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Rotoworld: Josh Norris' 2017 NFL Combine Preview

Rotoworld: Josh Norris' 2017 NFL Combine Preview

This article originally appeared on Rotoworld.com.

"Honestly, I enjoy the event for the spectacle that it is. Entertainment that puts prospects on an even playing field."

I wrote those words three years ago when previewing the 2013 NFL Combine. It could have been worse. I could have called the on-field workouts meaningless or termed it "the underwear Olympics."

Now, more than ever, I think Combine results matter. In fact, I know they do. Teams use athletic testing in a variety of ways, and many times with success. There are definitely examples of "workout warriors" being selected early and failing, but that can be said for any style of evaluation.

We will be highlighting content which focuses on athletic testing after the Combine. Many resources do not receive enough attention. Like Mock Draftable’s visual representations, Field Gulls' and Zach Whitman’s findings on SPARQ and Justis Mosqueda’s Force Players among others.

Yes, for teams the medicals and interviews matter to a great degree. But we do not receive that information, therefore my focus will be on the numbers generated from this week. Above all, context and perspective are important.

As Zach Whitman put it - "Metrics don't need to be perfect if we do a good job of understanding what they're saying and what they miss."

Link Aggregation

During this week in Indianapolis, NFL teams acquire a gross amount of information. Emulating NFL scouts is difficult, but the closest we have in the media is Dane Brugler. This column is chock full of information on prospects, in terms of important medicals and important interviews.

Most importantly, in my mind, is Dalvin Cook. Dane notes Cook underwent three shoulder surgeries dating back to high school. We've seen talented runners drop dramatically in the draft due to a history of shoulder issues, namely Chris Polk and Lamar Miller.

Also, we know John Ross will be fast. Here is his medical history: a meniscus injury in both knees, a torn ACL, microfracture surgery and surgery to repair a torn labrum after the Combine. And he remains extremely explosive.

If you are curious what positional averages are for each position at the NFL Combine, this Rotoviz link is a good resource.

Bruce Feldman's Freak List is always enjoyable. My No. 4 WR in this classTaywan Taylor, is listed as the No. 2 freak at the NFL Combine.

If you are into Combine prop bets, I’m shocked Jabrill Peppers' O/U is 4.37 seconds in the forty, especially since he will workout with linebackers. And Christian McCaffrey's 4.52 O/U seems a touch slow.

Finally, here is my favorite tweet of the week. It applies to this event and the draft process in so many ways.


Thresholds and Minimums

Some of the most important measurements have already been recorded prior to prospects touching the field in Lucas Oil Stadium. Heights, weights, hand size, arm length and wingspans can all be important for this reason: thresholds.

My perception of minimums and thresholds changed after reading this piece. If it needed to be funneled into a single line, one stands out: "Big picture wise, you want to play with the odds, not against the odds." In this case, the odds mean siding with prospects who possess the measurements that are successful in a specific scheme deployed by the team.

An example is the Seattle Seahawks at cornerback. The last five corners Seattle drafted all possess arms 32-inches or longer. Both of the Panthers outside rookie corners had arms over 32-inches as well. How can this impact their evaluation process? At the Senior Bowl, of the 11 or so prospects on the roster who were listed at corner, just two had arms 32-inches or longer. So, the Seahawks and Panthers (among other teams) go from focusing on 11 outside CB prospects down to two, theoretically improving the evaluations of that duo with more time spent. Now, the others who project to the slot will be evaluated separately, but you get my point.

Other teams don’t take it as far as to eliminate prospects completely, but link certain tests with specific positions. Like the 3-cone drill for Patriots’ corners.

Will this mean some teams miss on quality players who do not fit within the parameters? Absolutely, but these decision makers are banking on good process to win in the end.

Composite Scores

Combine results are often cited as individual figures. The forty yard dash has been considered the “universal measurement” for decades.

What if there was a better way? What if we recognized that the forty is just one of seven or eight or nine meaningful results, and a potentially better way of interpreting athleticism is through a composite score which factors in outcomes along with weight.

SPARQ is the best example, and Zach Whitman has years and years, thousands and thousands of scores built up in his database so prospects each year can be compared to their predecessors. Great scores obviously stand out, but it is important to note that an average NFL athlete is not a negative. In fact, acknowledging non-NFL caliber athleticism might be most important. Whenever I discuss a player’s athleticism, I am referencing these scores rather than just their forty time.

Short-Area Quickness

These next two sections are singular testing results that best project future success for certain positions. I am far less attached to these than in previous years, but it has been a tradition in highlighting them… so I will continue.

First is the 20-yard shuttle for offensive linemen. Here are 14 of the top 20 performances since 2006:

Eagles C Jason Kelce (4.14), Colts C Samson Satele (4.29), Bengals T Jake Fisher (4.33), Panthers C Ryan Kalil(4.34), Patriots OT Nate Solder(4.34), Ex-Jets C Nick Mangold (4.36), Colts OT Anthony Castonzo (4.40), Bears OT Charles Leno (4.40), Vikings G Brandon Fusco (4.43), Chiefs T Eric Fisher (4.44), Browns G Joel Bitonio (4.44), Texans G Xavier Su’a-Filo (4.44), Packers OL Jason Spriggs (4.44)  and longtime T Eric Winston (4.44).

I’ve heard rumblings of Garett Bolles possibly breaking the 3-cone and short shuttle records for offensive linemen, both owned by Jason Kelce (7.22 3-cone, 4.14 short shuttle).

The other event that best projects success among the top performers since 2006 is the 3-cone drill for edge pass rushers. Bears’ Sam Acho (6.69), Raiders’ Bruce Irvin (6.70), Broncos’ Von Miller (6.70), Redskins’ Trent Murphy(6.78), Chargers’ Melvin Ingram (6.83), Panthers’ Kony Ealy (6.83), Patriots’ Barkevious Mingo (6.84), Eagles’Connor Barwin (6.87), Texans’ J.J. Watt (6.88), Chargers’ Joey Bosa (6.89), Lions’ Devin Taylor (6.89) and Vikings’ Brian Robison (6.89) make up 12 of the top 16 times.

Cliff Avril and Clay Matthews just missed with a 6.90. Anthony Barr, who now plays off the ball, registered a 6.82 a few years ago. Again, both of these are only including NFL Combine participants. Obviously, all are not “hits,” but the rate of success (of varying degrees based on expectations) in comparison to other positions is high.

Web Of Truths

Thanks to Mock Draftable for packaging Combine results into a pretty picture.

If you have a few hours, go through the site’s database and try to pick out big name players and see if their workout results match where they win. Take Patriots' WR Julian Edelman for example.

 

Eddy Piñeiro is quietly finding his form again, another sign that he's cut out for this

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USA Today

Eddy Piñeiro is quietly finding his form again, another sign that he's cut out for this

As a large group of TV cameras gathered around Charles Leno Jr.’s space in the Bears’ locker room, Eddy Pineiro quickly finished getting dressed in the shadows to Leno’s left. The kicker’s stayed out of the spotlight since losing the trust of his head coach on a nationally-televised game three weeks ago, but he’s played as well as anyone during the Bears’ three-game return to relevance. 

“Yeah, I would definitely say I’m more confident,” he said after the Bears’ 31-24 win on Thursday night. “There’s just good rhythm – good snap, good hold.” 

He hasn’t had to attempt a kick over 40 yards (!!) over the three games, but Pineiro’s accuracy issues, at least for now, seem at bay. He hit all five of his kicks against the Cowboys – four extra points and one 36-yard field goal. The kicker hasn’t missed a field goal (5-5) since LA, and has gone 9-10 on extra points. More importantly, they haven’t lost since either. 

“Oh yeah, it feels great,” Pineiro said. “Everyone in the locker room is super excited and happy. Everybody’s in a good mood. When you win, everybody’s in a good mood.” 

He hasn’t been physically tested much over the last month, but just ask Aldrick Rosas or Brett Maher how easy kicking at Soldier Field – even in nice conditions – is. The Bears have always loved Pineiro’s response to adversity, and it’s starting to look like he’s rewarded them again. 

“Just gaining experience, honestly,” he said. “I think the biggest thing for me has just been gaining experience. Playing the game, I obviously don’t have the most experience, but I think trying to gain that experience has been the biggest thing for me.” 

Pineiro mentioned that he’s still getting used to the adjustments that come with kicking in colder temperatures – which may help explain some of his more recent lackluster kickoffs. It’s easy to see how a nationally-televised game in unusually pleasant conditions could have been a trap for a young player who’s maybe pressing a bit, but after getting the full Bears Kicker Experience stuffed into half a season, Pineiro knows better. 

“In my opinion, you’ve got to play well in every single game,” he said. “[it’s] not like just because you’re on national TV, you’ve got to play better. It felt good to get out there and hit a couple kicks.” 

Run Mitch Run! Trubisky dominates Cowboys with his legs in Week 14

Run Mitch Run! Trubisky dominates Cowboys with his legs in Week 14

Mitch Trubisky looked like a quarterback who was selected second overall in the NFL draft with his performance against the Dallas Cowboys in Thursday night's 31-24 win. In fact, he's looked every bit the part over the last four weeks, but Week 14 showcased the complete skill set that made Trubisky the first quarterback drafted in 2017.

Against a Cowboys defense that was ranked as a top-10 unit coming into the game, Trubisky threw for 244 yards, ran for 63 yards and totaled four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). He threw the ball with conviction and completed passes that an average quarterback never could have. His eight-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson with 10 seconds remaining in the first half was special. Despite blanket coverage by Dallas linebacker Jaylon Smith, Trubisky put the ball where only Robinson could catch it. It was a heater, too. 

Trubisky had more than one throw like that Thursday night. His first touchdown to Robinson came earlier in the second quarter with 12:18 remaining in the half. This time it was Cowboys defensive back Byron Jones in coverage, and he didn't stand a chance despite being in position to make the play. There was no way to defend against the accuracy of Trubisky's five-yard strike.

But what really made Trubisky's game a signature performance was his running. He regained the form that made him such an exciting player in 2018 and a guy who had a sleeper MVP candidacy in the preseason.

Last season, Trubisky ran the ball 68 times for 421 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. His legs kept opposing defenses honest and opened easier throws for his arm. Prior to Thursday night's win, Trubisky had only run the ball 26 times for 80 yards in 2019. He upped his carry total by nearly 40% (10 rushes against the Cowboys) and nearly doubled his yardage in just one game. It helped the offense stay on schedule and produced one of the night's most memorable moments when Trubisky broke the pocket and juked his way to a 23-yard touchdown run with 13:28 left in the fourth quarter. He earned his highest rushing grade on the season from Pro Football Focus, too.

"Just pulled it," Trubisky said of the touchdown run after the game. "Really an awesome block by Leno. We knew they were a squeeze-scrape team. The backer is going to scrape over top. He does a good job of locking him out. I just cut up in there, made a guy miss, got in the end zone.

The best part of that for me was how excited my teammates got afterwards. Really cool moment. It was good."

Trubisky's running does more than just make his job easier. It also hides some flaws in the offensive line, which has struggled in pass protection this season. After Week 14's game, pass-rushers will have to think twice about pinning their ears back and going all-out for a sack. Trubisky reminded the league that he's a dangerous quarterback who will make defenses pay if they take too many chances against him.

Trubisky's growth over the last month of the season has been pretty remarkable. It took him longer than expected to get to this place he's at now, i.e. a quarterback who can put Chicago on his shoulders and win a football game, but he appears to have arrived. At least, if his last three games are any indication, he's become the kind of productive playmaker the Bears have so desperately need. He's completed 70% of his passes for 860 yards (seven touchdowns, four interceptions) and a passer rating of 99.1 over that stretch.

Spread over 16 games, this three-week run would equate to 4,586 yards and 37 touchdowns. His 99.1 passer rating would rank among the top-10 starters in the league, too. 

Trubisky tucked and ran with more frequency Thursday night and it paid off. It made the Bears' offense look almost unstoppable at times. It's been a while since that could be said about this squad, but it's better late than never.

"We've gotten better over the last couple weeks, I'm talking about as a team, that's what's most important to me," Trubisky said. "That is what allows you to get better as an individual, is if you focus on the team first, focus on the guys around you."

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