The 2017 NFL Scouting Combine starts Wednesday in Indianapolis, with the most attention focused on the athletic workouts over the long weekend. I’ll be in Indy for 3 days to take in the festivities. Here are some of the most important things I’ll be monitoring.
Dalvin Cook’s medical results
Ask any seasoned NFL personnel decision-maker what the most important part of the Combine is and most will list the medical assessments. It’s what the Combine was actually created for many years ago. All the players go through an independent examination that goes far beyond comprehensive.
For a player like Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, it’s the difference between being a top 10 pick or falling a whole lot further in the draft than anyone would believe. Cook is almost indisputably the best RB prospect on the field, but his ability to stay on the field is a major question. It’s a valid one, too. Cook has had three separate shoulder surgeries dating back to high school, including one last spring. He’s also suffered hamstring and ankle injuries during his time in Tallahassee. Such a litany of soft-tissue injuries is deeply troubling, especially at a position which takes so much abuse.
If the independent doctors at the Combine give teams the thumbs up on Cook, he’s a top 15 pick. If it doesn’t go well, the third round might be an unrealistic dream.
Solomon Thomas measurements
I have little doubt Stanford DE Solomon Thomas will light up the athletic drills. He’s a phenomenal freak of an athlete who should rank at or near the top of all defensive linemen in the 40-yard dash, short shuttle, 3-cone and jumping drills. It translated quite nicely on the field for the Cardinal, too.
The NFL is a different game, and that’s where Thomas’ size comes in. He was listed at 6’3” and 277 pounds. He might weigh that much, but my spies on the training circuit tell me Thomas will be lucky to hit 6015 (scouting shorthand for 6’1.5”) and his arms will be under 32.5” long. For teams who rely heavily on physical minimum metrics for positions (Green Bay and Seattle are most notable), that lack of length automatically disqualifies Thomas as an edge presence. His lack of weight rules out a permanent role inside. He’s a very talented and impactful pass rusher but it will require a lot of faith from a team to select him in the top 15 or so at those grossly undersized dimensions.
Jabrill Peppers speed
He’s regarded by everyone as a safety prospect, yet the versatile Michigan defender is working out with the linebacker groups in Indy. His calling card is athletic potential, so the pressure is on for him to wow in the athletic feats. If he doesn’t break 4.45 in the 40, or his short shuttle time is slower than his 40 time (an indication of hip and ankle tightness), the first round is absolutely out of the question. When everyone expects steak and lobster, you can’t serve them hamburger and catfish. It’s worth noting I’ve heard he routinely hits 4.37 in the 40 in training and has posted a vertical jump over 38”. Again, scouts have heard this too. If it’s hot air, his high draft balloon is popped.
Many of these players have already been weighed and measured in postseason all-star games like the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl. Those were just a month ago, yet there will be several players who have gained or lost weight, or had their hand size grow a quarter inch, or miraculously sprouted a half-inch taller. In those cases, split the difference. Believe it or not there are tricks to all of those, and the training facilities where the agents pay tens of thousands of dollars to prepare the players for the Combine know them all.
The reaction to Adam Shaheen
Adam Shaheen is a D-II tight end from Ashland whose legend seems to grow with every new analyst discovering his games on YouTube or back channels. Ashland, a small school in northern Ohio some 30 miles south of where I grew up, lists him at 6’6” and 277 pounds. In talking to players he faced in the GLIAC--the SEC of D-II--they all tell me it’s legit. He’s bigger than some offensive tackles in that conference and runs better than just about any linebacker. He does run the same risk as Peppers above, or fellow GLIAC product Antonio Pipkin, who was a big enough letdown to not earn a Combine invite after a surprise ticket to the Senior Bowl.
Curtis Samuel and the position changers
Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel was officially a running back in college, though his best NFL asset was his receiving out of the backfield. Samuel is now a wide receiver. So is Houston QB Greg Ward, who had to change back to his original position or see his NFL dreams end. The on-field positional drills are rarely worth watching, but in these cases it’s nice to see how well the transition is going and how far there is to go.
The reception for those with criminal backgrounds
I’m thinking specifically of Oklahoma WR Dede Westbrook and two Alabama players, tackle Cam Robinson and edge rusher Tim Williams. All three have serious legal charges on their records, and Westbrook’s is for a rather nasty series of domestic violence issues. His Sooner teammate Joe Mixon won’t be in Indy for his illicit indiscretion, which isn’t as serious as some recent participants (hello Frank Clark) but happened to be caught on video. The NFL is trying to demonstrate it cares quite deeply about these issues, and if these guys don’t handle the pointed questions and media scrutiny well it will absolutely damage their draft stocks. Williams in particular is vulnerable because his arrest involved both drugs and a gun, albeit one he did legally own.
Interactions between competing draft media titans
Nowhere is the rivalry between the NFL Network and ESPN more visible than during the Combine. While the animosity is generally limited to the production crews, you’d better believe there is competitive fires between the likes of Mike Mayock and Todd McShay, or the “info guys” like Ian Rapoport and Adam Caplan. They’re professional and outwardly collegial, but there is intense pressure on them to outdo the opposing network counterparts. It can be fun to watch the uneasiness in social situations. As an aside, I’ve never met anyone, even his biggest “rivals” who doesn’t genuinely like Daniel Jeremiah.
The speed demons
While I don’t place a lot of scouting emphasis on the raw speed, it’s still fun to watch the guys who can blaze the 40-yard track in less than 4.4 seconds. Among the guys I’m excited to see run: Florida State WR Kermit Whitfield, Washington WR John Ross, Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey, West Virginia WR Shelton Gibson (who I have not watched play yet) and Minnesota CB Jalen Myrick, who was the fastest guy I saw in St. Pete at the Shrine Game practices.
The free agent buzz
The Combine is all about the draft on the surface, but it’s also a week before free agent signings can commence. Every owner, every GM and every agent just happens to be in Indy. I’ve seen a deal announced a week later negotiated at a back table of the Tilted Kilt downtown. I’ve seen one agent tell a team they have no chance of re-signing a prominent free agent while waiting in line at Starbucks. I’ve also seen a rather unscrupulous agent flat-out fabricate to an owner about how a negotiation with a big-time player was going with another team, and the owner eventually got suckered and overpaid for that player. My listening ears will be at full attention!