The NFL almost always gets these types of things wrong. Even if the recent policy around players not receiving invitations to the Scouting Combine is being done more for appearances and public relations purposes, they’re succeeding in sending the right message. That is the case even if it hurts teams’ (like the Green Bay Packers) ability to scout players.
Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons was on his way to being a top-15 pick before he tore his ACL in training. That injury would be just another reason his combine would have been vital. But he won’t be there, a fact that ESPN’s Chris Mortenson reported wasn’t popular among NFL teams. The reasons there are obvious: they want more time with these players, not less.
Except there’s a reason Simmons won’t be in Indianapolis, nor will Colorado State’s Preston Williams or Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson, all three of whom have violent incidents in their pasts. Simmons was caught on camera assaulting a woman, albeit in defense of his sister. Williams’ arrest was likewise for a violent altercation with a woman, while Ferguson got in a fight outside a McDonalds.
Whether these incidents are actually worse than what Baker Mayfield was arrested for, or someone like Dakota Allen who was initially charged with felony burglary in connection to stealing guns, isn’t relevant here, though that may be worth discussing on its own. The NFL is sending a message about players: violence is for on-field play only.
Ferguson’s incident is years old, and Simmons ha, by all accounts been a model citizen and teammate for Mississippi State, but that’s not relevant either. Not going to the combine isn’t the same as not getting a second chance. All three of these players will be drafted, earning the chance at an NFL career based on what they can accomplish on the field. But the combine is by invitation only. Not everyone gets to attend and the NFL ought to have standards that extend well beyond the quality of the player on the field.
The draft process is all one big job interview, and anyone who has ever filled out a job application knows there is a section on the sheet wondering if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime and if so, what it was. The NFL making violent crimes a deal breaker for the Combine represents an action most companies would take in a similar situation. In fact, it’s not even as strict as most organizations would likely be for a position paying millions of dollars. Have a violent charge for assaulting a woman, and that job is out the window.
Teams want the players there so they can do their homework on them. They’ll argue, as some in the media have as well, for players like Ferguson and Simmons—both of whom could interest the Packers—the Combine invite becomes even more critical.
That’s exactly why they shouldn’t be there. The NFL shouldn’t be offering additional avenues for these players to make their cases to member teams. Taking them away from the Combine means not incentivizing violence, particularly against women, a message the league has struggled to send for decades. It also isn’t a no-tolerance policy, which evidence suggests deters women from reporting abuse. These guys will still play in the league. But a team wanting to draft them will have to use the player’s pro day and potential one of the team’s allotted visits to do the required due diligence.
Will some teams simply take the player anyway? Sure, but it’s not up to the NFL to regulate how much or how little work a team does when selecting players. Some teams have scouting staffs smaller than your lunch bunch. That’s not the league’s concern. What the league can’t abide is providing avenues for teams to be lazy about selecting these players. They ought to be working harder, to be going above and beyond to do their homework, just as the players ought to do when proving themselves to teams.
It’s not that these players don’t deserve the opportunity. They do. But going to the Combine would be giving them a privilege they haven’t earned. They too should have to work a little bit harder than players who have done the right things off the field. Bringing them to Indy because they have these red flags flies in the face of values the league should want to uphold.
Going to the Combine is special treatment. If you don’t believe that, just ask Penny Hart, a Senior Bowl standout who didn’t even get an invite but might still go in the middle rounds. Why should Simmons get to go to the combine but Hart shouldn’t? What does that say about the league if that’s the bar for entry? It would only enforce the notion teams only care about player talent, a knock the league can’t shake on its own unless and until teams stop giving players like Kareem Hunt and Aldon Smith second and third chances.
The policy may be craven, cynical PR from the NFL. That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong idea.