The NFL Combine starts this week and teams, scouts, and fans will be tuned in to watch the some of the world's best collegiate athletes jump, run, lift, and do other drills in hopes that they can find players that will help lead their franchise to a Super Bowl. This week long job interview will allow players at every position showcase their athleticism and skills in the hopes they can improve their draft stock and earn themselves a little money.
The combine is one of my favorite times of the off-season and I thought it would be a good idea to give fans a quick overview of what to watch for this week. This is a list of various drills, events, workouts, and players to watch to guide you through the combine process.
40 Yard Dash
The marquee event at the combine is the forty yard dash. Everyone wants to see just how fast some of these players can run. But while the average fan stops at the the final time, there is more to it that just the final time. You will hear the analysts talk about the 10 and 20 yard splits. The 40 has timing segments at 10 yards and 20 yards. The purpose of those is to measure acceleration. Look, at 40 yards, there isn't much difference between running a 4.3 and a 4.5. What IS important is how fast a player can accelerate and how quickly he can get to top speed. A good 10 yard split for a DE or OLB can indicate how fast he can get to a QB. So don't just get enamored with the top end speed; watch the splits as well to get an indicator of their acceleration.
3 Cone Drill
This is another good drill to watch. This drill incorporates a 5 yard shuttle with an L-shaped segment the players will have to run around. This drill measures acceleration, change of direction, and flexibility. A good time in the 3 cone drill can be just as important as a 40 time for players like pass rushers, linebackers, and safeties.
As someone who has spent much of their life in gyms and weight rooms, I love the bench press segment of the combine. Football is a game of strength and power and the bench press demonstrates that. This drill doesn't reveal the max strength of a player, as it is not a one-rep max situation. This drill shows the muscle power and endurance by having a player rep 225 pounds as many times as possible. If a player has spent time in the weight room developing his strength, this drill will show that. This part is very important for linemen and linebackers.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Miami needs a QB. While throwing at the combine doesn't reveal things like accuracy and timing(game settings are better for that), it does show other aspects like arm strength. One HUGELY important thing to watch in the QB drills is footwork. Prospects will be asked to simulate taking snaps under center and throwing from 3, 5, and 7 step drops. This is big, especially for QBs who come from primarily shotgun-based offense. A prospect can set himself apart from the pack with a good display of footwork. So when watching the throwing drills, don't be concerned with completions or accuracy. That comes more from game tape. Watch everything else in the drill. Does the get-off from under center look natural or forced? How is his footwork in each of the drops? How is his arm strength? Does he carry the ball properly?
Kick Slide Drill
This is a drill for offensive linemen. In my opinion, this drill has 2 very good benefits. It's main objective is to evaluate the O-line prospects. But it also can help fans watch the actual game better. This drill can show fans what to look for in offensive linemen during the game. Everything good of bad that an O-lineman does during a game, can be demonstrated by this drill. It consists of one lineman lining up to block while another player runs an arc around some cones to simulate a pass rusher getting to the QB. This drill shows footwork, bend, punch, and balance for linemen. Watch the footwork especially. Does the lineman show quick feet or does he get beat too often? Watch to see if they bend too much at the waist, or if they "sit in the chair" with proper leg bend. This drill will typically separate the good tackle prospects from those who will have to move inside to guard.
Defensive Back Drills
There are two DB drills that I love to watch. The first is just a drill where they start in a backpedal and then turn and run. This drill demonstrates a DB's backpedal, hip fluidity, and balance. The DB will backpedal for about 10 yards or so, then a coach tells him to turn and player must tuck his elbow, flip his hips, turn and run at full speed. Players have to have good balance and loose hips or else they lose speed.
The other drill is called the speed drill. The players start with a 5 to 10 yard backpedal, then the coach makes them come back to him. After a short distance, the player has to change directions again and turn and run downfield. The player must then turn to locate the ball and attempt to catch it. This drill highlights all the areas that are important for DBs: hips, change of direction, backpedal, and ball skills. Any flaws or deficiencies in technique will be revealed in this drill. In a weak safety class, there are several prospects who can use this drill to earn themselves a higher draft pick.
The most important part of the combine process will not be televised. Interviews can reveal just as much about a player as any workout or drill can. This is a time where each team can meet and pry into the mental makeup of a prospect. We have all seen that physical ability and talent doesn't translate to much if a player doesn't have his head right. Just about anything can be asked or stated during an interview (like the Dez Bryant mom question). I recall a story from a previous combine where coaches were interviewing a QB prospect. They had an assistant coach storm into the room and yell at the prospect. Why? The assistant was playing the role of a diva receiver who was upset about not getting enough touches. They wanted to see how the prospect reacted in that situation, since they were considering drafting him to be the franchise QB. In any case, the interview segment can make or break the futures of some players and there are several players this year who will need to ace the interview segment to maintain their stock.
Players Who Need A Great Combine
Every year there are players who unexpectedly stand out at the combine and increase their stock. Every year there are players who have a surprisingly bad combine and their stock drops. There are also player every year whose stock hinges on the combine due to issues such as off-the-field problems or injuries. Here are some big time players that need to have a strong combine so that their stock will not plummet.
Ryan Tannehill, QB
Tannehill is considered by most to be the 3rd best QB prospect in this draft. He is almost certain to be drafted high, possibly even top 10. So why does he need a strong combine? Because Tannehill missed the Senior Bowl due to an injury. That was a critical time for him to show off his skills around NFL coaches and scouts and he missed it. Tannehill's injury will still not allow him to participate in the combine drills. But he participate in the interviews and medical testing. Those parts will be key to his draft stock. Teams will still be able to interview him and watch him at his pro day and individual workouts. But this is Tannehill's chance to make a great first impression on teams.
Vontaze Burfict, ILB
Coming into this season, Burfict was considered a top 5 draft pick. He was a beast of a linebacker and was said to be made in the mold of Lewis and Willis. However, as the season progressed, his stock plummeted to the point, that he's not only out of the top 5, but possibly out of the first round. He's very talented and has all the skills to be an elite middle linebacker. His problems have come in the form of maturity and temperament. He has a knack for getting stupid penalties and losing his cool on the field. A strong performance in the drills plus great interviews can get his stock back on the rise.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB
The tall CB from Alabama was a potential top 10 pick... until he was arrested for drug possession. The charges against him have since been dropped, but now concerns have been raised. His interviews will be very key to his draft stock. He will also need to run well and perform well in drills as some are questioning his speed and skill set.
Alshon Jeffrey, WR
Jeffrey is a big, talented WR who has been projected as a first round prospect. He will still most likely a first round pick, but questions have come up about his speed. His 40 time will have a huge impact on his draft stock. His projected time is in the 4.5 range which would be fine for a 6'4" WR. However, if his 40 time is higher than 4.6, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Jeffrey fall out of the first round.
Players For Dolphins Fans To Watch
Robert Griffin, III
(feel free to add more in the comments)
There you have it folks; a quick preview of some things to pay attention at the combine later this week. If you have the chance to watch it, try to catch the positional drills. It will help you get a better feel for prospects and might teach you something new about the game.