Now that the curtain has fallen on the wild and whacky post lockout season of 2011/2012, we can turn our eyes to the future. There is nothing that represents looking to the future in professional football more than the NFL Combine in all its glory. Like the sparrows returning to Capistrano, I find myself tuning to the NFL network every February to watch this gathering of future NFL talent. After much contemplation, I trimmed down a much longer list to the top 5 reasons why I am so enthralled by this event.
#5) the obligatory mention of the fact that Deion Sanders has the fastest ever 40 yard dash time in the history of the combine. I would love to dazzle you with that actual 40 time right now, but it seems that every year it gets faster. Just as Reno Hightower and his white cleats once passed for 7 touchdowns in a game, Deion's 40 time is now thought to be in the mid two second range I believe. Wait, there is more. We will all once again get to sit through the tale of how after running this miraculous 40 yard dash, Deion just kept running all the way to his waiting limo and left the combine. Deion leaving the combine after he was done and not staying around to cheer on his contemporaries is another example of Deion cementing his reputation as the consummate team player. That story never gets old, or more to the point, the NFL network and Deion will never let it get old.
#4) The gauntlet and the pass drop and hip rotation drills. These two drills I find very informative from an actual fantasy stand point. Watching a receiver or tight end have to run along a particular yard line and catch passes from both the right and the left is very helpful in evaluating his hand eye co ordination. The real NFL coaches do not particularly like this drill as the player is continually dropping one football quickly to prepare to catch the next but scouts seem to think it does help to see how well a receiver actually catches the ball. Does he let it get to his body? Does he keep his hands out in front of him and watch each pass all the way in to his hands? A great watch when putting together our rookie draft lists. The pass drop and hip rotation drill helps those of us in IDP leagues get an idea about linebackers 3 down potential. Can he cover as well as post big tackling numbers? Also, it gives players who were strictly defensive ends in college a chance to show teams, and fantasy owners, if they can play standing up. These two drills are the only ones I really watch from the eyes of a fantasy football owner.
#3) Watching Rich Eisen run the forty yard dash. This is nothing but television viewing at its highest level people. There is something inherently funny about a 40 something year old man in a suit running in gaudy cleats. There is the day by day build up to Eisen looking to best his time from the previous year. There is the hilarity of listening to former NFL players critiquing Eisen and offering up some helpful hints for him. What time he actually puts up is pretty much irrelevant as we get to watch the super slow motion replay of his effort in all its agonizing glory. The recently added "simulcam" where Eisen's effort is put up against some of the combine's actual participants is priceless.
#2) John "Get your mind right" Lott. Nothing is more entertaining than watching the strength and conditioning coach of the Arizona Cardinals putting the players through the bench press drill. His gruff voice and high energy encouragement of the players is contagious. All the players in the room are shouting for each other to keep it up and press on and I find myself doing the same thing in my living room. Lott has admitted to having trouble with remembering everyone's name, so he doles out some pretty interesting nicknames. Bubble Butt, Pocahontas, Shaggy and Bevo are a few of my personal favorites. Lott genuinely has a love for what he does and for the guys he works with and that comes through each and every year. He wants the best for these young men as they embark on the business of football and does all he can to help them. In my humble opinion, this is one very classy man.
#1) Mike Mayock. Remember the good old days when the combine was first being televised and those of us in the know had the chance to listen to Mayock break down the positions? Every year at our rookie drafts we smiled a little brighter because we had a few hidden gems stashed away that our league mates would be dazzled by. Those were priceless days indeed. It seems that the rest of the world has finally caught on to the wealth of information that Mayock possesses. The level of knowledge he brings to the table regarding every single kid at the combine is staggering. He has also shown an ability to really break down just how each drill translates into NFL workability. What the coaches are looking for, what the scouts are watching for and what we as novice viewers should keep an eye on. It has the feel of sitting in an advanced course on how to scout NFL talent. Does Mayock get it right on every single player he talks about? Nope, but then again who does? Mayock will come back and explain why he liked a certain player and even critique his own evaluation and where he was wrong. Not a lot of the so called experts will have the stones to do that. I am interested to see how being a full time commentator will hurt his ability to continue and scout as many players as he has in the past. It is about time he gets the recognition he deserves as one of the hardest working and most knowledgeable people covering football. I will miss the days of having Mayock as a fantasy secret weapon, but welcome the chance to see more of his work.
There are countless other reasons I enjoy the NFL combine, but these five stood out for me. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and everyone enjoys things from their own perspective. I've heard the combine compared to a cattle call and there is indeed some truth to that. John Lott himself has compared it to a car lot for the NFL coaches where they can test drive players. Whatever people may choose to call it is up to them and their individual taste. I simply call it five days of football heaven.