This, if you can get it to load and run to completion (I can’t, in any browser), is a video about Prince Amukamara’s intense efforts to minimize his 40 time. Few thought during his senior season as the consensus at-least-second-best cornerback in America, he’d be spending this time trying to quiet those doubting his ability. But, partly on advice from Ndamukong Suh, Amukamara will do all the drills at this year’s NFL Combine, looking to prove he’s as good as everyone thinks he is . . . or isn’t . . . or something.
It’s an odd cause-and-effect cycle like this. People watch Amukamara play, they see he’s awesome, they make him Preseason All-America, etc. Then evaluators like Wes Bunting watch film, and say Amukamara’s not worth a Top 10 pick because his straight-line speed is “lacking.” So, in order to answer the questions about his straight-line speed, Amukamara is training to learn how to run really fast in a straight line, in shorts, on a track. Supposing he goes out and cuts a 4.20, what changes about the game tape he laid down? What does that prove about his ability to play in the NFL?
The Combine has gone from a convenient way for scouts to get independent apples-to-apples information on prospects, to a cottage industry with millions of dollars flowing in a circle. Players hire agents, agents pay for training, the trainers boost the players’ draft stock, the player gets paid more, the agent gets paid more, the trainers get more agents referring clients their way . . . everybody wins.
This process bears many strange fruits. There are Darius Heyward-Beys, guys whose eye-popping 40 time causes team to shell out big dough for a guy who can’t play. On the other hand, there are Chris Johnsons whose blazing track times clued teams in to real talent. On the other other hand, there are Joe Hadens, whose lackluster 40 times belie elite on-field ability. On the other other other hand, there are Derrick Williamses, whose slow 40 times reveal a missing top gear.
Let’s be real: Amukamara can play. He’s proven with his play that he can play at the NFL level. The question is, does he possess the extra burst, the elite athletic ability, the splash of habanero required to lock down a Jennings, a Rice, or a theoretical top Chicago receiver? I don’t think his 40 time will prove he does or doesn’t—and even if he does have that potential, cornerback is a position that usually requires development. If Amukamara does fall to the Lions at 13—and many suggest he will—counting on him to shut down his half of the field from day one will be folly.Last year, Taylor Mays’ “official” 40 time was mysteriously adjusted to be .19 seconds slower than cameras showed, for no apparent reason. There’s never been an explanation for this, and the NFL Network’s frame-by-frame overlap replay proved something was seriously rotten with the NFL’s official times. At this point, what a fast 40 time proves is not that you have elite recovery speed, or can rush the passer, or can beat the fullback to the hole—it proves you either have ridiculous God-given wheels, or you care enough about your career to put your nose to the grindstone and get the very best out of your body.
So, if you’re watching the NFL Combine this weekend—and after all this, I suggest you do—watch the 40 for fun and oohs and aahs . . . but watch the drills if you want to know what’s really up.