Tuesday, February 28, 2017

NFL Scouting Combine Preview Part 2

In addition to the Combine starting this week, the NFL handed out compensatory picks for the 2017 NFL Draft. These picks are awarded to teams that lose free agents and are weighted based on the contract that player was awarded. 16 teams were awarded extra picks (not the Cowboys), with the Broncos, Bengals, Browns and Chiefs receiving the most with 4 and the Miami Dolphins getting the highest pick, number 97 overall at the end of the 3rd round. Also different in 2017 is the ability to trade compensatory picks. That makes these picks much more valuable as a commodity.
The final bit of draft news to be settled at the Combine will be a coin flip to determine which team will select 14th and 15th in the first round between the Indianapolis Colts and the Minnesota Vikings (though that pick is owned by the Eagles in the Sam Bradford trade). Normally tie-breakers such as strength of schedule can break ties but not in this case. In fact, the last time a coin flip was needed to determine draft order was 2014 between the Ravens and the Cowboys. Dallas won that toss and selected G Zack Martin with Baltimore drafting LB CJ Mosley. This is actually a fairly critical toss as both Philly and Indy are in need of running backs and could be jockeying for Dalvin Cook at that spot.
Now on to the rest of the preview:

Offensive Lineman

What to watch:

1.       Arm Length
While this might seem trivial to the average football fan, arm length can be a real factor in evaluating linemen. Ever wonder why Dallas doesn’t play Zack Martin at tackle? Probably because of his 32 7/8” arm length. Generally, tackles need arm lengths of 33-34 inches at least to be effective on the outside. Less than that likely relegates said prospect inside to guard. The ability to keep speed rushers at bay is crucial in today’s NFL. Btw, Tyron Smith has 36 3/8” arms.

2.       Bench Press
Obviously OL prospects need to be strong. But just looking at the raw number of reps of 225lbs without context is silly. Players with longer arms must go further in each rep and therefore are unlikely to put up gaudy numbers. However, a balance must be struck between arm length and reps in order to assure functional strength along the offensive line.

3.       Mirror Drill
Perhaps the best on-field drill the OL run is the mirror drill. That is where the prospect must move laterally back and forth and the command of the instructor. This drill shows quickness and flexibility as well as reaction time and technique.

Players to watch:

1.       Antonio Garcia, Troy, OL19
With a very weak class of Offensive Tackles this year, Garcia could really rise and even be a potential late 1st round pick. The 3 prospects above Garcia are Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin (hip injury), Garrett Boles of Utah (overaged) and Cam Robinson of Alabama (maybe only a RT) and each have their weaknesses. If Garcia really shines in Indy, he could easily overtake one or all of these others.

2.       Dion Dawkins, Temple, OL12
Dawkins is another smaller school prospect that has a chance to be in the late 1st-early 2nd round mix with his versatility. After really shining at the Senior Bowl, Dawkins could be an immediate starter at G or T if he measures up to his tape.

Defensive Line

What to watch:
1.       10 yard split
For most defensive lineman, running 40 yards downfield either means something has gone horribly wrong (chasing the ball) or amazingly right (scoring a TD). But neither situation is something a scout should focus on. However, the time recorded in the first 10 yards of that 40, known as the 10 yard split, shows the explosiveness that is very needed by ends and tackle alike. That is the number to watch on the defensive linemen.

2.       3 cone drill
In addition to straight line explosiveness, DL prospects must also show their lateral quickness and knee bend. This is especially true for defensive ends in getting around the edge or for pass rushing OLBs dropping into coverage. The time recorded in the 3 cone drill is a good benchmark for that.

3.       Benchpress
Like the offensive linemen, the DL prospects must show they have the strength to hold at the point of attack. Usually this group puts up the best numbers of any on the bench with defensive tackle prospects. The record at the Combine is still held by Stephen Paea with 49 reps of 225lbs.

Players to watch:

1.       Derek Rivers, Youngstown, DL 41
Rivers really shined at the Senior Bowl and could put himself in the 2nd round with a good combine. With versatility at either 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB Rivers should excel in both strength and speed drills.

2.       Jaleel Johnson, Iowa, DL22
Johnson was also impressive at the Senior Bowl with his play on the field and his interviews as well (including one with the Cowboys). Johnson should really impress at the Combine with his combination of strength, quickness and personality. He too has scheme versatility as a 4-3 DT (1 or 3 technique) or a 3-4 DE. Very similar to Terrell McClain


What to watch:

1.       Backpedal drills
With the linebacker group, the need for coverage skills has become more and more a factor in evaluation. Thus the ability to drop into space and make plays is crucial. Fluid hips, flexibility and explosiveness all are shown in these drills.

2.       60 yard Long Shuttle
The long shuttle drill is a timed run where the player runs up 5 yards, touches the line and runs back to start, then runs 10 yards, touches the line and runs back, then 15 yards, touches the line and runs back covering 60 total yards. This is a drill about short area burst and change of direction. Though not widely reported, this number is very valuable in evaluation linebackers.

3.       20 yard shuttle
In addition to the long shuttle, the 20 yard shuttle is also an interesting barometer for LBs. The player starts facing forward, shuffling to his right 5 yards, back across 10 yards and then back to start. This displays the lateral quickness linebackers need to pursue ball carriers in the run game.

Players to watch:

1.       Jarrad Davis, Florida, LB11
Davis is an athletic freak and should really shine at the Combine. Despite some injury red flags due to his smaller size, Davis could blaze all those concerns away with some speedy times.

2.       TJ Watt, Wisconsin, LB29
The youngest Watt brother, TJ doesn’t possess the size of JJ but was every bit the terror to opposing QBs at Wisconsin. If Watt runs well and can show some aptitude in space as he is likely a 3-4 OLB in the pros, Watt could be a late 1-early 2 level prospect.

Defensive Backs

What to watch:

1.       40 yard dash
Watching the DBs run the 40 is often exciting for even casual fans as they tend to rival the WO group in speed. However, a slower time in the 40 is not as damaging to DBs as it is receivers.

2.       Height
Though it may seem trivial, the height of a defensive back can really help or hurt his stock. DBs must be taller than 5’9 and anything above 6’ is preferred. When matching up with 6’4” wide receivers, giving up too many inches can be a real disadvantage and may relegate some to nickel back status.

3.       Vertical/Broad Jump
Much as with height, DBs must be able to win in jump ball situations and the vertical is a great way to make up for any weaknesses in physical height. In addition, the broad jump is a good measure of explosiveness for tackling in the run game.

Players to watch:

1.       Obi Melifonwu, UConn, DB40
The darling of the Senior Bowl, Melifonwu is 6’4” 219lbs and runs like a free safety, drawing many comparisons to Kam Chancellor. Melifonwu should impress in the 40 and the vertical and could shoot up draft boards this week.

2.       Sidney Jones, Washington, DB28
Jones’s biggest test may come during the weigh-in. With a slight frame, Jones could get knocked back among CBs in a deep field if he isn’t quite 6’ or is less than 170lbs. Even with a ton of great tape, injury concerns may arise on Jones.

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