More Measurables! Comprehending the NFL Combine

Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images

Certain people can feel a storm approaching. Their joints ache.

The NFL Scouting Combine sends a similar physical warning for me, but the symptoms are usually migraine-related. I felt it coming a few days before the NFL Network televised the event that ended last week in Indianapolis. ESPN draft expert Todd McShay showed up on TV telling a studio host of the latest measurable he sniffed out concerning one member of the Draft Class of 2011.

“He has an 11-inch hand-span,” McShay said of USC’s Tyron Smith. “And a 36-3/8 arm length.”

Further discussion revealed that to be a good deal above the norm.

The studio host gasped in a way one might upon hearing an astronaut’s harrowing tale of a space walk gone awry.

The segment ended with something understood but left unspoken:

If you are a NFL team in 2011 in need of a big, strong, tough offensive lineman, Tyron Smith could be your man.

The same goes if you are a Dutch farmer in need of a new windmill.

In the ensuing days at the Scouting Combine we heard that Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea benched 225 pounds 49 times for a Scouting Combine record. Three players held the previous record of 45. Unless you are Todd McShay or their parents, you have never heard of them.

So what does that tell us about the importance of Combine “events” such as the bench press, the 40-yard dash, the three-cone agility run, the vertical jump, the broad jump and, I believe, the Double Dutch jump rope competition (though I may have that mistaken with a foggy schoolyard memory)?

ESPN’s Tim Hasselbeck would say it doesn’t tell us much. “It probably means he could also dominate the Shake Weight,” Hasselbeck joked of the bench press record during an on-air Scouting Combine segment.

The NFL knows how to attract an audience. But even the NFL wouldn’t waste money on a scouting combine if it felt it was a waste of time. It’s not.

There are actually two NFL scouting combines. One conducted in the open watched by fans, which gives supporting statistical information. The other, the more important one, behind closed doors where teams try to decide what kind of people the prospects are.

That’s where they try to answer the question: if we give this kid millions, can we be sure he isn’t going to turn into Charlie Sheen, and one day show up on Good Morning America calling himself a warlock?

The conversations between teams and players are the sleuth work that can help save teams from making giant blunders and separates the best organizations from the worst. They’re far more important than the measurables, but the measurables somehow make for good enough TV that NFL Network showed up this year with its first sponsor — Under Armour.

By the way, a special Under Armour workout shirt, the E39, has a built-in sensor (The Bug) that allows for the measuring of breathing rate, heart rate, horse power and a G-force generated as prospects run through all the events.

“More measurables,” as one NFL Network analyst happily said.

Yep, the on-camera scouting combine is the tortured measuring of everything that moves. That one was watched on NFL Network by 5.4 million viewers last year, proving that the NFL is the most brilliant sports league in the history of sports leagues.

NFL.com asked voters to pick their favorite event: the 40-yard dash, the vertical jump, the broad jump, the three-cone agility, the bench press, the shuttle run.

You could not click on “None of the above.” Thousands of people responded.

To me, it’s like C-SPAN asking viewers to name their favorite filibuster. But I’m clearly in the minority.

An online betting service set prop bets. You could bet on whether Tyrod Taylor would run a faster 40 than Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. You could bet on whether Nick Fairley or Da’Quan Bowers would get more reps in the bench press. You could bet on whether A.J. Green or Julio Jones would score higher on the vertical jump. The over-under on the fastest 40 was 4.3, 41.5 on the bench reps.

You could not bet on how many times Newton would refer to himself in the third person during his media interview, but that was reported anyway. Three times in 12 minutes.

It’s not surprising that the NFL Network has made a TV show out the scouting combine. It’s a network. It needs programming. What’s surprising is that so many people watch and seem immersed in the minute details.

“He’s a little bit of a waist bender,” an NFL Network analyst said of Arkansas offensive tackle DeMarcus Love.

Aren’t we all?

It’s more important to know if Cam Newton really did get defensive when an NFL assistant questioned him about why he changed a play in the BCS National Championship Game than it is to know that he led all quarterbacks in the standing broad jump.

Unless he’s going to play “Batman” someday and wants to do his own stunts, we already knew he was the best athlete at his position. It’s more important to know how he takes criticism, whether he thinks it’s his job as a quarterback to go rogue or follow the script.

Behind closed doors, prospects are still given the Wonderlic test to judge intelligence and other psychological traits. But even the late Eldon Wonderlic’s test is being criticized, this time by a woman who doesn’t believe it measures what it’s supposed to measure.

She happens to be Wonderlic’s daughter, 71-year-old Kathy Kolbe, and she also happens to be trying to market her own IQ test, The Kolbe, to supplement her father’s work.

NFL scouts say everything at the Scouting Combine is just a piece of the puzzle and they’re right. The problem is too often team’s see size and speed and strength (or the lack of it) and give those elements emphasis over what game films tell them.

The elementary issue is one that doesn’t necessarily make for good TV and can’t be measured.

Can a player show the maturity, professionalism, instincts, desire and attention to fundamentals to be a valuable part of a championship team?

I mean, except for those waist benders.

[Cam Newton image: © Gene Lower/ZUMA Press/Corbis]

WORKOUT WARRIORS OF FAME AND MISFORTUNE

Mike Mamula. The Boston College defensive end’s workout in 1995 was legendary — 38 inch vertical, reportedly 49 out of 50 on the Wonderlic. It vaulted him from possible third-round pick to seventh overall by the Eagles, who traded a first and two seconds to get him. He played just 77 career games with the Eagles.
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Tony Mandarich. Sports Illustrated declared him the best offensive line prospect ever. Ran a 4.65 at 315 pounds. Had a 30-inch vertical jump. And, as we found out, a serious steroid problem.
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Ryan Leaf. Big, strong arm, out of shape. Failed to show up for a meeting with the Colts, who had to “settle” for Peyton Manning. That didn’t stop the Chargers from taking him second and ruing the day they did so. One of the great busts in history.
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Matt Jones. The Jaguars fell in love with his speed and converted him to wide receiver, even though he played quarterback at Arkansas, when he ran a 4.3 in the 40. Drug issues combined with drops on the field have dominated the conversation about him.
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Akili Smith. Oregon quarterback who had scouts raving about his arm. Somehow scored a 37 on the Wonderlic after allegedly scoring 12 first time he took it. Big-time bust for the Bengals with five career TDs and 13 interceptions.
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Joey Harrington. Oregon QB had a great Combine workout despite being sick. The Lions took the bait and picked him third overall. Had only one season with more TD passes than INTs.
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Mike Williams. Strong workout led Lions to take him 10th overall in 2005, third year in a row they drafted a wide receiver. Major disappointment only now on the rebound.
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Darrius Heyward-Bey. Oakland took the bait this time (see, it’s not always the Lions). After Heyward-Bey ran a 4.30 and turned in a 40-inch vertical jump, the Raiders made him the seventh overall pick. He’s had 35 catches in two seasons.
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Kyle Boller. An SI.com Classic Combine Story. Wowed scouts by throwing 50 yard passes. From his knees. First-round pick of the Ravens. Career: 48 TDs, 49 INTs.
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Jarron Gilbert. This isn’t a Combine story as such. But so what. He became a YouTube sensation when he showed his strength and athleticism by jumping out of the shallow end of a pool. Was drafted in the third round of the draft by the Chicago Bears. One career tackle (Not sure whether it was a Dolphin).

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Fast Facts About Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph breaks the tape as she wins the Olympic 4 x 100 relay in 1960.
Wilma Rudolph breaks the tape as she wins the Olympic 4 x 100 relay in 1960.
Robert Riger/Getty Images

Wilma Rudolph made history as a Black female athlete at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy. The 20-year-old Tennessee State University sprinter was the first American woman to win three gold medals at one Olympics. Rudolph’s heroics in the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 4 x 100-meter events only lasted seconds, but her legend persists decades later, despite her untimely 1994 death from cancer at age 54. Here are some facts about this U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame member.

1. Wilma Rudolph faced poverty and polio as a child.

When Rudolph was born prematurely on June 23, 1940, in Clarksville, Tennessee, she weighed just 4.5 pounds. Olympic dreams seemed impossible for Rudolph, whose impoverished family included 21 other siblings. Among other maladies, she had measles, mumps, and pneumonia by age 4. Most devastatingly, polio twisted her left leg, and she wore leg braces until she was 9.

2. Wilma Rudolph originally wanted to play basketball.

The Tennessee Tigerbelles. From left to right: Martha Hudson, Lucinda Williams, Wilma Rudolph, and Barbara Jones.Central Press/Getty Images

At Clarksville’s Burt High School, Rudolph flourished on the basketball court. Nearly 6 feet tall, she studied the game, and ran track to keep in shape. However, while competing in the state basketball championship in Nashville, the 14-year-old speedster met a referee named Ed Temple, who doubled as the acclaimed coach of the Tennessee State Tigerbelles track team. Temple, who would coach at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics, recruited Rudolph.

3. Wilma Rudolph made her Olympic debut as a teenager.

Rudolph hit the limelight at 16, earning a bronze medal in the 4 x 100-meter relay at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. But that didn’t compare to the media hype when she won three gold medals in 1960. French journalists called her “The Black Pearl,” the Italian press hailed “The Black Gazelle,” and in America, Rudolph was “The Tornado.”

4. After her gold medals, Wilma Rudolph insisted on a racially integrated homecoming.

Tennessee governor Buford Ellington, who supported racial segregation, intended to oversee the Clarksville celebrations when Rudolph returned from Rome. However, she refused to attend her parade or victory banquet unless both were open to Black and white people. Rudolph got her wish, resulting in the first integrated events in the city’s history.

5. Muhammad Ali had a crush on Wilma Rudolph.

Ali—known as Cassius Clay when he won the 1960 Olympic light heavyweight boxing title—befriended Rudolph in Rome. That fall, the 18-year-old boxer invited Rudolph to his native Louisville, Kentucky. He drove her around in a pink Cadillac convertible.

6. John F. Kennedy literally fell over when he invited Wilma Rudolph to the White House.

President Kennedy, Wilma Rudolph, Rudolph’s mother Blanche Rudolph, and Vice President Johnson in the Oval Office.Abbie Rowe/White House Photographs/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum // Public Domain

In 1961, Rudolph met JFK in the Oval Office. After getting some photos taken together, the President attempted to sit down in his rocking chair and tumbled to the floor. Kennedy quipped: “It’s not every day that I get to meet an Olympic champion.” They chatted for about 30 minutes.

7. Wilma Rudolph held three world records when she retired.

Rudolph chose to go out on top and retired in 1962 at just 22 years old. Her 100-meter (11.2 seconds), 200-meter (22.9 seconds), and 4 x 100-meter relay (44.3 seconds) world records all lasted several years.

8. Wilma Rudolph visited West African countries as a goodwill ambassador.

The U.S. State Department sent Rudolph to the 1963 Friendship Games in Dakar, Senegal. According to Penn State professor Amira Rose Davis, while there, Rudolph independently met with future Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah’s Young Pioneers, a nationalist youth movement. She visited Mali, Guinea, and the Republic of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) as well.

9. Denzel Washington made his TV debut in a movie about Wilma Rudolph.

Before his Oscar-winning performances in Glory (1989) and Training Day (2001), a 22-year-old Denzel Washington portrayed Robert Eldridge, Rudolph’s second husband, in Wilma (1977). The film also starred Cicely Tyson as Rudolph’s mother Blanche.

10. Schools, stamps, and statues commemorate Wilma Rudolph’s legacy.

Berlin, Germany, has a high school named after Rudolph. The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp celebrating her in 2004. Clarksville features a bronze statue by the Cumberland River, the 1000-capacity Wilma Rudolph Event Center, and Wilma Rudolph Boulevard. In Tennessee, June 23 is Wilma Rudolph Day.