Football Fever

Image by Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Image by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Combine 2013 recap

By Eric Wilkins, Staff Writer

The NFL’s annual Scouting Combine is in the book. Prospects have been poked, prodded, and run through all sorts of drills. This somehow relates back to football, but I’ve yet to ever figure that bit out.

This time of year is all about the draft. And since it’s all about the draft, this means scouts get to run the show. And if history has taught us anything, it’s that scouts are wrong. One has to think that this has something to do with the ridiculous amount of stock placed in the farce that is the NFL Combine. The Combine has always confused me. While I understand that teams want to gather as much information on players as possible, it always amazes me how a season’s worth of film can be dismissed (or at least, downgraded) after a poor Combine showing. Similarly, it’s a common occurrence each year to have a nobody rocket up the draft boards because he blew everybody away with his workout. What did the player do in the season?  Who knows? But if he can put up over 40 reps in the bench press, he’s sure to be a star.

Criticisms and cynicism aside, the Combine is truly a spectacle. What some of these guys can do shouldn’t be humanly possible. My favourite this year was Lane Johnson, a 6’6”, 303-pound left tackle out of Oklahoma. Tackles are big, strong, and quite athletic. Their athleticism, however, isn’t something that is supposed to show up clearly in Combine drills. Apparently nobody told Johnson that. The hulking senior put up a 4.72 40-yard dash time, a 34” vertical leap, and a 9’10” broad jump. Just to throw out some names for comparison’s sake, his 40 time places him a hundredth of a second behind Anquan Boldin and Jerry Rice. Decent company. Both his vertical leap and broad jump were middle of the pack numbers…for wide receivers. The man is a freak of nature. Many “draft experts” have him going in the top of the first-round now. Oh Al Davis, you left far too soon.

Another interesting name being thrown around draft circles is Michigan QB/WR/RB Denard Robinson. The Wolverines jack of all trades has all the makings of an NFL gadget player, but there was even talk at the Combine of moving him to cornerback. Whatever the team that takes him decides to do, he’ll definitely be a project. He attended the Combine as a wide receiver but his receiving skills are suspect, he’s not big enough to be a consistent ball carrier, and he clearly failed as a quarterback. To be perfectly honest, despite all he’s done in college, I wouldn’t take him any sooner than the sixth-round.

Two college stars who have seen their stock take a hit are defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and linebacker Jarvis Jones. Their falls in the rankings have nothing to do with their on-field performance however; it’s not even character concerns, but rather health issues. During routine medical testing at the Combine, Lotulelei was discovered to have a low ejection fraction; his left ventricle was operating at 44 per cent efficiency (the average is 55 to 70 per cent). In short, he may have heart issues. Further tests will be run and considering the fact that he had no problems throughout the season, there may still be hope that this is just a blip on the radar. Until then, teams will definitely be wary of selecting him with a high pick. Jones, on the other hand, has spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column, and this has been known for some time. There are worries that his condition will worsen and hinder, or even end his career prematurely. For what it’s worth, Jones was spectacular this year and has been rated by many (injury concerns aside) as the top player in the draft. He’ll likely slip far from where he deserves to be drafted, but he’ll still be a first-rounder and will definitely be a steal.

Last but not least is the issue of teams asking inappropriate questions of prospects. Players’ sexual orientation has been brought up, with Colorado’s Nick Kasa reporting he was asked if he “likes girls.” Albert Breer of the NFL Network came out with the news that two NFL executives told him it was the one question they wanted to ask beleaguered Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. Supposedly these questions (unconfirmed if players other than Kasa have been asked in other “subtle” ways) are to help the teams decide how well the player will fit in, but that seems like a weak excuse. This is a professional football league; if a guy can play, who cares if he’s gay?

Unrelated sidenote: the 49ers dealt the ever overrated Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs for a second-round pick this year and a conditional pick next year. I hope the Chiefs like high-draft picks.