I hear over and over again how the combine is "worthless" and serves no real purpose. To those who follow that line of thinking, I offer the same phrase I have been using in this argument for years.
"You can't find out who CAN play in shorts and T-Shirts, but you can find out who CAN'T play real quick."
To me the scouting combine is about two things: Weeding out the physically unfit, and identifying those with exemplary work ethic.
Weeding Out The Weak:
I don't think that the combine is so much about pushing a guy up the board who runs 4.3 as it is identifying and red-flagging the cornerback who runs 4.8, or the defensive tackle who can only muster 9 reps of 225 on the bench. I was told as much by coaches and scouts when I participated in a CFL/AFL combine-style tryout in 2004. Whether we like to believe it or not there are certain measurable criteria that can be a pretty good indicator of a players likelihood for success on the highest level.
At the combine, coaches are looking to identify the players whose physical measurables fall well short of the optimum range for players at that particular position. For example, they aren't red-flagging the running back who goes 4.6, but the guy who goes 4.85 really has virtually no chance of being successful. 4.85 isn't getting you through the hole in time, and it isn't beating linebackers to the third level. Guys like this do need to be identified. Especially those who may have played against lesser competition, whose physical shortcomings may be more difficult to identify on tape.
Identifying Players With Good Work Ethic:
If you have ever lifted weights you know that no one bangs out 35 reps of 225 on brute strength alone. While it is true that a bench press number doesn't translate into on-field success, I think that a high bench press score speaks to a players work ethic, because it takes diligent work to achieve such a thing. When I see a corner smash 24 reps, or a lineman hit 30+, it tells me a few things about him. To me it shows that you have a guy who recognized that no matter what he thought about it's relevance to playing ball, his bench press would have an effect on his draft position. He recognized the task at hand, and whether he liked it or not he put in the work and got himself prepared to perform when called upon.
Isn't that what being a pro is all about? Putting in the work, and sometimes doing things that you may not agree with? To add to that, doesn't a guy scare you to death who knew the combine was coming for months, and DIDN'T put in the work?
Again, I agree that the combine is overrated, and too many guys get pushed up the board because of things that have little to do with football. A lot of good players slide as well. I just think that if teams are responsible, and use the combine only as a supplement to film study and interviews, the week in Indianapolis does have some real value.