NFL Draft philosophy and the Combine


With the NFL Combine finishing this week, can we help but talk about the upcoming draft in April? I do love watching the NFL draft to see how each team goes about it. Each team’s draft philosophy. The oldest and most prominent question here is do you draft the best player available, or the best player at the position you need the most? It’s the ‘what came first the chicken or the egg’ question of the NFL draft and has been discussed before every draft I have ever seen. And for both questions, there is no correct answer. But draft philosophy is where the good organizations make their teams better and bad ones make their teams worse.

Let’s face it. Every draft pick is a crap shoot. Some “can’t miss” picks end up dying on the vine. The great pick never makes it in the NFL and you end up paying them big money for a few years to find that out. Then there are the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th round guys that end up being Joe Montana and Tom Brady and take you to the promise land. But it’s not all luck. If you have a solid plan going into the draft and stick with it, you will be a leg up on many teams right off the bat.

I do believe that every team does have to take a look at their weaknesses and make a list of what positions they need to address those weaknesses. Whether it is offensive line or defensive backfield, quarterback or wide receiver, I don’t think you can win with blaring weaknesses. The time between now and Draft day can be very important. Right now is when you can take a close look at the free agents out there and maybe fill a big need before draft day even gets here.

Then I think whatever obvious needs you still have, you address with the first two rounds and then from there on, you draft the best player available at the time. Punters and kickers, if needed, can be taken in the 3rd through 7th rounds. It’s always fun to see how each team goes about it and how their team does the next year. Just before the draft, I will do a blog on who I think did well in free agency and who blew it. Yet another crap shoot.


The Combine is always interesting to me. It’s a chance for the media to make decisions about the futures of players based on physical performance standards and mental testing. The Combine is a series of physical tests, like bench press, long jump, 40-yard dash, an intelligence test called the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability test, and interviews. But there is a real question, in my mind and many sports writers, whether this whole weekend is an actual predictor of future performance.

As a former human resource professional, I have used the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability test as a pre-employment assessment tool. The Wonderlic is useful because of the huge database of results it can draw from. The test has been in existence since 1936, so a massive number of individuals have taken the test and because it’s an “old” test, work performance can be compared to test results. It is a timed test that steps the candidate through problems that become increasingly more difficult. The problems are word problems, geometry, arithmetic, logic, and following directions. The score of 20 is supposed to determine an “average” intelligence level. Tom Landry first used the Wonderlic as a part of a barrage of tests his future players took.

So does the Combine testing work? Does it predict great players for the NFL? Let’s look at some results: Justin Ernst established the record for the bench press in 1999. The bench press is supposed to evaluate strength and stamina. You remember Justin Ernst, don’t you? No? That’s because he went undrafted in 1999 and only made the Saints offseason and practice squad. And some Wonderlic scores? Dan Marino scored a 13 (remember, you’re looking for something around a 20…), and things turned out OK for him, I’d say. Ryan Leaf got a 27 (one point behind Peyton Manning and Drew Brees…), and as a bitter San Diego Charger fan, I recall he doesn’t have the same type of career as Manning and Brees.

So the Combine is a nice filler in February. We get to see the invited guys run, jump from a standing start, and smile pretty for the camera. But I don’t think it should determine a position in the draft – I’m one for watching how the guy actually played the game in college… prior past performance is a great indicator for future success, or so they say in the HR biz.