The NFL Scouting Combine came to a conclusion yesterday, and with it so did the first-round hopes of numerous pro prospects. Breitbart Sports caught up with Dan Leberfeld, who covered the events in Indianapolis, to gain a sense of the insiders’ buzz emerging from the annual event.
Leberfeld publishes the monthly newspaper Jets Confidential, which, as its title suggests, provides the scoop on all things New York Jets. He also co-hosts the weekend sports program “Press Coverage” along with Vic Carruci on Sirius XM Radio. Leberfeld has been covering the NFL for several decades and knows the league like few national writers do.
So, we posed a few questions to Leberfeld. Who were the Combine’s winners and losers? Just how much importance do scouts place upon a player’s bench press and forty time? And what in the world is a Wonderlic?
Daniel Flynn: What’s the buzz coming out of the NFL Scouting Combine? What are the big stories that fans paying casual attention might have missed?
Dan Leberfeld: While Michael Sam gets most of the attention, Missouri’s other defensive end prospect, Kony Ealy, is a heck of a football player, and will likely go in the first round. Ealy is a much better defensive end prospect than Sam.
The NFL is such a passing league right now, so a lot of teams will be cornerback shopping early in this draft. There was a debate going on before the Combine about whether Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert or Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard was the top cornerback. It looks like Gilbert has edged ahead by running a 4.37 forty. Dennard ran just a 4.51. Both will likely be picked in the Top 20.
While there is no Andrew Luck in this draft, Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles might be the closest thing. He worked out and interviewed well, and actually was taller than advertised. Usually prospects lose an inch or two at the combine because heights are generally embellished by their college programs, but Bortles, who was listed at 6-4 at UCF, measured in at 6-5, 232, and is drawing comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger.
Flynn: Who helped themselves in the draft with stud performances in Indianapolis?
Leberfeld: Not that he needed a lot of help, but Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins had an outstanding combine, running great, and catching the ball effortlessly. He’s clearly the cream of the crop at his position.
Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans also helped himself, measuring in at 6-5, 232, running 4.53, and displaying excellent hands.
The top three offensive tackles in the draft, Greg Robinson (Auburn), Jake Mathews (Texas A&M) and Taylor Lewan (Michigan) were all superb, and could all go in the Top 10.
University of Buffalo OLB/DE Khalil Mack did everything well and might sneak into the Top 5.
Flynn: Who hurt themselves in the draft with poor performances? Did anyone’s draft stock drop considerably?
Leberfeld: I think Auburn DE/OLB Dee Ford hurt himself a little.
He was hot prospect coming off a terrific Senior Bowl, but then was medically scratched from the workouts in Indianapolis due to an old back injury (herniated disc). Also, he probably turned off some scouts when he insulted Jadeveon Clowney during a radio interview at the Combine, saying, the South Carolina defensive end “plays like a blind dog in a meat market.”
Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro might drop a little after running a 4.74 forty. While Amaro is a solid prospect, Eric Ebron (4.6 forty), who moves like a wide receiver, is clearly ahead of him for the top tight end spot.
USC wide receiver Marquise Lee ran an underwhelming forty, clocking a 4.52. For an average-sized receiver, that is a pedestrian time. He’s still should be a good NFL player, but this will make him slip a few slots in the draft.
It was a rough Combine for Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, who ran a 5.59 forty and was reportedly scratched from some draft boards due to an arthritic knee.
Flynn: How important is the NFL Combine for talent evaluators around the league? A guy like Michael Crabtree had a bad combine yet, Richard Sherman’s opinion aside, he’s become a pretty good NFL receiver. Vernon Gholston, as you know well through your New York Jets Confidential, displayed freakish athletic abilities at the Combine but found himself released by the Jets prior to the end of his rookie contract. How do scouts and GMs and coaches around the league view the Combine in terms of importance in determining selections?
Leberfeld: As scouts love to say, “the tape doesn’t lie.”
While the Combine is part of the scouting process, game tape is still the most important measuring stick. And remember, a linebacker could run 4.5 at the Combine, but might have bad instincts, so he’s often a step late getting to the ball, and plays like he runs 4.8.
Two parts of the Combine that can’t be minimized are the team interviews and medical tests.
Teams set up private, 15-minute meetings with players, and their brass grill the prospects with personal and football questions. This helps teams a great deal in getting to know these guys better.
Also, the combine is rife with medical tests, and team doctors go over these prospects with a fine-tooth comb, as Cyrus Kouandjio found out.
Flynn: Viewers at home see how much guys bench, how high they jump, how fast they run. We don’t get a sense of their intelligence as measured through the Wonderlic. The results are kept secret–even if the secrets eventually get out. What do you know about this more talked about than taken test? Might the Wonderlic be a more important gauge in evaluating players than the broad jump, bench press, or any other test administered in Indianapolis?
Leberfeld: NFL playbooks are very complex these days, as thick as War and Peace, and you need some level of intelligence to play in the league. A lot of guys get cut in training camp because they can’t pick things up.
With that being said, I think the Wonderlic is more important at some positions than others.
I would never take a quarterback with a low Wonderlic score. Playing NFL quarterback is so difficult with all the position requires as far as reading defenses, changing plays at the line, terminology and so forth, you need to be a borderline Mensa candidate to play that position.
But I don’t think the Wonderlic matters as much at cornerback. Tampa Bay’s Darrelle Revis had a poor Wonderlic score, but is one of the best cornerbacks of the modern era.