Deion Sanders at the 2012 NFL Combine.
With the first pick of the 2013 NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs selected little-known prospect Leon Sandcastle after he blew up the combine. Sandcastle ran a 4.2-second 40-yard dash and wowed scouts in agility drills.
It’s not that hard to screw up the first pick of the draft and that’s just what the Chiefs would do if they actually drafted a quarterback like Sandcastle, who the advertising engine at NFL Network dreamed up for a Super Bowl commercial.
The Chiefs should avoid Deion Sanders in an afro wig and stick-on mustache, but they should also avoid prospects that drastically increase their draft stock with a big combine or pro day. The commercial should remind Chiefs fans not to trust a lot of what will be said over the next two months.
Even the best talent evaluators occasionally ignore all the warning signs that could lead to catastrophic failure. It’s actually rather easy to get blinded by the kind of athleticism Leon Sandcastle displayed in the commercial, and there will be prospects like him that do the same in just a few weeks
It’s very common for a prospect to drastically increase their draft stock with an excellent combine and pro day—JaMarcus Russell comes to mind. There will also be average athletes who wow teams in the meeting rooms too. Maybe that quarterback is Blaine Gabbert or one of the many other draft busts at quarterback.
For just about every hit there is a corresponding miss and not just at the quarterback position. The pre-draft process is imperfect and the quickest way to miss is by overreacting. Teams might overreact to a workout or an interview and end up missing on a good player. The combine, pro days and private workouts are all part of the puzzle, but just how much weight each should be given varies from team-to-team.
Sandcastle was a lot closer to an athlete who can’t play quarterback (Tim Tebow) than a pocket passer who just won the Super Bowl (Joe Flacco). Many teams will put too much stock in the athleticism of the quarterback prospects this season thanks to the success of Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. This is an obvious overreaction to the read-option offense.
The Chiefs have to decide between a Geno Smith, Tyler Wilson and not selecting a quarterback at all. Wilson has gained significant ground on Smith already because he decided to attend the Senior Bowl and Smith did not. Scouts often wonder if prospects have something to hide if they don’t participate in something.
Prospects routinely don’t participate in drills at the combine and are often criticized for it. It’s a catch-22 because the performances are picked apart, good or bad. A great performance generates buzz and might inflate the value of a prospect and poor performances often cause players to drop more than they should.
Anquan Boldin famously ran a 4.71 in the 40-yard dash and fell to the second round. Meanwhile, the NFL is littered with failures that ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.4-second range. Quarterbacks have looked great against air only to shrink under the pressure of an NFL defense.
One bad day or one good day can make a difference. The good news is that Andy Reid’s specialty of sorts is not overreacting. Reid’s not prone to overreacting to the combine or a pro day. Even poor interviews might not faze Reid if he’s a good player.
If you examine Reid’s history in Philadelphia you won’t find many players the Eagles drafted who blew up the combine. What you will find are players who dropped because of off-the-field concerns or combine performances.
You might note that DeSean Jackson blew up the combine, but his maturity was a major question mark for teams. The Eagles got Jackson in the second round after receivers like Devin Thomas, James Hardy and Eddie Royal. Occasionally Jackson’s maturity issues hurt the Eagles, but he still ended up being a value pick at the time.
General manager John Dorsey didn’t get enamored with the athletes at the combine either. At least that seems to be the case because the Packers selected James Jones and Jordy Nelson, who both ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.5-second range, which is considered to be a step slow for receivers.
According to Judy Battista of the New York Times, the Packers did extra research on Aaron Rodgers because of pre-draft buzz that he might fall in the draft. Why Rodgers fell remains a mystery, but it may well have been the way Rodgers came off in the meeting room.
There is certainly something to be learned during the combine and pro days or the NFL wouldn’t put so much time and effort into it. The problem is putting too much stock in these performances. The Raiders were horrible drafters for years because Al Davis fell in love with speed.
The Chiefs aren’t going to overreact, but that isn’t going to stop the fans from falling in love with a prospect that does his finest Leon Sandcastle impression and blows up the combine. Maybe it’s easy to say don’t get enamored with good athletes, but it’s just as important not to overreact to player interviews and off-the-field issues.