Lion’s Den: The NFL Draft Combine

The 2014 NFL Draft Combine is Underway and the Lion has plenty to sayIt’s Combine time. Let the human meat market begin. Way back in October, I wrote extensively about the college players who will be factor in this year’s NFL draft. I also wrote extensively about the four things I look at when evaluating a player. To jog your memory, they are as follows:

  1. Eye Exam
  2. Important Statistics
  3. Accomplishments
  4. Measurables

I think all four are important and should be given attention. By now, the season is done and we have plenty of information to dive into the first 3. The combine is obviously really only about measurables. There will be lots of talking heads this weekend droning on that measurables are overrated and game tape is a better tool to evaluate talent.  They will point to the Mike Mamula’s and other workout heroes that have been busts in the NFL as proof. I don’t disagree, but then again, NOBODY DOES.  Smart GM’s and Scouts use the combine tests as kind of a minimal competence test. Think of it like a Bar Exam. It makes almost zero difference if you get the highest score on the Bar Exam, as long as you pass it. In football, you don’t need to be the biggest or fastest guy at the combine.  You just need to be big and fast enough to play your position in the NFL. For example, there are rumors that Jadeveon Clowney is going to run a 4.4 40 yard dash this weekend. That is freakishly amazing, but if he runs a 4.7 it won’t hurt his stock at all. If he runs a 5.2, it will. It’s about competence.  While we are waiting for the all the data this weekend, let’s go back to the first 3 factors in evaluating talent for a minute. My last evaluations were back at the end of October. Since then, I have had a whole month plus bowl games to consume. I am a big enough junkie that I even watched some of the Senior Bowl and other All Star games. It feels like a good time to BRIEFLY update my evaluations this week pre-combine. I encourage you to look at the old ones (using the archive function or search function on this site) to refresh your memory before reading this. Also, I don’t know who is going to take part in what drills this week, and I am not going to look it up. (Even the Lion has to draw a line somewhere, he does have a wife) Having said that, I will tell you who I am most interested in watching should everyone actually participate.

QB:  This position is nowhere near as deep as it was the last time I looked at it. Since October, two top underclassmen with first round talent chose to return to school. (Mariota and Hundley). In their wake, we have a few late comers to the party from non prestige schools. Blake Bortles from UCF, (who I wrote about) and Jimmy Garoppolo from Eastern Illinois. The buzz on Bortles is enough that he may be a first rounder, and Garoppolo has jumped on everybody’s radar by a solid Senior Bowl Performance. Scouts have also had time to pick apart Teddy Bridgewater. Everybody is now worried about how his skinny frame will hold up to an NFL beating. His production declined down the stretch of the season. I mentioned before that Teddy reminds me more of Sam Bradford than Cam Newton or Andrew Luck. The scouts must read the Den because they are starting to agree. Bridgewater has a good skill set, but not a great one. At this point I still think he is the number 1 qb. Although some GMs might not be able to resist the Johnny Football show. Some of the other QB’s I liked got injured.  LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and the Lion’s favorite sleeper UGA’s Aaron Murray both tore ACL’s late in the season. This will hurt their stock. Tajh Boyd and Derek Carr played pretty terribly in the Senior Bowl to hurt their stock.

Who am I most interested in watching at combine? AJ McCarron is still lurking under everybody’s radar. Blake Bortles.

RB:  This position group also has been shaken up a bit for the Lion. My favorite RB, Melvin Gordon, decided to stay in school and take a beating for another year (bad move). In his place appeared Auburn’s Tre Mason, who caught fire over the second half of the year and is leaving early, as is Jeremy Hill from LSU. Carlos Hyde came back from suspension for OSU and ran over everybody. Otherwise, there is no real big change here. Kadeem Carey’s stock has gone up a bit, Lache Seastrunk’s and Bishop Sankey’s have gone down slightly. I don’t think any of these guys will be taken in the 1st round. If they are, it will be late.  Andre Williams showed during the post season that he should thank his OL for everything.

Who am I most interested in watching at combine? Carlos Hyde. I am usually skeptical about big backs in the NFL, see Dayne, Ron. However Eddie Lacy showed me something last year. Is Hyde going to be Lacy 2.0 or just another Ron Dayne? His drills might shed some light on the subject.

WR:  Here we have another example of the state of the US economy, the rich are getting richer. What I mean of course is the deepest position in this draft has gotten deeper since the last I looked at it. Dudes are coming out right and left, and I don’t mean Michael Sam. There are 4, potentially 6 guys who could be taken in the first round, 10 in the top 2 rounds. The top 3 guys are still the same, although people rank Sammy Watkins over Mike Evans and Marqise Lee now. My rankings remain the same though. The late riser is Kelvin Benjamin from FSU. Only a redshirt sophomore, he tore up the ACC in the last month and had a big game against Auburn for the title. He is 6-5 235 and probably will be a first rounder. I mentioned just about everybody there is to mention in my last article on Wrs. None have fallen off.

Who am I most interested in watching at combine? I want to see the big guys, Evans and Benjamin. Are they a Julio Jones or Calvin Johnson type big and fast, or merely a Vincent Jackson type? To a lesser extent, I want to see Allen Robinson from PSU for the same reasons.

TE:  I have something to say here. Remember when Magic Johnson was a 6’10 PG and everybody thought the game would be changed forever with these new big PGs? With all due respect to Penny Hardaway and MCW, it turns out that Magic was just a freak of nature. The more I look at this draft class of TE’s and the state of TE in the NFL in general; I am starting to wonder if the same is true about Jimmy Graham and the Gronk. It is possible that they are just freak talents and not the beginning of a new wave of TE’s. People said the same thing about Mike Ditka and Kellen Winslow Sr. in their day as they are saying about Gronk and Jimmy now. Every team is looking for the next Tony Gonzalez, Gates, or other huge pass catcher that can block. (Jimmy can’t by the way). There really just aren’t that many guys like that in existence on this planet. My rankings have only one change. Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro, and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins are still the top 3. The only real change is that Troy Niklaus surprised everybody at Notre Dame by leaving early. He is a workout freak and while I think he would have been better served spending another year in school, he comes in at 4th. There is a drop off after him. C.J. Fiedorowicz and Arthur Lynch are prefect examples of what is left in this draft. They are both more of the old school, Heath Miller, Brent Jones type TE.

Who am I most interested in watching at combine? Actually, all of the top 4 guys have the potential to surprise me and be the type of threat that we imagine a Neo-TE to be.

OT:  Just like with the TE’s this group hasn’t changed much since I wrote about it back in October, (Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, Cyrus Kouandjio are first rounders still), with one big exception and two smaller exceptions. The main exception is the rise of Greg Robinson from Auburn. As Auburn and Tre Mason got hot and turned into a running juggernaut, so did Robinson. The buzz around him is so great right now, he could end up passing Matthews as the first tackle selected. As someone who watched a lot of Auburn down the stretch, I can tell you it is warranted. Robinson is athletic with a rare combination of size and quickness and is absolutely amazing at run blocking. I would like to see how he is in pass blocking, which you won’t see at the combine. He should go in the top 10 because of his potential. One of the small exceptions is the late rise of Morgan Moses out of UVA. Forgotten during the season because Virginia was atrocious, Moses had a great week at the Senior Bowl and scouts like his size. If he gets into shape for this combine he could sneak into the first round potentially, definitely the 2nd.  The other is Zach Martin from ND. I wrote, and many scouts agreed, that Martin probably would be better as a guard in the NFL because of his short arms and limited athleticism. Mike Mayock disagreed with me and said he thinks Martin can play T. Well, Mayock is the best in the business at this stuff for a reason. Martin dominated at the Senior Bowl, and was universally thought to be one of the most impressive players there. (Many of the best draft candidates don’t play). He did a great job in winning his one-on-ones battles with superior technique. Most feel he demonstrated the ability to potentially stay at left tackle in the NFL. Many feel that Martin will be the first player drafted out of the Senior Bowl rosters and could crack the top 20. I don’t think he will go that high, but I agree he has first round potential now as a tackle. The man is a master of his craft and is more fundamentally sound than any other in the group.

Who am I most interested in watching at combine? Not even the Lion is excited about watching OT’s at the combine, but of course I am going to watch. I am interested to see what kind of shape Moses shows up in. Also want to see if Lewan added strength to his 6’8 frame. The darkhorses for me are still Antonio Richardson out of Tennessee and Seantrell Henderson out of Miami. This is their last shot to impress both me and people who actually matter.

OG:  I didn’t write much about Guards because there isn’t much to say. I don’t see one being drafted in round 1. La’el Collins is staying at LSU. Zach Martin is going to play Tackle. That leaves Baylor’s Cyril Richardson as the only guy I talked about. He had a terrible Senior Bowl week. He got destroyed by Pitt’s Aaron Donald. He will have a hard time getting drafted in the first round because of this. Conversely, Gabe Jackson had a good week of practice at the Senior Bowl and was more impressive than other interior offensive linemen there. He is a good run blocker but lacks the athleticism required for an NFL OG. (Yes they are better athletes than you.) Two other guys who I never mentioned but are on my radar are David Yankey from Stanford and Xavier Su’a-Filo from UCLA. They both came out early and it’s probably because they have information they will be among the first selected at their position. Xavier is one of those guys I mentioned previously. He plays T but will play G in the NFL. Yankey is the guard version of Zach Martin.

Who am I most interested in watching at combine? I hate to admit this, but, there is nobody really. Jackson could show he is quicker than we think. I guess.

C:  I didn’t write about any Centers. There are no guys of note really. I don’t see any anybody going in the 1st. I will give you two just to show you I care about the position and you should too. Travis Swanson out of Arkansas had a good Senior Bowl showing to bump up his stock. Bryan Stork from FSU played really well all year and I personally think he is good. Have no idea if scouts think so.

Who am I most interested in watching at combine? Stork, to see if he has the measurables to match up with his on field play.

DT:  Not much movement here. Louis Nix, Ra’Shede Hageman, and Aaron Donald are still the top guys. One guy who came on late is Timmy Jernigan from FSU. Anthony Johnson stock has been dropping as he has a disappointing year, along with the rest of LSU’s defense, his teammate Ego Ferguson might go before him at this point.

Who am I most interested in watching at combine? Anytime you can see a guy as big as Nix running you want to check it out for humor purposes.

DE:  Two major movers here. Stephen Tuitt from ND’s stock is dropping because he can’t stop eating. Kony Ealy from Missouri is rising fast due to a dominating performance over the last month of the season, SEC Championship and the Cotton Bowl.  While his teammate will get the attention for other reasons, this guy is now a first round pick. A Sleeper to mention here is the Florida Gators Dominique Easley, who was highly regarded before injuries limited his year.

Who am I most interested in watching at combine? I have to admit I am curious to see if Clowney can run as fast as they say he will run.

Hybrid/Tweeners:  The usual suspects appear here again. I already told you about Trent Murphy, Michael Sam, and Vic Beasley. I heard that Beasley is staying in school. I failed to mention Scott Crichton from Oregon State, who came on strong late in the year. Dee Ford from Auburn is another late comer. He will get attention. There are a bunch of others that could be mentioned here, but I will save you the time for now because the very problem with these guys is they don’t have the measurables to fit in a position in the NFL.

Who am I most interested in watching at combine? The key to all of these guys is how fast they are. I will watch all them all closely. The combine is more important to this group than any other.

OLB:  No significant changes here in what might be the deepest area of the defensive draft pool.  Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr, and CJ Mosley are all still the highly touted top three and have not slipped, albeit their order has constantly changed depending on who you ask. My personal favorite is CJ because I think he could play the inside or outside in a 4-3 or 3-4. I like versatility. Two late risers/guys who were under my radar are Kyle Van Noy from BYU and Ryan Shazier from OSU. Both could be first round picks along with the Big Three.

Who am I most interested in watching at combine? I have a thing for CJ Mosley, so him, but really all the OLBs interest me since this group is so deep at the top. Maybe the combine will create some separation among these top three.

ILB:  There are no great ones here, unless you figure CJ moves inside. I previously mentioned Christian Jones. His stock has plummeted because FSU moved him to DE because that is where they needed help. Some guys to look out for, even though they are not expected to be drafted early are Shane Skov from Stanford, (dude is a football player, plain and simple), Yarin Smallwood from UConn, and Chris Borland from Wisconsin.

Who am I most interested in watching at combine? I want to see if Jones can help himself at the combine. I also want to see if one of the Lion’s favorites Max Bullough can impress scouts enough to get drafted.

CB:  My evaluations of this group changed the most over the last two months. There is lots of movement here. The things I look for remain the same. I want bigger physical DBs. Some guys who played physical earlier in the season got exposed.  Louchiez Purifoy from FL got toasted as the season went on, and most specifically by big WR Kelvin Benjamin in the FSU game. This caused many to take a closer look, and it turns out maybe the Gators lied about his height. This is why the combine is so important. The rest of America caught up to me on my skepticism of Bradley Roby from OSU. His stock has since dropped as well after getting beat time and time again by physical WRs. Kyle Fuller remains in the “B” group, and is a solid 2nd round pick, but there are new top guns to discuss. All season long I tried to tell anybody who would listen to me that MSU had a great D. The best DB on that team is by far Darqueze Dennard. I underrated him like many others because of his size, but he is so physical you can’t ignore his play. He plays like he belongs on a certain Super Bowl winning team. If say he played in the Pacific Northwest, he could put on 20 lbs of muscle without losing a step and he would fit right in. If you like interceptions and ball skills, look no further than Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State. He is big, physical, and came on late in the season and might be the first CB taken. Florida’s other DB; Marcus Robinson is also a late riser.

Who am I most interested in watching at combine? Shocker, I want to see how fast the big, physical, CBs are. Besides Gilbert and Dennard, I want to see Keith McGill from Utah and Stanley Jean-Baptiste from Nebraska. Both of these two guys are listed as 6”3”. But can they run?

S:  Not much has changed because there are no real studs here other than Ha-Ha Clinton Dix. Some other names to look for, Calvin Pryor from Louisville, Jimmie Ward from Northern Illinois, and Ed Reynolds from Stanford. The Lion’s favorite sleeper is USC’s Dion Bailey. Bailey played very well in USC’s beat down of Derek Carr and Fresno State. He will be in Carr’s nightmares for a while.

Who am I most interested in watching at combine? Will any other safety emerge as a player? I want to watch them all, specifically Bailey, because I have a hunch he will.

Boy, this got longer than I thought it would be. Enjoy the combine. I will give you the highlights next week. I promise it will be shorter than this. Also look for continued trade rumors on the Lion’s Den.

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