There's a lot behind Scott Crichton's determination to make it big in the NFL. (Michael Conroy/AP)
INDIANAPOLIS -- One of the great things about the scouting combine is the opportunity to get to know draft prospects in a series of 15-minute bursts. Most of the time, you don't get anything more than a thumbnail sketch, unless there's a narrative prelude that sets the tone, as it was this year with Michael Sam. But once in a great while, a young man will sit down at a table at the combine with a handful of reporters and blow us all away with his genuine drive to succeed ... for all the right reasons.
The 2014 NFL draft will have a record number of underclassmen (102), and some NFL executives worry that as a result, there will be a higher percentage of players not quite ready for the pros.
“They’ll grow physically,” Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said at the scouting combine about players without four-year starting histories, “but if you fail emotionally it can be overwhelming and sometimes career-ending ... A lot of young players aren’t ready for this. I don’t think they understand until they are on the field. It’s easier to go from senior year [in college] to the pros than as juniors.”
True to a point. But if Colbert hasn't met Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton, he really should do so in a hurry. Not only because Crichton would be a great fit for Pittsburgh's defense at 6-foot-3 and 273 pounds, but because his decision to declare for the draft after his junior year was more emotional and complex than most. Yes, Crichton is doing it for the money. But when he sat down at a table at the combine media room last Sunday to speak with a small group of mostly Seattle-based reporters, the underrated Tacoma, Wash., native laid out exactly why it was time for him to head to the next level. Simply put, his family desperately needs him to.
"I love my family. I've taken this responsibility to take care of them. My mom works two jobs, and my dad is disabled and still works a job, too. They are getting old and I want them to retire and just stop working. I just did this for my family. I was going to come back to college but just to see my family struggle -- we didn't have much growing up and to see my family struggle, I wasn't OK with that. So I had to do something, and this is one of the greatest opportunities for me to take care of my family."
Crichton's parents are both from Western Samoa. His father Lucky (his given name) lost a leg a while back due to health reasons, and it was impossible for Crichton to recall his dad's struggle since without profound emotion. It was easy -- and moving -- to see.
"He works at a warehouse right now, which is barely getting by like $10 an hour, and he [had taken] care of my grandpa. My grandpa is 90-something and he just passed. It was just unfortunate, and this was all happening at once."
So, Crichton didn't bother getting a grade from the advisory board -- he decided to take his 22.5 sacks and 51 tackles for loss over three seasons to the NFL, and see what it would get him. With three siblings as well, Crichton was clearly feeling the pressure. As he told me with a laugh, "I'm the baby, but I wasn't the spoiled one."
Fortunately, based on his tape, Crichton's making the right call. He's currently fourth in NFLDraftScout.com's defensive end rankings behind South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, Missouri's Kony Ealy and Auburn's Dee Ford. He's got an intriguing combination of upper-body strength, pure hustle off the snap and hand moves that will put him on a lot of boards. And because he's got the kind of hybrid size that would work with 4-3 and 3-4 systems, Crichton has opened himself to more NFL possibilities.
Using Seattle's Michael Bennett as an optimal example, Crichton told me that he can stunt inside to disrupt interior gaps just as well as he can burn outside edges and get around tackles. It's a matter of technique.
"What is the key to getting penetration inside a tackle? Like a 4-tech or a 3-tech? You've just got to get off the ball and attack, attack the opposing player and you've got to just play on their side of the ball. Coaches always told me, whatever you do, no matter if you are wrong, you've got to play on their side of the ball. That's what I really took pride in this year, and it's worked out for me.''
And as a pure edge rusher, Crichton takes pride in his non-stop acceleration.
"I think it's just my get-off. It starts with my get-off. Just being explosive and coming off right off the line and then you've got to have technique. I've worked on my craft these last couple years and I feel like I have improved and progressed as a defensive end -- using my hands, using my power, my speed. I think all those attributes help me a lot.''
And if you didn't know where that motor came from, now you do. It's the simple dream to put his family in a much better place.
"Oh, it would just mean so much to me because my parents have taken care of me since Day 1," Crichton said when asked what it will mean when he can provide that relief. "And to do this for them it's just ... I don't know, I can't put it into words."