The 2023 NFL Combine is here, which is cause for celebration for a football junkie like myself. It's the next date on the NFL calendar that I look forward to immediately after the conclusion of the Super Bowl.
Why do I love the "Underwear Olympics" like I do? Mostly because it is a familiar refrain from my Pittsburgh Steelers fandom, a yearly occurrence that peaks my interest like a kid in a candy store. The opportunity to watch the top participants perform under immense pressure, during a once in a lifetime job interview like no other, with the entire NFL loving world watching.
It always reminds me of the feeling you got when the annual holiday catalogs arrived in the mail. Thumbing through the pages, especially those displaying fun items like toys and electronics, carefully constructing your Christmas wish list. Even though you knew your parents could never afford your whole list, you still had to do your due diligence, because you never know what might happen with a little good fortune and holiday magic. That's what watching the Combine feels like to me.
There is a disturbing rumor floating around hinting that the player's union is considering doing away with the Combine altogether, and relying on individual and centralized pro days instead. I personally think that is a terrible idea, because that thought process will rob each franchise's General Managers and scouting departments of some of the most important pieces of inside information the Combine reveals.
Game recognizes game, and there is nowhere to hide under the NFL Combines microscope.
How do the potential prospects respond to the intense pressure to perform at the best of their abilities, even in less than ideal circumstances? Will they rise to the challenge, or collapse under the pressure? Bottom line: Competitors welcomed, shrinking violets need not apply.
Think about it, folks. We have all been in their shoes, maybe to a lesser degree. Forced to interview for a dream job we really want and need, where we try desperately to sell our virtues enough to make ourselves stand out from the crowd. The process is gut-wrenching, but necessary for any potential employer to identify the best candidates for any potential openings.
Wouldn't it be something if the potential employers would come to our homes to witness us perform under the most optimal conditions possible? Circumstances created to reveal our talents in the best light possible, where we are in control of the narrative.
That may sound like a great idea on the surface, but it actually reveals precious little useful information to the employer. So a projected quarterback prospect can complete over 90% of his scripted pro day passes being thrown to his actual collegiate teammates, the same ones he practices with everyday? Wow, color me impressed. In case you didn't pick up on what I have been laying down, that's heavy sarcasm right there.
Call me old-fashioned, but I want the kid who is desperately waiting for the opportunity to prove himself against a collection of his peers, hungry for competition at the highest level. The type of competitor that understands that nothing worth having ever comes easy, and is willing and able to rise to every challenge, even in the harshest of environments.
The NFL is big business, and one of the most competitive work environments on the planet. Many players experience the harsh reality that they aren't the most physically gifted individual on the field for the first time when they reach the NFL. The truly great players realize that there is always somebody gunning for your job, and they utilize that realization to fuel their superior work ethic and competitiveness.
Google Jerry Rice and Walter Payton for two all-time great examples.
Oftentimes one of those more talented and experienced individual are lined up directly across from them at the start of every play. These occurrences tests the instincts, intangibles, and intestinal fortitude of each participant. Are they capable of drawing from the fundamentals gleamed from their intense training and coaching when it is needed most, enough to find competitive balance?
Consider Artie Burns. After some early success, he started to struggle. He lost confidence, which destroyed his competitiveness. He retreated into his shell, and never recovered. It's impossible to gauge how a draft pick will respond to failure, but you have to be ultra observant to every glimpse of a prospect's psyche. The Combine provides a unique opportunity to do just that.
Some much needed information is revealed, besides the obvious Relative Athletic Score for each participant. Watch their body language, preparation, focus, and intensity. Then it's not hard to recognize those individuals who yearn for the opportunity to compete.
Rest assured that the GMs and scouts in attendance are paying close attention to all the qualities I just mentioned that can't be timed or scored.
The individual physicals tell us the size of the dog, the on field tests reveals the athleticism of the dog, but how each participant approaches the most athletically challenging few days of their lives thus far reveals the fight in the dog.
The Combine should only confirm what the game film has already told you. If something doesn't add up, you most take an even closer look. If not, buyer beware.