NFL Combine 2018: Who will be the 'Alpha' QB?

A new set of 300-something (336 to be exact) collegiate stars take the annual trip to Indianapolis in what will likely be the most grueling job interview process of their lives.
Entering this Combine, I remain steadfast in my belief that all invited passers should throw, as nobody has anything to lose with so much uncertainty regarding the selection order of quarterbacks at the top of the class. In essence, the distinction of being the first passer chosen – and likely at No. 1 overall – is entirely up for grabs.

With Sam Darnold electing not to throw at the Combine, additional eyes will be on Josh Rosen.
With Sam Darnold electing not to throw at the Combine, additional eyes will be on Josh Rosen.

USC’s Sam Darnold, who – for the time being – is tipped as the likeliest to be selected first by Cleveland, bowed out of the race after electing not to throw, leaving the door agape for others to claim the spotlight.
UCLA’s Josh Rosen will primarily be tasked with dispelling his perceived character concerns at this year’s Combine, but there may not be a ‘prettier’ stationary passer in this class. As such, he stands an excellent chance at significantly elevating his on-field perception with a comfortable and composed display in drills. Unlike his three years with the Bruins, he’ll have more than a half-second to deliver passes at the Combine.
Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield is one of the most polarizing of talents in the 2018 draft class. The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner’s confident, animated demeanor is both a positive and negative depending on who you speak to, but his ability to lead an offense is inarguable. I’m eager to see him interact with fellow groupmates during the workout and how willing he’ll be to simply ‘be himself’ with so much discussion surrounding his personality throughout the process. Mayfield’s at his best when he plays with personality and it’d behoove him to do the same in Indy.
Two who will be scrutinized above all others are Wyoming gunslinger Josh Allen and Lousiville playmaker (and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner) Lamar Jackson.
Allen possesses a mouthwatering physical skill-set and a fully equipped toolbox, which has some believing he could go as high as No. 1 overall, but his evaluation is marred by erratic tape. On the other hand, Jackson has the most to prove of any Combine passer. It’s imperative for the 2-time ACC Player of the Year to exhibit an improved ability while throwing from a stationary position, as he’s developed a penchant for feeling more comfortable while mobile. Nevertheless, a tremendous talent and Combine discussion point.
I’m higher on Memphis’ Riley Ferguson than most. The former Tennessee Volunteer combined with Anthony Miller for what was one of college football’s most lethal pass-catch tandems last season. He enters the Combine as my No. 5 rated quarterback and I’m excited to observe how he compares to the perceived top talents at the position in Indy.
The three-time Buckeye captain might be the most appealing late-round quarterback option in the 2018 draft.
The three-time Buckeye captain might be the most appealing late-round quarterback option in the 2018 draft.

For prolific Oklahoma State pivot Mason Rudolph, his delivery will be an observation point as he possesses more of a push-power arm. Has he shortened his motion a bit? If so, it’ll elevate his perception.
Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett leaves college a similar prospect to how I viewed Tyrod Taylor out of Virginia Tech in 2011 – though slightly less of an athlete and slightly more of a ‘quarterback’. He stands a strong chance of having an extended NFL career and that begins in Indy by putting what I consider to be a ‘complete’ skill-set on display during workouts.
Lastly, Washington State’s Luke Falk has people wondering if he has enough arm to make every NFL throw. A dreaded ‘system’ player? The Combine is a perfect stage for him to quell those concerns.
For quarterbacks, the Combine is primarily beneficial to individuals with great physical optics – the guys who ‘look’ like quarterbacks in stature or motion. Therefore, the odds-on favorites to improve their draft appeal after drills will be Josh Allen (tantalizing blend of size and arm strength) and Josh Rosen (silky-smooth throwing motion and advanced mechanics). Expect them to be the biggest ‘winners’ from the positional group.
As a final honorable mention, keep an eye on Western Kentucky prototype Mike White: He looks the part and is equipped with an A-grade arm. The former Louisville Slugger All-American pitcher’s lack of evasion or mobility will be well-hidden during the battery of on-field testing where he’ll be allowed to just let-rip and put on a show.
Quarterbacks workout with running backs and tight ends on Saturday, March 3.
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Time to change the Combine

When you hear Mike Mayock and Rich Eisen talk about how much bigger and faster the players are getting each year, you have to wonder where the comparison should stop from players of the past.
The whole reason why drills, schedules and formatting of the Combine remain the same is so evaluators can always compare to the prior years attendees. However, this thinking/formula is flawed now because the evolution of training and preparing for the Combine has accelerated so dramatically over the last fifteen years. If I were an evaluator I wouldn’t compare a player’s combine performance to another player going back more than eight years.
In 1999, Mark Verstegen launched his first Athletes Performance (Now Exos with 7 locations) facility in Tempe, AZ. I know this because I sent him half of his first class. Other trainers like Chip Smith of CES, Tom Shaw and several others have been prepping players for over fifteen years now and have continually gotten better at having participants peak for their Combine workout. As of late, a bigger focus has been on nutrition, speed mechanics and bringing in former NFL players and coaches to tutor each player in drills and interviews.
The main reason for the Combine still remains the medicals and physical component. And everyone believes it is the most necessary and most important component of the Combine. But players and agents are growing more resistant to this current format and a change is needed or the NFLPA could force one to happen in what could have a showdown like capacity.
The current format has players getting in line for physicals at 6:30 am, standing in line for hours, then having their limbs, joints, knees and shoulders being pulled, pushed and rotated to their limits. Some doctors are more aggressive than others and some have minimal experience in the field.
Numerous players, including 310 pound plus lineman are crammed in an MRI machine for up to 30 minutes or more. Some players reported that the air in the MRI machine was not working and when they asked to be removed because they were feeling claustrophobic, they wouldn’t immediately do so and told them to be still for 15 more minutes. If you ever been in an MRI machine you can relate to these issues. Then imagine you are 6’5” 315 pounds. These machines are not made for these size men. It’s truly a “cattle call”.
So after very little sleep (most players settle down about midnight after their interviews and snacks), much standing around without food or sometimes even a place to sit, being pulled at, tugged at, even accused of hiding an injury, it’s on to an energy draining cybex test, having up to seven or more vials of blood drawn, and then off to more meetings. That coupled with another long evening and they are supposed to be fresh for the biggest audition of their life that also takes place on national TV? Oh, and all performed in some really tight fitting florescent clothes you are forced to wear.
Of course, this is a stressful time for these young men trying to get drafted as high as possible, not embarrass themselves, make great impressions, begin their dream and perform at their very best under duress in a stressful environment. I know there are worse things, but the Combine needs to grow up, mature, get with the times and make some more adjustments that are simply common sense.
For starters, here are some changes that should be made:
Players should be allowed to come a day earlier if they choose. The Combine started an extra day earlier this year. The extra day was meant to allow for more sleep, travel recovery time, more/longer informal interviews, and make for a more civil pace for everyone. But for some reason none of the players felt any more rested than years before. I believe just more things/activities were crammed into that extra day.
Physicals, drawing of blood and even opportunity for interviews should be “AFTER” the players perform all the on-field drills and forty. Essentially, the schedule of the combine should be flipped around. Would this mean all the players who would perform under these more friendly conditions would do better than all those before them? Perhaps, but it’s a new era and now is the time to make these adjustments.
Formal interviews should be increased to 20 minutes from 15. Juniors and QBs should be 30 minutes and the players should have the right to choose which teams they want to meet with in case there is limited time for them. Additionally, all player meetings should cease at 9:00pm. They currently run to 11:00pm. Having the extra day on the front end could help the whole process.
No physicals, scans, X-rays, tests or meetings should start before 9:00am. Players come from all over the country and come from different time zones. Players from Pacific time zones who have to be at the doctor’s for MRI’s at 7:30am are getting up at 3:30am Pacific time and will be up for the remainder of the day (their first full day in Indy).
Each player should have their own room: There are some really funny stories floating around about the roommate situations at the Combine. Players get stuck with roommates who snore, want to sleep with the TV left on, stay up late on the phone and keep the other player awake. The NFL makes good money on the Combine so buck up and give the players their own rooms.
I did run into NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith and player president Eric Winston one day. They were making their rounds and talking to a lot of agents and players and getting a feel for the whole environment and listening to grievances from agents. So don’t be surprised if the Players Association asks for a bigger role in shaping future Combines.
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2015 NFL Combine Notebook – Part IV

Going into this year’s Combine, the safety class looked weak compared with the last few years. There have been a few scouts who have told me that they feel there is only one legitimate starter in this year’s class and that’s Alabama’s Landon Collins. There are other players who have a chance to be eventual starters, but it’s not a certainty.
As for the corner class, it has some depth to it, but when you look at the numbers posted yesterday, the athletic talent is average as compared to past years.
Trae Waynes – Michigan State
Waynes didn’t disappoint as he ran a 4.32 in the 40. I was a little disappointed in his agility drills, where he posted times of 7.06 in the 3-cone and 4.39 in the 20 yard shuttle. There are linebackers who had better times. Don’t be surprised if he runs those drills again at the MSU pro day.
Byron Jones – UConn
Jones was the talk of the day after jumping 44.5″ in the vertical and 12’2″ in the long jump to set a combine record. His 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone were also impressive. His 20-yard shuttle time was 3.94 and his 3-come was 6.78. The amazing part about those times is that Jones was just cleared to start working out after having shoulder surgery. He hasn’t spent the last four to six weeks at a training facility preparing for the combine. Those numbers were on pure natural ability. Going into the Combine, Jones wasn’t on many teams’ radars. After that performance, you can bet all 32 clubs will be visiting UConn over the next six weeks.
Kevin Johnson – Wake Forest
Kevin didn’t run as expected, timing 4.52 in the 40, but the rest of his workout was outstanding. He had a 41″ vertical and went 10’10” in the long jump, while his agilities were 3.89 and 6.79 respectively. With Johnson’s height and length and overall athleticism, he is a sure first round pick but I would bet he runs again at his pro day to try and improve on that 4.52.
Steve Nelson – Oregon State
After doing tape work on Nelson, I was excited because I love the way he plays the game. On tape he is quick, feisty and aggressive. What I thought might hurt him was his height. I thought he may be under 5’10, which is the cutoff number for many teams at the corner position. He measured an even 5’10 at Indy with 30 5/8″ arms. With him running 4.49, he will be on every team’s draft board and will most likely be drafted in the second or third round. He is a fun player to watch.
Adrian Amos – Penn State
With the safety position lacking quality depth, Amos really helped himself. At 6000 – 218 he has very good size. I think many people were surprised at how well he tested. He ran the 40 in 4.49, had a 35.5″ vertical jump, 10’2″ long jump and agilities of 4.03 and 7.09. Those were all very good numbers for the safety position.
Anthony Harris from  Virginia and Derron Smith from Fresno State did not workout, so we will have to wait until their pro days to find out what they can do.
Kurtis Drummond – Michigan State
There were mixed opinions on Drummond going into the Combine and if anything, he may have hurt himself with his speed. He ran 4.65 and 4.70 with his two 40’s. He did much better with the other drills, going 39.5 in the vertical and 7.09 in the 3 cone. He didn’t bench, so at the MSU pro day he will need to run again as well as lift.
Cody Prewitt – Ole Miss
Prewitt is another player who will need to run again at his pro day. He ran 4.60 and 4.70 on his two 40’s. With that difference, scouts are wondering which one is right?
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2015 NFL Combine Notebook – Part II

Some of the workouts by Combine participants Saturday was surprising to say the least. Lets start with the running backs.
Ameer Abdullah – He ran as expected with a 4.6 in the 40. What wasn’t expected was the outstanding explosiveness he displayed. He had a 42.5″ vertical jump, a 10’10 long jump and a 6.79 3-cone.  Those numbers, especially in the jumps, are rare. His workout will keep his stock high.
Melvin Gordon – I felt his workout wasn’t what was expected. He ran a 4.52 which is good, but most felt that he would be in the low to mid 4.4’s. His long jump was 10’6″, and that was very good but his 4.07 in the 3-cone was a little slower than expected. His bench of 19 reps, vertical jump of 35″, and 7.04 3-cone were good but not as good as what people expected. Don’t be surprised if he does some of those drills over at his pro day.
Duke Johnson – I thought his overall performance was not as good as was expected. Most thought he would run in the 4.4’s and he ran 4.54, His vertical jump was a disappointing 33.5″, but his long jump was good, leaping 10’1″. He did not do any of the agility drills and will perform those at the Miami pro day.
David Johnson – The Northern Iowa running back really helped himself. At 6’1 – 224, he ran 4.50, did 25 reps and jumped out of the building with a 41.5″ vertical. His 6.82 3-cone was also very good. You can bet a number of running back coaches will be off to Northern Iowa over the next five to six weeks.
Zach Zenner – The South Dakota St back was one of my sleeper running backs for the draft. His time of 4.60 was just about where I thought he would run. His 41″ vertical jump, 10″1 long jump and 7.08 3-cone were all better than I anticipated. He may have gone from a late pick to a mid round pick.
Wide Receivers –
Kevin White – I don’t think there was a scout or coach in the building who thought White could run 4.35. Most felt he was around 4.45 at best. His 23 reps showed he not only is fast but very strong. The rest of his workout went about as expected but we all know that wide receiver is a stop watch driven position, and White was among the best.
Chris Conley – If the Georgia receiver wanted to get noticed, he accomplished his goal. He proved to be the most explosive receiver in this year’s draft with the numbers he put up yesterday. He ran 4.35, has a vertical jump of 45″ and an astounding 11’7″ in the long jump. I have never seen a guy go 11’7″ before in that drill.
Amari Cooper – I felt Cooper’s numbers were all very good except his vertical jump. He ran 4.42 which is about what was expected. His 20 shuttle and 3-cone were 3.98 and 6.71 respectively which was also what was expected. His vertical of only 33″ was very average to say the least. He long jumped 10′. With that good of a long jump, you would expect that he would vertical much higher.
Devante Parker – Parker ran faster than I anticipated. At 6’3 – 209, I thought he would run about 4.50, so going 4.45 was a pleasant surprise. He did not perform any of the agility drills, but his jumps of 36.5″ and 10’5″ were good for such a big receiver.
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2015 NFL Combine Notebook – Part I

On any given day at the Scouting Combine, there are a number of different storylines we could write about. That said, the following are some things that jumped out at me yesterday.
Todd Gurley opts out of medical exam
I know for the fans, the purpose of the Combine is to see how their favorite players workout. Ask the 32 NFL clubs what the main purpose of the Combine is and they will tell you it is the medical exams. That was why the Combine was started back in 1985. The league could bring in 300+ players to one place and have all of those players go through a very thorough medical examination. If a player needed certain tests, MRI’s or X-Rays, he would only have to have those things done once instead of multiple times by visiting each team’s head quarters.
This is the 31st Combine, and I have been involved with 29 of them as a member of a club. Until Thursday, I had never heard of a player opting out of his medical exam. It just doesn’t make sense.
Georgia running back Todd Gurley became that first player. As you recall, Gurley suffered an ACL injury in November and had surgery shortly thereafter. It’d been roughly three months since that surgery, and I’m sure every teams’ medical staff wanted to know the result of the surgery. The reasons are simple. They want to know if it was a good, clean procedure, how the healing process went, and what the prognosis is for the future. By Gurley opting out of the medical exams, the doctors will know nothing about his surgery. The first thought will be “what is he hiding”?
I have read statements like “he didn’t want all those doctors pulling at his knee just a few months after the surgery”. That’s nonsense, as a group the NFL team orthopedic surgeons are among the best in the world at what they do. They were not about to “damage” a surgically repaired knee. They wanted to examine it and get an MRI on it. The MRI can tell a lot as to how the knee has healed since surgery. The doctors can also compare that MRI to a follow-up MRI at the medical rechecks in April. This is all very important information a team needs before making a multi-million dollar investment in a player. For Gurley to opt out was just plain stupid! No matter who made the decision, Gurley himself or his agents, it was the wrong decision to make and will just raise a red flag for all teams interested.
Ali Marpet has an outstanding workout
During Senior Bowl week I wrote how Hobart guard Ali Marpet was very impressive in practice. Coming from a division III school and being able to hold his own against players from the big schools moved him from a late pick or free agent to about a fifth or sixth round pick. After his workout yesterday, he may now be a solid fourth rounder and maybe even a third.
Marpet ran his second 40 yard dash in 4.98, the best time of the offensive linemen. He also had 30 reps on the bench, a 30.5″ vertical jump, a 7.33 3-cone drill and a 4.47 20-yard shuttle. All those times were among the best at his position. If he has done anything in the last month, it’s prove that he can compete with the big boys.
Other offensive linemen who had impressive workouts were Jake Fisher of Oregon who ran 5.01, a 32.5″ vertical and shuttle times of 4.33 and 7.25. La’el Collins of LSU proved that he was athletic enough to play left tackle. Andrus Peat of Stanford also looked very good as did D.J. Humphries from Florida.
Some defensive ends looked really small
The Combine has some players who are predominantly pass rushers working with the defensive ends, when in fact they will be 3-4 OLB’s once they get to the league. Why? They are just too small to play down and hold up.
Missouri’s Shane Ray weighed in at 245. Clemson’s Vic Beasley was 246, Nebraska’s Randy Gregory was only 235 and  Virginia’s Eli Harold was 247. These players, as well as others with similar body types, will all do linebacker drills when they finish doing their D-Line drills. The linebacker drills will be very important to them, as that’s where they will earn their money.
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Which combine drills are most important?

No one seriously believes that the NFL Combine allows scouts or their geeky counterparts to sit in an office and evaluate talent based solely on Combine results. Where there is disagreement, though, is in how to interpret those results. Some believe the Combine data is relatively useless and that the true value of the Combine lies in its medical exams and interviews. I tend to believe that the data shows that the results of some drills, dependent on the playing position, do seem to be an indicator of success and should be an element in the decision-making process.
This article presents the results of an analysis that seems to support that case. It should be said up-front that no drill that provides an absolute guarantee of success. Rather, it is a matter of improving a team’s probability of success on draft day. Think of it like basic strategy in blackjack.
The analysis was performed using Combine results for the past 10 years (2005-2014) and reviewed each drill by playing position for top Combine performers and all Combine participants.  The metric used in the analysis to measure success is whether a player has started one NFL season, an admittedly low hurdle but one that fits the time frame used in the analysis.  A starting season is defined as any season where a player starts at least eight games. Top Performers are defined as the top five performers (plus ties) at each drill in each year for each playing position.
The analysis was intended to serve three purposes:

  • Identify the playing positions for which the Combine is most important
  • Place the drills in order of importance by playing position
  • Determine the degree of difference among the drills for each playing position
    • This recognizes that simply putting the drills in order of importance does not provide enough information to evaluate importance
    • More about the degree of difference later in the article

Before proceeding, here is a reminder of the six traditional Combine drills (plus the 40-yard splits) with the abbreviations for each as used in this article:

  • 40 yard dash (“40)”
    • Further broken down into the first 10 yards (“10”), the first 20 yards (“20) and the final 20 yards “F20”
    • The final 20 yards are often referred to as the “flying 20” because the player has a running start (the first 20 yards) to begin the timing
  • Bench Press (“BP”)
  • Vertical Jump (“VJ”)
  • Broad Jump (“BJ”)
  • 20 yard shuttle (“20S’)
  • 3-cone drill (“3C”)

Importance of the Combine by Playing Position
As a starting point, the analysis identified the playing positions for which Combine drills are most important. This was done by comparing the percentage of one-year starters from the Top Performers to those from all Combine participants. Table 1 reflects the aggregate result of all Combine drills.
Combine positions are used for each player with the only exception being that running backs and defensive ends were divided by size. Running backs were split into those under 215 pounds and those weighing 215 pounds or more. The dividing point for defensive ends was 270 pounds.

A large difference between Top Performers and All Participants indicates the importance of focusing on Top Performers at the Combine. Cornerbacks and defensive ends (both small and large) have the largest difference between Top Performers and All Participants.
Centers, Quarterbacks and Large Running Backs have only minor differences, indicating that Combine drills may not be all that important for those positions.
Importance of the Drills
The importance of the drills is measured by calculating the percentage of one-year starters for each Combine drill and playing position. The premise is that the higher the percentage, the more important the drill. Table 2 reflects the percentage of Top Performers that started at least one season by Combine drill for each playing position.

The information in Table 2 is then used to place Combine drills for each position in the order of importance. Please note that the Bench Press is not relevant for quarterbacks and wide receivers (very few even do the drill) and are omitted for those positions. There are also a few ties in order of importance that cannot be reflected in this table but will show up in the degree of difference.
The degree of diversity in the top drills for each position is noteworthy. Of the 15 drills ranked first (one for each playing position), six are some variation of the 40-yard dash, three are the 3-Cone drill and there are two each for the Bench Press, Broad Jump and 20-yard shuttle. Only the vertical jump is not represented.
Table 3 shows the ranking of the drills for each playing position:

A kinesiology expert might look at this table and say it does not make sense. But the results speak for themselves. Whether it makes perfect sense or is a statistical oddity, I will leave to others to debate.
Degree of Difference
The degree of difference calculation is intended to answer the question of how much more significant one drill is than another. The data from Table 2 was used to develop this index. The index value for the drill having the highest percentage for each playing position was set at 100. The index value for all other drills by playing position was calculated by dividing (1) the percentage of starters from each drill excluding the top-rated drill by (2) the percentage of starters for the top drill. For example, assume that (1) 50% of the top performing offensive tackles in the Bench Press started at least one season and (2) the Combine drill with the best outcome for top performing offensive tackles is the 10-yard split at 67.2%. The index for the 10-yard split would be set at 100.0. The index for the Bench Press would be 74.4, calculated by dividing 50% by 67.4%.
Table 4 presents the index values that were calculated. For centers there is very little difference among all the drills and the least predictive drill has an index value of about 87% of the most predictive drill.  For small running backs, on the other hand, there is a significant difference between the 10-yard split and the flying 20, indicating that the 10-yard split is clearly the most important drill.

Please note that the indices should be used within each playing position. In other words the Center index of 87.1 for the 10-yard split cannot be compared to the Guard index of 74.9 for the same drill.
One Last Question
A logical follow-up question is whether the probability of success for a player increases if he ranks as a Top Performer for multiple drills. The short answer is yes. An analysis was performed that identified players who were Top Performers in each of the top three drills for each playing position. Table 5 shows the outcome.

As can be seen in Table 5, those players who rank as a Top Performer in all three of the top drills at each position do outperform all Top Performers. The overall difference, though, is modest. Several positions had relatively few data points, though, and it is difficult to draw any conclusions from those.
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