NFL Combine Preview: A Weird Beauty Pageant Feb 19th, 2008
By: Bodog Nation Staff
CappersPicks.com NFL Handicapping Staff
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You know you’re a serious fan if you’re watching jocks cross train
The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show wrapped up last week in Madison Square Garden. Good thing, because the canines wouldn’t want to compete for ratings against the human version of primp and preen that takes place this week in Indianapolis.
The annual NFL Combine is marketed as the world’s most physically demanding job fair, but it’s actually a cattle call experiencing an increase in fan interest that may be hard to believe. Like last year, the combine will be televised on the NFL Network, and heterosexual men will watch and drool over the physical gifts of 20-something-year-olds chasing the blue-ribbon prize that is a fat NFL contract.
For the most part, the names most of us have heard of aren’t the ones the combine is for. In fact, more and more elite collegiate players are choosing not to participate in physical drills at the combine, taking the position that they can only lose. If your agent asserts you’re a top-10 selection in February, then your stock can only go down when observed under the microscope… or so the thinking goes.
Then why is the combine increasing in popularity if the stars are skipping key portions of it? Hype, for one thing. An industry is booming around preparing players for the testing that will determine their futures. Many of this week’s 333 participants have trained with former NFL pros. Arkansas running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones have even gone under the tutelage of Olympic champion Michael Johnson to improve their speed. All of that running with celebrities garners attention. For those who were otherwise uninitiated, the intense prep work also brings into focus the importance of the combine.
“The better a guy does at the combine, the more favorably he’ll do in the draft,” Colts GM Bill Polian told reporters last week. “You always look at how a player performs on film, but you absolutely take how they do at the combine into account.”
Two years ago, Vernon Davis famously turned himself from a nobody out of Maryland into the sixth overall pick by running faster and leaping higher than a 6-foot-3-inch, 250-pound tight end should be able to. The other big combine star in 2006 was Mario Williams, who completed 35 bench-press reps at 225 pounds. That show of strength was one reason Houston chose Williams first overall instead of Reggie Bush.
They are among the success stories that emerged from the RCA Dome. The failures include Vince Young, who cost himself any chance of the top spot in ’06 when he scored a six out of 50 on the Wonderlic intelligence test. Last year, Brady Quinn opted out of the combine’s physical workouts and then underperformed in the only pre-draft session he did participate in. His stock plummeted from third overall to 22nd.
The 2008 NFL Draft class isn’t nearly as star-studded as those of recent years. The most highly regarded quarterbacks, Brian Brohm and Matt Ryan, may both fall out of the top five, and after McFadden is taken early, there won’t be another running back selected until the teens, according to most projections.
With the game’s two highest-profile positions lacking in incoming talent, the talk of the combine figures to focus on defensive linemen, linebackers and offensive tackles, the positions that will likely dominate the first round of the draft on April 26.
When the combine opens on Wednesday, Virginia defensive end Chris Long (son of Howie) and LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey will be the headliners. Both of them will likely wind up being selected in the top three on draft day. Underexposed players like East Carolina running back Chris Johnson, who says he wants to run the 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds, and Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco are among those who can propel themselves into first-round consideration with a showing that turns heads.
Still, when it comes to knowing who is going to be selected by whom, the combine reveals little.
“When kids ask me, I say, ‘Treat it like it’s 100 percent a job interview and conduct yourself that way,'” says Mike Mayock, a former NFL receiver and a member of the broadcast crew that will cover the combine. And like any job interview, you don’t know what will happen unless you’re one of the few behind closed doors.
Super Bowl odds won’t shift on the happenings at the combine, but you can be sure impressions will be made this week that will alter the course of franchises. In a billion-dollar industry like the NFL, that’s apparently reason enough to pay attention.
Random Thoughts on the Week in Sports
- Expect the Arizona Diamondbacks’ World Series odds to drop after Randy Johnson’s performance in training camp on the weekend. “The Big Unit” reportedly zinged 27 pitches off a mound and didn’t seem troubled by the back injury that sidelined him most of last season.
- Roger Clemens isn’t going to jail, but he may not be going to the Hall of Fame either. The defiant Rocket tried his best to come across as authentic on Capitol Hill last week but still failed to provide a credible reason for why either Andy Pettitte or Brian McNamee would have such contradictory tales about his reported use of illegal performance enhancers.
- The Memphis Tigers seemed caught off guard by the determination of the UAB Blazers on Saturday and failed to cover another point spread. John Calipari’s team better get used to facing opponents who are hell-bent on stopping their run to perfection.
- The Detroit Red Wings are suddenly in the position of having to make a trade. Having lost six straight, the NHL’s leaders have been exposed as a team that lacks size and grit up front. Mats Sundin’s arrival in Motown has been rumored for a while, and the Red Wings may now be willing to trade Jiri Hudler to get the deal with Toronto done. With Dominik Hasek on the shelf this week and Chris Osgood struggling, betting against the Red Wings for another game or two may prove profitable.
That’s upsetting: Penske teammates Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch had a glorious chance to come up with a Talladega Nights riff after finishing 1-2 in the Daytona 500, but they played it straight instead. Too bad, NASCAR could have used some personality after a dud race.
Proof of disorder in the universe: Dwight Howard. His first dunk Saturday from behind the backboard was jawdropping enough, but then he came up with three more inhuman ones. Sick.
Coolest song of the week: Hunger Strike by Temple of the Dog (last week: Everlong by the Foo Fighters).
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