Grading Barry Church, Dwayne Harris, and DeMarco Murray
At NBC, I’ve been giving faux grades to young Cowboys players as if they were incoming rookies.
When assessing prospects leading up to the NFL Draft, organizations obtain all sorts of measurements: height, weight, 40 time, vertical jump, short shuttle, and so on. Whether they admit it or not, teams value these metrics quite a bit, as they should; there’s a very strong correlation between certain numbers and NFL success—speed for running backs and arm length for pass-rushers, for example.
When bringing in free agents, however, it seems as though teams value NFL production much, much more heavily than the measurables. It makes sense to weigh production into player evaluations, perhaps more so than measurables in certain cases. That’s particularly true for veterans, whose body of work should generally speak for itself. They’ve been playing in the league long enough that those stats mean something.
For younger players, however, there are many circumstances when previous play doesn’t match expected future production. Even though Bills running back C.J. Spiller came into the 2012 season with 844 total rushing yards in two seasons, it wasn’t difficult to project Spiller for a breakout year; for the highly-efficient speedster, it would have been a mistake to value his past play over the measurables. There are all sorts of such cases; whether it’s due to workload, teammates, coaching, or just luck, young players often either underperform or overachieve when they come into the league. Many organizations write off these players too soon (or let them stick around for too long) based on a limited sample size of games when there were better predictors of future performance available.
Currently standing at 6-2, 218 pounds, Church has outstanding size for a safety. Due to his frame and lack of long speed, Church will only ever be able to play strong safety in the NFL. During the draft process, Church ran as low as a 4.64 40-yard dash, but he was said to have run in the 4.7s as well. That’s a poor time for a safety, although it doesn’t matter as much for someone who will be in the box and not in the back end too often.
Despite a lack of long speed, there is explosiveness to Church’s game. He recorded a 10-1 broad jump and a really quick 4.17 short shuttle. That suggests Church possesses good short-area quickness—perfect for playing near the line-of-scrimmage.
I also graded DeMarco Murray:
From a physical standpoint alone, Murray is an above-average athlete. At 213 pounds, Murray ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. That’s an outstanding weight/speed combination—a trait that’s extremely predictive of NFL success for running backs. Actually, running backs in Murray’s range of speed have been around six times as productive as those below 4.50. That’s a remarkable difference and suggests Murray’s initial NFL efficiency isn’t a fluke.
Murray also ran a 4.18 short shuttle, so he has short-area quickness. When you combine that with his 34.5-inch vertical and 10-4 broad jump, you have the makings of an explosive athlete. Perhaps Murray’s biggest weakness from a physical standpoint is his height; the best NFL running backs have actually been short and stocky. Murray’s 6-0 frame could be one of the primary reasons he hasn’t been able to stay healthy.
Using his original NFL Combine numbers, I’m going to grade third-year receiver Dwayne Harris in the same way in an attempt to show you where I think he’d belong in this year’s rookie class. At the 2011 Scouting Combine, Harris checked in at 5-10, 203 pounds. That already puts him at a major disadvantage because there’s an extremely strong correlation between size and success for receivers. Wes Welker aside, the best wideouts are typically well over 6-0 and 210 pounds. Go ahead and take a look at the top 10 receivers from 2012. The average height and weight is 6-3 and 218 pounds. Even players like Welker are less valuable than people think because those sorts of slot receivers rarely score touchdowns.
If a wide receiver stands below 6-0, he better be a burner. Harris isn’t; he ran a 4.55 40-yard dash. That’s hardly too slow to perform in the NFL, but it’s not what you’d like to see in someone so short. That means Harris is a guy who will have trouble separating even when given space, but also issues succeeding in the red zone when space is at a premium.