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Fan-Demonium: Explaining The Combine

Posted Feb 22, 2014

Every February, the top college players gather in Indianapolis for the NFL's Scouting Combine. This is a huge event that is critical for teams and players, but it is often misunderstood. The thing you'll hear the most about for the next week is the 40-yard dash. Who ran fast? Who ran slow? But the Combine is much more than the 40-yard dash.

Many fans and media members dismiss the Combine because they don't understand it. The Combine is a tool. It isn't the be-all, end-all for players. Talk to a scout or personnel executive and they'll tell you that the vast majority of a player's grade comes from his game tape. The prospects are football players, not track athletes.

That said, there is real value in the workouts and athletic tests. The biggest misunderstanding is that teams are going to judge players by who is the fastest, strongest, quickest or most agile. If that was all that had to be done, teams could just get the results and skip all the scouting they have done since last May. The Scouting Combine is meant to be a kind of verification test.

Back in 2008, DeSean Jackson ran his 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds. Put on his game tape and you saw that speed. The workouts and tape matched. That helped verify that Jackson was a top-50 prospect and an elite athlete. Fletcher Cox did some incredible things at his workout in 2012. That matched his game tape, where Cox was so impressive. Both Jackson and Cox were good athletes on tape and in workouts. Both have flashed special athletic ability in the NFL.

Unfortunately, things don't always go so well for every prospect. Last year, cornerback Jordan Poyer had a poor showing in Indianapolis and that dropped him all the way down to the seventh round. His game tape was good, but Poyer ran slow in Indy and that was a red flag. It hurt his value. Poyer wasn't going to be a first-round pick prior to the Combine so the poor workout hurt him, but it didn't define his NFL value.

There will be some players this week who come out of nowhere and have great workouts. They will be explosively fast and you'll hear or read about how weird it is that such a gifted athlete failed to play well in college. Teams will show interest in these players, but please understand the big picture. Just because a prospect shows top athletic ability doesn't mean he will get drafted early. A player might go up a round or two, but you won't have players who were going to be undrafted suddenly going in the second round.

The name you'll hear and read about the most is Mike Mamula. His story has been very twisted over time and he's a very misunderstood player. The average fan hears about Mamula as a workout wonder. Some in the media will make Mamula out to be an awful draft bust. Neither of those things is true.

Mamula did post great workout numbers at a time when that was uncommon, but he was also a great college player. Mamula was a dominant pass rusher for Boston College. He had 29 sacks over the final two years of his college career. That's incredible production. He wasn't just some workout wonder. NFL teams knew all about Mamula prior to the Scouting Combine and had him rated highly. The great workout did help boost him to being a top-10 pick. Mamula never lived up to the status of being an early pick, but he did finish with 31.5 career sacks. Injuries ruined his career more than anything. That's not a bust. Jerome McDougle finished his career with 3 sacks and never started a game. That's a bust.

Lawlor

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

The Combine's importance goes beyond just the on-field drills and athletic tests. The very reason the Combine was created was for medical reasons. Teams wanted to be able to gather some prospects to a central location so they could be checked out medically. This was more practical than flying the same player to every team in the league to figure out whether a shoulder was degenerative or a knee had healed properly. Fans and the media don't get to see the medical testing, but it is perhaps the most critical part of the event. Back in 2009, NFL teams had interest in tight end Cornelius Ingram. The teams checked him out and felt that his knee had not healed properly. That dropped Ingram from a potential second-round pick to a late rounder. The Eagles took a chance on him, but Ingram then tore his ACL again in the NFL and hasn't been the same guy since.

Chip Kelly might tell you that player interviews are arguably the most important part of the Combine. Kelly said publicly that the two most impressive players the Eagles talked to in Indy were Bennie Logan and Matt Barkley. The Eagles drafted both and had high grades on them, despite the fact they were taken in the third and fourth round. The interviews are informal, but they give coaches and scouts a chance to get some kind of feel for what kind of person a prospect is. Obviously the team will do extensive research and other background checks, but there is nothing better than sitting down and talking to a kid face-to-face.

The Eagles aren't going to discover any players in Indy. They have scouted these guys for months and have reports written on all of them. The Combine builds their invitation list based on which players NFL teams want to see up-close. Scouts are the people who find all the small-school kids who go to Indy. You and I might be surprised, but NFL teams already know a lot about these guys.

Anyone who thinks the NFL Scouting Combine will define prospects is just as wrong as anyone who thinks the week has no value. It is one tool and one part of the process.

** I'm most curious about defensive back Lamarcus Joyner. Florida State lists him at 5-8 and 190 pounds. Is he that big, or could he be bigger or smaller? Simply measuring in well will be a huge test for Joyner. I am also curious as to how well he will test. Joyner showed speed and explosion on a regular basis for the Seminoles.

** The Combine will be the first place that NFL teams get to meet Johnny Manziel in person and talk to him as a draft prospect. Those interviews will be critical to his value. Manziel has a crazy reputation. Some teams are already nervous about him. The man they call "Johnny Football" needs to come across as focused and genuine in order to convince a team to spend a top-10 pick on him. Do you want this young man to be the face of your franchise?

** The Eagles could be checking out pass rushers. The most important drills could be when collegiate defensive ends are put through linebacker drills. We know guys like Dee Ford, Kony Ealy, Scott Crichton and Aaron Lynch can play defensive end and rush the passer. Do they have the movement skills to drop back into coverage?

** One receiver I'm curious about is Allen Robinson of Penn State. I think he could be a terrific fit for the Eagles, but my one concern is his speed. Robinson isn't a 4.4 40-yard dash guy, but he needs to run reasonably well. A good time in the 40-yard dash could help him to be a second-round pick.

** One final defensive player I'm curious about is inside linebacker Chris Borland from Wisconsin. He is only about 5-11 and 245 pounds. That's a bit on the small side. Borland has terrific instincts and was incredibly productive for the Badgers. It will be interesting to find out how athletic he is. Maybe he shocks some people and tests well. Or maybe we find out that he's a limited athlete who relies on instincts and anticipation to get him in position to make all those plays. There will be some teams who love Borland. The big question with him is draft value. Does he go in the second round or the fourth round? His workouts will play a part in determining where he goes.

 

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