Every February, the NFL holds its Scouting Combine in Indiana, where it measures overall physicality and aptitude of college-aged players looking to make it into the league. In essence, it’s like the SAT for professional sports. However, with the combine, players only participate by invitation only. And with various professionals from different departments in the league present, individuals are able to prove the worthiness for performance on the big stage. Thus, it become much of a competition as much as it is a test and, at times, entertainment.
The event requires participants complete a series of 14 separate tests, which include everything from a bench press of 225 pounds, to the 40 yard dash, and intelligence and personality exams like the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test. While the ability to complete these tests and historically high rankings have resulted in a career boost for participants. Many, both within and outside of the organization have begun to question the importance and validity of the tests themselves as an indicator for performance on the field.
Some have argued that the 40-yard dash, for example, is ineffective and practically pointless as a measure for all players. While it would be beneficial to test cornerbacks on their ability to sprint in that way, Steve Silverman, a writer for CBS sports, noted that using it for linebackers like the super bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens player, Terrell Suggs, doesn’t mean much of anything. In his 2003 test, Suggs’s dash wasn’t great, but his status at Arizona State, and later, within the league, was impressive.
The NFL is taking notice to this criticism–which has even come from Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots–and will review the tests, which start tomorrow, February 23, and make necessary changes to currently extraneous measurements, if any. The NFL has cited its goal as wanting to improve in any way possible, to the benefit of the players and the teams as well. With technology on its side, the NFL will be taking a greater look at the data from these tests as a greater measure of performance. Furthermore, the NFL will host its first football performance and technology symposium, as a sign that it’s serious about making the necessary updates to its practices.
That isn’t to say the league hasn’t attempted to make updates in years prior. The USA Today notes that the organization has added a “functional movement screen” and a psychological test to supplement the Wonderlic. However, by many measures, there are additional improvements which the league can make that it hasn’t. It will certainly set a precedent for the way other programs are run, and decrease time wasted on perfecting skills that may not be used for certain players.
Whether or not the League will see fit to update any part of the process, this news is a sign that those who make the decision aren’t impervious to suggestions, but instead are willing to implement advancements. That deserves a round of applause. For many players who might not have gotten a chance, these updates may be a game changer. We’ll have to wait and see.