When you really think about it the NFL Combine is a bizarre spectacle – hundreds of older men judge the manliness of half-dressed younger men while millions of other men watch on TV. Regardless, though, the Combine has turned into a very big deal – complete with 30 hours of TV broadcasts and endless media coverage. The importance of the NFL Combine is probably overblown, and it can be more of a distraction than a help for bettors in a lot of ways. There are some ways, though, that paying attention to what’s going on in Indianapolis can pay dividends down the road for savvy NFL handicappers. Here are four things to pay attention to as you follow the action:
High performers who aren’t blue chippers – Every year there are a few college football players who aren’t seen as first or second round prospects who blow away the competition at the Combine. They might not have got the attention of the scouts during the college football season, but at the Combine they are fit, prepared, and freakishly athletic for their position. It’s always handy to have a sense of who these players are because it’s surprising how often they will turn up on NFL rosters in key times. If the players don’t have big names then the public could panic when a big name starter goes down and a rookie has to take his spot. If you know that the rookie in question is fit, hungry, prepared, and able to rise to the occasion then you could be in a position to worry far less about the situation than the public is. Any time that the public worries more than they need to you could be in position to find some nice value on your bet.
Top level guys who have attitude issues – Every year there are a few players that really make you shake your head when you watch them at the Combine. I’m talking about guys who have all the tools, talent and attention to make a big splash, but who just don’t perform like they are capable of. It could be that they wilt under the pressure of the situation and falter. If they can’t handle the pressure in April then they sure won’t handle it in December out on the gridiron. Even more concerning, though, is when a guy looks like he resents being there at all. He’s sitting on a lottery ticket, and yet he doesn’t feel like it is worth the effort involved in cashing it? Unimpressive. If he feels that way at the Combine imagine how he’ll feel when his coach tells him to work harder, or when he is pulled from the lineup.
Guys the media is obsessing over – Every year at the NFL Combine there are a few guys that the media falls in love with. I’m talking here about guys who came in as first or second day picks, but who rocket upwards because of how they perform at the Combine. I am very skeptical of these situations – when a couple days in gym shorts means much more to pro football teams and coaches than three or four years of game film. Sometimes players like this are truly as impressive as they seem and they turn into great draft picks. At least as often, though, these Combine studs turn out to be picked too high and they don’t pay off at all for the teams that pick them. Huge Combine performances translate into huge hype, and the public eats hype for breakfast – without spending much time analyzing if the hype really makes any sense. Overhyped players can lead to overhyped teams when they are drafted, and that can lead to value betting against those teams by sports bettors who have done their homework.
Obscure guys getting too much love – One of the most valuable things I like to do each year after the Combine is to read over the dozens of inevitable articles of most surprising performers at the Combine that appear in virtually every media outlet. Each year there is a totally obscure player or two who appears on all of those lists – some guy from Division II or Division III who becomes a media darling because of what he does in Indy. I like following these guys so much because they almost never turn out to be productive NFL pros at all. Paying attention to who these players are can prove helpful if the media starts to talk about the players again in the summer or fall – you can be skeptical when they are excited.
Guys not getting the attention they seem to deserve – From now on I will call this one the James Starks effect. In 2007 I went to a game at the University at Buffalo and was blown away by their running back. I watched him whenever I could after that, and my feelings for the player only strengthened. He missed 2009 with an injury, but was back in time for the Combine. At the Combine I again played close attention to him. He had a very solid day there. Despite that he never really got any buzz – he was a forgotten player. He was picked in the sixth round, and toiled in obscurity. Until, that is, Green Bay needed him and he became a football hero en route to the Super Bowl. Every time Starks was mentioned in the major media the writer would say how he had come from nowhere. He hadn’t at all – he just hadn’t got the attention he should have. If you watch a lot of college football then you’ll notice quite a few guys like this each year. If they don’t get the attention they should then you’ll be in position to be far less surprised by their competence than most people when they are given an opportunity and there’s a good chance as a sports bettor that you can cash in on it.