NFL Scouting Combine – I’m in love with the shape of you

NFL Scouting Combine – I’m in love with the shape of you

Guest blogger, Andy Cross takes a look at the NFL Scouting Combine:

The 2017 NFL Scouting Combine is almost upon us. Starting next week, over 300 finely tuned ex-collegiate players, and now NFL prospects, will land in Indianapolis to undergo a microscopic evaluation of their talents. One that they all hope will end up with them catching the eye of a coaching staff just enough to be drafted in April, when the NFL hosts the draft in Philadelphia.

One enterprising prospect, Myles Garrett, defensive end out of Texas A&M and likely number one draft pick come April, has been trying to catch the eye of one team already before next week’s Combine starts. Garrett recently posted a video offering his services to the Dallas Cowboys, with a heartfelt plea to keep him in his home state of Texas and away from a likely future in Cleveland with the Browns. With 32.5 sacks in 30 college starts, which was only a half sack behind fellow Texas A&M alum Von Miller before he entered the draft in 2011, Garrett would appear to be the pass rushing ‘war daddy’ that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says he is looking for from this year’s draft. I understand the love coming from Myles, but the chances of Dallas trading up to land him at the top of the 1st round are slim to none. Either way, Jerry Jones as entertaining as ever, has kindly let us know what he is looking to fall in love with this year.

For the prospects, next week brings an array of activities from medicals, team interviews, media sessions and the cognitive based wonderlic test to physical drills such as the 40-yard dash, shuttle run, 3 cone drill, 225lb bench press, broad and vertical jumps. Derisibly dubbed the ‘underwear olympics’ it suggests the Combine is nothing more than a horse and pony show for players to show off their physical prowess, when surely their game tape and evaluation of those games is enough to project whether they can play the game at the next level. In my humble opinion, it is an emphatic no. The NFL Scouting Combine, beyond the opportunity for coaches and alike to catch up with old friends over dinner and several libations, does matter to all 32 teams, prospects and fans alike. It adds to the rich tapestry that is the NFL draft season.

The Teams

For all teams, the opportunity to have more data and general information gathered on a prospect they either love, like or feel indifferent about, only helps reinforce perceptions of having a healthy degree of objectivity to what is a highly subjective process. The chance to either dot the i’s or cross the t’s through a mass of data from drills, interviews and medicals, is too important to ignore in the overall process of setting a team’s draft board. Any data will always be viewed by someone as useful data to have, as we saw last year with Jared Goff, quarterback and eventual 1st overall pick of the draft by the LA Rams, when his hands measured in at nine inches and then led to them being scrutinised as being too small for a QB.

Certainly, for Hue Jackson, head coach of the Cleveland Browns, size was an issue as he wanted a QB with big hands to be able to hold and throw the ball in a division such as the AFC North where games are played in cold and wet weather. If you are wondering, Cody Kessler, QB out of USC that Jackson and the Browns drafted in the 3rd round of the same draft that Goff went number one, had the biggest hand size amongst QB’s along with Paxton Lynch at 10 7/8 inches. This was a case of data that can’t be disputed for its accuracy, further colouring a subjective process. It is often our bias that is the ghost in the evaluation process and it will be no different next week for GM’s, coaches, scouts and owners alike. We all have it and when we can’t suspend it or look beyond it, we can’t help but be drawn to liking certain shapes, traits and sizes that confirm such biases we hold dear in our hearts.

The Prospects

The combine counts for all 330 prospects. For all college underclassmen, that is players who have left college early to declare for the NFL draft without playing their senior season, it is a first-time chance for teams to get times and measurements down on paper. In other words, does the speed and strength that shows up in pads on gameday, correlate with a time run in the 40-yard dash or height reached in the vertical jump? If it does, then happy days. If not, then back to the tape for coaches to see what they might have missed in initial evaluations.

It does not matter whether it is a QB prospect who has been advised not to throw until their college pro day, or an injured player who can only interview with teams and not participate in any drills such as Myles Jack, linebacker who was drafted in the 2nd round last year by Jacksonville. The combination of data from the medicals, interviews and drills themselves will lead to some teams madly falling in love with a prospect and hoping they are there to be drafted in April or some team finding fault in a part of the data, which cements a split from them on their board. As the character, Detective Lester Freamon from the TV series ‘The Wire,’ says, “all the pieces matter” and they will next week in Indianapolis. The Combine truly does offer all prospects the chance to emerge from the combine as a possible draft winner or draft loser, whether they like it or not.

The Fans

For us the fans, the access we get and coverage of the combine via shows its popularity and importance in the overall NFL calendar. I can give my take on why I will be sitting with various devices next week watching drills and updates through the live streaming provided by as I have for the past few years. It is that the Combine keeps me connected to the prospect of next season, making it feel like it isn’t seven months away. The ability to focus in on the performance of future players I see mocked to my team (for my sins, it is Washington) in all the mock drafts I scour over each week, helps me feel like a scout setting my team’s draft board. It gives me opportunity to take the publicised data plus insights from experts like a Mike Mayock or Bucky Brooks of or a Mel Kiper or Todd McShay of ESPN and create my own 32 team first round mock draft as well as mock players I really want my team to draft through all seven rounds of the draft. Being connected in such a way through the coverage only adds to my experience as a fan of the game in all areas.

It may be cheesy but right now being honest with myself, I don’t care for the loose hips of a defensive back, the kick and slide of an offensive lineman, the bend and burst of a pass rusher or the soft hands of a wideout. What am I hoping for is that Scott McCloughan, Washington GM and his team leave Indianapolis on March 6th, humming Ed Sheeran’s song in their heads after falling in love with what I want, which is the shape of a 300 plus pound run stuffing defensive line machine that can stop Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys dead in his tracks next season and many more after that. So, who do you want your team to fall in love with next week?


Photo copyright: MMQB – Sports Illustrated

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