DraftBrowns.com Staff Writer: Justin Higdon
The Super Bowl is over and NFL Draft season is about to be in full swing. Later this month, Indianapolis will become home to all 32 franchises and more than 300 former college football players for the long weekend known as the Scouting Combine. Prospects will be put through a number of physical challenges like the bench press, agility drills and the ever popular 40-yard dash. Then there is the much-maligned Wonderlic, a test designed to measure an individual’s brain power. Results aren’t supposed to be leaked to the public, but inevitably some poor soul’s low score winds up as material for hundreds of groan-inducing twitter jokes. And of course, players are weighed and measured for all to see. The process is criticized – the weigh-ins can seem creepy, and occasionally too much stock is put into a player’s performance in workouts, etc. – but almost everyone will agree that the event retains significance for at least three major reasons.
1. Another chance to compete
Players train more for certain drills than others and rarely participate in every event. Last year Robert Griffin III opted not to throw, but dazzled onlookers with a 4.41 second time in the 40. Players sometimes run the 40 to compete with a personal best time, or maybe even due to a matter of pride. At the 2007 Combine, Calvin Johnson wasn’t planning on running the 40, but changed his mind at the last second, famously borrowed a pair of shoes, and blazed a sub 4.4 second time.
For the quarterbacks, the Combine offers a chance to throw against each other in front of every team. Many of the top QBs will opt out, preferring to save their arms for the favorable conditions and familiar receivers of their respective pro days. In 2011, Cam Newton was a surprise participant in throwing drills, and turned in an erratic performance. The showing obviously didn’t hurt his draft stock, but the fact that he was game for a little competition was probably viewed as a positive by Carolina and other teams interested in a quarterback that year.
Some QBs are invited to the event as “throwing quarterbacks.” These prospects are typically late round or marginal prospects whose role is to help out in drills with receivers and defensive backs. Occasionally a “throwing quarterback” will open some eyes, and make teams go back to the tape. It’s an opportunity to open doors that may not have existed previously. Such was the case with T.J. Yates two years ago. Yates worked his way into the fifth round, and wound up seeing action in six regular season and two playoff games as a rookie. This year’s “throwers” are Iowa’s James Vandenberg, Colby Cameron of Louisiana Tech, and Tennessee gunslinger Tyler Bray. Bray is the only underclassman QB who received an invite to Indy, and his inclusion with the “throwers” initially came as a surprise. But word has emerged that Bray volunteered for the assignment; and seizing the opportunity for extra competition will surely be seen as a plus for a player who has been criticized for lack of maturity. Speaking of maturity…
2. Player Interviews
Bray is one of a number of players heading into the Combine who will be facing questions about something other than physical talent. Bray’s decision to throw is a good, proactive decision that should help convince teams that his youthful indiscretions are a thing of the past. College kids make stupid decisions. Teams understand that. But they need to make sure that the stupidity doesn’t follow the player.
The interviews will be crucial for Tyrann Mathieu. The Honey Badger, and 2011 Heisman finalist, was famously dismissed from LSU after multiple failed drug tests. He spent the entire 2012 season on the sidelines, but found trouble off the field with a marijuana-related arrest in late October. Mathieu was at the Senior Bowl in Mobile last month, laying the foundation for a rehabilitated image, but he will need to do his best convincing in Indianapolis, as teams are sure to grill him on the truth about his involvement with drug culture. From a non-football standpoint, Mathieu might be the riskiest player in the draft.
NFL personnel types will pick off where Katie Couric left off in the case of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. Te’o’s “catfishing” tale is incredibly bizarre, and questions remain about how much he knew, and when he knew it. At worst Te’o is a liar and at best he is incredibly naïve. The story itself has become silly, and fairly inconsequential. But will Te’o be able to gain respect on the field? Is he intelligent enough to direct traffic on defense? Is he thick-skinned enough to deal with the jokes and the insults? Te’o’s interviews will be the biggest part of his Combine weekend.
Mathieu and Te’o aren’t the only ones. Players like Iowa’s Micah Hyde and Oregon’s Kyle Long have had alcohol-related issues. LSU players Sam Montgomery, Tharold Simon and Spencer Ware will likely have to address concerns about their respective work ethics. The Georgia trio of Sanders Commings, Bacarri Rambo, and Alec Ogletree will be asked about the circumstances behind their early season suspensions. Temple running back Montell Harris, Tennessee Tech receiver Da’Rick Rogers and Valdosta State cornerback Greg Reid all wore out their welcomes at their first schools. Washington State receiver Marquess Wilson quit the team rather than coexist with the Cougar coaching staff. More questions exist about other players – some regarding informations that isn’t even known to the public. The interviews can make or break some of these players, and are a critical part of the process. Equally important are the…
3. Medical checks
Unfavorable medical reports can be a huge blow to a player’s stock. In 2011, Clemson defensive end DaQuan Bowers plummeted from potential number one pick into the fifties due to concerns about his knee. Similarly, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones is coming off a monster 2012 season, but some teams may steer clear of him depending on the severity of his spinal stenosis. Back in 2010, USC doctors would not clear Jones for spring practice. But he closed out his career at Georgia with 28 sacks in just two seasons. Teams may have varying opinions on the degree of his current and/or possible future limitations. Cincinnati defensive end Walter Stewart is another interesting case. Stewart retired in October of 2012 due to a cervical spine abnormality, but has since been given a second chance. NFL teams will see for themselves in Indianapolis.
A number of players missed all or part of the 2012 season with season ending injuries. South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is the most well known example. Lattimore suffered a grotesque right knee injury in October, just over a year after suffering a season ending injury to his left leg. His recovery appears to be going well, as he schmoozed with the crowds at the Senior Bowl, but teams would be wary of a running back with one bum knee, let alone one who’s injured both. Other players who missed large chunks of time this past season due to injuries include Tank Carradine and Brandon Jenkins of Florida State, LSU tackle Chris Faulk, Georgia receiver Marlon Brown, Iowa State linebacker Jake Knott, Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti, and Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden. Alabama’s Barrett Jones gritted through the national championship game with a foot injury, and Duke quarterback Sean Renfree suffered a pectoral injury in his final game. All of these players and more will be examined closely as NFL teams attempt to minimize risk.
In the case of Oregon Swiss army knife Dion Jordan, not only will teams be interested in the status of his pesky shoulder injury, but they will need to be confident that he can maintain adequate weight on his lanky frame. Jordan is a dynamic athlete with loads of potential, but his weigh dipped below 230 pounds this past season. He will struggle against NFL blockers if he can’t maintain a weight closer to 250 pounds. Jordan’s medical report will be a significant factor in his evaluation.
A player’s performance in NFL Scouting Combine drills shouldn’t significantly boost or bust his draft stock. At most, a fast 40 time, explosive vertical leap or impressive weight room showing should encourage further tape study. Still, the event does serve a number of purposes. It’s just important to remember that the most pertinent information gathered that weekend will never be available for public consumption.