Football is more than Combine numbers


LITTLE ROCK — Crafted as a promotion, Leon Sandcastle’s ad for the NFL Combine is more of a parody.

Wig-wearing Deion Sanders and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell shake hands after Sandcastle — an unknown when he registers for the Combine — is the No. 1 player in the draft based solely on a 4.2 in the 40, some extraordinary vertical leap, and other gaudy measurements recorded in Indianapolis.

With that inflated emphasis on times and distances in mind, fast forward to April 25 and an imaginary conservation in which Oakland honchos are sweating whether Kansas City will use the No. 1 pick on a quarterback.

“Maybe they will pass on a quarterback and go for a franchise player,” says decision-maker No. 1.

“Let’s hope so, then we can take Geno Smith,” says decision-maker No. 2.

“Smith? From mid-October to mid-November, his Mountaineers lost five in a row.”

“I don’t care, he had a 124-inch standing broad jump in Indianapolis. That was four inches better than RG III did last year.”

“But throwing in the Big 12, where all quarterbacks put up big numbers, he was less than 60 percent against Texas Tech, TCU, and Oklahoma.”

“You’re missing the point. Under a rush, he can spring more than 10 feet in one direction. His broad jump was six inches more than E.J. Manuel at Florida State.”

“Manuel? The only time he played an SEC defense, he was 18 of 33 with three interceptions.”

“So what, his vertical is 34 and that’s a half-inch better than Smith’s. Think how much difference that will make on a jump pass or a post-touchdown dunk.”

“Speaking of the SEC, what about Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson?”

“My gosh, his vertical was only 28 1/2 and his broad jump was only 112.”

“But, he’s a winner and a leader. Remember the 2011 season when he completed more than 63 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and only six interceptions and led Arkansas to its first BCS bowl game.”

“What about 2012?”

“One proven receiver, a lesser offensive line, and turmoil from the top down.”

“No matter. I can’t get past the fact that his broad jump is a foot shy of Smith’s.”

Silly? Sure.

But, every year there is such ado over how some athlete has “raised his stock” by running, lifting, and jumping. Some of the measurements are simply products of a specific training regimen honed in on the tests in Indy.

Mike Mamula might have been the first in 1995.

A senior defensive end from Boston College, he was to be a third- or fourth-round pick. Then, he ran 4.58 in the 40 and made 49 of 50 on the Wonderlic test, a Combine performance that convinced Philadelphia to trade a first and two second-round picks to Tampa Bay for the No. 7 pick which they used on Mamula. Injured off and on, he played six years and never made the Pro Bowl.

Every year, I promise myself to check back on the ballyhooed wide receiver who ran 4.3 or the 300-pounder who clocked 4.7. Then, I forget.

On the other side of the ledger is Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who ran 4.82. One on-site reporter said LSU’s Kevin Minter might move ahead of Te’o because he ran 4.81. Really?

Admittedly, Te’o did not play well vs. Alabama, but his personal life was an embarrassment — a topic he apparently handled well in interviews with NFL personnel.

All I know is that New England linebacker Brandon Spikes can barely crack 5.0, that Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict ran 5.1 in Indianapolis, and that Washington linebacker London Fletcher, 4.85, is trying to decide if he wants to play a 16th year and add to his streak of 240 consecutive games.

Some guys can play football; some are just fast and strong.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is hking@arkansasnews.com.