Welcome to The Big Question. Every Monday during the offseason, Dave Spadaro, Chris McPherson and Bo Wulf will debate one of the hot topics surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles. We invite fans to continue the discussion in the comments section. Enjoy ...
CM: I missed you all terribly while attending the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The workouts are in the books and now the buzz about players rising or falling in the draft process is underway. In some ways, the NFL Scouting Combine marks the beginning of the season because free agency is just over two weeks away. With all of this in mind, what should be the biggest takeaway from the NFL Scouting Combine? I'll await your responses.
DS: The biggest takeaway for me is that so many people -- and I'm talking about the media and the fans -- put so much stock into every nuance of the Combine. More than 1,100 media credentials for this? Remarkable. People want to see draft prospects perform in shirts and shorts.
As for the players, I marvel at the outrageous athletic ability that continues to shine each year. Think about the game: The dimensions of the field haven't changed since the game started, yet we now have 300-pound man showing the kind of explosiveness and flat-out speed that dwarf players in skill positions only a few years ago. It reminds you how much the game has changed.
It also reminds me that, no matter what the 40-yard-dash times are, or the vertical jump numbers might be, playing football comes down to many factors that can't be judged at the Combine: Toughness, instincts, love of the game, desire to put in the extra hours to be a great player.
I take the Combine for what it is: It's a chance for teams to measure players apples to apples in a range of athletic events, and for teams to interview and learn as much as possible about draft prospects. Teams that make dramatic changes in their evaluations of players based on Combine performances are going to pay the price with a string of poor selections.
CM: The appetite for football is insatiable. We're all going through withdrawal and the Super Bowl was played earlier this month.
The personnel departments have done their homework on the players in this year's draft class for the last 12 months except for the underclassmen who declared in January. There are more questions about those players, but by and large the teams know what to expect from a performance standpoint in Indianapolis.
As our good friend Tony Pauline explained over the weekend on our site, the Combine is all about expectations. It wasn't a surprise to see wide receiver Phillip Dorsett run a blazing fast time in the 40-yard dash. Quarterback Bryce Petty can sling the ball, so he was supposed to shine in this controlled environment. Defensive end Leonard Williams is truly an athletic marvel. What teams want to see at the Combine are the unexpected results. Wide receiver Chris Conley was explosive in the timing and testing drills. If he's that fast, why was he not more productive at Georgia? Cornerback Jalen Collins was blazing fast in the 40-yard dash, but had just 10 career starts.
The Combine offers food for thought and provides another tool for teams to utilize in its research. And when placed into the proper context, it is an extremely valuable tool.
DS: It all sounds good in theory, but there are exceptions. It's been 20 years since Mike Mamula blew up the Combine, right, and he went into the Combine in 1995 thinking he would be a third-round draft pick. All of a sudden he destroys the Combine and the Eagles trade up to No. 7 overall and draft him. So, the athletic prowess does mean something to some teams. I guess we can't underestimate that part of the evaluation.
CM: Are you mentioning Mamula just so you can plug your column on the 20th anniversary of his infamous Combine workout?
BW: I won't be breaking any new ground here, but the biggest takeaways from the Combine probably happened behind closed doors. Though the testing results and on-field drills provide more information on a prospect, they pale in comparison to "the tape" when it comes to evaluating a prospect's playing ability. Save for the prospects who attended the Senior Bowl though, this was the first time for coaches and decision-makers to evaluate a player's personality face-to-face in the interview process. We know how much Chip Kelly has placed an emphasis on "culture" in the locker room, so you imagine the interviews would be a large part of his evaluation. Of course, just like the testing drills are a small piece of the evaluation of a player on the field, the interviews are only a piece of a larger puzzle considering how much work teams put into researching a player's character.
CM: You might not be breaking new ground, but teams are always learning how to better utilize what is acquired in Indy and how to go about getting that information. Players go to training facilities to mimic what Mamula did and take media training classes to prep for the question-and-answer sessions.
The medical evaluations are also extremely important. If something is discovered - like Star Lotulelei's heart condition in 2013 - it could dramatically impact that player's draft stock.
DS: I think the measurables in the drills are important as they relate directly to other players performing the same drills. I don't advocate dramatically changing a grade on a player based on his 40-yard-dash time, but it does mean something. And I certainly agree that the time spent with the players during interviews is extremely important, although these young men have prepared for months and they are well versed in the traditional "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?" questions that no doubt teams are lined up to ask.
The Combine matters. I think we saw some tremendous athletic performances this weekend. The edge rushers are remarkable. The group of wide receivers is big and fast and they look fluid catching the football. It's a really strong set of wide receivers coming into the draft.
But let's not kid ourselves: How these players performed in their college games far outweighs their vertical jump. I think we all agree that the Combine allows for more information gathering, and that's a good thing.
BW: I don't know how I would answer the tree question. A lemon tree so I could make lemonade? A maple tree because I'm so strong? A money tree?
CM: On that note ...