What's Wrong With The NFL Combine

And the fatal flaw of talent recruitment.

The NFL Combine was last week. The Combine is an invitation-only, four day event in which NFL scouts evaluate a variety of physical, mental, and medical criteria of the top 300 college football players. The Combine is fun to watch, the talent of the players undeniable. The problem is that the Combine is notoriously poor at predicting the success of future NFL players. At best, the Combine is excellent at predicting who will be drafted into the NFL, but consistently fails to predict how well they'll play in the NFL. Consider Tom Brady, the greatest NFL quarterback of all time, recorded the worst 40 yard dash and vertical jump scores of 576 quarterbacks recorded over 30 years at the Combine. He was shockingly unqualified according to the standards the scout's measured, and because of that he was drafted 199th out of 254 players in the 2000 draft. Brady went on to win 7 Super Bowl championships, and the rest is history.
A fatal problem with talent recruitment is that it favors early development. Those fortunate athletes who find their stride early in life are much more likely to be identified and recruited. Unfortunately, the athletes who are not as naturally talented (at least in the ways that the coaches/scouts measure) are often weeded out before they've had a chance to grow into their potential.
So far we have not found an elegant way to measure a person's ability to overcome obstacles and adversity. That's too bad, because it may be the most important criteria of all. When someone consistently overcomes the odds it proves deep down they believe in the most important thing: themselves.
The question is not, do people believe in you? The question is, do you believe in yourself?
If success is like building a ladder, the ladder is built one rung at a time. Its ultimate height is dependent upon the strength of its lower rungs and foundation. The recruiters of the world are often looking for those people who are already near the top rung. Maybe they should look for people who still make progress and climb despite being kicked from above?
Do not underestimate the value of a good struggle. Being overlooked and under-hyped has its advantages. There is opportunity there if you're willing to embrace it.
(The thoughts above were inspired by a meta-study analysis of what it takes to be an elite draft-legal triathlete. Triathlete magazine wrote a nice summary here)


-Antonio Gonzalez



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