Combine carries too much weight

first_imgAJ MACLEAN/Herald photoYes, the NFL Draft is once again upon us. Beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday morning, the lives of 255 young men will change over the course of two days, with plenty of trades and picks to question along the way.However, the event has come a long way in the last 10 or so years. Cameras show team’s “War rooms” (or whatever they’re called these days), with team officials executing a strategy while ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. fills households across the nation with his opinions on nearly every single player selected.An even more striking change has come in the manner in which teams evaluate talent. In today’s NFL, it seems like a prospects’ use of four to five seconds running on a track are more important than his three or four years of college productivity.All-American status is essentially thrown out. In a somewhat disturbing trend, the things a player can do while working out in shorts and a t-shirt in front of numerous scouts has become just as important, if not more, than that player’s ability to simply play football on any given Saturday.Need proof? The case-in-point sits right in Madison’s backyard.His name is Jim Leonhard.Leonhard hasn’t been able to work out much at all since suffering a stress fracture in his left foot. With no chances to show off his athleticism, Leonhard’s draft hopes are riding the uncertain highway of the sixth or seventh round, with free agency a real possibility.“To make it through four years of college and not have to miss anything and then to come right now, at this time of my career, and have a setback like this is really frustrating,” Leonhard said at Badger Pro Day while wearing a protective boot on his foot. “Hopefully it will work out, I’m hoping to get into camp somewhere.”Unfortunately for Leonhard, his three years of flat-out production since entering UW’s starting lineup as a sophomore may go by the wayside. Leonhard has exactly seven times as many interceptions (a staggering 21-to-three ratio) as Thomas Davis of Georgia, who is believed to be the top-ranked safety on most teams’ draft boards. Now, Leonhard should in no way be put on the same level as a top-notch prospect such as Davis for draft purposes. Yet his stats shouldn’t just be discarded.Tackles and interceptions seem to have little meaning these days when compared to 40-yard dash times and pro agility tests. This is not to say Leonhard would have struggled in these tests. This is a 5-foot-8 man who can dunk a basketball with ease for crying out loud. Had he had the chance and good health to perform, the former Badger would have been able to show off the same athleticism that has caught many an opponent off guard. The point is this — sneering at Leonhard’s career stats simply because he has not followed them up with blistering times and measurements is ludicrous.“I’ve got three years of good film out there and then it’s just trying to prove to them that you’re going to be healthy and that it’s going the right direction that way,” Leonhard said.While players like Leonhard lose out, each year there are several elite workout warriors who shoot up draft boards with their “measurables.” Productivity is thrown out the window in favor of potential. Year after year, pro scouts drool at the raw athleticism displayed by players who, quite frankly, never will capitalize on that ability. See Philadelphia Eagles 1995 first-round pick Mike Mamula for evidence of that. A perfect example this year is Matt Jones of Arkansas, a freakish athlete (6-foot-6, 242 pounds and 4.37 speed) attempting to make the change from college quarterback to professional wide receiver. Now, Jones may in fact have a nice career in the NFL. But it’s hard to believe anyone can learn to play wideout on the fly in the professional ranks with the number of high-caliber athletes in the league. And though he is unquestionably a first-round talent, considering Jones a first-round pick seems a little far-fetched.While the Matt Jones’ of the world will watch with anticipation Saturday, Leonhard and others will play the waiting game late into Sunday. But, it’s no major change for Leonhard — he’s been in this position before. Who would have thought a kid from Tony, Wis., would earn All-American honors? Regardless of what transpires this weekend, Leonhard will find himself with a new set of people to prove wrong. “It’s kind of the same situation (as college), just on a bigger level,” Leonhard said. “Hopefully [I] can do the same thing, have a great career there as well.”last_img read more