It’s the week in which the scouting combine technically begins, although the all important work outs won’t begin until Saturday. This means a lot of talk about who can improve or weaken their stock over the next week or so. People want to know who’s going to run a super-fast forty yard dash and be the talk of the week. People want to know who will master the drills and bench the most. Who will perform well during interviews?
I enjoy the combine because it creates fresh talking points at a time when you can only read so many three paragraph scouting reports. You watch the tape during the season, we diagnose it in detail during the lull up until the combine and then we try and work out what’s going to happen.
Even so, I don’t think that much changes at the combine with only a few exceptions.
The prospects you expect to run fast inevitably do. The guys who run faster than anticipated get a good write up but then we go back and watch the tape and you realise why you graded them poorly in the first place. Even the prospects who under perform can rely on good tape to bail them out. There’s a cycle to the process and something of a predictability to it also.
In 2009 Chris Johnson (a R1-2 prospect) ran an official 4.24 forty yard dash and tied the second best time ever recorded. He went 24th overall, which wasn’t a dramatic rise given his achievement. During the same year, Andre Smith made a complete mess of his combine – originally saying he would be present but then pulling a n0-show. He ran a decidedly awful (shirtless) forty yard dash at his pro-day. Despite a mountain of criticism not only about his off season conditioning, but also serious questions about his ability to even play tackle in the NFL, he was still drafted 6th overall.
Two prospects with very different combine experiences who actually didn’t adjust their stock all that much.
I decided to look back at last year’s event and see who was reported to have helped or hindered their stock.
Bruce Campbell, an offensive lineman from Maryland, was universally considered to have enjoyed a productive combine. Tony Paulne at SI.com wrote:
“As we alluded to in last week’s Top 50 list, Campbell was expected to turn in a great workout — and he didn’t disappoint. The 314-pound Campbell posted two solid 40 times around 4.7 seconds; he also looked terrific during offensive line drills. On Friday, he completed 34 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press. Though not a staggering number, it’s impressive when factoring in his arm length of 36¼ inches — the longest of any offensive lineman. Campbell has solidified himself in the top half of Round 1.”
“The freakish athlete dazzled scouts with his spectacular performance in drills. At 6-foot-6, 314 pounds, Campbell clocked an astonishing 4.78 40-yard dash time and recorded eye-popping numbers in the rest of the agility drills. Although scouts have routinely come away disappointed after grading his film, Campbell’s stunning performance will entice an evaluator to gamble on his immense athletic potential.”
Many people expected Oakland, with their reputation, to select Campbell in the top-ten. The tape painted a very different portrait of Campbell – he looked uneasy with poor technique and didn’t play like a dominating athletic freak. The Raiders did draft Campbell, but almost one hundred places lower than everyone expected. He was taken in round four with the 106th overall pick.
We hear a lot about how interviews can influence a prospects stock and that is largely true. I think it could define Ryan Mallett’s 2011 NFL draft and could play an integral part in many other prospects’ hopes of being high first round picks. However, as with Smith previously there were a lot of concerns raised about Rutgers offensive tackle Anthony Davis last year.
This was a guy that generally looked good on tape but had some pretty serious work ethic concerns, having failed to control his weight and many questioned his dedication to the game. He didn’t have a great combine workout and didn’t interview well either as Pauline at SI.com wrote:
“Davis looked sluggish, poorly conditioned and worst of all, very ordinary at the combine. He completed just 21 reps on the bench press and could not break 5.4 in the 40. Davis looked very stale on the field, almost as if he hasn’t been working out recently. In our Top 50 list, we mentioned scouts would grill Davis about his passion for football. He did nothing to quell the criticism or answer questions in Indianapolis.”
To some degree he was the opposite of Bruce Campbell. In Davis’ case the tape shone through and he was drafted 11th overall by San Francisco.
Another example of combine hysteria was the case of Joe Haden, who ran a very poor time in the 4.6 range. That was considered a stock killer for a cornerback who played much faster on tape for Florida. He was still taken 7th overall by Cleveland and enjoyed a very productive rookie season.
Closer to home many were surprised and subsequently impressed by Golden Tate’s work outs, including an eye catching 4.42 dash. It didn’t translate to draft stock as he nearly slipped into round three. Taylor Mays ran an incredible forty time considering his running style was unorthodox, but he couldn’t repair criticisms about his tape during the season and Senior Bowl.
This should be an event for running backs to really impress with their speed and movement, but that wasn’t the case last year. Pauline listed Anthony Dixon, Jonathan Dwyer, Joe Starks and Joe McKnight among his draft risers last year following work outs (yet didn’t list C.J. Spiller, an eventual top ten pick). The first three runners in that quartet were drafted in round six – with all three suffering somewhat of a surprise drop. Joe McKnight was once considered a borderline R1-2 prospect but fell into round four.
But perhaps the biggest note from last year was everyone’s inability to pre-empt the major fall for USC defensive end Everson Griffen. He sunk like a stone on draft day despite being a consensus first round prospect. Like many others he was listed as a ‘riser’ by Pauline who noted:
“Griffenwas one of the most athletic defenders on the field all day. He measured 6-foot-3½, 273 pounds then completed 32 reps on the bench press. Stop-watches in the stadium clocked him in the 4.65 range both times he ran the 40. During the position drills, Griffenlooked incredibly smooth and explosive.”
Clearly off the field issues played a part in his drop to round four, but these were not picked up on during the combine by the national media.
So while it’s generally a very entertaining watch and does create a lot of interesting talking points, I suspect a lot of big decisions that are made we’ll never learn about until the draft actually takes place. At the same time a lot of those decisions will be based on tape and not what a guy does in shorts and a t-shirt in an unnatural environment.
It’s often considered a negative for quarterbacks to not throw at the combine (and very few top prospects do now) but I think it’s completely understandable and it never seems to hamper their stock. They won’t be throwing without pressure to guys they’ve never met either in training camp or on the field, so why should they in Indianapolis? What can scouts actually learn from those work outs that they can’t discover on tape?
How many times will a prospect need to side-step a static sand bag or run in a straight line without pads? How many times will they have to catch several different footballs, all the while dropping rapidly dropping each one in preparation to catch the next?
Unmissable entertainment, but really entertainment is all it is.
The combine schedule
Each positional group is broken down and begin their combine on different days, going through four different stages. The event begins on Wednesday 23rd February, when Groups 1-3 arrive. Groups 4-6 arrive on Thursday, Groups 7-9 on Friday and Groups 10-11 on Saturday.
Day One includes arrival, registration, X-rays, pre-exam, orientation and interviews.
On Day Two the measurements take place along with further exams, pysch tests and interviews. This is also when prospects will begin speaking to the media.
Day Three involves a NFLPA meeting, even more interviews and for the kickers, punters and special teams prospects – they will hold their work out.
For the rest the work outs begin on day four with positional drills and all the usual stuff before departure.
Group 1 (K, P, ST, OL), Group 2 (OL) and Group 3 (TE) - begin their four day trial on Wednesday 23rd February.
Group 4 (QB, WR), Group 5 (QB, WR), Group 6 (RB) – begin on Thursday 24th February.
Group 7 (DL), Group 8 (DL), Group 9 (LB) – begin on Friday 25th February.
Group 10 (DB), Group 11 (DB) – begin on Saturday 27th February.
What it all means is you can see the offensive lineman and tight ends work out and go through drills on Saturday. We’ll see the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers work out on Sunday. The defensive lineman and linebackers get to work on Monday and the defensive backs finish things off on Tuesday.