Recapping The Combine: 3 Up, 3 Down
The general wisdom is that the Combine is used to confirm what you have seen on tape throughout the course of a player’s collegiate career. Too often, fans and even some experts overstate the importance of the week long scouting event in Indianapolis. A guy who runs a bad 40 has “seen his stock plummet!” and a guy who tears up the bench press is “a budding monster!”. Indeed, the physical drills at the Combine are less important than what happens behind closed doors in the physicals and interviews – things that the average fan, blogger and even most in the media are not privy to. It won’t be until the draft is over, or near over, that you’ll hear reports about “apparently player X failed a lot of his medical exams at the combine” or “player Y had character issues that came up.”
Still, there is definitely money to be made and lost and a few guys every year see their draft stock increase or decrease enough to make the Combine a compelling event for all fans of the draft. Here are some guys who helped and hurt themselves the most:
Harrison Smith – A lot of people seemingly didn’t know who Harrison Smith was 2 weeks ago. Even despite the poor crop of safeties in this draft, Smith was flying under the radar in draft circles. An impressive combine seems to have changed that to the point where one well known draft expert claimed Smith could work his way into late round 1. His instincts and size are near ideal with only some questions remaining about his athleticism. He didn’t blow anyone with his 40 yard time (looking nervous and stumbling a little) but he did enough to alleviate concerns about his fluidity and agility to the point where a top 40 pick seems likely. A team like the Patriots, desperate for a safety and with two late 1st rounders, seem like a natural fit for the Notre Dame safety.
Mychal Kendricks – Coming into 2011, Kendricks looked like a mid-round pick who had “Future Special Teams Ace” written all over him. However, he had a very solid year at Cal, showing that he has the tools and instincts to match his athleticism. He turned in one of the most impressive overall showings – being amongst the best in every drill except the bench press. Kendricks’ stock had been rising towards the end up the year and the Combine should help solidify him as a Top 50 pick who could sneak into the early 2nd.
Nick Perry – Most people knew about Perry coming into the Combine. A standout at USC, there isn’t much question about Perry’s talent at getting to the QB. What did surprise some people was how explosive he looked in drills and how well he moves his 6’3 271 frame. His size and lower body strength have answered some questions about his scheme versatility. He looks like an ideal 3-4 “elephant” who could also play RE in a 40 front. Seattle would love to have Perry to play Pete Carroll’s “Leo” position but Perry has probably solidified himself as a Top 10 pick now – surpassing former OLB/DE front runner Courtney Upshaw.
Mohamed Sanu – Sanu has been a consensus late 1st rounder for a long time and watching him on tape you can see why – he’s big, plays pretty physically and has reliable hands. The big knock on Sanu is his lack of speed and explosion off the snap. Despite what some draft scouts say, I don’t see a guy who is a great route runner. He looks to have some stiffness in his hips coming out of breaks – and could struggle to separate from NFL CB’s. It’s one thing to dominate Big East zone coverages, and another to be able to beat press coverage at the next level. Sanu’s 4.67 40 yard time confirmed a lot of fears about his slowness and sluggishness. While he did a little better in the other agility drills, he doesn’t have the quick feet that will be needed to overcome his other shortcomings. He has potential as a #2 possession receiver, but he needs to go to a team with an established vertical threat. Even then, he might not be athletic enough to cut it in the pros.
Vinny Curry – Like Sanu, there were some questions about Curry’s fluidity and athleticism. He looks great at times on tape – a potential stat 3-4 OLB or 4-3 RE. Other times, he looks stiff and totally out of place on a football field. Curry’s combine did do much to allay concerns about his athletic ability. Compared to other potential early round OLB/DE options, Curry had a very poor showing. He ran a poor 40 (4.98) and didn’t really make up for it in other drills, though he did have a good showing in the 3-cone drill. There are a lot of concerns about Curry’s awareness and ability to react to plays rather than just pinning his ears back and getting after the QB. For a guy who isn’t a big factor in the run-game, a lack of explosion and speed is damning. Curry is probably a late 2nd or early 3rd rounder right now.
Vontaze Burfict – The Arizona linebacker came into the 2011 season with first round hype, some figuring he was headed for a top 10 pick in April. However, a poor year on-field and some well-publicized issues with his ability to take coaching had Burfict coming into the Combine with a lot to prove. Some still had him as a top 50 pick (perhaps going to the Ravens or Steelers at the end of round 1). Things went from bad to worse for Burfict in Indianapolis though. First, there were reports of him showing poorly in interviews, making excuses and failing to own up to his own shortcomings (i.e. lack of maturity). He followed that up with a disastrous showing in drills, running a 5.09 40 yard dash and putting up a 30 inch vertical. Absolutely nothing has gone right for Burfict since 2010 and it looks as if he has completely destroyed his stock. While he is sure to draw comparisons to Patriots LB Brandon Spikes – who had an awful Combine two years ago – Spikes had a much better final season at college and there weren’t the same concerns about coachability. Burfict will probably go earlier than some of his critics think, but it wouldn’t come as a total shock if he is still available on Day 3.
More thoughts on the Combine to come later this week.