For American football fans and those interested in world sporting spectacles, the recent Super Bowl was an amazing event, the best comeback in Super Bowl history. And don't I know it. I watched the first half, already pencilling in the results on Topend Sports assuming it was an unbeatable lead. I had to head off to a medical appointment and afterwards was just a little surprised turning on the TV to find the score tied with seconds to go. What had I missed?
The architect of the comeback, Tom Brady, is arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play in the NFL. He now has a record five super bowl rings and four MVPs. All this from a player that nearly did not get drafted. He was not the standout pick leading up to the 2000 draft by any means, and his results at the pre-draft combine, as shown on this video, only lessened his appeal.
At the combine he presented as a tall, lanky kid who ran a pedestrian 5.28s 40-yard dash, the slowest among active NFL starting quarterbacks. Despite a good college playing record, the poor test results in the combine affected his profile and subsequently he slid all the way into the sixth round of the draft, and was picked up at 199 with six other quarterbacks picked ahead of him. There is a great video called the Brady 6 (check it out on YouTube), which goes into details about that year's draft and what happened to the six picked ahead of him.
How did the selectors get it so wrong? It just highlights that the draft is an inexact science, and player's test results are not the only factor to be considered. Whatever special ability Brady has, it did not stand out then, and the testing only highlighted his unremarkable (and unnecessary) physical attributes.
If there were tests of work ethic, competitiveness, preparation, leadership, and ability to perform under pressure, Brady would have excelled. ESPN once ran an alternative quarterback combine, which included quarterback specific skills such as information processing, throwing mechanics and reaction time, release time, arm speed and accuracy plus much more.
Such quarterback specific tests would be useful, but possibly unrealistic to conduct. Even if you ran quarterback specific tests, some potential super bowl MVPs may slip through the net. The ultimate test of an athlete is time on the field: you may only know after watching their performance under elite playing pressure. The problem is selecting the right players, and more than just science is required for that.