NFL Combine Future Lessons: Lost in the Sauce?

Zennie Abraham / Zennie62
Zennie Abraham / Zennie62

NFL Combine Future Lessons? Many!

There are many things that have been learned as the college football season, all-star games, and combine are now in the books and ‘Pro Days’ are in full swing. What is less apparent is what is going on rather quietly behind the scenes. The game of football is finally taking on the concept treating data, side by side with “old fashioned” scouting.

Many teams perform comparisons of prospects based on longitudinal data, but these are usually limited studies based upon height, weight, physical testing and in some cases Wonderlic scores. A new test the Player Assessment Test [or PAT] has now been introduced and it has been largely treated with a combination of bemusement, confusion and dismissiveness. However I feel it may be a tentative first, halting step towards developing a neuroscience based test that will eventually become position specific and have a bio-mechanical component as well.

The NFL Scouting Combine is likely the most studied employee selection process, short of the presidency of our country. Despite that there are many powerful, long-lasting and widely accepted misconceptions or misassessments about what can be gleaned from the process.

If you peruse any of the many websites that trumpet articles based on the supposition the some player is “rocketing up the boards” or “plummeting” as their draft stock drops like a failed IPO. One could come to think that the combine has veto power over previous grading of players. Now it is true that the combine can have a positive or negative effect on how a player is evaluated, particularly if the medical or drug screening turns up something negative. However even a putrid physical testing and on field performance can be redeemed at a pro day and many of the prospects will already have had some sort of read of their personality, physical ability and size available from either Junior Pro Days, all-star games, or relationships with coaching college staffs.

So how can the combine be improved? Imagine this: a QB designs a play which is then animated on a large-screen in front of him as the play swings in to motion suddenly a slot blitz comes and he must react to it as that happens his galvanic skin response, breathing and brain activity is being monitored.

Sound far-fetched? What if we wait about 20 or 30 years and then we’ll see. This could work for any position, how does a free safety show he knows when to come off of a ‘Dig’ being run in front of him to stay deep enough to defend the ‘Post?’ Put him in the simulator and see when he presses the button controlling his avatar to react to what is unfolding. How does a linebacker show he can recognize play action? It’s second and four he sees a one back two tight end set, watch him read his keys, track his eye movement and time his reactions as he moves on a ‘Green Screen’ projection simulator. Thanks to movies, television and the video game revolution a large portion of the technology is already developed, all is needed is the vision to harness the technology.

I am convinced that in a few decades biometric data in real time will be generated based on tests that will provide a deeper insight than any 40-yard dash, bench press or Wonderlic could hope to provide.

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Maria Ayerdi Kaplan