2011 NFL Combine: 10 Things to Watch
This might seem incredibly stupid, but I am pumped for the NFL Combine to begin this weekend. It isn’t that I put that much stock in the Combine, but rather it’s a chance to get a glimpse of all (or most) of the top prospects in one place. For those of you who need a good reason to tune in, here are 10 things to watch. . .
- Oregon ILB Casey Matthews‘ entire Combine
As I discussed in my feature on Matthews, I think he’s extremely overrated. He doesn’t possess very good athleticism and he gets overpowered often. In my opinion, he should be a seventh-round pick or undrafted free agent. He’s living off of his name.
When I’ve said that 40-yard dash times and vertical jumps don’t matter, that isn’t completely true. In the NFL, you need to surpass a baseline of athleticism. You can put a player with all of the heart in the world out there, and if he isn’t an athlete, he’s going to get killed.
Thus, the Combine drills are important in that they dictate whether a player has enough athleticism to play in the NFL. If so, the “extra” athleticism is just gravy. I’ll take a 4.4 receiver with great hands and route-running ability over Darrius Heyward-Bey all day.
A lot of you think Matthews possesses at least the minimum amount of athleticism needed to play in the big leagues. I’m not so sure. At his size, he better damn well run a 4.80 or better (and that’s really the minimum). I haven’t seen that speed on tape, so let’s be sure to keep an eye on that and the fluidity (or lack thereof) he displays in his position drills.
I’m not horribly down on Amukamara, but I don’t see the elite coverage ability others have apparently witnessed. I see a player who plays big against small competition, but folds versus the big boys. Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon ate Amukamara apart.
The reason I still think Amukamara can be a successful NFL player is his potential versatility. I envision him as a free safety. He’s already tremendous in run support and I think his skill set would fit nicely at the position.
But is he only capable of playing safety? His long speed has been in question for awhile, and if Amukamara has a horrible 40-yard dash time–4.6 or worse, let’s say–a lot of teams will view him as a safety or, at best, a Cover 2 cornerback.
- Pitt WR Jonathan Baldwin’s short-shuttle time
Baldwin is a player the Cowboys probably won’t target, but he still intrigues me. He’s enormous (6’5”, 235 pounds), and I’m not really high on receivers who are so big. First, they are easier to jam (yes, easier). More importantly, extremely tall receivers take such long steps that it is sometimes difficult for them to get out of their breaks. Other than deep balls, I’m not sure Baldwin will be a great route-runner. We know his 40-yard dash time will be good for his size, but his short-shuttle time will more indicative of his future success, in my view.
- Villanova OT/OG Benjamin Ijalana’s position drills
I really, really want the Cowboys to take a long, hard look at Ijalana. He possesses so much upside and his versatility could be huge for Dallas. They desperately need a right tackle and two offensive guards of the future, so why not acquire a guy who could potentially play all three spots?
Ijalana’s position drills (i.e. his footwork, agility, and so on) will go a long way in dictating whether he can remain outside at tackle or should kick inside.
- Colorado OT Nate Solder‘s short-shuttle time
Those of you who saw my scouting report on Solder know I’m not high on him. I think he’s a third-round talent. He’s stiff in the hips and a really unnatural bender. On film, he consistently got beat by the speed rush.
If Solder can’t stop the speed rush, he’d have a hell of a difficult time in the NFC East. Ware. Cole. Umenyiora. Tuck. Orakpo. Does Solder even possess the short area quickness to improve in pass protection? We’ll find out.
- USC OT Tyron Smith‘s 40-yard dash time
We know Smith is an incredible athlete. He’s right in the hunt to be the top offensive tackle on my board. After concerns about his slight frame, Smith has reportedly gained 20 pounds (he’s at 305 now). That’s still pretty small for an offensive tackle, but the game is changing. If Smith is still a sub-5.1 guy at his new weight, he’ll probably be a top 15 pick.
- Maryland WR Torrey Smith’s 40-yard dash time
This one’s just for fun. The Cowboys have basically zero chance of drafting Smith, but he’s reportedly been running low 4.3’s on a regular basis during his Combine prep. Times tend to be a bit slower in Indy, but Smith could light it up.
- Pitt RB Dion Lewis’ short-shuttle time
I’m going to do a scouting report on Lewis in the near future because I love this kid. He reminds me so much of LeSean McCoy, and not just because of the school. Both players don’t time well and don’t really even have blazing straight-line speed, but their “game speed” is sensational.
I am a firm believer that football players need to be able to stop just as quickly as they start. Players run straight for no more than 10 yards on about 95 percent of plays (Note: Although this site is all about stats, that one is completely made up). Seriously though, straight-line speed isn’t nearly as important for running backs as the ability to make quick cuts. The short-shuttle is a better indicator of future success (for most positions) than the 40.
- Baylor NT Phil Taylor‘s short-shuttle time
I see Taylor as a top 10 talent. The rarity of 335+ pound men with his quickness is extraordinary. Taylor’s short-shuttle time will prove he belongs in the top 10-15 discussion. He’s this year’s Tyson Alualu. Here’s film from my feature on Taylor. . .
- Illinois ILB/OLB Martez Wilson‘s position drills
Wilson is a beast at 6’4”, 250 pounds. Because of that (and his unique ability to rush the passer), many scouts apparently believe Wilson can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme like that in Dallas. I think Wilson is capable of excelling inside for a 3-4 defense, but his versatility certainly adds some upside. Let’s see how fluid he looks during his pass drops at inside linebacker and what sort of explosion he displays as a potential rush linebacker.
Note: You can see the official Combine schedule here.