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NFL Combine: Which Measurables Really Measure Up

Updated: Mar 8, 2019

This past weekend's annual NFL Combine is living up to its groiwing reputation of simply being a media event for the NFL to stay relevant in the off-season. Sure, there are players who stand to make an impression on organizations and possibly work their way into a draft spot, but the endless TV and analyst coverage is so exhausting you're likely to miss those rare moments.

Every year at this time, I'm reminded how our world of evolving analytics have mesmerized some people into believing that anything that can be measured should provide some level of insight into...something. How scientific, right?

This year's topic of choice revolves around certain body measurements of a certain player who most certainly will be drafted in the first round. And the level of coverage and anticipation that was created around this situation is laughable.

Oklahoma's human-highlight-reel, QB Kyler Murray, has dominated the combine talk without even doing what he's going to be paid millions to do - throw the ball. Why is that you ask? Well, the reasoning will send any logical brain into a tailspin.

Leading up to the combine, starting as early as the end of the NCAA football season, the biggest question amongst NFL analysts was the height, weight and hand size of Kyler Murray. Not his 40-yard dash time or his throwing performance, but three simple measurements.

This led me to wonder if all these analysts were gathered into a room with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, (both holding one of those memory-erasing thingies from MiB), seconds after the Orange Bowl ended where Alabama took down Oklahoma 45-34, despite Murray's 308-yard/2 TD passing performance. Oh, he also became the first QB ever to gain 100+ yards rushing against a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team by putting up 109 yards and a rushing TD. But despite all that, all they really wanted to know was how tall he stands, how much weight he can put on, and how big he can make his hands stretch. Really?

The magic numbers in these key measurements happened to be 5'10" (height), 200 lbs. (weight), and 9" inches (hand size). Apparently, if you aren't that tall, heavy, or have hands that big, your draft status automatically takes a hit potentially costing you big money. Was that the case last year or the years prior? No. It used to be that you had to be over 6' tall, and who knows what the standard for hand size was because really, should that determine a players fate?

So in case you haven't heard, Murray overcame these inconsequential measurement hurdles by standing at 5'10 1/8", weighing 207 lbs., with a hand stretched to a whopping 9.5". And because of this, everyone is claiming that he won the combine. This was something else I learned - that a winner of a workout can be declared.

But this isn't where the story ends. You see, because these metrics were considered so important to analysts, Murray and his camp decided this would be their only focus when preparing for the combine. Because if you can win just by standing tall and heavy with hands stretched wide, then why do anything else? Which is pretty much what he did.

Once the magical measurements were announced, the analyst conversation quickly shifted to why he shouldn't throw as part of his workout. And the main reasoning was, well, because he wasn't at his ideal weight to throw with the form and accuracy that we've come to expect from him. Yes, you heard that right. Murray bulked up his weight, with some even claiming that he chugged gallons of water right before hitting the scale, in lieu of showing the football world how he can spin a ball and put it on a dime. Because how important would that be when evaluating the talents of an NFL caliber quarterback?

So what really does indicate the potential success of a rising star at the QB position, or really any position, in the big leagues? We (i.e. football media) put so much emphasis on very specific criteria that is evaluated briefly in a pre-determined situation. I'd argue that this could be useful information but not nearly as valuable as understanding the "intangibles" of a player, who are real people like you and I.

How does a player think? How to they prepare during the week? How do they get their mindset right on gameday? How do they problem solve? And maybe most importantly, how do they study the playbook and keep their head in the game so that gameday is instinctive, not a time to learn?

Some time ago, the NFL decided it should administer a cognitive assessment, called the Wonderlic test, to each player thinking it would shed light into a player's mental capacity. But most will tell you the test is irrelevant, out-dated, and possibly bias. During last year's combine, I wrote about how we at SMASH Routes have revolutionized this assessment by making it relevant to football and making it fun. I don't know if the term Funderlic has stuck, but the approach still holds weight.

In addition, much of this can be learned through the grueling interviews that players are taken through by the teams at the combine. But the results of these "measurements" are not posted and critiqued by any and all who have a social media account? No, these conversations are kept private because, well, they're too important to share with other teams.

So, if we're honest with ourselves and don't fall prey to the media hype, we can see that the true measurables that will really help you understand a player's potential to succeed aren't decided by a tape measure or scale. They lie deep within the heart, soul and mind of a player. Some people are born with natural talent, some with advanced minds, and some with all or none of the above. But every person has an opportunity to succeed if they learn to be disciplined and put in the work to improve themselves in all aspects of the game, and life.

If you're looking for the latest and greatest way to keep your players working hard and improving themselves, check out what we're doing at SMASH Routes. We're helping make smarter players through the motivation of fun, while providing coaches the measurables that really matter.

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