Every year we watch the value of prospects either rise or fall following the Combine according to their performance. Or more accurately, we imagine it, because these are real humans, not stocks, although they always have draft stocks (*punches self*). And every year, I have no idea why this happens, or at least why it happens so dramatically.
Sure, use the 40-yard dash to measure a players’ straight-line speed, even though such a skill is only vital to a handful of positions. And use the bench press to measure strength, or the three-cone drill to measure agility and the ability to cut quickly. But at their very core, all of these drills are measuring speed and strength. Or even more generally, athleticism, which is sort of a big deal in football, but being a freakish athlete alone doesn’t ensure future stardom. If that was the case, the Raiders would have won about 14 straight Super Bowls.
The ultimate measure should always be a players’ game film, when he’s, you know, playing football. Yet since Manti Te’o's slow 40 gallop earlier this week, the mainstream media tourists are pushing his fall. Bill Polian, the former Colts general manager who’s now a draft analyst for ESPN, is here for some truth talk.
A lot can change between now and late April, which are nine generic words I can write in nearly every draft-related post. But those changes will mostly be tied to the continued player evaluation done by teams (which is, again, steeped in tape study), and more importantly, free agency that starts in two weeks. Needs which are addressed through the free agent market are no longer a priority on draft day, which could lead to a tumble that’s entirely out of the prospect’s control.
But for now, Polian writes that little has changed with Te’o following a Combine performance that was actually pretty damn good with the notable exception of the 40.
The fluctuations in his draft stock I’ve been hearing about don’t make much sense to me. The notion that a player’s draft stock can change in a day, or after a single drill, is as much of a hoax as the one Te’o's been caught up in.
My feeling — one shared by many of my colleagues in the league — is that when all is said and done, he’s in the lower quarter of the first round, maybe the top of second depending on his final 40 time. If he drops down in that range, however, he’ll provide great value.
That really is the major takeaway right now. If falling into the early stages of the second round is the worst case for Te’o, the slip isn’t that dramatic for a linebacker who was projected as a late first rounder to begin with. And while Te’o may not enjoy the bump down in his pay grade, the result will be terrific value for his eventual early second-round home.
Earlier this week Todd McShay, Polian’s colleague and a fellow ESPN draft guru, conceded that Te’o improving his 40 time at Notre Dame’s Pro Day would be rather helpful, but a fall out of the first round still seems unlikely.
I was asked all day Monday whether I think he could fall out of the first round, and while there is a chance, I highly doubt it.
Te’o has enough good tape to stand on, a good enough body of work that shows his ability to make plays. He’s much like former Florida and current New England Patriots LB Brandon Spikes, who I personally timed at 4.91 during his pro day. Both play quicker than fast, and because of Te’o's instincts he plays faster than his 40 time could ever indicate.
In the end, my guess is that we’ll see an improvement in his times at the Notre Dame pro day, and Te’o will end up being a first-rounder when all is said and done.
Good tape. Go look at it, or if you see bad tape — like Te’o getting owned by Alabama during the BCS Championship Game — downgrade him based on that. But there’s a difference between fast and quick, and game speed and sprint speed.
If Te’o's going to fall out of the first round, it shouldn’t be because he’s not a sprinter. And it definitely shouldn’t be because of his sexual preferences that executives inexplicably care so deeply about. Step into the year 2013 whenever you’re ready, NFL.