2012 NFL Scouting Combine: How Important is Participation?

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 26: Wide receiver Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State gets ready during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 26, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The NFL Scouting Combine isn't that important. I mean, really, how fast a guy runs without pads on is not always indicative of his game speed. Most of the drills are just for show, and teams are there to see players medically check out, get measured in and how they perform in interviews. And what coach or general manager doesn't want to see how each player responds to a high pressure competitive environment?

This weekend, both Alshon Jeffery and Justin Blackmon, two guys who had a lot questions to answer about their straight line speed, both chose not to run the 40-yard dash, instead backing down from competition. Blackmon cited a hamstring injury that he did not want to re-aggravate, but that hammy didn't stop him from running the gauntlet or deep routes in passing drills. Jeffery simply chMany will argue that if the combine drills aren't crucial to the evaluation process, what's the point of participating? But if it really isn't that important, why are these guys so afraid to run?

Since the end of the college football season, both Blackmon and Jeffery have had their speed called into question. Both have reportedly been training to improve their 40-yard dash times, and their respective agents have eased any concerns the media may have about the two talented wide receivers. Well, this morning, they both had a chance to ease concerns all together. Instead, they backed down from competition, watching Stephen Hill steal the show with an unofficial 4.30 and Michael Floyd surprise some people with an unofficial 4.42.

Justin Blackmon is not a slam dunk top ten prospect. He's not in the same class as Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald or even A.J. Green. I have a tough time grading him higher than Julio Jones even. So, for him to pass up a chance at proving people wrong about his speed doesn't make sense.

If you don't think it matters to NFL front offices, just ask Jaguars general manager Gene Smith, who told the Florida Times Union what he thinks about players participating in the process.

"We like to see players who want to compete in an environment that puts the best against the best under the same conditions," Smith said.

The first thing people will point out is that Smith selected Blaine Gabbert last year, who didn't throw at the combine. But quarterbacks are a different breed. Not throwing at the combine is understandable. These quarterbacks have been working with one set of receivers all season long, and to throw to complete new receivers could definitely throw them off. It's a different animal than running 40 yards in a straight line.

I'm not saying that Justin Blackmon's draft stock is toast, nor am I saying that he is not a competitor (he proved that on the field this fall), but it's a disappointing trend to see so many players choose not to run. They have had plenty of time to train, and there is no reason, barring injury, that a player can't put his ability on display for scouts.

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