I’ll admit I was a little sad this morning when I woke up and there were no 40-times to check, no Pharrell, no boxes being checked… I even miss Mike Mayock. My life is empty. Moving on, here are my 10 takeaways from the 2014 scouting combine.
1.) There is no clear #1 QB: The QB picture is just as jumbled as it was pre-combine. I think Bridgewater dropped the ball by not participating in anything. On tape he’s the best passer by a considerable margin; If he would have thrown at the combine he could have locked up the #1 spot. Bortles did throw, but he was just ok. I certainly didn’t feel like I was watching a franchise-type QB while he was throwing. He has great size, seems like he has leadership potential, but shouldn’t I have been wowed by his arm? I wasn’t and there are enough flaws on tape (deep ball) that I would be really nervous taking him first overall. Manziel ran a good 40 and showed elite athleticism at the QB position, but we already knew that. I still have Bridgewater in the lead by default, and will need to be wowed by Manziel or Bortles pro days to change my mind.
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2.) Clowney #1 – #7?: Clowney did enough to prove his elite athleticism, but raised more questions about his work ethic by skipping most of the drills with a very suspect “hip flexor” injury. You don’t run a 4.5 40 with a hip flexor. Clowney proved he’s a rare athlete but also confirmed that his work ethic is not ideal. So where does that leave him? Does Texas pass on a QB and take Clowney, hoping JJ Watt’s work ethic rubs off? Do the Rams team him with Robert Quinn for a potential historically awesome DE combo or do they take the LT they need more? The Jag, Browns, and Raiders could use a pass rusher, but QB is a more glaring need. Could the Falcons pass on an elite tackle prospect for Clowney when their O-line is a mess? The only thing certain is that Clowney won’t get past Lovie Smith and the Bucs at #7.
3.) Deepest draft in 30 years: I’ve only been paying attention to the draft in detail (past 2nd round) for the last 15 years or so, or however long ago the internet became a thing. It’s definitely the deepest draft I’ve even seen, but I’m taking Steelers GM Kevin Colbert’s word for it when he says it’s the deepest draft in 30 years. I’ve been doing 7 round mock drafts every year and usually rounds 5-7 are long shots to ever make an impact outside of special teams. This year there are legitimate starter candidates available that late and probably a full round of players that didn’t make my mock who would be 4th or 5th round picks in most years. The draft isn’t especially top heavy, there about 20 blue-chip prospects, but there are about 3 more rounds of NFL players than normal. A big part of the that depth is the record 98 underclassmen who left early to join the draft. That could make for a weak draft a year or two down the road, so I hope the Bears don’t trade out of this draft for any future picks.
4.) WR depth is ridiculous: Of all the deep positions in this draft (CB, OT, DT), wide receiver has the most impressive depth. There are about 7-8 receivers with 1st round talent and about the same number of guys slotted in each of the next 3 rounds. There are all types of receivers in each round too. If you miss out on a big receiver in round 1 (Evans, Benjamin), teams can find one in round 2 (Robinson, Matthews) or round 3 (Bryant, Coleman), or rounds 4-5 (Street, Janis, Hoffman). You get the picture. Even guys who are on the draft bubble like Kevin Norwood and L’Damien Washington would be mid round picks in most years.
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5.) No 1st round RB (again): A lot of people thought it was a fluke last year when no RBs were selected in the first round, but it looks like it’s going to happen again. Washington’s Bishop Sankey did his best to get there with a solid combine, but with a lot of depth at the position and no clear talent outlier, teams will be fine waiting till rounds 2-4 to draft an RB.
6.) Michael Sam might not get drafted: I am dreading the inevitable “homophobic” backlash from non-football people if Michael Sam doesn’t get drafted. Possibly no prospect hurt his chances more than Sam at last weekend’s combine. Sam started the weekend well with an impressive press conference, but on the field he disappointed in every workout or drill he did. His 40 time was slower than average, his bench press was one of the lowest at his position, he didn’t show the lower body explosion NFL teams look for in the vertical leap and broad jump, his agility times in the cone and shuttle drills were near the bottom for his position, and he looked stiff and awkward in the fluidity drills. At this point drafting Sam would mean an increase in media presence and scrutiny for a player who projects as an average special teamer with maybe some 3rd down pass rush ability (eventually). I am rooting for Sam and hope he gets drafted at some point, but I think there is a real possibility he doesn’t.
7.) Good year for the Bears to rebuild: If there is a silver lining to last year’s defensive collapse it’s that the Bears are starting to rebuild their defense a year or two sooner than they planned. With the unusual depth of this year’s draft the Bears should be able to find quality defensive players into the 5th or 6th round. I’ve already discussed the depth at this year’s draft and it is excellent at DT & CB which are two positions of glaring need for the Bears.
8.) Pro days / Agents are ruining the combine: There were 335 players invited to the combine, but there are another 50 or so that are borderline draft-worthy and weren’t invited. Is it fair to those players, who are fighting for a chance to make the league, that some players go to the combine and don’t participate? Clowney was the most glaring example with his fake “hip flexor”, but there were plenty of prospects who just did one drill or did some and declined others. TE Troy Niklaus was healthy enough to run routes, but not the 40? Adam Muema decided to leave before participating in any drills because “God told him to”? These are combine spots that should of gone to players who would take advantage of the opportunity. It isn’t fair for players like Alden Darby (ASU), Denicos Allen (MSU), Carrington Byndom (TEX), Walt Aikens (LIB), Calvin Barnett (OKST) and many more who are going to end up in the NFL but weren’t allowed to use the combine as a job interview like it’s intended.
It’s hard to blame the players. Would you rather compete in an unfamiliar stadium, take instructions from coaches you don’t know, and compete with players you just met a few days ago or… run on your home track, do a perfectly scripted series of drills run by your college coaches and be surrounded by teammates you’ve worked with the last 3-4 years? If I’m a stud on the bench but not the fastest guy, why would I not bench at the combine and then do my running on my home track where I have the best chance for success? Every year more and more players are declining to do events that aren’t in their wheelhouse and if there is no incentive for them to do it, then why would they? Each player is given medical exams before the drills begin. If a player is ruled out by the medical staff, then that is understandable. If they are cleared, then I think there should be a rule that a player needs to participate in a certain number of events. If they aren’t going to at least compete in the minimum number of events, than their invite should be rescinded and given to a player that wants to be there. End rant.
9.) Having to wait 70 more days sucks: Why did they move the draft from the last weekend of April to the 2nd weekend in May? C’mon, Goodell! The combine gets everyone excited about the draft and then we have to wait 70 days? Either moving the draft up or moving the combine back will kill two birds. It give players less time for Pro Days which should increase participation in the combine and it will reduce the ridiculous 70 day wait between events.
10.) Winner & Loser: I have covered the winners & losers at each position already and will be posting the biggest risers & fallers later today, but I wanted to list the overall winner & loser from this year’s combine:
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Winner – DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh: Donald has “checked every box” this off-season and continues to dominate every challenge put in front of him. Donald’s 4.68 40-time at 285 pounds is arguably just as impressive as Clowney’s 4.53 at 266 pounds. Donald also had the 2nd most bench reps (35) and the 4th best 3-cone drill of the defensive lineman. Donald was on the round 1 bubble pre-combine, but now is a lock for the first round and hopefully the Bears pick him at 14.
Loser – RB Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona: Last year Stanford’s Stephen Taylor ran a 4.76 and was still drafted (not till the 5th round), so all is not lost for Carey. He was probably a 2nd round pick going into the combine, but that ship has sailed. Teams don’t use 2nd round picks on backs that run a 4.7. I went back and watched some film on Carey and he looks much faster than 4.7, so maybe he redeems himself at his pro day, but for now he’s likely a 4th-5th round pick.