by Mario "Game" Granata
Taking a look at the NFL Combine, one cannot overlook the fact that some players will be key additions to teams, while others will fill voids, but as the Combine closes, there are some interesting comparisons to the 'pieces' that were on the field in Indianapolis.
Now that the NFL Combine is nearing its end, and we were all witness to basking in the light of 322 of the top college prospects in the world who descended upon Indianapolis with cut off shirts and spandex shorts, we can now begin to talk (with the draft being 3 months away) about how these numbers will inevitably translate on the field come next September. Many of the ‘experts’ will go head-to-head with some of the ‘old school’ scouts in saying that making individuals go through some tests here and there, won’t translate to the game, it is interesting to see the dynamic that comes with the NFL Combine. All 32 NFL teams, coaches, scouts and analysts, will make the tough decision in May to see if these players who ran, benched, and threw (and those who didn’t throw) will be intricate pieces in their organization and be the winning piece that pushes them toward the Lombardi Trophy. The NFL Draft, now more than ever, tests the analytical skills of these organizations, because in years past, with free agency the way that it was, focused on the first two rounds, and then it was a bunch of role players or practice squad players. Now, there has to be players who are drafted in the 3rd, 4th and 5th rounds, who will be expected to be immediate contributors, in ways they were never expected to be before. Take one look at the Seattle Seahawks secondary, and try to argue that point. I guess it’s a good thing that the draft takes place in 3 months, in order to give these organizations time to evaluate players who could help them in this ‘win now’ league.
As mentioned earlier, although free agency will fill immediate needs for teams, the price tag for some of these players is incredibly high, and teams would rather spend a pick on a player in the 3rd round, and mold them into the player that they want, rather than pay big bucks for an established guy. Just ask the Miami Dolphins how they are feeling about the 60 Minute Man Mike Wallace. While he is a dynamic player, they probably would have been better off drafting a 6’ wide receiver with blazing speed, for a smaller price, develop him, and spend money for other needs that they had.
The past is the past, and now we are in the present and the NFL Combine answered some questions for some players who participated, and put some other players on the radar of NFL teams for this coming May draft. Let’s take a look at some players who might be ‘sleepers’ now, but come next February, might have to pack their bags for Hawaii.
Wide Receiver: Over 50 pass catchers were in Indy to show off what they had to offer, and some have raised the eye brows of some teams, who, in the New NFL, will look to be contributors to their team’s success. The Denver Broncos are hoping to keep their record breaking core intact, but with the recent talks about Eric Decker wanting #1 money, this may be tough for some teams to pull off. Enter Jordan Matthews. Jordan Matthews played on a Vanderbilt team that went 9-4 this season, and over the last two years Matthews has caught 206 passes for 2,800 yards, and 15 touchdowns. When you factor in the fact that he was playing top level competition in the SEC and turned in a 4.46 at the combine with 21 reps on the bench, he has the strength to get separation off the line, and can run away from defenders. Standing at 6’3” and weighing 212 pounds, he is both faster and stronger then Decker. If you happen to miss the Decker sweepstakes, Matthews is a very nice consolation prize.
Another wide out that is turning some heads is Jeff Janis out of Saginaw Valley State. I will wait while you Google him. Janis compiled 83 catches for 1,572 yards and 14 touchdowns only playing in 12 games. Janis is from a small time school but put up some big time numbers in the draft running a 4.42 and leaping 37.5 inches in the vertical jump. Add his 20 reps on bench, and you have some tools to work with in molding this 6’2” 219 pounder into something special. Like Matthews, Janis has speed that you can’t teach, and with the current landscape of the NFL, speed kills.
Cornerback: Now in a class that isn’t highly touted for cornerbacks, one would think that shutting down the ‘pass happy’ NFL would be priority #1. One doesn’t have to look much farther than the Super Bowl to see that defense wins championships, and this class may have some players that will rival some of the current superstars in the league. Now, the two things that are the marking of a good cornerback in the NFL are hips and closing speed. But, any of these players who I am about to mention can be breakout stars. When people talk about the NFL today, they bring up Darelle Revis and Richard Sherman, and these two players were taken 4 rounds and 140 picks apart in their prospective drafts, so if you have a scheme that will fit some of these guys, you will be in pretty good shape. The two players I want to bring attention to are Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert and Utah’s Keith McGill. Gilbert ran a 4.37 at 6’ 200 pounds and when you factor in his impressive 20 reps and above average cone drill, he has the speed to close on receivers, and the strength to stand them up at the line. McGill presents an interesting combination of speed and size as well. He stands at 6’3” and weighs 214 pounds. His 4.51 40 time isn’t going to overly impress scouts but his 39 inch vertical presents teams with the option with a player that they may move to safety and have come down in the box on blitz packages.
All in all, there were some interesting players and statistics that came out of the NFL Combine, and some of these players outshined some of the ‘must see’ players who were in Indianapolis. Will these players become household names? Only time will tell, but if these organizations can find the right ‘pieces’ the chess game on Sundays in the Fall will surely be interesting to watch.