The NFL Scouting Combine starts tomorrow in Indianapolis with on the field drill work and lasts into Tuesday when it finishes up. Every year the Combine is one of the most important, yet over-hyped draft events and the key is for NFL teams to get the most out of the event without changing their entire draft board for the wrong reasons. The NFL is simply too complex for a workout warrior to succeed if he doesn’t have the natural ability. Here is a breakdown of the importance and caution that comes from the Combine and a look at some key offensive prospects.
The greatest value of the Combine comes from unfortunately the two areas no available to fans: the medicals and the interviews. During the week every player gets a full medical work-up and it’s a fantastic opportunity for teams to have a full understanding about any medical issues for the 335 players invited to the Combine. This is such a huge part of the process because if a player with a checkered injury history (or anyone in general) has medical concerns it can drop him like a stone in the draft. Conversely if a player completely checks out medically, and any past issues are cleared up it can re-affirm a players ranking. The other important part is the interview process where teams get the chance to meet with 60 prospects in set short meetings. The meetings may last only 15 minutes, but they can be invaluable to give a feel to not only the team, but the coaching staff in particular with what type of player they are getting. They can answer any maturity/legal concerns and get a small sample of the prospects football knowledge. Given that for many prospects (particularly the under classmen) it will be their first opportunity to get in front of coaches it can be an invaluable job interview.
One other additional major benefit of the Combine is giving teams a consistent height and weight (also arm and hand length) for these players. Players measurements are wildly distorted in college so for many players this is the first look at an accurate measurement for these guys. Even on those players who may have had an official weigh-in at an All-star game (i.e. Senior Bowl), getting another measurement can be important. Did the player add or drop weight since then, can be a key issue for a number of teams.
As for the workout drills and position specific drills they definitely take a bit of a backseat in terms of importance. This is due to a number of reasons. First and foremost is the fact that two reps per drill in shorts and t-shirts aren’t exactly the best indication of how a player will perform on the football field in full pads. It’s really more to reinforce what you have seen on tape or on the field. If a player shows great speed on the field, but doesn’t have great times for his position, perhaps it’s just a bad day for the player or he just doesn’t do as well starting from a track position. The same is true for the positional drills. If a QB shows a good strong accurate arm on tape, but misses on some throws at the Combine it really shouldn’t knock the player down at all. The same holds true for players who “blow up the Combine”, and have a great week. That alone shouldn’t be enough to completely re-evaluate the player. If a WR had major drop issues throughout his career goes out there and doesn’t drop a single pass, it’s not going to change the past. It might be promising to see, but it doesn’t mean that the players hands are no longer a concern.
In the grand scheme of things the Scouting Combine weighs very little in the draft process, with mainly the medicals and interviews taking center stage. That means there is little reason to watch these next four days right? Well it’s not as simple as that. The Combine provides an even playing field for these 335 prospects as opposed to working them out at their Pro Day or at the team facility later in the process. You get to see all these players competing versus one another and you can pick up some subtle differences with players. The key is to not focus so much on the results, but rather look at the how. How does a player catch the ball or run their route. How good are a quarterbacks mechanics and footwork? How fluid is a defensive back in transition? How quick is a front seven defender off the snap? Those are the types of things that scouts are really looking for and by being able to compare a player among his entire position group it’s can provide some value.
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Certain players also get additional value out of the Combine than others. Players with limited experience or who are making position changes have a greater stake at the Combine than other players. Whether a player was an underclassman or maybe someone who didn’t get a lot of playing time until late in their career, these reps at the Combine are going to be more valuable than say a guy who has 3-4 years of tape to watch. Now this isn’t so much for top underclassmen like Clowney or Bridgewater as they are well on NFL team’s radars, but more so for guys who were more of a surprise that they declared for the draft. Teams haven’t done their homework as much on these guys and they simply don’t have as much to watch. So if that player stands out at the Combine it can have a greater benefit. The other real value is for players looking to make a position change, namely defensive linemen showing that they can be a stand-up rusher as well. If they played their entire college career with their hand on the ground, it can be hard to get a read on whether they are capable of standing up. But at the Combine you can get a look and see how they transition. Again it’s just a small sample, but since it represents such a large part of what you have to work with it can make or break players.
Top Names: Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr, A.J. McCarron
-It will be interesting to see who actually works out from this group as typically we see a number of quarterbacks not do any or all of the workouts. Manziel has already said he won’t throw, but it will be interesting to see what other quarterbacks make that decision. Hopefully both Bortles and McCarron do all the drills. Bortles has the potential to be the top overall pick, but as a junior and a guy who didn’t have a ton of hype coming into the year, teams are going to want to see him throw. They also are going to want to see some of his athleticism as well. McCarron turned down the opportunity to play in the Senior Bowl in front of scouts and here he has to show that was a good decision. If he doesn’t throw it’s going to turn some teams off from him.
Sleepers to watch: Logan Thomas, Tom Savage, Dustin Vaughan
-Logan Thomas could have a big combine with his athleticism and strong arm. He’s got a lot of question marks, but will be intriguing to some NFL teams. Savage and Vaughan are two guys who are under the radar and teams don’t know a lot about strong combines could go a long way for both of them.
Top Names:Bishop Sankey, Carlos Hyde, Tre Mason, Terrance West
-There are a lot of 2nd-4th round backs in this class so it will be interesting to see how they stack-up when facing off with one another. Sankey is a guy who could boost his stock if he runs well and shows fluidity in drills. Hyde also needs to show he’s more than just a brusier who can run in-between the tackles. It will be real interesting to see how quick he can cut and just how smooth he is. Mason was the hottest running back down the stretch, but teams will now get a look at him outside of Auburns offense. Do those teams see the skills they want in a feature back, or do they feel he was more a product of the system. West played at Towson so his level of competition wasn’t up to par with most of these backs. Teams will want him to have a strong combine to justify a higher draft pick on him.
Sleepers to watch: Tim Flanders, Jerick McKinnon, DeAnthony Thomas, Dri Archer
-Flanders, Archer and McKinnon are small school guys that teams will want to see more of. All three have incredible quickness and will be looked at as potential 3rd down backs. McKinnon will be the most interesting as he spent much of his career as a triple option QB. He had a nice Senior Bowl, but teams will want to see more out of him as he makes the position switch. DeAnthony Thomas isn’t a sleeper in the sense that he’s an unknown, but rather that teams don’t exactly know what to do with him. What he weighs in at will be key, as will his ability to put up big numbers.
Top Names: Kevin Benjamin, Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks, Allen Robinson, Mike Evans, Davante Adams, Jordan Matthews, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Paul Richardson
-Incredibly deep position group that has a diverse mix to top talents. Many of these receivers though either didn’t play in the best offenses that translate to the NFL or have some questions that need answering. All of these players are going to be keenly watched for how they perform. For some of them it is their hands and route running that are being questioned, while for others it is their speed and quickness. Overall though there should be some really good performances from this group and it will be very interesting to see who separates themselves from the pack.
Sleepers to watch: Martavis Bryant, Michael Campanaro, Josh Huff, Matt Hazel
-A lot of intriguing mid-late round prospects as well. Bryant is a guy with incredible potential, but he was never consistent in college and is coming out a year early. He’s expected to put up huge numbers at the Combine. If he does it could push his stock into the group above, but if some concerns appear (route running and catching especially) it will give teams pause on drafting him in the top 100 picks. Campanaro and Huff need to show nice quickness, hands and fluid route running to show they can work inn the slot at the next level. Matt Hazel is a very intriguing smaller school prospect and should be expected to have a big day.
Top Names: Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro, Troy Niklas, Austin Seferian-Jenkins
-This is a strong tight end class, and it will be very interesting to see how this group of big names run and catch the ball on Saturday. All the top tight ends came in at better weights than expected, if they show the speed and quickness they could really jump up draft boards as the ability to be complete tight ends.
Sleepers to watch: Crockett Gilmore, Jordan Najvar, Colt Lyerla
-There are some really interesting mid-late round tight ends as well. These are three that really deserve watching on Saturday. Gilmore and Najvar had strong All-star game performances that has them buzzing a little big. If they show well they could become very intriguing to some teams looking to upgrade the tight end position on the cheap. Lyerla is a guy who has major off the field questions so how he does in the interviews will really be key. He also needs a really strong Combine showing given that he doesn’t have a ton of tape.
Top Names: Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson, Taylor Lewan, Zack Martin, David Yankey
-This group (and some other top OL) are all expected to do very well in the drills and it likely won’t impact the rankings too much. Really this group will be fun to watch given the talent level at the top of the draft.
Sleepers to watch: Trai Turner, Billy Turner, Justin Britt, Dakota Dozier, Kadeem Edwards
-While the top of the OL draft board is probably pretty well set, things really get up in the air after the top 100 picks. Trai Turner is a guy with little starting experience, but he has immense power and potential. Teams will want to see his quickness and strength and if he can be relied upon at the next level. Guys like Turner, Dozier and Edwards are all smaller school guys with upside. Seeing them competing next to the big boys will give a nice indication of where they stand overall.