Whitt's End: The 'Fake-News' NFL Scouting Combine And Why Cowboys Must Let Byron Jones Go
Whether you’re at the end of your coffee, your day, your week or even your rope, welcome to Whitt’s End 2.27.20 ...
*“Dude, can you believe his vertical?” “His measurable are off the charts, best at his position since (fill-in-the-blank).” “I know his results didn’t jump out at you in college, but you’d be crazy to pass up an athlete like this.”
Those – and so many more – inane comments are this week being brought to you by the annual gathering of old men with stopwatches watching young men in underwear. (Or thinking about young men while "in the shower,'' right Jerry Jones and Dez Bryant?) In other words, it’s time for one of the biggest facades in all of sports: The NFL Scouting Combine.
It’s the world’s weirdest job fair. Employers interviewing and evaluating prospective employees … out of their habitat. Judging NFL players sans helmets and pads would be like a Video Game Team Manager evaluating a gamer not on how fast or accurate they played games, but merely by how flexible their wrists are. It’s players displaying talents needed to play the game of football, without actually playing the game of football. Like pilots flying in a simulator, or a fashion designer merely spitball-sketching in pencil.
It’s science, with somehow not being an exact science.
Tom Brady slipped to the sixth round. Tony Romo went undrafted. And then there’s the time-tested example of Tony Mandarich. In 1989 the Michigan State behemoth put on the greatest workout show in the event’s history. At 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, he ran a 40-yard dash (4.65) faster than Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith. He bench-pressed 185 pounds a whopping 39 times, broad jumped over 10 feet and his vertical leap topped 30 inches. He was a Terminator, a perfect physical specimen seemingly genetically engineered to dominate his position for a decade. After watching his Combine workout, Sports Illustrated proclaimed him the “Greatest Offensive Lineman Prospect Ever” and draft guru Mel Kiper suggested the Dallas Cowboys would “rue the day” if they passed on Mandarich with the No. 1 overall pick.
As you know, the Cowboys picked a guy named Troy Aikman and won three Super Bowls. With the second pick the Packers selected Mandarich, who was cut within three years and started only 47 games in a wholly underwhelming six-year NFL career.
Moral to the story: There is no direct correlation between excelling at the NFL Scouting Combine and playing NFL football. Let me know if any of these all-time Scouting Combine record-holders rings a bell: Donald Washington (vertical jump), Byron Jones (broad jump), Jeff Maehl (3-cone drill), Jason Allen (20-yard shuttle), Brandin Cooks (60-yard shuttle), John Ross (40-yard dash) or Stephen Paea (bench press).
Jones is a decent corner, but remember that time he broad-jumped that pile to make that key interception? Nope. Me, neither.
The NFL Scouting Combine isn’t the most overrated event in sports, but it’s on the short list: 10. Tour de France; 9. Army-Navy; 8. Indianapolis 500; 7. Kentucky Derby; 6. Any Heavyweight Boxing Championship Fight; 5. College Basketball Post-Season Conference Tournaments; 4. Winter Olympics; 3. NFL Scouting Combine; 2. Opening Day; 1. Heisman Trophy – Exactly 0 of last 20 quarterbacks to win the storied hardware has gone on to win a Super Bowl: Andre Ware. Ty Detmer. Gino Torretta. Charlie Ward. Danny Wuerffel. Chris Weinke. Eric Crouch. Carson Palmer. Jason White. Matt Leinart. Troy Smith. Tim Tebow. Sam Bradford. Cam Newton. Johnny Manziel. Jameis Winston. Marcus Mariota. Lamar Jackson. Baker Mayfield. Kyler Murray.
I rest my case.
*As a writer that covered every game of the Jason Kidd Era in Dallas, I’ve been trying to compare him and his impact to Luka Doncic. Verdict: Luka does (almost) everything better.
Kidd’s marvel was his intangibles. Saving a loose ball while diving into the stands, and calling a timeout in the process. Hitting a key jumper after not making one all night. Calling out the opponent’s play and orchestrating his defense accordingly. Identifying a mismatch and patiently probing until he could make the pass to exploit it. Dragging his team to a faster tempo when necessary, or vice-versa.
While Luka is also gifted with elite instincts, it’s more his tangibles. The 3-point shooting. The rebounding in traffic. The on-target, on-time passes out of double-teams. Kidd’s distinct advantages over Luka were his on-ball defense and flashy, highlight passes. Luka’s greed for the grandiose sometimes prompts a needless turnover.
Both Luka and Kidd produced 21 triple-doubles for the Mavericks. It took Kidd 500 games. It’s taken Luka only 119. Yes, he’s that much better. And remember: In September, Kidd will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
*Spotted Dallas’ Errol Spence Jr. sitting ringside at last week’s Fury-Wilder fight. Amazing that he’s still alive – with no broken bones, no less – after that horrific accident Oct. 10 in which he was ejected from his flipping Ferrari. Even more remarkable that he’s back in the ring at the Derrick James World Class Boxing Gym training for a fight sometime in 2020.
“He’s back at it, going strong,” James told me Thursday. “Not sure when he’s going to fight, but when he does he’ll be ready.”
Look for the welterweight champion (26-0) to fight either undefeated Terrance Crawford or maybe even legendary Manny Pacquiao at AT&T Stadium later this year.
*Dallas: Where strippers fall … but buildings don’t.
*Got a peek at the Texas Rangers’ almost-complete home, Globe Life Field. Gotta be honest, it looks as fake as Kim Kardashian’s caboose. The infield isn’t dirt, but crushed coconut shells. The grass isn’t grass, but green carpet that looks freshly vacuumed. And the layout reeks of Houston’s Minute Maid Park.
Let’s call it Mimic Made Park. Wonder if it comes equipped with acoustic trash cans?
*Think twice before you hurriedly click that “I agree” button. Dallas’ 24-year-old Jacoby Stoneking was riding a Lime scooter home from work in 2018 when the bike inexplicably broke in half, sprawling him onto Munger Street and killing him. His family sued the scooter company. But, turns out, because of the fine print on the company’s App they are not entitled to their day in court. The user agreement is 18,000 words and would take the average reader 59 minutes to peruse. But, it is legal. And Stoneking did click “I agree” to the terms. Therefore, instead of a jury trial, all lawsuits are mandated to be settled by an arbiter in California.
No jury. No publicity. No right to appeal. No justice. But indeed a cautionary tale. Oh, and for what it’s worth, Stoneking wasn’t wearing a helmet.
*I hear the tape-obsessed stats geeks saying the Dallas Cowboys would be crazy to let Jones walk in free agency because of his elite yards-allowed-per-snap-in-coverage or some nonsense. Well, allow me to retort:
Let me remind you what an “elite” cover corner looks like. As an undrafted free agent in 1981, Everson Walls had 11 interceptions. In his first 25 NFL starts, he had 18 picks. During his nine seasons with the Cowboys he had 44. You know how many Jones has in 79 NFL games? Two. 2. T-w-o. You know who had two more than that during his career? Larry Cole. Defensive tackle Larry Cole. In my NFL, you cannot be an “elite” cornerback without superior ball skills. Let Jones walk.
*Worst drivers in Texas (according to the Texas Dept. of Transportation)? Dallas. Best? Allen. In 2019 Dallas suffered 14.5 fatality accidents per 100,000 residents. Allen had zero. Collin County was well represented, placing Frisco 3, Plano 7 and McKinney 10 among Texas’ safest city roads. Having lived in both Dallas and Allen/McKinney, the biggest driving difference is speed. Plain ol’ superfluous speed. Not going 80 on the freeway, mind you. But more the difference on city streets. Speed limits on McDermott Drive in Allen and Mockingbird Lane in East Dallas are both 40.
By my very unscientific survey, average speed in Allen is 43 but a whopping 52 in Dallas. There are multiple stop lights on both streets, so I do not understand the urgency to race to a red light. Haven’t figured out if it’s big-city entitlement or faux frenetic philosophy or what, but my advice is for Dallas drivers to slow the eff down. ... Lest they be No. 1 on this very undesirable list again in 2020.
*From the Department of Shoot the Messenger: I listened to The Ticket. I was a regular guest on The Ticket. I was invited to audition for a job on The Ticket. I wrote glowing articles about The Ticket. Then a couple weeks ago I reported in this space that The Ticket’s ratings had finally – after 25 years – slumped behind The Fan. The result: Ol’ friend Mark Elfenbein invited me on his Sunday morning radio show on 103.3 FM ESPN (which, like The Ticket, is owned by Cumulus).
But late Saturday Elf received urgent word from Cumulus executive Jeff Catlin that “Richie Whitt isn’t allowed in our studio or on our airwaves.”
Banned for … writing the truth? I called Catlin for an explanation. Still waiting for my phone to ring. Just because the facts aren’t flattering doesn’t make it fake news.
*Speaking of The Ticket, retired founder Mike Rhyner should start his own podcast. He’s still got plenty to say and could make decent money from advertisers working only 30 minutes per week instead of, like on the radio, 20+ hours a week. If/when Rhyner launches his own venture, you heard it here first.
*My NBA Under-21 team would make the playoffs. G Trae Young; G Luka Doncic; G Ja Morant; F Jayson Tatum; F Zion Williamson; Luka turns 21 Friday, proving that in Dallas you can own a city before you can buy a beer.
*Dare to be different. And really cool. As part of a $1.4 million facelift to Oak Lawn, rainbow crosswalks are being painted on Cedar Springs Avenue. How have we not thought about this until now? Genius.
*I’m in the camp of “don’t worry about Dak Prescott’s contract because the Cowboys have no viable Plan B.” But I’m not sure if the following makes me more secure in that thinking, or less. They hadn’t talk to the quarterback’s agent since last September. Gulp. ...
Until this week. On Wednesday a source told CowboysSI.com that COO Stephen Jones had visited with agent Todd France. And then on Thursday, Jerry Jones talked about Dak as if he's another of Jerry's own kids.
Whew. I think.
*That bright star in the western sky these nights? That’s Venus. Wrap your tiny thinker around this: It’s roughly the same size as Earth, but about 25 million miles away. It’s so bright because this time of the year its orbit has it close to the Sun, and its thick, cloudy atmosphere reflects that light. If we were standing on Venus, Earth would be invisible or, at best, a tiny blue dot lost in the sky. Remember that next time you think you’re a big deal.
*Tyson Fury entered the ring for last weekend’s championship fight carried on a throne. Deontay Wilder blamed his fatigued legs on wearing a 40-pound costume during his elaborate entrance. Simply put, Fury is better at load management.
*Mark Cuban’s complaining and his team’s official protest of the loss in Atlanta last week reminded me of a time when the owner was drastically more, um, boisterous. And creative.
Flashback to 2002. Cuban was fined $500,000 after saying “(NBA director of officials) Ed Rush might have been a great ref, but I wouldn’t hire him to manage a Dairy Queen.”
Next thing you know, Cuban was manning the drive-thru window at the DQ in Coppell. TV helicopters covered from overhead. State troopers directed the massive traffic. NBC’s Katie Couric did a live interview for the Today show. Actor Tom Arnold flew in from LA. But the funniest sight: Cuban’s name tag – borrowed from an employee – read simply: “Tony.”
*The Houston Astericks’ cheating scandal has tenacious tentacles. Example: “Clayton Kershaw chokes in the big games!” Heard that narrative, right? But now that we know what we know, consider this: In Game 5 of the 2017 World Series – played in Houston – Kershaw started and was tagged for six earned runs in 4.2 innings of a game his Dodgers lost, 13-12. With the nastiest slider/curve combo in the bigs, Kershaw threw 51 off-speed pitches that night and got zero swings-and-misses. Zero. The Astros knew what pitches were coming. Championships were lost. Legacies were permanently dented.
*If the Mavs finish one game out of a higher playoff seed that saddles them with an unfavorable first-round opponent, don’t forget their self-inflicted wound on February 22.
That night, despite playing only one game the previous nine days thanks to the All-Star Break, they decided to voluntarily rest Luka and Kristaps Porzingis. I know they should’ve beaten 16-win Atlanta. But they didn’t. Teams clawing for maximum playoff positioning can’t afford to give away games. I fear that inexplicable decision (I know, I know, "load management'') will be more costly than one more game of wear and tear on their stars’ bodies.
*Not Catholic, but I do believe that a little self-denial is good for the soul. And, if done right, the love handles. For Lent, I’m giving up bread. In all its forms. Rolls. Buns. Pizza crust. Croutons. The works. April 9 seems unfathomably far.
*Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys 32 years ago this week. He paid $140 million and has turned it into an asset worth $5.5 billion. Five years before he bought the team another risk-taking businessman kicked the tires on America’s Team.
He said at the time: “I feel sorry for the poor guy who is going to buy them. It’s a no-win situation – for him – because if he wins, so what, they’ve been winning for years. If he loses, which seems likely because they’re having trouble, he’ll be known to the world as a loser.”
That man? Donald J. Trump.
*One of the things I’d forgotten in the 40 years since USA Hockey’s “Miracle on Ice” upset of the Russians in the 1980 Olympics: Goalie Jim Craig’s mask. Simple, yet scary, right off the face of Friday the 13 killer, Jason.
*J.J. Barea is fifth all-time in games played by a Maverick. Had he not played 194 games with the Timberwolves in the wake of Dallas’ 2011 championship, he could realistically climb to No. 2 behind only Dirk Nowitzki in 2021. Undrafted, Barea might be No. 1 on the Mavericks’ list of all-time desire.
*This weekend? Patio Happy Hour Friday in the sunshine. Tennis Saturday. Sunday let’s visit Dear ol’ Dad, still fighting the fight against cancer. Next week I’m off to Arizona for an annual guys’ trip for golf and spring training baseball. As always, don’t be a stranger.