Before every NFL Scouting Combine, the general talk around league circles centers on not allowing workouts to change a player's grade, positively or negatively.
In fact, prior to last year's combine, Bill Parcells, then running the draft for the Dolphins, set Miami's board so that any movement -- up or down -- would be directly linked to the workouts, thus putting pressure on the staff to think twice before agreeing to such a decision.
So with the notion that workouts cannot help a player as a precursor entering the combine, what is the first thing that happens? As soon as someone runs a great 40-yard dash or jumps high, the question that follows is does this move him up in the draft? For example, Syracuse offensive lineman Ryan Bartholomew ran a sub-5.00 second 40 this year, and his stock rose -- after everyone said that wouldn't happen. Some things never change.
In spite of all the rhetoric, workouts do matter. However, there are many variables at play. Nothing in scouting is black and white, therefore a good workout might cause more problems than solutions.
Here are some variables leaving the combine.
Great player, even better workout
When LSU's Patrick Peterson worked out so well and dominated the combine, he sealed his place in the top 10 and probably caused the teams picking in the top five to consider his talents. Peterson came to Indianapolis expecting to run fast, leap tall buildings and do his best Superman impersonation. He did not disappoint. He was on top of his game -- and everything he did at the combine any scout can find on the tape from his time at LSU. Peterson is the easy player to finalize after the combine. There are no concerns about his football or athletic skills. He might be the safest player in the draft.
Good player, amazing workout
I have watched Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones many times and like him as a player. But I have never seen him play the game to a sub-4.40 speed, nor did I see that incredible burst and acceleration he displayed at the combine -- with a fracture in his foot no less. I always thought he was more of a possession receiver than a vertical threat. Does the workout change my mind? Does the display of rare athletic talent come into consideration? Possibly. However, there must be evidence on tape to support his incredible workout.
Jones' rare workout will make me and many teams go back and re-watch tape, looking for the times you can find that rare speed. Unless teams can provide specific plays where he runs away from defenders, then the workout should not alter his grade. No matter how impressive a workout, if he does not play with this speed and acceleration, then what good will the workout do on Sundays? The worst thing any team drafting Jones would want is to take him as a speed receiver and learn later he is just a possession option. The key to scouting is to learn more about the players before drafting them, rather than after. Therefore, most teams still have a ton of work to do on Jones.
Great player, so-so workout
Mark Ingram won the Heisman Trophy in 2009, and some -- not me -- are comparing his running style to Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith. Ingram came to Indy to prove he was healthy and has the skills to be the first back drafted. But he ran poorly (4.62), did not display great strength (21 reps on bench) or great power in his lower body. There was not one drill that Ingram separated himself from the other backs and proved that he is the best athlete. To further complicate things, each time I watch Alabama I am not sure Ingram is even the best back on the team.
In fairness to Ingram, Smith did not run a great time, but obviously proved to be a star. Ingram has the statistics, setting the Alabama record for the most touchdowns (42) and consistently being productive. He did it at the highest level of competition in college football and never showed he had any athletic limitations.
Forty speed for a back can be overrated. With the exception of Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles, most backs cannot run away from a defense. Long runs usually occur from broken tackles, not simply raw speed.
With that in mind, the concern for Ingram does not lie with his 40 time. Instead, the team drafting him will wonder if he can have a long career if he loses some skills as he grows older. When a team drafts a productive player with average athletic skills, the question that must be addressed is whether time or injuries will hamper his career. Losing the slightest edge might make Ingram have a hard time being an outside runner and reduce his overall effectiveness. He will be a player, but for how long and with what impact? That is an even bigger issue if he is picked in the top half of the draft.
Great workout, productive player, but where's the fit?
Fresno State DL Chris Carter was really impressive in every drill. He dominated in most categories -- from the 40 to the short shuttle to the vertical jump. And Carter is good on tape. So what is the problem? Carter is only 6-foot-1 and 248 pounds. That is too small to be a down lineman, and he might not have the instincts to play linebacker -- a position he tried to play in college before he was moved to defensive end.
We learned Carter is a great athlete in Indy, so he should be able to play somewhere in the league. But where? He will have to be projected to an NFL position, and the teams that can best utilize his skill set will be able to tap into his unique athleticism.
If Carter is drafted by the wrong team, he might get cut. At that point, some might call him a workout warrior. However, that might not stop Carter from being a good player. It is all about being where he fits best to find success. Teams must answer that question.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.