The NFL isn’t struggling for popularity or market-share with today’s sports fan. They own the sports calendar five months out of the year, and it’s probably more when you factor in how much time is spent on the draft in April and May or uncountable number of Fantasy Drafts that take place in August. The process of the actual draft is a year-round thing, and I believe that the College Football calendar is a part of the process. However, the NFL doesn’t need to own the end of February.
They just don’t. There’s enough going on, with pitchers and catchers reporting to camp in Florida and Arizona and it’s time to pay attention to College Basketball, if you’re making any educated choices on your bracket. You could focus on the NHL, NBA, tennis, golf, and even the NFL is making news outside of Indianapolis this week, but we’re televising a glorified gym class on the NFL Network. I think the combine is a necessary evil, not so much for the blue-chippers, but for the lesser-knowns and middle-of-the-road prospects to back up what NFL scouting departments already know about them from film. For the viewing public and observing media, it’s too much and it gives us too much to misinterpret.
Part of me wishes more of these things took place behind the scenes, but people, especially those craving something, will latch on to anything and everything. Slap an NFL shield on a bake sale or a game of chess; they’ll watch it if it’s on the NFL Network and/or ESPN. Keep this behind closed doors. In fact, don’t even let us know the results. It gives us less to be wrong or outraged about on draft day. We like the NFL, but we’re too far behind the scenes with this exercise every winter. I don’t need this any more than I needed to see John Wayne taking his physical and ASVAB before kicking ass as a Marine in his movies.
What would be missing, if we were forced to return to a time without the gym class heroes? Maybe I wouldn’t know that the USC offensive weapons didn’t spend a lot of time throwing up 225 on the bench or that a Wisconsin running back doesn’t have his sea-legs under him in February. Maybe I wouldn’t know Kevin White is a freaky fast runner or that Jaelen Strong can elevate his 6’2″ frame 42 inches above the earth vertically. Maybe I don’t think Shane Ray has the right work ethic if he won’t run in Indy. Maybe I’m not supposed to know any of this.
I’ve said it in the past. No one gets discovered at these things, even if a previously unknown aspect about a prospect is revealed. Based on everything I’ve heard about the interviews, it’s what happens at the table, when a 22 year-old goes face-to-face with the Sean Paytons and Jim Caldwells of the world, that the job interview starts. Brandin Cooks told Rich Eisen last week that the Browns asked him to thing of all the ways he could use a paper clip in one minutes. It’s a bizarre question, sure, and it might even be a throw-away question, but we’ll never know the logic behind it. That’s what makes the people that make these decision smart, while the rest of us are dumb. Our local media can’t tell us what’s said behind closed doors, only who’s walking into the rooms.
Why do we bother familiarizing ourselves with this part of the interview process, while remain in the dark on the juiciest part. Maybe we won’t always be blind to what’s said in there. HBO’s Hard Knocks is basically being force-fed as a part of the league’s marketing, so we might not be far from getting interview audio via NFL Films, even if it’s something that gets put in the vault for a year or two, as to avoid being too detrimental for public consumption. Me, I think it’s all detrimental for public consumption. Kicking down that fourth wall reveals things we don’t want to know. It’s more about things we don’t want to care about.
Caring about how a person performs in drills, while wearing shorts, it’s not my bag. I don’t understand what it is, beyond satiating some NFL off-season craving, that makes so many people tune in and analyze these things. If I watch a left tackle handle [INSERT COLLEGE LEAGUE HERE]-caliber pass rushers for a season or two on tape, my opinion isn’t going to change if he doesn’t run fast or throw up iron like it’s an olympic event. I get so little out of it that I tend to skip it, but a round of applause is due the people who make this a real-live event with sponsors and wall-to-coverage.
I just don’t need to watch these world-class athletes in a regimented gym class, seeing them play the game was, is, and always will be enough for me.