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Just ask the Falcons
by Anthony Stalter
Senior Sports Editor for The Scores Report
Three years ago, Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff narrowed down his list of prospects for the No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft to two players: Matt Ryan and Glenn Dorsey.
Drafting a quarterback isn't an exact science, as Ryan Leaf, Joey Harrington, Akili Smith and a host of others have proven throughout the years. That's why for Dimitroff, who had worked under Scott Pioli in New England but had never been a GM until he was hired by Atlanta in '08, had quite the dilemma on his hands. He loved Ryan, but if the Boston College QB didn't pan out, then Dimitroff could screw up his draft and send the franchise deeper into NFL purgatory.
Dorsey, on the other hand, was the safer choice. He was arguably the most dominant defensive player in college football the previous season and was cheaper. If the Falcons took Dorsey at No. 3, then they could nab Brian Brohm or another QB prospect with one of their two picks in the second round. It was less risky to take a defensive tackle that high than it was a quarterback, so Dorsey made sense.
But when it came time to turn in the card on draft day, Dimitroff couldn't shake how impressive Ryan was at the NFL scouting combine in February. It wasn't that Ryan threw well (he doesn't have the strongest arm) or even the fact that he tied Brohm by scoring a 32 on the Wonderlic exam, which was the highest of any QB prospect that year. Dimitroff came away so impressed with Ryan in the interview portion of the combine that he knew the quarterback was special. And when a GM sees something special in a potential franchise quarterback, he can't take a pass.
Granted, Ryan could still wind up being a bust and just because a prospect does well in an interview doesn't mean he's going to win Rookie of the Year. But had Dimitroff not spent time with Ryan at the combine, the Falcons might still be searching for their franchise quarterback.
Is the scouting combine over-hyped? Yeah, probably. But what else is the NFL Network going to show in February? They can only air "The Top 10 Greatest Defenses" so many times a week. It's a network's job to promote their coverage as best they can and seeing as how the channel isn't accessible to all cable providers, the NFL Network has to promote their content even louder so that the subscribers they do have will tune in.
Mike Mamula and Matt Jones proved that the scouting combine isn't the end all, be all for grading prospects. Just because a player can rep 225 pounds 30 times or run a 4.4 40-yard dash doesn't mean he's going to be a great football player. But the combine still offers teams the chance to get to know players on a personal level before they invest millions of dollars in them. Plus, let's not forget that GMs talk to agents (whether it's done in secret or not) about free agents during that time, so the combine also has an affect on free agency too.
From a fan and viewing standpoint, the combine is over-hyped. But at least it helps bridge the gap between the tragic end of the football season and the first pick in April's draft. And for GMs and other team personnel, the combine is vital.
Just ask Thomas Dimitroff.