NFL Combine: Boost or Bust?
It seems that the NFL Combine has been a part of football all my life. That really can not be true because it has only become an important event in professional football for a few decades now. And, it is important, for the players, the coaches, the general managers and the owners. It is not uncommon to see owners in the stands with note pads or stop watches. There are more stop watches at the NFL Combine than there will be at the Summer Olympics.
What is "The Combine"? It is an enormous undertaking by the NFL to select eligible college football players most likely to make NFL rosters every year. "The Combine" has been held at the home stadium of the Indianapolis Colts for several years. This is as close as one can get to being in the middle of America. The west coast teams may have an argument about that. How are players selected? Each NFL team has a scouting system that employs former players, coaches or analysts to scourer the country looking for college players that might fit into their particular system. The number of scouts vary with each team. Some have full time scouts. Some have part time scouts. Some have both. They visit campus practices, games and the offices of college coaches. Through this process, each scout will make a want list, a wish list and a need list. They try to find out everything possible about the players that spark their interests. By the end of each season these scouts have a "book" on every player that they have scouted. Of course they are constantly in contact with the General Manager, the Director of Player Personnel and the coaches of the team they are employed by.
From the combined "books" compiled by each of the 32 National Football League teams, a list of players is chosen from Division I, Division II, Division III and in some cases ASIA teams. From this list of chosen college players who are the best prospects to make an NFL roster. This list is refined until there are approximately 300 players that would meet this criteria.
This year there were some 335 players invited. A few could not attend. A few had nagging injuries that precluded them from participation in the drills. Some decided what drills that they would participate in. All of the above are scrutinized heavily by the teams at the Combine. However it is an "invitation" not a "requirement" to participate. For most players it is advantageous to participate because of the shear numbers of NFL personnel who are watching every move a player makes. One could improve their draft status with a good time in the forty yard dash, a good jump in the standing broad jump, a good leap in the vertical jump, a good number in the bench press, and a good performance in the many agility drills that are devised for each position, and good interviews with the coaches. It's no walk in the park for these players. They are really run through the mill.
There is also a possible negative result to this procedure. If one does not do well in these tests it could hurt their draft status. For example, Michael Sam, the linebacker (defensive end) from Missouri, who just recently announced to the world that he was gay, probably hurt his draft status by turning in unspectacular performances in almost all of the events. He was the Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC, and put up terrific numbers at Missouri. The good news for Sam is that his game tapes are available to all NFL teams. They will show what he did do. His performance at the Combine showed what he could not do. Therefore, it is my belief that Sam will drop from a third round choice to a fourth or fifth round choice.
Even though Jadeveon Clowney, defensive end from South Carolina chose not to participate in most of the drills, his 40 yard dash made the 6' 6", 266 lb. physical freak of nature become the talk of the combine after he ran a 4.53 in the forty yard dash. That is faster than a lot of running backs and wide receivers ran at the Combine. No one really knows why he chose not to display his skills in other activities. He was already one of the top three draft choices on the board so this did not hurt the physical evaluation of Clowney. However, it may have hurt his intangible evaluation, which was already bad. His reputation as a slacker and one who does not bring his best game on every play preceded him to the Combine. His attitude at the Combine only magnified these negatives. It is my belief that he will be the number one draft choice, going to the Houston Texans. There he could be an unparalleled book end with J. J.Watts, the great defensive end already with Houston. Many think that because Johnny Manziel is from Texas, the Texans will make him their choice. There are six really good quarterback choices in the draft this year. There has never been a player with the potential of Jadeveon Clowney. I think that Clowney has been saving himself for a big fat contract in the NFL. I think that he will "play for pay". He is worth the gamble, if it is a gamble. Manziel has already issued an ultimatum to the Houston Texans that if they don't draft him first, they will live to regret it. Manziel ran the slowest time for quarterbacks, a 4.68 in the forty. He can play, but he does talk a lot. We will know what the Texans do on May 8th when the draft starts.
Alabama and Auburn had a number of players in the Combine. Most either helped their cause or did it no harm. Alabama had a record 12 players chosen. C. J. Moseley will probably be the Tide's first player taken, somewhere in the first ten picks. He was very good in the agility drills and had a vertical leap of 35 1/2 inches. His performance enhanced his already solid position. HaHa Clinton-Dix will likely be the next Tide player taken. He performed as well as the other defensive backs, and was already projected early in the first round. My guess is around the fifteenth pick. Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama's huge offensive right tackle impressed the Combine with his agility and will probably go in the middle to late first round. He can play left tackle in the NFL. Kevin Norwood, A. J. McCarron's favorite possession receiver had a solid but not spectacular
performance. He is one of those type receivers a team will take because of need.Norwood is probably the best possession receiver in the draft. He could go anywhere from the 3rd round to the sixth round. He definitely will make somebody's team this year. Adrian Hubbard, Alabama's huge 6' 6" outside linebacker is a middle rounder. He also had a good Combine. But, he needed a great Combine in order to move up.
A. J. McCarron helped himself quite a bit in the throwing drills. The receivers said that he threw an easy ball to catch. The coaches were amazed at the accuracy of his throws. They already knew that he didn't have a rocket launcher for an arm, but his on target throws with good velocity surprised them. Of course he is not considered to be a great athlete, so his performance in the various drills were not good. He is the prototype pocket passer that most teams are looking for. His poise and composure in a pressure enviroment may have moved him up from a fourth or fifth rounder to the late third round. When he had such a bad time in the forty he joked with his coaches, " I'm glad they are not looking for me to run the option." The other Tide players will be late rounders and maybe even free agents. Defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan should have definitely stayed at Alabama for his senior year. He got some bad advice from someone. He can still make a roster, but next year he could have been a high draft choice. My rule of thumb is that if you are not guaranteed a first, second or third round pick, stay at home!
Auburn had three players that opened some eyes at the Combine; Greg Robinson, Trey Mason and Dee Ford. Robinson, Auburn's pile driving 6' 5", 332 lb. tackle scored better than expected in every event and may have moved from a late first round pick to the front of the pile. He was already considered one of the top three tackles in the country. From his left tackle position he helped send Mason on some big runs in 2013. Tre Mason, who broke Bo Jackson's single season rushing record in 2013 gave a solid performance in every drill. At 5' 9", 210 lbs. he has more strength than his appearance would indicate. Of course his hustle and desire was already known. But, when compared to the best backs in the Combine, he may be the best buy at the "meat market". He was extremely unhappy with his 4.5 in the forty. His strength and quickness is his best asset. All that said, Mason will still be an early third round choice because of his size. Dee Ford made his money at the Senior Bowl with most of these same eyes checking him out. Unfortunately the medical team would not let him participate in the drills due to an x-ray that showed something they didn't like from a two year old operation on a herniated disc in his back. They are very careful about these things because even though the Combine is voluntary it is "quasio-officially mandatory" in that the 32 teams do not like to see someone not participate. So, more than likely an insurance risk caused Ford to be scratched. He is already considered one of the top three defensive ends in the draft. He could go in the top ten. He says that he is better than Jadeveon Clowney. In fact in an interview on Sirius Radio the day before the Combine he was quoted as saying that "Clowney plays like a blind dog in a meat market". He tried to explain that away in the next few days, but the "dog" was already on the street. Ford does not lack confidence. He will realistically go early in the first round at about 13th. Chris Davis the 5' 9", 205 lb. defensive back who won the Alabama game for Auburn only to lose the national championship game to Florida State, pulled a hamstring just before the Combine was to begin. He was not able to participate in any drills. It makes good reading, but it is not fair for people to say that Davis lost the Florida State game. On the last play he had to defend the Seminoles best receiver who was 6-6 from the 2 yard line. Davis would have needed a step ladder to reach the ball. He is a solid middle round choice despite missing the Combine. He will have a good NFL career.
Alabama State University had one invite to the Combine. Isaiah Crowell, the running back who transferred from Georgia had an excellent day. He ran a 4.5 40 yard dash and bench pressed 225 lbs. 25 times, which is great for a running back. There has been a lot of discussion as to Crowell's work habits at Georgia and at Alabama State. In my opinion he has just been coasting through college waiting for the NFL. Just like Jadeveon Clowney, Crowell will "play for pay". He could wind up being a late round pick. If so, he will make somebody's roster this year. You've heard of playing possum. He wasn't SEC Freshman of the Year at Georgia because he was lucky. He can play!
Now for all those who did not get to compete in the Combine, or who did not meet their own expectations, there is still one more chance. Colleges with pro prospects hold what is referred to as "Pro Day". That's when the coaches and the scouts come the players' campus and do the Combine drills all over again. This time it will even be easier because the drills and tests will be done on your own field and some of your old teammates will be helping. Quarterbacks will be throwing to their own receivers for instance. These "Try-Outs" are scheduled with the NFL teams and the College coaches working out the dates and times. There are no more chances. So, if a player is on the borderline, he had better "fish or cut bait" at Pro Day. McDonalds is always looking for a talented hamburger flipper!