As I wrote Friday, the numbers produced at the NFL Scouting Combine largely don’t matter for the vast majority of players who have taken the field in Indianapolis and will take the field, because they’ll look back on average 40-yard dash times and verticals in line with what’s expected at their position.
To them we shrug, and their draft grade doesn’t (or shouldn’t) fluctuate drastically. But even if they’re in that muddled middle, the Combine is useful as a tool to officially quantify and showcase the athletic ability of each prospect. Before they depart for Pro Days where different times and measurements are reported and they often vary wildly, in Indy each player runs, jumps, catches, and throws on the same field, and they’re watched by the same coaches, and timed by the same timers.
Everything is equal, so when the numbers are filtered down, the extremes on either end are glaring.
We’ve seen a few of those through three days of on-field work. I’ve done some watching and thinking, so now I’ll do some writing.
Clowney isn’t fair
That bit about the Combine quantifying attributes we knew existed is real, and in Jadeveon Clowney’s case it was spectacular. It’s not shocking knowledge to learn that he’s quite fast, but with an official 40 time of 4.53 he’s faster than 13 wide receivers.
Let that sink in for a second, and I’ll allow you the required time because the human mind struggles to process Clowney information. Now consider that he’s faster than both Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton while peaking at a speed of 22 MPH.
Clowney 40 with Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton. He beats them both… pic.twitter.com/mEFBsDCl4o
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) February 24, 2014
He also embarrassed Johnny Manziel.
Jadeveon Clowney with Johnny Manziel on their 40’s. JFF got smoked: pic.twitter.com/EYY8RahGpL
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) February 24, 2014
After running Clowney exited with a hip problem, and he didn’t participate in positional drills. That won’t help to kill the cries about his lack of work ethic and desire, which is a very sad thing for those of us who enjoy watching a truly rare human athletic specimen. Clowney wins with his speed, and he combines that with the power he showed with 21 bench press reps, a fine total for a defensive end with 34.5 inch arms.
For a time, Clowney was the unquestioned first overall pick in this draft, and then those work ethic questions began when he shut it down during his final year at South Carolina because risking his future while getting paid zero dollars was unwise. He could still be the first name called by Roger Goodell, but with the glut of teams at the top of the draft that have severe quarterback needs (Texans, Browns, Jaguars, Raiders, in that order), it’s also entirely possible three quarterbacks are selected in the top five, pushing Clowney down.
When that happens, he’ll gladly settle for the Falcons at No. 6. Just ask him.
Dee Ford is my favorite person
It was all in good-natured fun apparently (“hey man we cool, I just think you suck”), but Dee Ford wasn’t afraid to poke the fastest bear in the draft. Ford, the Auburn defensive end who will likely be a late first-round pick, said in a radio interview recently that while Clowney is fast and freaky, he plays like a “dog in a meat market”. Ford believes he plays a far more technically sound game, while Clowney leans solely on his athleticism.
Today Ford sat out and watched his position peers compete when he wasn’t cleared by Combine doctors. The decision surprised everyone including Ford, who said he’ll be fine for Auburn’s Pro Day on March 4, and that a herniated disc procedure from 2011 was flagged purely for precautionary reasons. Then we all benefitted when a microphone was put in front of Ford’s face again after Clowney’s 40 time was posted, and he clarified that this particular dog can run.
He just struggles with something else.
“We’re not saying that the dog can’t run. We’re just saying that he can’t find the meat,”
Michael Sam the football player is a mid-round pick
Michael Sam has received a lot of attention for things far removed from football, and although he handled his opening press conference flawlessly, that will continue until draft day and beyond. We should all dream big dreams, though, and think of a day when a player being gay isn’t notable, and it isn’t a news story.
But when Sam is examined as an actual football player, we shouldn’t be surprised by what we see. He’s not fast, strong, or explosive, all facts of Sam’s football life confirmed at the Combine. He had a 4.91 time in the 40, and his most concerning result was only 17 bench press reps, which was worse than seven wide receivers.
Yet this is beginning to stink of a player who fails at the Combine due to a lack of elite athleticism compared to his peers, but still functions at a high level in a game situation and can be a contributor. During his final year at Missouri, Sam was the SEC defensive player of the year on the strength of his 11.5 sacks, and 19 tackles for a loss. As he repeatedly demonstrated during Senior Bowl week, those sacks came from quick acceleration and edge speed, and an ability to then bend around opposing tackles.
NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has compared Sam to long-time Eagles pass rusher Trent Cole, he of the 79 sacks over nine seasons. Like Sam, when Cole first entered the league he was a tweener, purely an outside rusher, and a liability on passing downs.
Johnny Manziel isn’t quite up there among the league’s current leggy quarterbacks
He’s no Clowney with his rapid forward movement, but when his second 40-yard dash attempt clocked in unofficially at 4.56, Johnny Manziel briefly placed himself among some pretty fine company.
Fastest starting QB 40-yd dash times, since 2006: • RGIII, 4.41 • Colin Kaepernick, 4.53 • Russell Wilson, 4.55
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) February 23, 2014
Sadly, that was adjusted to 4.68 once the times became official, because someone out there is jealous of Johnny Football’s bro down party life. While the official time then isn’t nearly in Kaepernick or Wilson territory, Manziel still has plenty of speed. Straight line, breakaway speed isn’t his game anyway, as those who are in the highly populated Camp Manziel are instead wowed by his elusiveness and ability to shift in the open field.
Manziel remains in play for Houston at first overall. Despite the sex appeal of that speed, he also still comes with more risk than Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater. That’s why Manziel will likely be a top five pick, but after he falls to either Jacksonville, Cleveland, or Oakland, with Bill O’Brien chasing Bridgewater and the closest Tom Brady-styled quarterback he can get.
Logan Thomas also wants you to notice his legs
But, er, not like that.
Logan Thomas posted the fastest “official” time among all quarterbacks with a 4.61. That’s impressive by itself, but it gets better when we ask Thomas to step on a scale, and then see the number 248 pop up. That means he weighs 41 pounds more than Manziel, and he’s still a half step ahead of the golden boy and potential first-overall pick.
So who the hell is Logan Thomas? He’s a clearly mobile and athletic passer, as he also posted an excellent 35.5 inches in the vertical jump, and nine feet, 10 inches in the broad jump, showing his explosiveness. But he’s also clearly the sort that gives running quarterbacks their grimy reputation. He has fine arm strength, but his throwing fundamentals are often lacking, and therefore so is his accuracy. Over his four seasons at Virginia Tech Thomas completed 55.6 percent of his passes, and as a result his total touchdowns (53) were uncomfortably close to his total interceptions (39).
With his pure athleticism so slobber-worthy and his quarterback skills not so much, inevitably talk of a position switch has percolated. Conversions are of course wild cards, and wholly unpredictable. For every quarterback who switches positions and has a chance to start elsewhere in only his second year like Denard Robinson, there’s a Matt Jones (how ’bout them Jaguars!), a guy who ran for over 600 yards three times as a quarterback at Arkansas, and then flamed out as a first-round wide receiver conversion project. Jones caught just 166 balls over four seasons, which is filled with meh, though in fairness his inability to avoid drug charges didn’t help matters.
Greg Robinson is this year’s fast-moving large man
I think we’re all aware that watching offensive linemen run the 40-yard dash is both utterly pointless, and the Combine’s best source of comedy. Well, outside of this…
Welcome….to Jurassic Park. http://t.co/9R4MrOEaiK
— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) February 24, 2014
But there’s still something to behold when a rotund man can execute a superhuman feat of strength, and over the weekend we were introduced to Greg Robinson. Projected as the second tackle off the board behind only Jake Matthews, Robinson weighs a girth-y 332 pounds, and he’s 6’4″. Yet somehow he was still able to run 40 yards at an official time of 4.92.
As always, random comparisons are fun, so let’s try this one: Tom Brady.
Brady is the classic pocket passer and has shown minimal quicks throughout his career. But you’d think given the wildly different body types, the slowest quarterback should still blow apart the fastest offensive lineman, right? Ha. Brady ran the 40 in 5.28 seconds at his Combine, and he weighs over 100 pounds less (225 pounds). For a more contemporary example, Blake Bortles weighs 232 pounds, and recorded a final time of 4.93.
At Robinson’s position 10-yard splits are far more important, as they measure short-area quickness and how fast a lineman can get off the line. Robinson checked in with times of 1.69 and 1.68, which is far ahead of Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher, last year’s top two tackles who had times of 1.83 and 1.72.