Tag Archives: NFL Scouting Combine

Watching the NFL Scouting Combine (part 2)…

This is the second of a two-part column.  The first part can be read HERE.

The combine needs to be a way to look at raw physical skills and athletic potential.  Rarely will someone need to run a 40-yard dash in a straight line during a game.  Or make a vertical leap from a standing position.  Or perform consecutive reps on a bench press with weights equaling 225 pounds.

What NFL teams should want are football players.  Athletes that have tremendous track records with great film of them playing exceptional football.  The graveyard of draft busts is littered with guys who had great combine performances.

College performance and film footage should be the first thing steams look at prior to drafting players.  The next thing to look at is character, followed by the combine results, which should just solidify the front office’s thoughts on a player, not create them.

Let’s take a look at a few players who are considered top picks in April’s draft.  C.J. Spiller (Clemson RB) was one of the best all-around offensive players in college football, tearing up an underrated ACC this year.  His ability to catch passes and return kicks in addition to run the ball effectively makes him a niche player in the mold of a Reggie Bush without the #1 pick price tag and with a better knack for finding holes as a runner.  He is considered the top rated running back by Scouts, Inc. and falls somewhere in the top 15 of most everyone’s big board.  Spiller goes out to the combine and turns in 4.28 40-yard dash to impress scouts.  This should solidify to NFL teams that he has the raw skills to connect to his exceptional performance at Clemson.  Should it vault him to the number one pick?  Probably not.  It probably shouldn’t vault him anywhere.  Where he goes will depend on team need and with a lot of teams not looking at running backs early because of the amount available through other means and how of all positions in the NFL, backs break down faster, somewhere in the top 15 is still where he will go.

Now let’s check out Joe Haden, a cornerback from the University of Florida.  Haden was a lock down corner for the Gators, a team that was atop the toughest conference in college football, the SEC, while he was in school.  He was always matched up against the other team’s best receiver and produced with great ball skills and exceptional tackling ability for a corner.  He even blitzes off the corner well for his position.  He was widely considered by Scouts, Inc. and others as the best cornerback in a defensive back-heavy draft.  He grades out as the next Darrelle Revis and has been projected as a top 10 pick, a top 5 pick by others and should be the first corner off the board in April.  Then he comes out to the combine and whiffs on his 40 times, running a 4.57 and a 4.60, not the typical speed of your NFL shutdown corner.  So now all the scouts are curious about whether Haden can be what everyone thought he would be in the NFL.  Questions of if he may slip down in the draft have been asked and anyone who is anyone says that he must have a good 40 time when Florida hosts scouts on its pro day later this month.  Like Spiller, however, the truth about Joe Haden can be seen when watching his film.  Haden comes as advertised when you watch him cover the best wideouts in the SEC and it is my belief that he should still be the first corner off the board.

And then there’s Bruce Campbell.  No, not the guy from Evil Dead, the offensive lineman from the University of Maryland.  Campbell was a mediocre lineman at College Park who wasn’t a full-fledged starter until halfway into the 2008 season, only started 17 games in his college career (only 9 last season), received one vote for the All-ACC Conference team, missed multiple games due to turf toe, underwent minor brain surgery to drain fluid in 2008 and was described by head coach Ralph Friedgen as a player who would go to study hall as opposed to taking the field when spring practices begin.  Campbell went to Indy for the combine and tore things up, having the best 40-yard dash time (4.85) amongst offensive lineman, finished sixth in bench press repetitions (34) and fifth in the vertical jump (32 inches).  Now he is the buzz name as his physical traits have shot him up the board where Scouts, Inc. currently has him listed at 30th with a grade of 91 out of 100 (remember, the top prospect Suh is a 97).  How does this happen?  A guy who has an injury history, hasn’t started that long, has not been honored with any collegiate awards, shows a lack of quality work ethic and is slammed by his head coach is a first round pick because of his combine numbers?  If my Dolphins take this guy, I’ll be furious.

The combine does way too much in determining the viability of these players.  They shouldn’t downgrade athletes who had great college careers like Haden nor upgrade those who had mediocre seasons in school but had great combine workouts like Campbell.  Picks should be made based on the team’s needs and how the organization feels a certain player will fit into a system, along with his viability as a contributor.

If Tim Tebow is drafted it will be because someone believes he will make a good NFL player at the quarterback position or somewhere else.  Will it be because he had a ridiculous vertical leap for a QB (38.5 inches) or a solid 40-yard dash time (4.7 seconds) at a non-speed position?  Hopefully not.  Hopefully it will be because someone loved the fire he showed and the desire he has to make it.  If a team has faith that he will succeed and if the general manager and coach have job security enough to develop him at the next level, then he will be picked higher and have a job somewhere next year.

Did his combine performance change any of that?

What we need to do is to stop relying on this exhibition of track competitions as a tool for evaluating players who have three or four seasons of work to break down.  The NFL and its network have done a great job of having the combine and the free agent period bridge the gap between the Super Bowl and the draft, making it so that we never stop talking about pro football (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

But shouldn’t the best way to judge football player’s value be how he plays. . .I don’t know -FOOTBALL?  Let’s judge players based upon on-the-field performance, not on-the-track performance.

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Watching the NFL Scouting Combine (part 1)…

Texting is cool. When it first became mainstream in the last half decade, an appropriate question to ask a potential texting buddy was “Do you text?” Well the guys at ESPN working the NFL Draft certainly do. In the past five days, I have received eight text messages from ESPN on results from the NFL scouting combine.

These text messages contained 40-yard dash times and other physical measurements as opposed numbers that should matter such as yards-per-carry averages, sacks allowed or passer rating figures.

While I acknowledge the reason for the combine and the value gained by seeing these hundreds of athletes work out, it has evolved from a behind-the-scenes part of the league into an event put on the forefront, televised and analyzed beyond what is needed. Imagine if contract negotiations were televised and broken down by analysts and financial advisers and that is what the combine has become.

I used to be perfectly fine watching Mel Kiper, Jr. or Todd McShay tell me the week before the draft that Larry Johnson had a great workout during the combine or that Vince Young had trouble answering questions and scored low on the Wonderlic Test. I don’t need a nightly report from the combine, interviews throughout the week and text message updates when someone breaks 4.3 on the 40. Imagine if an NFL practice were covered like this. We’d have reports from Ed Werder that Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne were out of sync for two consecutive plays in practice. Then I’d have to get my iPhone out of my pocket to be told in a text message from Adam Schefter that Manning and Wayne were struggling.

Speaking of my iPhone, it had to come out of my pocket twice in one hour for the same player this week. USC safety Taylor Mays reportedly tied the combine record in the 40, running a 4.24. So on March 2nd at 9:18 AM, ESPN sent out a text that his unofficial time had tied the record according to “The Buzz,” one of the Worldwide Leader’s blogs from the combine. However, his official time ended up being a non-superhuman 4.43. The Buzz then corrected this on the live blog and ESPN sent out a second text at 10:17 AM, correcting the time to reflect the official reading. My disappointment was evident as I had to stop my Taylor-Mays-Broke-The-Forty-Yard-Dash-Record-Party which had been raging since 9:19. My guests were furious when I dismissed them, sent the strippers home and returned the keg to Lee’s Discount Liquor. It was the best 58 minutes of my life and now they are just as ordinary as any others.

How necessary are these updates? What good are they to the casual fan? Any fan? Do we actually think that University of Tennessee fans are sitting at home, watching the NFL Network to see Eric Berry wow scouts with a 43-inch vertical leap? Picture 20 inebriated Vols fans in a living room with high def TVs, beer, orange sweatshirts and plates of nachos. It’s not happening. Nobody cares.

What we should start doing is to hold viewing parties where a player does a workout in Indianapolis and then they cut to a packed stadium of fans from his university cheering when he has a sub-4.3 40-yard-dash time.

While the media saturation of the combine is objectionable, (I guess the NFL Network, which airs the combine, has to put some on their channel to avoid letting Rich Eisen talk anymore) what’s worse is that there is so much weight put on the workouts these athletes have when dictating where they are drafted.

I truly hope that guys like Trindon Holliday, whom ESPN texted me about when he ran the 40 in 4.27 seconds, doesn’t see his draft stock rise too much because of that performance. Holliday was LSU’s return specialist and had only 126 rushing yards last season but averaged over 18 yards per punt return and 24. 4 yards per kickoff returned. ESPN has him listed has the third best return specialist in the draft and Scouts, Inc. scores him as a prospect with a grade of 30 out of 100, (Ndamukong Suh is a 97).

When it comes to the NFL Draft, I like to track and watch it as much as anyone, but I want to recognize a player based on what he did in college not because McShay texted me that he ran a 4.34 in the 40. If Holliday gets drafted, I will only know him because of ESPN’s text and while that’s better than not knowing him at all, you won’t catch me jumping up at a draft party saying “Wow. Holliday had a heck of a 40 time. He should be a great fit for the Chiefs.”

This is part one of a two-part column.  Check out part 2 HERE.

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Filed under College Football, ESPN, Football, Journalism, NFL, NFL Draft, NFL Draft Combine, NFL Network