The combine has grown in popularity among fans in recent years, so much so that it’s now a televised event. Fans compare measureables such as height, weight, wing span, jumping ability, 40-yard dash times and bench-press reps, using pure athleticism to rate their favorite prospects.
In reality, while the combine is a tool teams use to collect highly specific raw data about prospects, it’s a relatively small part of the process. Front offices that fall in love with workout warriors over football players who performed well on tape typically don’t do well. They’re focusing on the wrong thing.
That doesn’t mean the combine has no use. The Philadelphia Eagles will go into the week looking for a handful of traits, positions and individuals.
In many cases, this is the team’s their first chance to meet these kids. You know what they say about first impressions.
And let’s not devalue the combine too much. After all, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is familiar with and believes in two familiar mantras: speed kills and big people beat up little people. The combine measures both of those and much more.
The Eagles must fix their inconsistent pass rush. Trent Cole led the club in sacks in 2013 with 8.0, but he’ll be 32 and will likely only see one more year of his current contract based on the way it’s structured. Nobody else consistently got to the quarterback.
Luckily, this looks like a fairly deep draft for outside linebackers. UCLA’s Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack out of Buffalo will likely be off the board before the Birds’ No. 22 pick is on the clock, but there are plenty of other prospects to consider in Rounds 1-3.
Some of the names the Eagles will be watching include Senior Bowl MVP Dee Ford out of Auburn, Kyle Van Noy from BYU, Jeremiah Attaochu out of Georgia Tech, Stanford’s Trent Murphy and Marcus Smith from Louisville, to name a few.
The combine should help separate that rather large group. The Eagles will be interested in everything from the height and weight of these prospects to how they lift and run, all the down to their agility.
Keep in mind, the Eagles play a 3-4, so they’ll be looking for players who can also occasionally drop into coverage. Stiff hips and players who don’t look comfortable backpedaling will lose points.
First and foremost, though, scouts are searching for the athletic traits that make up a great pass-rusher. A coaching staff can teach anything except the violence, athleticism and aggression required to chase down the quarterback.
A big part of the reason for Philly’s rebound in 2013 was the returns of three injured offensive linemen, but now is not the time to get comfortable there. Three of the five starters are in their 30s.
The Eagles will be looking at guards in particular, where both Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans are on the wrong side of 30, and Herremans has looked shaky at times. It’s not a Day 1, possibly not even a Day 2 need since Herremans is under contract, but the Birds could be looking for somebody to step into that slot as early as next year.
Left tackle Jason Peters returned from a ruptured Achilles to another All-Pro season, but he’s also in his 30s and has only one year remaining on his contract. Chosen fourth overall last year, Lane Johnson will eventually take over Peters, but who would take over for Johnson at right tackle?
Offensive linemen will be on the Eagles’ radar at the combine, specifically how they perform in tests of agility such as the cone drills. Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense and his offensive line’s blocking schemes demand quick, spry players who are in shape, not the plodding maulers of old.
The combine should help separate who’s a Kelly lineman from who isn’t.
No matter the position, long arms are seldom a bad thing.
Height and long arms mean a larger catch radius for a wide receiver or tight end. For a cornerback, it means having the length to bat passes away. For an offensive lineman, it can mean being able to lock on to pass-rushers before they can make a move.
It’s an underrated and sometimes overlooked physical attribute, but it’s not one to ignore. It’s certainly something the Eagles will have in mind at most positions when going over a prospect’s measurements.
It just so happens that wing span matters at a number of the positions the Birds will be looking at in this year’s draft, specifically receivers and corners. So when you’re looking over the 40-yard dash times and broad jumps at these positions, be sure to take that tidbit into account at well.
With a glaring hole at safety and a need to upgrade and solidify the future at cornerback, the Eagles are in line to use two, maybe three selections on defensive backs in May’s draft. Early ones.
And you know what Chip Kelly likes to say: “Big people beat up little people.”
Size will be one of the most important attributes the Birds front office will be looking for in defensive backs, so how they measure at the combine could separate some players. We’re not merely talking about height, either. Length, or wing span, and muscle mass will be part of the equation as well.
If the team’s signing of Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher as free agents last offseason was any indication, the Eagles are looking for corners that are at least 6’0”, are willing and able tacklers and are physical with receivers in coverage.
Similarly at safety, the ideal height will be no less 6’0” but with the range to help out in run support and make plays in coverage.
In many cases, if a defensive back isn’t 6’0”, the Eagles may not even look at him, or they will at least deduct points. Expect it to be a serious point of emphasis in Kelly’s regime, and considering what the Seattle Seahawks did with their defense, perhaps even a mandate all across the NFL.
One of the hottest names in the mock draft biz, the Eagles won’t be the only team watching to see how Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste performs at the combine.
Jean-Baptiste is receiving a lot of attention from analysts, largely due to his outstanding physical profile. At 6’3”, 220 pounds, he’s been drawing comparisons to Seattle Seahawks corner Richard Sherman based on looks alone.
Of course, playing corner in the NFL is about more than being tall and physical with receivers. Teams will want to dissect how he runs and turns his hips at that size. Jean-Baptiste is a converted wide receiver himself, which means he’s raw, but he can showcase abilities that demonstrate he can be coached and molded into a pro cornerback.
A good performance at the combine could solidify Jean-Baptiste as a Day 2 draft choice. Given the Eagles’ need at corner and this Cornhusker’s natural ability, they could be one of the teams salivating over the opportunity to land him.
Pierre Desir will be an intriguing prospect at the combine for several of the same reasons as Jean-Baptiste. At 6’1”, 195 pounds, he certainly has the look of the big style of cornerback many teams will be hunting for in the draft.
Because Desir played at such a small school, though—Division II Lindenwood—there are a lot more unknowns around him as a prospect. Obviously, the level of competition there was not as good as what most players coming out of college faced.
Most NFL teams have learned by now not to make decisions based on the combine, but how Desir performs could be important. It’s one of the few direct comparisons scouts will be able to draw against his peers.
Desir did participate in both the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, drawing some praise at the latter event.
Desir sounds like a Day 3 selection, but perhaps with a strong showing, he could jump as high as the third round. The Eagles should have eyes on the young man.
The Eagles have a bigger need at wide receiver than some folks realize. Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are both free agents, and while many fans and analysts think the team should re-sign both, right now it hasn't re-signed any. Jason Avant is on the bubble, and DeSean Jackson isn’t getting any younger.
Using a first- or second-round pick on a receiver is entirely plausible, and how Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin runs at the combine could change which one he becomes.
At 6’5”, 235 pounds, Benjamin stands out even on the national champion Seminoles. He reached a new level of fame in Philadelphia, though, when ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had him going to the Birds in a mock draft (ESPN Insider subscription only) back in January.
It makes sense. The Eagles don’t have a great deal of size in their receiving corps, especially if they let Cooper walk, and it’s been proven bigger pass-catchers bring with them some natural advantages, particularly in the red zone.
That being said, Benjamin is also described as a pretty good athlete for his size in scouting reports. How he runs, jumps and performs in agility drills will put that to the test. If Benjamin measures well, it could send his draft stock soaring—so much so, the Eagles may not be able to ignore him if he’s still on the board at No. 22.
It may get taken for granted by the casual observer, but one of the most important parts of the combine process, if not the most important part of the process, is the interviews that go on behind the scenes.
In many cases, this is the team’s first chance to sit down and have a conversation with many of these prospects. The meetings can provide a lot of insight, and not just on football IQ—a player’s passion for the game, his character or even his overall mental makeup could be taken into account.
Say what you want about some of the Eagles’ recent drafts—some were poorer than others—but the team has done a good job of avoiding players who get in trouble off the field for quite some time. The emphasis the organization places on interviews is one reason for that.
Ultimately, the Birds aren’t going to invest a draft pick in any player who doesn’t interview well. There’s simply too much on the line to go by only 40-times and bench presses. Once they arrive at the team facility, do they buy into the program? Are they committed to being football players?
There’s a mental aspect to the game as well, and the Eagles are not ones to ignore it.