The 2010 National Invitational Camp. The Scouting Combine. The Underwear Olympics.
Call it what you will, the football fan’s midwinter fix and introduction to the Class of 2010 will be taking place over the next few days. But don’t get too excited. Over the past few years enough workout warriors have dropped jaws in Indy only to break hearts (and cost GMs jobs) once the pads went on that the Combine is becoming less important in the scouting evaluation process.
Check this quote from a recent Peter King column, attributed to an unnamed NFL personnel guy: “(Our draft board is) 90 percent set now... because guys go to the Scouting Combine and they change their grade on a player based on things that have nothing to do with playing football. These guys go out and watch players all fall, then we all watch the tapes of all these guys, and we see what kind of football player they are. That’s scouting. (We) need the combine for the medical evaluations and the personal baggage stuff. But don’t come in after the combine and tell me you want to change some guy and move him way up because he ran faster than you thought he would. That’s where you get in trouble.”
Vernon Gholston, anyone?
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see in Indy this weekend. Starting with the specialists, tight ends, and offensive linemen, players begin to arrive on Wednesday; by the time the defensive backs pull out of town next Tuesday we’ll be introduced to a few new names to put on the radar for our upcoming dynasty drafts. And despite what the aforementioned NFL insider says, players will move up and down various draft boards based on what transpires in Indy. With that in mind, here are a few things to keep an eye on.
Thursday, February 25
Measurements - TE, OL
The on-field work doesn’t get going until the weekend, but this will be a make-or-break day for a few players. For the tight ends, we’ll find out if they’re really big enough to be a legit tight end or have been padding their roster height and weight and might be more likely to end up in an H-back role. A couple of the more prominent tight ends who could find themselves on that bubble due to the measuring tape include Miami’s Aaron Hernandez (listed at 6-2, 250) and Iowa’s Tony Moeaki (6-3, 252).
Offensive linemen need to measure up as well, and not just to the tape and scale. Last year Bengals offensive lineman Andre Smith caused a stir just by taking his shirt off, and at the Senior Bowl Alabama defensive tackle Terrence Cody did the same. With offensive linemen clocking in well above 300 pounds (LSU tackle Ciron Black and Mississippi guard John Jerry look to be the heaviest, with both in the 330-pound range), the tale of the scale is only half the battle; players will need to pass the eyeball test and not look too puffy. Scouts will also assess reach, a key component for tackles—especially on the left side.
Friday, February 26
Measurements - QB, WR, RB; Workouts - PK/ST
Unless you’re into watching kickers, punters, and long snappers or you want to match Wonderlic scores with the offensive linemen, this will be another slow day. But it won’t be without news, thanks to the cold harsh measuring stick. The NFL likes their quarterbacks tall, and despite the success of mighty mites like Maurice Jones-Drew there’s essentially a “You Must Be This Tall To Ride” mark for backs and receivers as well. Quarterbacks looking to measure up include Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen (6-2) and Texas’ Colt McCoy (6-2); Cincinnati’s Tony Pike (6-5, 212) also needs to show he’s been going back for seconds and putting on some extra weight.
Among the backs, there’s no question Mississippi’s Dexter McCluster (5-8) will have an uphill battle; what scouts would like to see is whether or not the heights on borderline feature backs like Clemson’s C.J. Spiller (5-11) and Cal’s Jahvid Best (5-10) hold up. It would also behove bigger backs like Georgia Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer (235 pounds), Mississippi State’s Anthony Dixon (245) and Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount (245) to not be too big... unless, that is, they run like a smaller back the next day.
Wideouts will be treated similarly; while a speedy 40 time might allow some undersized players through the door, NFL teams are fond of big targets who create mismatches with opposing corners. Are the listed heights of Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant (6-2), Illinois’ Arrelious Benn (6-2) and LSU’s Brandon LaFell (6-3) legit? And can Cincinnati’s Mardy Gilyard (6-0, 179) put on some weight?
By the way, according to Paul Zimmerman’s The New Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football, offensive tackles have the highest average Wonderlic score at 26. Centers are second at 25, quarterbacks third at 24, guards fourth at 23, and tight ends fifth at 22. So maybe you should wait until the running backs (average score: 16) take their test before you bust out your pencil to compare brain power.
Saturday, February 27
Measurements - DL, LB; Workouts - OL, TE
Now it starts getting interesting. While the height/weight underwear parade for the defensive line and linebackers holds some interest (like, did Cody do some ShakeWeight work on those pecs?), what football fans truly want to see is some on-the-field activity. The tight ends will run through drills and we’ll get to see if there are any potential tackles in the crowd. We’ll also see whose 40 times are legit and whose aren’t. And while the 40 may be a mostly irrelevant drill for many positions, speed down the seam—in essence a 40-yard dash in pads—separates the blocking tight ends from the ones who are more inclined to boost your fantasy stats. Aaron Hernandez (posted 40 time of 4.62) appears to be the early favorite, with most of the rest of the tight ends clocking in between 4.75 and 4.85. A faster time obviously jumps that player onto the radar; a slower time might just earn them a trip to the buffet and a chance to play left tackle. Hey, it worked for Jason Peter.
Outside of Al Davis, no one really cares about the offensive linemen’s 40 time. Their 10-second split and broad jump, however, measure explosiveness and the bench press measures their pure power. Don’t expect any linemen to move up the board dramatically, especially with only a handful claiming sub-5.0 times heading into the Combine. If Ol’ Al really has a need for speed, he can watch Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga, Maryland’s Bruce Campbell, West Virginia’s Selvish Capers, and small-school sensation Jared Veldheer of Hillsdale see if anyone can get under 4.95.
Sunday, February 28
Measurements - DB; Workouts - QB, WR, RB
The measurement portion of the program will again be a proving ground for the accuracy of the collegiate rosters. NFL teams like their corners big or fast (preferably both) so those listed under six feet—six of the top seven and eight of the top 10 in the NFL Draft Scout rankings—better not come up too short, lest their draft stock suffer.
On the field, in what is becoming a Combine tradition, the top quarterbacks—Clausen and Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford—don’t plan to throw; furthermore, Florida’s Tim Tebow will wait until his pro day to unveil his new, more pro-ready throwing motion. McCoy was planning to participate in throwing drills, though late word suggests he won’t demonstrate whether or not strength has returned to the shoulder he injured in the national championship game. Also, rumor is that Central Michigan’s Dan LeFevour, one of the fast risers at quarterback, won’t throw as well—squandering an opportunity to position himself as a solid alternative to Clausen and Bradford in the second or third round.
With the marquee quarterbacks begging off and this being a down class anyway, attention will be focused on the running backs and receivers. Among the backs, Stanford’s Toby Gerhart could change the perception of him as a fullback with a 40 time in the 4.4s while Spiller hopes to post the same sort of blistering 40 that made Chris Johnson a Combine sensation a couple years back. Dwyer and Fresno State’s Ryan Mathews also want to prove their sub-4.5s are legit—and something substantially faster would make it tough for back-needy clubs to pass on either in the first round.
Monday, March 1
Workouts - DL, LB
Today’s session is Monday Night Football for IDPers as scouts determine which prospects can play with their hand in the dirt, who can drop into coverage, and just how quickly these ends and rush linebackers can get to the quarterback. More than 40 times and shuttle runs, it will be the turn-and-flip drill scouts (and astute IDPers) will be eyeballing to see how stiff in the hips these prospects are. Last year the Broncos’ Robert Ayers made himself some money in this drill; this year, it’s guys like South Florida teammates Jason Pierre-Paul and George Selvie, Michigan’s Brandon Graham, Virginia Tech’s Jason Worilds, and Florida’s Jermaine Cunningham who will be on the spot.
The bench press will come into play as well. Defensive tackles will need to put up the 225 pounds at least 25 pounds to demonstrate they have the strength to hold up as an NFL run-stuffer; that number can be a little less for ends and linebackers, though if they’re in the mid- to upper 20s it would suggest they can hold their own on the line of scrimmage or as a strong-side linebacker battling with tight ends.
Tuesday, March 2
Workouts - DB
The Combine closes with the defensive backs going through drills. There’s unlikely to be a Deion-like “leave the building” 40 time from this group, as none of the elite corners are expected to get under 4.40. The magic number for corners might be 4.5; under that and you can play in any system, slower and you’ll likely be positioned as a zone-only corner. Perhaps most importantly, any of the defensive backs who came up a little short height-wise at Sunday’s measurements will need to prove they’re at least short and fast instead of short and slow.