The Combine is a meaningful piece in the evaluation process. Embrace it. Even if you do not factor the athletic numbers into your report, I guarantee you will go back and check out Byron Jones, Ronald Darby, Ben Heeney for a second or third time, or nail down a first exposure of Chris Conley and Davis Tull. Forcing second looks, especially for those of us that cannot possibly evaluate 300 prospects fairly, is a positive exercise.
However, the Combine results should be used in evaluations. Not for every position, but in many cases it can aid the process. Hopefully what is written below highlights this tool that is underappreciated or misapplied (likely even by myself) by many.
I will be embedding some great graphs and tables from Marcus Armstrong’s site Mockdraftable, a resource that compiled copious amounts of Combine data dating back to 1999. It is the best way to package a prospect’s athletic fingerprint into an easily relatable visual. A larger web is not necessarily better as prospects win in different ways, and some prospects to not utilize the athletic traits in their web on the field.
Webs can potentially help separate prospects who are considered in the same round, or to find “upside gems” for later pick and patience scenarios. Again, they are to be used in conjunction with traditional game evaluations.
Don’t Count It Twice-ers
“Let’s start with perspective.
When watching prospects’ game action, an evaluation takes athletic upside into account if it is a noticeable trait and an obvious area where the player relies on to win.
Sometimes these prospects who possess a “high ceiling,” thanks to (almost purely) their on-field athleticism, end up being Combine “winners” and see their evaluation raised.
Those movement skills, explosion and natural athleticism are already a major part of these prospects’ evaluations.”
Who fits the label this year?
Virginia EDGE Eli Harold lacks consistent hand or length use to separate, and relies on natural abilities to beat his opponent. It might sound like I’m not a fan of Harold - which is not true. This fingerprint is who he is.
He is not the only one.
When two prospects play the same position on the same team, comparisons will be made. This happened with CBs P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby at FSU. Williams plays within his limits and relies more on positioning, while Darby was able to freelance and compensate for mistakes due to his athleticism. Darby was also a world class youth sprinter in 2011.
UAB WR J.J. Nelson’s game is all speed (even though he did pluck some off target passes in the gauntlet). His 4.28 was the best at the Combine. I thin drafting his type of fingerprint early or during the middle portions of the draft will end in a similar fashion as Jacoby Ford, Yamon Figurs, Demarcus Van Dyke and Tye Hill.
There are other names, and even some who did the opposite. More on those later in the process.
Short Area Quickness Update
Two events for specific position were spotlighted in my preview that best projected future success if a prospect fit among the top times since 2006. The first being the 20-yard short shuttle for offensive linemen.
Prior to this week’s events, here were 12 of the top 18 performances since 2006:
Eagles C Jason Kelce (4.14), Colts C Samson Satele (4.29), Panthers C Ryan Kalil (4.34), Patriots OT Nate Solder(4.34), Jets C Nick Mangold (4.36), Colts OT Anthony Castonzo (4.40), Broncos C Will Montgomery (4.43), 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) and longtime T Eric Winston (4.44).
After four meeting this result last year, only one did this year: Oregon T Jake Fisher with a 4.33. I am very confident in Fisher’s ability if he stays healthy, on either the left or right side.
The other singular event that best projects success if among the top performers since 2006 was the 3-cone drill for edge pass rushers.
Prior to the 2015 Combine, the Falcons' Tyler Starr (6.64), Cardinals’ Sam Acho (6.69), Seahawks’ Bruce Irvin (6.70), Broncos’ Von Miller (6.70), Redskins’ Trent Murphy (6.78), Chargers’ Melvin Ingram (6.83), Panthers’ Kony Ealy (6.83), Browns’ Barkevious Mingo (6.84), Eagles’ Connor Barwin (6.87), Texans’ J.J. Watt (6.88), Lions’ Devin Taylor (6.89) and Vikings’ Brian Robison (6.89) made up 12 of the top 14 times.
Shockingly, only one qualified this year: BYU’s Alani Fua (6.83), who seemed to be used all over the defensive formation. Honestly, I need to watch Fua before I can comment on him. Clemson’s Vic Beasley just missed with a 6.91.
I would not advocate using a single measurement to evaluate, as I consistently harp against this with the 40, but these two results in the scope of these two positions seem to have a pretty nice success rate.
Web of Truth From 2015
The first fingerprint perfectly illustrates where a prospect wins.
I have always contended Amari Cooper is a receiver who wins with burst, quickness, separation and yards after catch ability. The “small” receiver game, which is not saying Amari is small. His web backs that up. Tremendous change of direction skills with little wasted movement and a limited vertical.
Again, this is not minimizing Amari’s talent. He has a main role where he wins, and does it better than anyone in this class. Do not expect him to win in contested areas consistently.
Here are seven prospects who could receive more buzz from the media, likely via NFL teams, moving forward.
1. DB Eric Rowe, Utah
2. CB Byron Jones, UConn
3. EDGE Preston Smith, Miss State
4. DL Henry Anderson, Stanford
5. LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson
6. EDGE Anthony Chickillo, Miami
7. EDGE/DL Mario Edwards Jr., FSU