On Wednesday, Indianapolis will be the focal point of the NFL world. For six days every NFL decision maker will take a seat in Lucas Oil Stadium with an eye toward the future. This is the chance for the top college players to strut their stuff. They will run the 40-yard dash. They will show how many times they can bench press 225 pounds. They will participate in agility drills. Of course they will do all this in their underwear. No pads. No helmets. So the question is, how much do teams rely on the scouting combine to evaluate players?
The answer varies depending on the team. It seems like every year there is a player that comes out of nowhere to become the next workout warrior. That guy begins to rocket up the draft board and usually ends up getting drafted too high. In the past it has usually been the Raiders who fall in love with a prospect based on their workout.
Does anyone remember Darrius Heyward-Bey? In 2009 Heyward-Bey used a tremendous combine to jump ahead of wide receivers such as Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks, and Kenny Britt who were all drafted in the first round that year. Oops. For some players the combine solidifies what scouts have already seen on film.
Guys like Adrian Peterson, Julio Jones and J.J. Watt delivered the goods and solidified already excellent scouting reports. For others their performances cause scouts to go back and look again. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll saw so much in the awesome combine of Bruce Irvin that he drafted with the 15th overall pick, two full rounds ahead of where he was projected. For those who underperform, a bad combine can cause talent evaluators to take a closer look. Just ask Vontaze Burfict.
For most NFL talent evaluators the combine is mostly about completing the picture for each of the players. This includes getting accurate physical measurements and the chance to interview potential draft prospects. The combine has also become more and more popular with football fans. The NFL Network began televising the combine in 2004 with six one-hour long segments recapping the day’s events. This year the network will air over 30 hours of combine coverage, giving plenty of inside access to the legions of football fans everywhere. So what should Cardinals fans be watching for?
Cardinals general manager Steve Keim will have his hands full this week. The Cardinals have some very specific needs, but like most teams they will also be looking for depth and value. The best teams often draft the best player available regardless of position. That means evaluating everybody no matter how small the need may be at that spot.
The combine features seven drills that are performed regardless of position. However, some of these drills are given a larger priority depending on the position. Here is a look at a couple of specific positions of need for the Cardinals and what Steve Keim and his staff might be focusing on for that position.
Carson Palmer did a solid job for the Cardinals this past season, but the Cardinals will be on the lookout for a potential quarterback of the future. The quarterback position is a little different than most at the combine because a large percentage of the focus is on the mental aspects of the game. A good 40 time is nice, but can he read a defense? Keim and company will be looking at the interview process, the Wonderlic results and the position specific drills that showcase accuracy and mechanics. They also be looking at the measurements, most specifically hand size and height. Guys like Russell Wilson and Drew Brees may have proven that you don’t have to six-five to be a stud in this league, but it doesn’t hurt.
The offensive line has been a priority every minute of Steve Keim’s tenure so far as general manager and it will continue to be this offseason. The team will be looking for an upgrade at left tackle and increased depth on the inside of the line, especially considering Guard Daryn Colledge could wind up being a cap casualty. With linemen, one of the key measurements is arm length. Leverage is paramount in blocking and short arms can be a major disadvantage. Bench press isn’t crucial but a good performance certainly doesn’t hurt and the 20 yard shuttle provides valuable insight into a lineman’s ability to block down-field.
The Cardinals have a strong need at safety and could use some depth at corner. Secondary players are one of the biggest movers during the combine. The 40-dash, 3 cone drill, and 20 and 60-yard shuttle drills are big factors. Nowhere is agility and fluid movement more important than in the secondary. Speed and the ability to shift their hips and cut on a dime are vitally important in the secondary. Measurements are also becoming more important in the secondary. With the increasing size and skill of wide receivers and tight ends, big corners and safeties are becoming more valuable. It’s hard for anybody who is five-foot nine to line up across from Calvin Johnson or Jimmy Graham.
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