Feb 26, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys wider receiver Justin Blackmon loosens up before the drills start for the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

What Can the Combine Do For You: Looking Back at Winners and Losers of the 2010 NFL Combine and Where They Are Now


David Johns recently wrote about the guys he’s looking forward to seeing most at the NFL Combine, and for many players, the combine can be a “make-or-break” opportunity.  Some players never have and never will again have the chance to compare themselves to college football’s “elite” talents, and for those players, the combine can be huge.  For the “elite” talents, the combine is a place of immense pressure – where detractors huddle together, pull out their magnifying glasses, and examine you from head to toe for any flaws you may have.  For these players, the combine can also have a huge impact, as this is the first time during the draft process that we usually see the major changes in the top 10-15 players (though there’s always a player or two that vaults into the top 15 after the Senior Bowl).

While there was a trend to overvalue the combine in past years, draftniks and armchair GMs alike have now denounced the combine as simply a trap that teams can get caught up in (refer to Jones, Matt in 2005).  Yet teams continue to send their staff to the Combine, so it can’t be completely devoid of utility; teams have questions about the athleticism, flexibility, and adaptability of some players when they watch their tape, and often the Combine provides data that can sway them in one direction or the other.  So how much of an impact does the combine usually have on players?  How much of an impact can it have?  If teams fall into the trap of overdrafting workout warriors like Matt Jones, do they also fall into the trap of underdrafting productive college players whose strengths lie in non-athletic realms?

To answer these questions, I referred back to two (1, 2) articles by scouts.com on the winners and losers of the 2010 NFL Combine.  Excerpts from the article are written in black, with analysis written in italics underneath.

 

Winners

Taylor Mays, S USC

Taylor Mays: classic workout warrior with a not-so-classic draft position. Source: USPresswire

“There was no question that Mays was going to come up with a great workout with everyone from USC to various insiders to Mays himself hinting that something special was coming, but he cranked out something special.”

Combine: His 4.43 was the best among all the defensive backs. Throw in his 6-3, 230-pound size, 24 reps on the bench, and an NBA-like 41” vertical, and his workout overshadowed all his other issues.

Projection: Mays is a sure-thing top 20 pick after previously being considered a possible slider to late in the first round.

Draft Position: 2nd round, #49 overall

This was a shocker at the time, and looking back, it’s still pretty unreal.  Mays was the classic workout warrior, but he was also a guy who started for arguably the best college football program in the country during his career and was a named a first-team All American by multiple publications and was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award for the nation’s best defensive back in 2008.  Once coaches put on the tape though, he started to fall, and even an incredible combine couldn’t save him.  He fell much farther than anyone thought he would, but when you look at his NFL career thus far (back-up free safety in 2012-2013 to the signed-off-the-street Chris Crocker), you can’t help but give teams props for dropping him on their boards.

Eric Berry, S Tennessee 
“Berry came up with a special college career as a peerless playmaker and a top tackler and leader, and the raw skills matched the reputation.”

Combine: The hype is now off the charts after tearing off a 4.4, leaping out of the stadium with a 10’10” broad jump, and with all doubts and questions about his size answered with an official measurement of just under six-feet and 211 pounds. Basically, he looked the part of an elite, special safety who’ll be a star for years to come.

Projection: Don’t go assuming Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy are the two best players in the draft by far. Berry, the Thorpe Award winner from Tennessee, couldn’t have come up with a better workout and now is firmly entrenched as a must-have playmaker who deserves to go in the top five overall.

Draft Position: 1st round, #5 overall

Already a top player and athlete at the time of the combine, Eric Berry cemented his place in the top 5 at the Combine.  With game tape as solid as a rock, naysayers could only wonder about Berry’s athleticism, and he squashed those notions at the combine.  Although Berry’s career in the NFL thus far has been limited due to injury, he still looks like one of the most promising young safeties in the NFL today.

Ndamukong Suh

Combine: Suh was all business, extremely focused, and was every bit as amazing as scouts could’ve hoped for. For a player of his 6-4, 307-pound size, running a sub-5 40, benching 225 pounds an impressive 32 times, and leaping a tremendous 35.5” confirmed that he deserves to be considered No. 1 overall.

Projection: Just by showing up and competing in the workouts, Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy solidified their places somewhere among the top three overall picks.

Draft Position: 1st round, #2 overall

Like Berry, Suh challenged a team to value a less orthodox position in the top 5, and the Lions did, with fairly good results.  Suh has been up and down in his NFL career this far; his fast start as a pass rusher got him named as a Pro Bowl Starter and an All-Pro.  Every year since, however, Suh has made more noise for being a “dirty” player than for his actual play.  While he did bounce back with eight sacks this past year, Suh is going to have to keep his nose clean if he’s going to prove that the #2 overall pick, and the huge contract, were truly worth it.

Gerald McCoy

Combine: McCoy wasn’t quite as impressive as Suh, checking in at a smaller 295 pounds, struggling with a pedestrian (for a defensive tackle) 23 reps on the bench, and not coming up with a Suh-like explosion on the vertical leaping 30.5”. Even so, he was extremely quick, fluid, and proved that he’s a worthy challenger for the top spot overall. 

Projection: Just by showing up and competing in the workouts, Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy solidified their places somewhere among the top three overall picks.

Draft Position: 1st round, #3 overall

While it was likely that Suh was going in the top 5 even before the Combine, the Combine helped McCoy really shine in direct comparison to Suh.  He showed that, at least athletically, the gap was pretty minimal between them, and his draft stock only climbed until Tampa Bay took him.  Although his NFL career started slow and limited by injury, McCoy was named to his first Pro Bowl this year, and seems to be on his way to making that selection worth it.

 

Losers

Joe Haden, CB Florida 
Haden was everyone’s No. 1 corner on the board after a special career as the lockdown, tough-tackling corner for a tremendous Gator defense.

Combine: After two disastrous 40-yard dashes, running an unofficial 4.57 and then an even more painful 4.58, his stock is plummeting by the moment.

Projection: A No. 1, erase the field, lock-down corner has to be a blazer, and it’s going to be hard for anyone to justify a big payday to a No. 2 corner or one with such a big question mark. Not helping the cause were a few stumbles in the quickness drills and a few other less-than-smooth moments throughout, but it’s not all doom and gloom with a Pro Day to make amends and to work his way back into top ten consideration.

Draft Position: 1st round, #7 overall

The Joe Haden story was almost the exact opposite of the Taylor Mays story.  Haden was the classic “top player at his position” whose draft stock could’ve plummeted due to a poor showing at one Combine event.  His 4.45-4.48 time at his Pro Day may have alleviated these concerns some, but players always run faster at their Pro Day anyway.  Regardless, The Browns took him about where he was projected – in the top 10 – which suggests that teams may truly be taking the Combine, and its individual events, for what it’s worth.  Then again, it only takes one team to fall in love with a player to draft him high, so we have no idea what would’ve happened to Haden if the Browns didn’t have the 7th pick.  Haden has proven to be the number one corner in Cleveland, and although he hasn’t yet consistently shown the chops to be an elite corner in the league, he certainly looks like a very good one – if he can keep his hands off the Adderall.

 

If Bowman had gotten picked two rounds earlier, he still would’ve been in the conversation as one of the best picks in the 2010 NFL Draft. Source: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Navorro Bowman, LB Penn State
“On the field, he was a tremendous playmaker who got into the backfield on a regular basis and was the best defensive player on a team full of all-star defenders.”

Combine: The strength was there with an excellent 26 reps on the bench, and while he satisfied the negatives about him possibly being too weak and too smallish to handle himself physically, it came at the expense of his stiffness and awkwardness. He bulked up to 242 pounds after playing far lighter throughout his career, and he didn’t look like the same athlete in any way running a disappointing 4.72 and lumbering through the quickness drills.

Projection: The ultra-productive Nittany Lion star was originally being talked about as possibly the first outside linebacker taken. But his workout hurt his stock and ended any thoughts that he’ll be taken in the top 15.

Draft Position: 3rd round, #91 overall

Wow!  This is the classic story of a player having a terrible Combine and paying for it.  Although it cost him some heartache and some millions in the short term, it hurt 31 other teams a whole lot more in the long term.  Bowman is one of the leaders of one of the NFL’s best defenses, and he’s arguably the best inside linebacker on a team that has 5-time Pro Bowler and 3-time All Pro Patrick Willis.  Teams can find value anywhere, and looking out for highly-rated players who have a bad combine is one of the best ways to uncover it.

Greg Hardy, DE, Ole Miss

“Greg Hardy is expected to be a sure-thing next-level prospect.”

Combine: He jumped well with a 35” vertical, but he only came up with 21 reps and ran a 4.87 40.

Projection: At 6-4 and 281 pounds, the numbers might not seem that bad, but he’s supposed to be an athletic speed rusher with first round potential. Not anymore.

Draft Position: 6th round, #175 overall

Another player whose Combine dropped his stock terribly, Hardy started to make his name in the NFL this year.  He became a full-time starter in 2011 and recorded 11 sacks this past year, making him one of the best values in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Brandon Spikes.

“Spikes has the 6-3, 249-pound size, and when he was healthy during the season he was playing at a high level (even though he wasn’t nearly as good as he was as a junior).”

Combine: He didn’t run the 40, was stunningly unrefined and robotic in the agility drills.

Projection: He might quickly fall out of the first round after being projected as a top ten prospect a year ago at this time. Worries about his lack of NFL athleticism have blown up into a full-blown panic attack.

Draft Position: 2nd round, #62 overall

The fall of Spikes’ draft stock actually began during his senior season at Florida when questions about his athleticism began to arise, but they were severely compounded by his not running the 40 at the Combine and his poor results (> 5.0s) during his pro day.  He was portrayed as a “faller” all throughout the post-Combine draft process, and fall he did, although not as far as he could have.  The Patriots thought they got a steal in Spikes, however, and early in his NFL career, he’s making them look pretty good.  NEpatriotsdraft.com recently re-graded this pick as an A-, and I can’t quibble too much with how they see it.

 

Scout.com’s analysis of the Combine winners and losers was unique in 2010 because it seemed to focus on the draft’s top talents.  All of these players were considered first round draft picks at the time of the Combine and many were in the top 5, top 10, or top 15 conversations.  Perhaps because of this, we didn’t see any classic, grossly overdrafted workout warrior-types in this analysis, but we did see the classic post-Combine faller in the losers section in Navorro Bowman, Greg Hardy, and Brandon Spikes.  While there are obviously many things that come into play even after the Combine when we’re talking about a player’s draft stock (Pro Days, character troubles, more game tape evaluation, etc.), the Combine has always been, and still is, a huge factor in the direction a player’s draft stock moves.  The Combine kicks off today, and as it continues, I’ll surely be on the lookout for Combine “fallers” who may not deserve to fall so far.

 

– Zain Gowani

Tags: 2013 NFL Combine 2013 NFL Draft Featured Jacksonville Jaguars Losers Navorro Bowman Popular Winners

  • Terry O’Brien

    Great article.

  • David

    Highlight of my day. I guess it’s a case by case, player by player, team by team type deal.

  • LukeNSims

    Excellent article and well researched as always, Mr. Gowani!