriously left the combine without telling its administrators. Just that quickly, Andre Smith had character issues that had to be addressed.
Meanwhile, the other Smith, the Smith from Baylor, stood in front of the media and gave an eloquent presentation of himself that no doubt put a smile on his agent's face. Smith spoke with great self-assurance and confidence as he told a fawning media that he was the best tackle in the draft. No man has ever spoken more highly of himself.
Two months later, the St. Louis Rams made the Smith from Baylor the second pick of the draft. The Smith from Alabama was selected four picks later by Cincinnati and the Jaguars picked the offensive tackle behind door number three, Eugene Monroe, two picks after that.
Who's the best tackle now? Well, it isn't one of the Smiths, that's for sure. Both played in reserve roles last season and there were rumblings the Smith that was picked second overall was especially disappointing. Monroe, of course, became a starter immediately and appears poised to take his game to a higher level in year two.
Go ahead, call it over-celebrated, overrated and over-hyped, but don't call the combine unimportant. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What will happen this weekend in Indianapolis is very important because somebody will correctly use this new information to draft a Flacco or Mark Sanchez, while somebody else will fall in love with someone for all the wrong reasons and begin the process of making a huge mistake. The problem isn't with the information. The problem is using that information incorrectly.
Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith says he'll use the combine almost solely to acquire information on medical, character and psychological issues. The playing part, Smith says, has already been graded.
It's a conservative approach based on logic because using combine information to modify a prospect's playing grade will likely result in far more misses than hits. The Jaguars, of course, have their own historical perspective: They clearly put too much stock in Jones' combine workout, for he never played that fast with the pads on.
The workout portion of the combine is for the fans. It'll be televised for your enjoyment. The scouts will be there to record all the data, but the expectation is that it will only confirm what the scouts already know about these guys, based on how they played on Saturdays in the fall.
It's the portion of the combine that won't be televised that interests the scouts and coaches the most. When the "NFL Network" cameras go dark, the scouts and coaches will turn the lights on the players in the critical interview sessions.
In a league that is becoming more concerned with off-the-field conduct than ever before, the interviews have become the number one feature of this scouting event, and the scouts and the coaches know the questions to ask and the observations to make. Does he avert his eyes while answering a question? Is he truly repentant for the sins of his youth? Has he matured? Is he going to become a better player as a professional?
Enjoy the workouts, but don't put too much stock in them.