Many see the NFL's annual Scouting Combine as a superfluous endeavor in the draft evaluations of prospects. The general sentiment is that film reigns supreme in determining whether a player warrants an investment. The context of testing guys in a magnified environment where they aren't are actually playing football can then be misleading, as the top prospects or sleepers can have varying levels of performance.
On the contrary, that evaluating notion of the "shorts Olympics" is both right and wrong. Ultimately, how a prospect played in meaningful competition will most accurately state how he'll project to the NFL. It's almost entirely rooted in that portion of the scouting process. What the Combine does, in that respect, is offer a checkmark on whether pieces of a guy's film matches up to notes made over the course of the year.
Teams want to see that a Grade-A prospect has the athletic profile that mirrors the play. In regards to the Bears' past, think of physical freaks such as Leonard Floyd. The speed and athleticism Chicago saw on tape, matched up what with Floyd did in Indianapolis in 2016. So much so that the Bears felt they needed to trade up to draft Floyd at No. 9 overall.
Teams also want to see what they're missing if said prospect doesn't test well. Think of Jaguars' star runner Leonard Fournette from last year. Scouts began to knock Fournette for weighing in heavy at 240 pounds and underwhelming jumps. Jacksonville selected Fournette at No. 4 overall anyway. He, of course, went on to be the leading offensive catalyst for a Jaguars squad that made it to the AFC Championship Game.
And, in the case of players not on the radar, it allows teams to go back and potentially unearth a diamond in the rough if they haven't been previously paying attention to a guy. There are many scouting reports so the Combine gives a smooth avenue to see someone being overlooked. These are your Tarik Cohen's of the world, who blazed by with excellent running times also at last year's Combine. The Bears, who had been meticulously scouting Cohen, used this information as confirmation that he could be the one-touch take-it-to-the-house player he now is with their offense.
The moral of the story is that there's a measure of benefit to be gained with the Combine. With this year's hoopla just about wrapping up, here are six guys to keep an eye on at two Bears' need positions. six names who either made themselves a great deal of money over the past several days, leaped (no pun intended) into the scouting crosshairs, or put up red flags.
D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
Weight: 210 pounds
Originally seen as an early second-rounder, Moore tore up the Lucas Oil Stadium field and any sentiments of him not being a top-20 pick. The main wide receiver predictive tests are the 40-yard dash, broad jump, and three-cone drill. With a 4.43 40-yard dash, 10'1'' broad jump, and 6.95 three-cone, Moore showcased elite athleticism that matched up with stellar college production (80 receptions, 1,033 yards, 8 touchdowns) in his final season at Maryland. He's one of the best wideouts after the catch in this class, and he clearly has the matched up quickness.
It'd be a stretch to say the Bears will take the tough receiver at No. 8 overall. But should Chicago trade back to the middle teens, Moore fits what general manager Ryan Pace typically seeks in his first-round picks and what head coach Matt Nagy will likely want in his Bears' offense coming from the Andy Reid tree. That means explosive receivers in space. That means Moore.
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Weight: 218 pounds
Another guy with late first to second-round projections pre-Combine, Sutton ripped through any of those thoughts. After a strong on-field performance that matched tantalizing physical tools used to proficiency over the last three years at SMU, it'd be a shock to see Sutton fall out of the first round.
A 4.54 40-yard dash at almost 220 pounds is perfect for Sutton given his aggressive Brandon Marshall molded play style. A 10'8" broad jump is crazier, but partly expected because of his length. Where Sutton showed why he'll likely translate to the league as a star is his 6.57 three-cone run. That kind of agility with his frame means Sutton should rise up boards with his ability to create natural space. Guys that long shouldn't be able to change direction on a dime. It means, in essence, that he's an alien built to play football.
Not entirely dissimilar to Moore, it'd be a shock if the Bears used their top-10 pick on the receiver in Sutton. That's a reach not previously prescribed. Unlike Moore, Sutton feels like a player that will rise much higher on team's big boards. By late April, taking Sutton at No. 8 may not seem as monumental of a reach as it is now.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Weight: 189 pounds
A popular mock draft Bears' pick for many coming into Indy, Ridley had a letdown at the Combine.
While his 40-yard dash was fine at 4.43, to see Ridley struggle with the broad jump at 9'1" and underwhelm with his vertical (which is less stated but still off-putting) at 31 inches, that meant putting together an athletic profile that doesn't match his work in games at Alabama. Ridley was one of the top receivers at creating separation with tight route running and explosiveness with the Crimson Tide over the past few seasons. It's what had him considered the consensus best receiver available in the 2018 Draft.
Now, some teams may take Ridley off their first round board altogether, including the Bears. Not only has someone with Ridley's profile not been selected in the first round in at least 20 years, but he also doesn't have the normal freak status Pace has typically selected in the first round. Whether one agrees with any of the selections of Kevin White, Mitchell Trubisky, or Floyd, all were stellar athletes at their positions who tested up to snuff. Ridley, in comparison to wide receivers in general, did not.
For a guy originally seen as a seamless fit to some, and who called the Bears "a team on the rise", that possibility for Ridley seems out the window with the top selection. Should he slide to the second round, that's a different story.
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
Weight: 253 pounds
The consensus top linebacker in this draft class, Edmunds needs to sail smoothly now. He didn't run the three-cone or 20-yard shuttle, and he didn't have to. Provided Edmunds maintains a solid time in both those drills at his controlled atmosphere Virginia Tech Pro Day, he solidified himself as a probable top-10 pick in Indy.
At 6-foot-4 with 34.5 inch arms, a 4.55 40-yard dash is exemplary for Edmunds. The film of Edmunds being an Anthony Barr type, meaning a backer who can successfully line up off ball and roam sideline to sideline as well as occasionally rush the passer, has this add up. No one's projecting responsibilities he's not capable of. This is an octupus-armed linebacker dripping with versatility, and who is 100 percent in play for the Bears at No. 8. At the tender age of 19, Edmunds is the raw but athletic prospect Pace has favored. If he gets past Chicago, it's unlikely the 49ers and Raiders pass on his malleable ceiling.
Lorenzo Carter, LB/Edge, Georgia
Weight: 250 pounds
It wasn't necessarily surprising, but was still jarring nonetheless: Carter was by far the most athletic linebacker at the 2018 Combine.
A player in Carter that has drawn many Leonard Floyd comparisons, which is apt since they are also former college teammates, put on a show. From a 4.50 40-yard dash at 250 pounds, to a 10'10" broad jump and 36-inch vertical, Carter entrenched himself as an early second rounder in all likelihood. These are the types of linebackers that can run and close -which Carter showed on tape with the Bulldogs - that modern NFL defenses need to counter pace-and-space offenses.
The key with Carter will be a situation that allows him to thrive in this role. He's not a dominant edge pass rusher, but can be used in that facet appropriately. Ideally an NFL team will let him maximize his Swiss Army Knife ability. If the Bears elected to select him at No. 39 overall, it would't be the worst idea for a defense that needs more creativity from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF
Weight: 227 pounds
One would be remiss not to mention Griffin's inspiring story from this year's Combine. A linebacker with one arm who produced fantastically over the course of his college career, Griffin wasn't even originally invited to Indianapolis this year. Teams have concerns about his strength level translating at a higher level of competition. After this weekend, it's going to be difficult for many general managers, including Pace, not to consider Griffin as a contributor in any capacity despite his limitations. An early to mid-Day 3 selection is not out of his range.
Griffin came in expecting to do six reps on the bench press. He instead did 20 with a prosthetic arm, as the normally energetic bench room came alive with an unprecedented tidal wave of emotions. A 40-yard dash in the 4.50 to 4.60 range would've been respectable for Griffin. He instead ran a 4.38, the fastest for a linebacker in the Combine since 2003. Faster than noted speedster and thoroughbred receivers Antonio Brown (4.47), Odell Beckham Jr. (4.43), and Julio Jones (4.39) previously ran at their respective Combines. Yes, faster than some of the elite playmakers currently in the NFL.
Griffin didn't come to Indianapolis to merely show up and run through tests. He came to make a name for himself, to maximize his opportunity, and to overcome the immense odds like he has his entire life. He arrived with a purpose that has driven his time playing football. The best thing about Griffin's speed is that it matches up on tape. He's the most electric linebacker in this class who is always bursting through with his tackles and coming around the edge like a demon.
Saying "inspiring" in relation to Griffin's performance is almost limiting in a way because it somewhat implies that this is the end of the road for him. That he now peaked, will realize his NFL Draft dream, but then fizzle out after a few years as a pro. That's a mistake.
Given everything Griffin's overcome, this looks like a long term player any organization would and should be ecstatic to take under their wing. You can play Griffin off ball and watch him terrorize opposing offenses consistently. You can have him become a situational pass rusher making an impact if even only at a part-time rate. Perhaps, he could work as a safety given his frame and speed too.
In the end, you can have Griffin jump through hoops of any trick or task that comes to mind. Find him a spot in the NFL, watch him flourish, and doubt him at your own risk. Because this man can flat out play football no matter what the circumstances have told him in the past.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.