Draft 2012: Combine WrapupTuesday, February 28, 2012
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The NFL Combine is a necessary tool for scouts to supplement the evaluation process with measurements, test times, medical checks, and interviews. I'd advise, however, to be wary of workout warriors whose measurables seem too enticing to pass up despite actual game tape showing less than quality play. Coaches often believe no challenge is too big and that outstanding athletes are pieces of clay to mold, when the truth is these players received college coaching and likely have been taught proper technique. They just have not implemented it.
I watch the Combine for two reasons: 1) To see if test numbers match a player's on-field skills and attributes. 2) To highlight players whose athleticism far out-tests my previous perception. For intriguing players, I allow myself the necessary amount of exposures until I determine whether he flashes that raw potential or not. If surprising measurables do not result in on-field production, I leave the grade as is. "Potential" and "upside" are buzz words this time of year that usually accompany a positive connotation, but as longtime University of Texas Head Football Coach Darrell Royal once said, "Potential means you ain't done it yet." There are rare cases of players "flipping the switch," but it is quite difficult to predict which ones will.
The NFL is not a track meet. If a player maximizes his tools to produce at a consistent level, I see no reason to doubt his on-field ability because he doesn't run particularly fast on a stopwatch. Players should not be upgraded or downgraded based solely on Combine results until more game film is watched.
Issues with the Combine
Speaking of stopwatches, this year's "official" 40 results struck a nerve. These times, distributed by National Football Scouting, are done electronically. They start with the player's initial hand movement and end when his torso crosses an invisible line. Maybe it was the noticeable variance from NFL Network's "unofficial" handheld times. What makes the electronic times "official?" NFL teams do not use them; they use 40 times collected by multiple scouts on separate stopwatches. Because electronic times start with first hand movement, some players' times suffered due to the inexperience of running in one motion from a three-point stance.
I find it hard to believe a single team clocked Baylor WR Kendall Wright at 4.61, his "official" time. In the coming weeks, I will time my own 40s from Combine replays and work to acquire actual times from NFL sources. For now, I will be using the unofficial stopwatch times.
My biggest complaint from the last four days is the growing lack of participation. These players are entering a competitive business in which confidence in their abilities is an absolute requirement in order to succeed. When a healthy player sits out any portion of the Combine, it shows either a lack of confidence or competitiveness, or that the player is hiding something. The truth will inevitably emerge.
Andrew Luck (6-4/234), Stanford - Luck's exceptional test results weren't shocking. We saw flashes of his top athletic ability at Stanford; a one-handed sideline catch and a 58-yard run featuring a jarring stiff arm to Cal S Sean Cattouse. While the 4.59 forty, 10'4" broad jump, and 36" vertical are on par with Cam Newton's 2011 Combine measurables, resist the temptation to compare the two. Luck will not have repeated red-zone running plays called for him by his NFL team, but his agility will allow him to buy time and move the defense while leaving the pocket like Aaron Rodgers or Tony Romo. Luck flashed those skills in college.
Robert Griffin (6-2/223), Baylor - A high-level hurdler, Griffin's athleticism transcends his position. A 4.38 forty, 39" vertical, and 10' broad jump show explosion in every part of his lower half. Griffin's 6'2" plus frame can no longer be questioned, but the Troy Smith-esque way he holds the football -- elbows out -- has led to a lower release and batted balls. The biggest question is whether Griffin's body can hold up with his play style. While RG3 is muscular, he took pounding hits at Baylor and missed significant playing time during his true sophomore season. NFL coaches instructed even a thickly-built runner like Cam Newton to avoid contact, so Griffin must adjust similarly. The workout numbers are off the charts, but I still do not consider him in Andrew Luck's "rare" category. Luck throws the football better and his feet move calmly when the pocket is closing. Griffin will not become an elite NFL quarterback because of his ability to run; it has to be with how he throws after sound footwork and decision making. The rest is a bonus. For a glimpse of Griffin's outstanding presence behind closed doors, check out this video.
Kirk Cousins (6-3/214), Michigan State - A three-year captain with 39 career starts, Cousins has plenty of game film for teams to evaluate. He stood out as the Combine's best thrower in passing drills, by all accounts, capitalizing on an opportunity with Luck, Griffin, Ryan Tannehill (foot), and Brock Osweiler (foot) sitting out. Cousins could be termed a safe thrower that fails to test deep sections of the field, but above all successful quarterbacks must make sound decisions -- an area of a passer's game that can only be seen on tape. If Christian Ponder can go in the high first round, it would not surprise me if Cousins sneaks into the top 40. It is tough to not be impressed by how Cousins carries himself in this video.