Draft analyst Mike Detillier of Raceland and WWL Radio, has been evaluating college players for 27 years. A comment from former Oilers and Saints coach Bum Phillips sticks out to put these workouts in the proper perspective.
"The combine has a place when you are trying to pick players. There is not hitting, no tackling, no drills with quarterbacks and receivers going up against a pass rush and defensive backs," said Phillips. It's an athletic workout. It's guys running and lifting weights with a sweatshirt and shorts on. You get to see who you might rank as the best middle linebacker and then you get to see the 10th best in that spot and you can see the differences.
"You may also see how well these guys have kept themselves or not kept themselves in shape. The bottom line is, you are looking for football players, not workout players. You see some things that are interesting out there, but it doesn't tell you who can play and who can't. This process should be about finding football players. The things I hear or read about don't make a lot of football sense. There have been a lot of great football players that weren't that the biggest, fastest, strongest or could jump the highest, but they knew how to play football. Being football smart and having dedication to this game can't be measured with a yardstick or with a stopwatch."
"The bottom line is that while the combine can answer some questions, it is just a piece of the evaluation process," said Detillier.
New Orleans workout specialist Mackie Shilstone said that preparing for the interviews is important and you really don't know how a coach or general manager will react to a player's response.
"You have to be honest with them because they know a lot more than you might think about you," said Shilstone. "I have told players in the past to be up front because they probably know the answer to their own question. Being in shape is important because it shows some dedication to the craft. But, you can' tell if that guy will continue that process once the draft is over with and beyond. The ball is in the player's court on that issue and he can't blame anyone else. How a player processes the mental part of the game varies, but I have seen guys with average IQs that can process football information fast and guys with very high IQs that have some hesitation because they try and factor every issue instead of just what really matters. It is no better than an educated guess when looking at a college player entering the NFL. Who really knows what a coach or a general manager is really looking for?"
In 1999, then-Saints coach Mike Ditka admitted that the interviews made a difference between the two top running backs in that draft, Rickey Williams and Edgerrin James.
Despite being told by scouts about Williams' penchant to really put on the charm, but that was bit of a sham. Ditka was sold by Williams' personality and his very firm handshake.
A firm handshake from Williams and one lukewarm one at best from James sold "Iron Mike" that Williams would be the next great running back in the NFL We all know how that turned out.
The main part of the combine is getting the right medical information on college players. Because of the strict laws on medical conditions or injuries a player has sustained, NFL teams don't have the insights on the extent of some of these issues. There will never be another physical given to an athlete as comprehensive as the one given in Indianapolis. There isn't a body part that isn't X-rayed, pulled, prodded and looked at by the best doctors and orthopedic specialists.
By no means is this an exact science. It is what former 49ers coach Bill Walsh used to say "and educated guess at best."