While there is a mad rush to declare winners and losers of the combine in terms of on-field performance (guilty), we rarely look at it in terms of the overall competition. Teams are always searching for an edge and all facets of football life—scouting, public relations, personnel—are on display for a week in Indianapolis. Here's a broader look at who did well and who did not this week.
The mythos surrounding the combine:
It’s absolutely phenomenal how the NFL manages to come away from the combine with a central storyline it can grind to death over the course of two months almost every year. In 2018, the league was simply gifted one of the most talented quarterback classes since 2004. And this year? A Kyler Murray subplot that has roots buried underneath almost half the teams in the NFL. Don’t you see how the dominoes will fall? Will Kyler go No. 1? If so, where does Josh Rosen land? If he doesn’t, how does Arizona make it up to Rosen after the extended flirtation? Where does Murray go?
Players who didn’t seem to love their current teams, anyway:
If you paid attention, the 2019 combine was essentially a final goodbye for players like Antonio Brown and Landon Collins. Whether it’s an inherent pushback from a 2018 where players seemed to level the playing field, or simply a few cranky general managers willing to admit that they don’t feel like dealing with a thorn in their side, it was a good week for those who want to be somewhere else and are close to getting their wish. Collins is being openly recruited. Brown, meanwhile, gets to hang out with LeBron James and 2 Chainz and criticize Ben Roethlisberger. Everyone wins, and they can burn the bridges behind them.
The former NFL Network draft guru has settled into general manager life well. Despite it seeming, on the surface, to be a pairing of two long-exiled outsiders, Mayock seems to be delivering a sheen of professionalism to the wild Raiders during his first few months. And if nothing else, he is the polar opposite of other opportunist general managers who climb the ladder through cozy media relationships. He won’t even share his draft bible with his daughter.
Cloaked by the insanity surrounding Murray, the Ohio State quarterback performed well enough, and may have steadied himself as the most likely passer to go first, should Murray not go No. 1 to the Cardinals.
There’s always someone who performs so startlingly well at the combine that, no matter how they play for the rest of their lives, their coaches will always be blamed for a lack of success because he wasn’t being used properly. Win or lose, Metcalf can always count on Joe Buck wondering aloud mid-game: You’d think they would find a way to get him in space!
Networks looking for high-octane live programming on a random Wednesday afternoon:
Nothing will top the madness that was Johnny Manziel’s Pro Day, but Murray with a script will be something to keep an eye on. He’ll either have to throw and run at his new weight, or slim back down to a comfortable weight to perform at. Because he did not throw or run at the combine, Murray is leaving himself no margin for error in Norman on March 13. When realizing this, NFL Network thanked the Gods of Manufactured Drama, and cancelled their re-air of A Football Life: Steve Largent.
If this ends with him getting out of town, it was for the best. Arizona is going to need time to rebuild its offensive line and assemble some skill position threats outside of Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson. Meanwhile, the rest of that division is just getting better and better by the second. What an upgrade for him if he ends up somewhere—say the Giants—where he can sit or compete, but be considered part of the long-term future.
The Cardinals: That combine performance was either insanely disorganized, or one of the poorest attempts at subterfuge I’ve seen in recent years. From Steve Keim’s legalese-drenched response to a Rosen question, to Murray’s wink-and-nod admission that he met with the Cardinals, it all felt half-assed. Presented with a choice either to go all-in, and truly convince teams that if they want Murray, they’ll have to come up and get him, or bolster Rosen and send him into the offseason with some confidence, they chose to walk the dividing line, then get mad when people wondered what was going on.
Indianapolis: An excellent city and more-than-suitable host that has to deal with the constant, looming prospect that one day this will all be in Los Angeles. I’ve talked to coaches who bemoan what the combine has become today, which sterilized a Wild West trade show and made it nearly impossible for coaches to let their hair down among their fraternity brothers. Imagine if it moves to Los Angeles, where teams will just sequester themselves across the massive city landscape, convening at the new stadium just long enough to do workouts and interviews.
Colleague Jonathan Jones put it best: What did you think was going on with Murray? It’s a bit of a sad day for those of us who couldn’t see what was spelled out in black and white. Everyone was concerned about Murray’s ability to sturdy his frame for the rigors of an NFL season, so he gained weight. Then, after gaining the weight, he didn’t run because he didn’t want to showcase his speed—normally one of his best attributes—which might be hampered by the weight he just gained.
General manager Dave Gettleman came right out and said it: We didn’t sign Odell Beckham to trade him. This offseason, Beckham might have to watch Mr. Big Chest find new life in another offense, while he remains a part of the bridge process between an aging Eli Manning and whatever is next.
We know teams ask dumb questions at the combine, but they also complain about the insane restrictions placed on them during that time. Funny now they’ll spend what precious time they have staring down a prospect, or, in the case of Jachai Polite, getting under his skin during interviews. I await with great anticipation the looming trend story: These millennials are impervious to long-entrenched intimidation tactics!
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