The Combine is in the books and that means numbers. Lots and lots and lots of numbers. So many numbers that we'll be talking about them all the way to the draft. This week I'll help you sort some of the most important, totally meaningless and downright silly figures emerging from the mass of big data that is the NFL Scouting Combine.
1.) No matter what the track in Indianapolis tries to tell you, game tape is still king. The vast majority of the player evals are in the books for NFL teams by the time they hit the combine. If a guy runs fast or slow it's not a terribly big deal as teams already know what he looks like on tape. If the numbers a player puts up are a lot better or a lot worse than scouts expected it can trigger a recheck, but nobody worth their salt in the scouting community is bumping a guy up or down 3 rounds because of a fast (or slow) 40 yard dash or crappy bench press.
With the above caveat in mind you can still make some observations about overall trends. The WR class ran the second slowest aggregate 40 time (4.56 seconds) in the last 11 years. Before you yell "Slow track!" the cornerbacks (who will be covering those receivers) ran better than average times on the very same track. It's safe to say the incoming crop of pass catchers is not exactly fast. Don't discount the speed of a few of them (Will Fuller from Notre Dame helped himself by running a 4.32) or the skills many display (there is more to getting open than just speed), but for folks who like burners on the outside of the offense... you'll have to cool your jets for now.
2.) The size to speed ratio in the NFL has been climbing for years now and we are approaching absolutely crushing levels of force. Watching players who weigh over 300 pounds run 40 yards in under 5 seconds is awe-inspiring. If you stop and do the calculations, the amount of force involved in that effort is tremendous. When that 300 pound player dons playing gear and hits another (usually smaller) player at those speeds, the results can be disastrous. With the increased use of tracking sensors in the NFL, the league is well aware of how much force is transferred in these collisions. The G-forces alone are horrendous. The tipping point of having too much impact for humans to withstand is closer than many fans imagine. At this rate it is highly likely that in our lifetimes a player will die as a direct result of impact injuries sustained on the field.
3.) The combine is an obscene athletic carnival. It's a tremendous reminder that these players are amazing all-around athletes. Here is small sampling of videos illustrating just how skilled they truly are:
There is a Bears connection in this one. DeMarcus Robinson (the taller of the two players in the video) is a Florida WR that I highlighted last week in Draft Bytes. It turns out he is the cousin of one of my favorite former Bears receivers, Marcus Robinson.
Speaking of the size/speed ratio, the player above who looks like a slightly oversized LB is actually Baylor NT Andrew Billings... who happens to weigh 311 pounds. He also benches over 500 pounds and ran the 40 in 5 seconds flat. Billings could easily have an Eddie-Goldman-like impact if he lands in the right NFL situation.
Georgia's Malcolm Mitchell making the tough catch look easy. Keep an eye on Mitchell in the later rounds. He's sneaky smooth and has a solid all-around game. I think he could have a very productive pro career.
I've mentioned Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee several times in Draft Bytes and really like him as a player. He is fast on tape and as we can see here, fast on the track too. This video shows his 40 yard dash superimposed over 3 members of Seattle's secondary a.k.a The Legion of Boom. Earl Thomas is possibly the fastest safety in the league and seeing Lee best him in the 40 at 228 pounds is humbling to say the least.
4.) A terrible combine alone should not drop a prospect in the rankings, but teams are run by humans and humans are influenced by emotions. That is the x-factor in any draft. There are few players who bombed in the eyes of scouts and in a draft filled with very even talent levels, that might be enough to let them drop a few precious slots to where the Bears might benefit. Darian Thomson is a very good safety from Boise State who is well regarded by scouts and makes plenty of plays on film. He had an awful time in Indy after reportedly battling illness. His terrible times might be enough for a team to choose another player in a tie-breaker on their board on draft day. If that happens and he slides to the 2nd round, the Bears could be in a position to add his talents to their very-needy defensive back ranks.
5.) I'm not sure why more fans are not talking about defensive backs as potential picks for Chicago in the 1st round. Chicago has one good, developing young cornerback (Fuller), a talented safety who certainly outperformed his draft slot but still has plenty to learn (Amos) and a hard-working UDFA castoff from Arizona who played at a surprisingly solid level; but is not a difference maker in anyone's eyes (Jones-Quartey). The Bears best corner for most of last year was aging and injury-prone journeyman Tracey Porter. In a league where you need 4 solid corners and 3 good safeties that adds up to a seriously undermanned unit. There is plenty of talent in this draft's CB class and it seems to be a bit more concentrated at the top end than the deeper D-line class. By that logic, a top-flight CB should certainly be in play for the first pick, but I am not seeing one mocked to the Bears anywhere.
Names to keep in mind are Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida), Mackensie Alexander (Clemson) and William Jackson III (Houston). You are probably familiar with Hargreaves and Alexander but don't miss out on Jackson. He has good size for a corner (6', 189 pounds), is extremely fluid and put up clinics on game films last year. He was sneaking into high-round consideration slightly under the radar before the combine, but then he blazed a 4.37 in the 40 to blow the top off his stealth approach. That's comparable to his play speed on tape and he can locate the ball in the air as well (7 passes defended in the game against Temple this year). Do not be surprised if he is off the board before the Bears pick in the 2nd round.
6.) The SEC is so loaded with talent that sometimes even their 3rd stringers are better than other team's starters. Keith Marshall (RB, Georgia) might be just such a player. He sat behind Todd Gurley (you might know him as the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year), got injured and then gave way to another amazing runner; Georgia's Nick Chubb. But Chubb had injuries of his own that allowed Mitchell log some time back on the field. Mitchell (5'11", 212 pounds) has limited game tape but ripped off a 4.31 40-yard dash at the combine and backed it up with 25 reps on the 225-pound bench press. As a late round developmental pick (or possible UDFA) you could certainly argue that he has physical skills other players available in that range of the draft do not. It's worth taking a chance as he could easily shine (especially in a zone blocking scheme) if given a little polishing on a practice squad.
Player's Lounge - Every week I will look at a player who is trending in the draft process
Kamalei Correa is an EDGE/OLB from Boise State who was getting some quiet mention for having solid tape before the combine. That small buzz turned into a dull roar when Correa turned in a very solid performance in front of the scouts in Indy last weekend. One of the biggest boosts for Kamalei was his excellent showing in the linebacker drills. He looked fluid in his drops and comfortable moving backwards as well as forwards. As an undersized end (6'3", 243) this indication of positional versatility was must moving forward. I headed to his game tape to see what I could learn about this former high school teammate of Marcus Mariota.
Boise moved Correa all over their defensive formation last year. Kamalei played both DE spots, stood up as an OLB, rushed from wide-9 alignment and even covered the short slot on passing downs. He certainly has plenty of experience lining up and handling varying responsibilities. On the field you see a tough competitor with very good first step quickness and an attacking attitude. Correa is unafraid of taking on lineman much larger than himself and is surprisingly effective in doing so. This is due in large part to his hand use. He almost always fights to keep himself free, can disengage and redirect to follow the play very quickly. Kamalei exhibits excellent awareness and tracks the ball through fakes and reverses very well. He shows good speed around the edge (4.69 40 time in Indy) and in backside pursuit. He is a sure tackler and likes to make an impact when he arrives. Correa covers the short passing zones well but is not a turn-and-run pass defender in the medium to deep zones.
In a lot of ways he reminds me of a slightly more agile version of current New Orleans Saint and former Washington Husky, Hau'oli Kikaha. Kikaha is better with his hands (I think he had the best hand use of any defensive player in last year's draft) but Correa is more agile and more skilled at moving backwards as well as forwards. Both players exhibit the same pride in their production and much of that impact is derived from their never-say-die mentality. They are also of a similar size, although Correa has a cleaner injury history than Hau'oli did coming out of college.
Overall I like Correa as a player. While not a 1st round talent (or maybe even a 2nd), he has a diverse and useful skillset, obviously loves football and will contribute to any team he joins right away. He could start life in the NFL as a core special teamer and situational pass rusher who would provide a creative defensive coordinator with a ridiculously versatile chess piece to use on 3rd down situations.
Reader Question of the Week - I'll pick a question from a reader each week and answer it here. If you have a question you'd like to be considered you can either leave it in the comments section below, or send it to me directly on Twitter (@thedraftsmanFB) with the hashtag #askEJ.
In last week's comments section I posted a short summary of where I'm at in the scouting process and what I have left to do before the draft. It racked up a bunch of recommendations (15) so I figured you might like a weekly update on my progress with some basic numbers and a quick (not comprehensive) list of players I've looked at this week. I have feeling it might generate even more questions. Without further ado, here is your weekly Film Summary Update:
Top tier players remaining: 52
Total players studied: 45
Players marked as 2nd tier: 30
Days until the draft: 56
Random players studied this week: Dak Prescott, Leonte Caroo, Nick Vannett, Jarran Reed, Victor Ochi, Antonio Morrison, Kevin Peterson and Kevin Byard.