The NFL scouting combine can be compared to a game show for these college football prospects. Except the stakes are a little higher. Instead of winning a car or a Caribbean cruise, these hopeful draft prospects win either their dream career and a ticket to the NFL, or lose big on something they’ve worked on their entire lives. Sounds just like an episode of family feud right?
The combine is a week-long event where players compete in different tests and receive a final grade, it’s like the training section of The Hunger Games, except no one dies the week after (we hope). The athletics test include: a 40-yard dash, counted bench press reps of 225 pounds, vertical jumps and cone drills. Players are also quizzed on mental capability tests like the infamous Wonderlic Test, a 50 question intelligence test, where players want to score well, but not too well. Coaches want control of the locker room, having a player that’s “smarter” (aka scored very high on the Wonderlic) than the coaching staff can be a power problem in the locker room. Most successful players have an above average, but not incredible Wonderlic score (Tom Brady with 33, Aaron Rodgers with 35, Peyton Manning with 28).
Once players have completed their tests they are given an overall grade, from 5-10. The ranking scale is as follows:
5.00→50/50 chance of making the roster
5.01-5.14→Back end of the roster
5.15-5.29→Developmental prospect or special teams potential
5.30-5.690→Back up or eventual starter
5.70-5.99→Could become early NFL starter
6.00-6.49→Chance to become early NFL starter
6.50-6.99→Good NFL starter with Pro Bowl potential
7.00-7.49→Pro Bowl to All-Pro ability
Some athletes thrive under the pressure of the combine, just as some students thrive under the pressure of the SATs. It’s like finally handing in a test you have studied your whole life for.
Saquon Barkley was one of these athletes. The stand out running back from Penn State put up some of the top numbers in the league this combine. He ran a 40-yard dash in 4:40 seconds (faster than Ezekiel Elliot’s 4:47), jumped a vertical of 41 inches (higher than Odell Beckham Jr.’s 38.5), and lifted 29 reps of a 225-pound bench presses (more than Luke Kuechly). Giving him a Prospect grade of 7.45 (Pro Bowl- caliber player). This all after a Heisman nomination, running 3,843 yards and 43 rushing touchdowns in his three seasons at Penn State.
For some it’s the complete opposite, whether the pressure makes them choke or its just an “off day”, its indisputably the worst day ever to have a bad day. The combine is debatably a truly mental test, measuring if players can perform under the pressure. For players that can’t, it’s a red flag to coaches that maybe they aren’t ready to be a starter or be on an NFL team yet.
The Oklahoma All-American offensive tackle, Orlando Brown Jr, was sadly one of the players that sank in his combine. Running a 5:77 second 40-yard dash, a turtle pace in comparison to his peers. He only completed 14 bench presses, 14 reps below Barkley and a weak score for a lineman with his size of 6’7 and 345 pounds. Even with his subpar combine scores, Brown was stilled graded a 6.12 (chance to become good NFL starter). The even brighter side is that Brown’s a phenomenal player that NFL coaches have heard about and are familiar with. He was a key part of the Sooners offensive line, where he had 40 career starts and just one of three players in the to be named Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year multiple times (2016 and 2017). Brown is without a doubt a great player, worthy of an NFL chance, but will he crumble under pressure once he’s in the league? This is what coaches will be thinking as he heads into the draft.
The man who stole the show this at this years NFL Combine was Shaquem Griffin. The one handed linebacker from UCF (that’s right one handed,) has been a standout player this year. He led UCF to a remarkable undefeated season, and defensive MVP at the 2018 Peach Bowl. He led the Knights with 57 solo tackles and over 90 tackles in total, Griffin was born with amniotic band syndrome, leading him to having his left hand amputated when he was only four years old due to how bad the pain was. He never let is disability phase him, as he played with his “older” twin brother Shaquill their whole lives, forcing Shaquem to keep up with fully able bodied kids throughout his football career, through to college. Now, he’s setting records against other able bodied athletes. Griffin ran a 4:38 40-yard dash, the fastest time for a running back in 15 years. Griffin also bench pressed an impressive 20 reps, using the help of a prosthetic arm for balance. His amazing athletic ability and drive are what brought him to be in this position, of course his handicap is a weakness and probably why he only received a grade of 5.4, a grade for a backup or possible starter (which is still quite phenomenal, many, many athletes score below this). He’s someone to watch this draft, regardless he has already done more than prove himself worthy to be here.
The combine is a great opportunity for lesser-known players to get recognition and top prospects to assert their dominance. It can be a make or break moment for some athletes, and it can be great hype for teams and fans alike. For more direct news and player analysis head to http://www.nfl.com/combine
photo credit: https://utahutes.com/news/2018/2/26/football-utes-set-for-nfl-combine-feb-27-march-5.aspx?path=football