…because they work out?
By Eric Wilkins, Sports Editor
Right now is the worst time to be an NFL reporter. Scratch that. It’s the worst time to be an NFL reporter if you have any respect for yourself. By late March, all of the major free agent signings are done. The NFL Combine is also in the books. The NFL Draft, however, is still a month away. As a result, the world is flooded with mock drafts which are just as likely to be correct as anyone’s March Madness bracket. Additionally, minor off-season signings are overanalyzed in the name of producing content. Everyone’s least-favourite part of the any-kind-of-real-news drought has to be the endless workouts and pro days college players run through.
The NFL Combine is already a gyp. A whole season’s (or few seasons’) worth of work put in by a prospect can be dismissed on a poor 40-time. A tape measure can put an end to the discussion on whether a player can be a first-rounder. A slip in a drill can drop someone down the big board. You almost forget football is played in a dynamic environment, not a controlled setting of cones and timers. Pro days are just like the Combine—except for the fact that instead of all the top eligible players, you’ve got maybe a handful.
If a prospect didn’t measure up well in a certain event, he’ll likely try to improve upon it at his pro day. And if he does, people will ooh and ahh, having witnessed the fact that the man is, in fact, every bit of the player he appeared to be in the 12 games scouts saw him. However, if he stumbles, it’s time to revaluate just how real that record-setting season he posted really was.
Quarterbacks, as always, tend to get stuck under the microscope even more so than the rest of the draft hopefuls. Teddy Bridgewater, considered by many to be the top pivot in the draft, had his pro day described by NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock as “very average at best.” Bridgewater was nowhere near as crisp passing the football as expected. Sure, it’s a scripted environment for the specific purpose of making a player look good—but still, even if the player doesn’t shine, who cares? When JaMarcus Russell had his pro day, everyone in attendance couldn’t stop raving about him. He had to be destined for stardom. Even dropping weight from the Combine to his pro day spoke volumes, with then-Raiders coach Lane Kiffin saying, “Dropping nine pounds knowing this was a big day shows his commitment and shows that his mind’s in the right place.” Kiffin’s comment comes across as more of a comedy opener than a scouting evaluation now.
Final note on things that shouldn’t mean anything at all, Johnny Manziel had a killer pro day and did it in pads. Stop the presses. A quarterback throwing in pads? Casual football fans may be unaware of the fact, but these workouts are traditionally done sans protective equipment so as to give teams the best idea of how the player will perform in actual game action. Manziel cemented himself as a first-rounder by doing what each and every player did all season. Somebody get this man a massive contract.