2012 NFL Combine PreviewTuesday, February 21, 2012
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The importance of the NFL Combine has recently shifted in the public's eye. Once viewed as a crucial piece of the evaluation process, it is now more of a media spectacle. The significance lies in the eye of the beholder, of course. In the NFL, teams value test results and measurements differently. What happens behind closed doors may actually impact prospects' draft value more than any stopwatch.
(Here's a look at the official 2012 Scouting Combine schedule.)
NFL front office personnel arrive in Indianapolis armed with thorough background information on every prospect courtesy of college coaches and trainers. Participants with histories of off-field issues must understand this and be truthful during interviews. Two Oklahoma prospects, OLB/DE Ronnell Lewis and CB Jamell Fleming, struggled with academics (and disagreements with coaches in Lewis' case) that cost them playing time in college. In some cases, book smarts and football intelligence are unrelated, but each instance is worth researching.
One method is to put players, especially quarterbacks, in front of a whiteboard. Teams present a situation or play versus a certain look and ask prospects to regurgitate information on a clean slate. Russell Wilson (Wisconsin), B.J. Coleman (UT-Chattanooga), and Austin Davis (Southern Miss) should shine in these scenarios, as all three responded immediately to NFL coaching at their respective all-star games. The whiteboard is important for every position (Boise State WR Austin Pettis excelled last year), and an outstanding showing can pique an evaluator's interest just like test numbers.
Many seniors completed interviews at postseason all-star games, but the Combine is underclassmen's first exposure to NFL questioning. This year's obvious question mark is Arizona State ILB Vontaze Burfict, who failed to improve in college despite guidance from former veteran NFL coaches, with whom he consistently clashed. Tennessee/McNeese State DB Janzen Jackson and Oregon CB Cliff Harris are former top high school recruits with outstanding athleticism, but were dismissed from their college teams due to off-field issues.
Other cases include Alabama CB Dre Kirkpatrick, who still needs to answer every question about his dropped marijuana charge, North Carolina early entry DE Donte Paige-Moss, who took to Twitter to call out his team, coaches, and school after their bowl game, and Miami DE Olivier Vernon, who was suspended following the Nevin Shapiro benefits fiasco. These interviews are a crucial piece in a team's thought process when deciding whether to draft an "upside" player with character concerns. If failed, prospects can be removed from draft boards entirely (see Florida's Will Hill).
Teams give prospects do-not-draft grades for extensive medical history just as they do for character concerns. The majority of clubs bring medical staffs to poke and prod players, putting each through a physical before taking the field. The relationship between the decision maker and lead medical trainer must be built on trust and understanding. The last thing a General Manager wants is to waste a draft pick on a player that will rarely practice. Three receivers who were highly touted before their senior seasons face uphill battles to clear their names from the "fragile" list: Nick Toon (Wisconsin), Ryan Broyles (Oklahoma), and Greg Childs (Arkansas).
Florida State OT Andrew Datko and Nebraska DT Jared Crick both missed the majority of their senior seasons due to injury. Datko played through a shoulder injury until he was shut down, while Crick suffered a torn pectoral muscle. Separation, through use of the upper body, is a key part of both players' games. Datko and Crick could reappear prominently in draft discussion if cleared medically.
Senior Bowl weigh-ins revealed that Russell Wilson stands shorter than 5'11". Moving from Mobile to Indianapolis, the spotlight will be on Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, who I expect to measure in right over 6'2". Wilson and Griffin come from different college offenses, and Griffin would ideally be about two inches taller, but both flash the awareness and footwork to find clear throwing lanes as well as an ability to throw on the move. They are not limited to the pocket but surely can be efficient in it.
For linemen, arm length may be most important. If I had to guess, I'd tab Syracuse DE Chandler Jones as the favorite to measure in with the longest arms. Jones is lanky and uncoordinated, but he may be a completely different-looking player a few years from now. There is a frame to build on.
It's a hunch from watching his game tape, but I expect Memphis DT Dontari Poe to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from Jones in terms of arm length. Just keep in mind that long arms are not necessary for a nose tackle, especially one as athletic as Poe.