Burke: Combine more flash than substance


I love the NFL's pre-draft process. The NFL Combine begins Wednesday in Indianapolis. Wake me when its over. Sound like a contradiction?

Oh, Ill watch the Combine. Just about all of it, in fact, even if I do reserve the right to use the fast-forward feature on my DVR liberally.

My indifference towards most of what the Combine represents stems from my belief that most of what the prospects are asked to engage in is nonsensical to what makes a football player productive. Football is about blocking and tackling and giving and absorbing contact. We will see none of that at The House That Peyton Soon Will Depart.

Instead, there will be plenty of sprinting and shuttling and jumping (will they jump ball, too?)

Let me repeat, I will watch the NFL Combine. And, not just because its my job. There are certain aspects of the week that I believe are vitally important, but the most crucial part of the whole thing is barely discussedthe medical report.

Each prospect undergoes a thorough examination that gives every eyeball inside each of the 32 teams a microscopic look inside a prospects past, present and future. A questionable medical report can deflate a players draft status, as it did with Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers in the 2011 draft. Worries about the pass rusher's surgically-repaired knee led the projected top-10 talent to instead go off the board 51st overall.

The "medical" is not as flashy as the running and sprinting and jumping, so that aspect of the process often goes undiscussed except in cases of the top-tier talent. Instead, the measurables of speed and quickness rule the day. But, more than the drills, the medical report is the one facet of the entire Combine program that places every player on the exact same plane. No matter how big or strong or fleet or smart a player is, health is the most important aspect that should be considered when investing millions.

NFL teams place a lot of weight on what they see with their own eyes. A so-so receiver can climb up the draft boards based on a fast 40-time, and a corner can do likewise if hes quick-footed, even if he has trouble locating the ball. I get all of that. But at the end of the day, were talking about football, and I cant tell you one thing about the combine performances of any player that was in the Super Bowl last season.

But I can tell you this: Victor Cruz is a star. And he wasnt even invited to the Combine.

Funny how he saved his best Indianapolis showing for the week that mattered the most. And he clearly was fast enough and quick enough (and healthy enough) to make the grade, even if he did go undrafted out of college.

Cruz furthers my point that all that glitters in Indy isnt gold, except in the case of his Championship ring.

E-mail Ron Burke at rburke@comcastsportsnet.com.

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