Oltmanns: NFL combine an overrated way to evaluate players

By Alex Oltmanns

It’s that time of the year again — the time to get your stopwatches and tape measurers… It’s that time of the year again — the time to get your stopwatches and tape measurers out.

It’s time for the NFL combine.

Beginning with the weeklong event that started yesterday in Indianapolis, hundreds of prospective NFL players will have their physical skills and attributes broken down and overanalyzed from now until the draft in April.

NFL team representatives drool over players who perform well in the combine events like the 40-yard dash, bench press, shuttle runs and long jump.

But maybe it’s time we stop putting so much stock in these events and simply evaluate a player by their body of work on the college football field and not just on how many times he can rep 225 pounds on the bench press.

Too many times have average college players emerged from the combine as stars, with their impressive 40-yard dash time interpreted to equate to NFL stardom.

Take Oakland Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, for example.

Heyward-Bey was a decent player in college at Maryland, being named as an All-ACC honorable mention selection his senior year.

But his blazing fast time of 4.32 seconds in the combine’s 40-yard dash led him to become the first receiver taken in the 2009 draft at No. 7 overall, ahead of proven college receivers like Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin.

Not surprisingly, Heyward-Bey has been a bust in the NFL so far, totaling just 35 catches in his first two seasons.

Comparatively, Maclin had twice as many grabs with 70 in just last season alone.

Then there are guys like Tim Tebow, widely considered one of the best college football players ever, who fall to No. 25 in the draft because they can’t run two-tenths of a second faster than someone else or are 2 inches shorter.

Many NFL pundits thought that Tebow couldn’t even make it as an NFL quarterback because of his awkward throwing motion, among other things.

Yet the Denver Broncos took a chance on him with the No. 25 pick in last year’s draft and it’s paid off for them so far, as he threw for 308 yards in just his second start of the season.

It’s time NFL teams start putting more relevance in what players do when they actually have their pads on, not just when they’re running around with shorts and a T-shirt on in an empty stadium.

Do you think baseball would have something like this where a player was evaluated by how well he can slide into second base or tag a runner out at home plate? No.

I understand that the raging popularity of the NFL lends them to do this, and fans go crazy for it, but it’s making millions of dollars for players like Heyward-Bey and JaMarcus Russell, who don’t deserve it.

And it’s doing a disservice to proven winners like Tebow, as well as a long list of others.

The NFL combine is great, but until the league starts putting a bench press at the 50-yard line, let’s not take it too seriously.