INDIANAPOLIS — In considering possible changes to the structure of the combine, a newly-formed committee including a cross-section of NFL team personnel appears likely to meet considerable backlash from coaches and scouts who like things the way they are.
That’s the word in Indianapolis, on and off the record, in the wake of a USA Today report earlier this week detailing the intentions of Jeff Foster, president of the company that runs the combine—National Football Scouting Inc.—to facilitate a summit of sorts to reconsider some of the more antiquated drills performed here and propose new measurables.
“You know you don’t want to get away from the traditional drills that you’ve done because you have so much information stored over the years for a comparison,” says Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, “but you don’t want to grow stale either.”
Such will be the main argument against any proposal to scrap or alter drills like the 40-yard dash and the vertical jump: A vast ocean of data sets from previous combines help evaluators compare and contrast prospects from various years.
“The one thing about the combine traditionally over the years is you have the ability to compare, year after year, the same drills,” says Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher. “So we have information where we can go back 10, 15, 20 years and compare players to players. In the information age right now, it’s becoming much easier to do that.”
Said one AFC scout: “In order for new drills to be used, it will take years for them to have as much meaning.”
As USA Today’s Tom Pelissero reported, the league planned its first performance and technology symposium for Wednesday with guest speakers from scouting communities in other pro sports, most of which have a better reputation for embracing analytics than the NFL. Among the speakers: P3 founder Dr. Marcus Elliott, who pioneered the use of a 3D motion analysis lab at the NBA combine.
One of the only rumored changes that appears to excite the personnel we polled this week is far less technical: The prospect of putting pads on prospects and asking them to perform contact drills. If players could be convinced to participate, it certainly would raise the value of the combine in the eyes of evaluators, many of whom prefer the competitive nature of Senior Bowl practices to these “Underwear Olympics.”
“I think the best evaluation is to see them play football,” said Washington offensive coordinator Sean McVay. “If there was a way to get live drill work where you’re actually wearing pads, competing one on one, doing things that are more conducive to what you’re going to ask them to do in games, that would be really helpful in the evaluation process.”
That’s how it’s done in the CFL, where many American athletes are gunning for a final chance at pro football. It is generally acknowledged, however, that injury risks would limit participation among top prospects in the NFL.
There is one proposed tweak that is gaining momentum, though it may not satisfy those pushing for the league to adopt newer, shinier drills. For years, coaches and scouts have wondered why offensive linemen and interior defensive linemen are running the same 40-yard dash as defensive backs and wide receivers.
“You’re got guards and tackles running 40 yards,” said one NFC scout, “and they’re pulling up with leg injuries after 30 yards because they’re really trying to gut it out and run that 5-second 40, when it really doesn’t matter all that much.”
Said Colbert: “Is it really necessary for an offensive lineman? Probably not. Is a 10-yard dash important for him? Yeah, because he has to reach a linebacker who may be 5 to 7 yards (deep). So there’s still value.
“We’ll look at each drill in that manner and say what’s the real pertinence for the whole league.”
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Stat of the week
According to an estimate from Indy's tourism department, that's how much revenue the combine brings to Indianapolis, with close to 1,000 media members and about 1,900 NFL personnel descending on Circle City. And that's how much the city stands to lose annually if (when) the combine is relocated to Los Angeles in 2021.
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Quote of the Week
“Just try to run through their soul.”
—Stanford guard and Outland Trophy winner Joshua Garnett, summing up his blocking style.
“My mother is homeless right now. Right now she’s staying with her sister. It’s her and her three kids staying in an apartment back home.”
—Auburn running back Peyton Barber, explaining the reasoning behind his decision to declare for the draft as an underclassmen. Barber’s brutal honesty will turn heads.
“A guy could have tiny Burger King hands, and—we’ll track him—if he doesn’t fumble, who cares?”
—Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, on the importance of hand size for quarterbacks.
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Five things you need to know
1. There’s a growing consensus among teams picking at or near the top of the draft that Carson Wentz, not Jared Goff, will be the first quarterback chosen. Wentz, of North Dakota State, is an unlikely candidate for the honor as a non-FBS product, but it’s his no-frills demeanor, extreme attention to detail and laser arm that have NFL types buzzing. Wentz and Goff, who share an agency (Rep1 Sports), have been working out together in Irvine, Calif., with 26-year-old free agent and former Colts quarterback Ryan Lindley.
2. Do not put it past Cleveland to pass on both Goff and Wentz at No. 2 and use the 32nd pick on a quarterback. In such a scenario, it's conceivable that either Michigan State’s Connor Cook or Memphis’s Paxton Lynch slips to the Browns and new coach Hue Jackson, whose work with Bengals backup AJ McCarron (fifth round, 2014) is a big reason he landed the Cleveland job in the first place.
3. It is not believed that Goff or Wentz will carry enough value in the eyes of quarterback-needy teams for one of those teams to pull the trigger on a trade up to No. 1 with Tennessee. The Titans know they could unload the top pick and draft a quality offensive tackle or pass rusher in the top half of the first round, but they probably won't get the opportunity.
4. Deone Bucannon, the do-it-all linebacker picked 27th by the Cardinals in the 2014 draft at 211 pounds, has opened the eyes of the scouting community and all but eliminated the ‘tweener’ term once used derisively to describe players straddling the line between outside linebackers and free safeties. Players like LSU’s Deion Jones, Ohio State‘s Darron Lee, Duke’s Jeremy Cash and Southern Cal’s Su’a Cravens will get harder looks as teams become more willing to view players like Bucannon as potential full-time starters.
5. Now this is just a hunch: I don't think San Diego will spend the No. 3 pick on a quarterback with the idea of grooming him to replace the 34-year-old Philip Rivers, but I do think you will soon hear that San Diego is strongly considering one of the top 3 quarterbacks. Why? It's a safe bet Chargers GM Tom Telesco will do whatever he can to raise the value of his top selection in order to entice a trade.
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