Predicting Winners and Losers of Every Combine Drill

Eric Galko@OptimumScoutingFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2014

Predicting Winners and Losers of Every Combine Drill

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    The NFL Scouting Combine is designed for NFL teams to test both the mental makeup and raw athleticism of prospects for their potential employers.

    Off the field, prospects are interviewed, 15 minutes at a time per team, for general managers and coaches to get a better feel for their coach-ability, football IQ and overall intelligence. 

    On the field, they are put through six primary tests, along with position-specific workouts, to compare their talents with positional peers. Learn about what each drill says about a prospect's athleticism here at Optimum Scouting.

    But despite the fanfare the event receives and the high priority placed on the workouts, most prospects' draft value doesn't change based on their workouts. NFL teams arrive in Indianapolis with projected numbers established for each prospect, and as long as those numbers closely match their projections, a player's grade won't be altered.

    I've done my best to project, based off their college film, which players may exceed or struggle to meet the expectations evaluators have entering the combine. 

    Keep in mind that the predicted "winners" may not be among the best in attendance but are players I expect to impress more than anticipated. And for the predicted "losers," I'm expecting these prospects to fall short of the necessary thresholds teams likely have based off film study.

40-Yard Dash

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    Predicted Winner: George Atkinson, RB, Notre Dame

    A surprise early entrant to the 2014 class, Atkinson opted to leave Notre Dame despite being mostly a flashy runner, lacking the consistency to give NFL teams the confidence to draft him early.

    As a former standout California sprinter in high school, however, he'll likely post one of the best 40-yard dash times among running backs in attendance. In such a deep running back class, a wowing 40 time could be the deciding tiebreaker that gives Atkinson the nod over others at his position.

    Predicted Loser: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

    I am a Bishop Sankey fan based on his performance this year at Washington, but when it comes to testing his speed, there are question marks.

    On film, he's caught from behind in the open field more often than you'd like to see from a potential starting running back. His lack of top-end speed will likely be thrust into the spotlight as he runs his 40-yard dash, with a time around 4.6 seconds being possible.

    Evaluators should be expecting a mediocre time, but if he's in the bottom tier of his position, it'll be tough to overcome on draft day when teams are deciding between Sankey and other top runners.

Bench Press

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    Predicted Winner: Jon Halapio, OG, Florida

    Despite playing through a torn pectoral during his final season at Florida, Jon Halapio finished an impressive senior campaign in which he dominated with strength and a strong lower half as a pass- and run-blocker.

    More impressively, Halapio was clearly the strongest offensive lineman at the 2014 Senior Bowl. He controlled most of the defensive linemen in attendance and left Mobile as one of the best guards eligible for the 2014 draft.

    Now that he's fully recovered from his pectoral injury, Halapio should be able to thoroughly impress in Indianapolis with his bench press.

    Predicted Loser: Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia

    NFL teams covet offensive tackles who possess the length, size and short-area athleticism to be a pass-blocker. Morgan Moses fits all of those criteria, which is why he's been considered a late first-round option by some, including ESPN's Todd McShay (subscription required), since the college football season ended.

    Based on my evaluation of Moses, however, he's not as physically dominant as you'd expect from a blocker his size. Thanks to his arm length, he has farther to push the bar than the average offensive lineman. Because of that, Moses isn't a lock to reach 25 repetitions at the bench press, which may be a bit concerning for NFL teams.

Vertical Jump

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    Predicted Winner: Josh Huff, WR, Oregon

    After the 40-yard dash, the vertical jump is the most important workout event for wide receivers at the combine. For a plus-athlete like Josh Huff who didn't always get a chance to shine in the Oregon offense, the combine could be his opportunity to prove to teams that he has NFL-starter upside.

    An explosive receiver who thrived vertically, his explosiveness and field-stretching ability are evident on film. Don't be surprised if Huff ends up with one of the highest vertical jumps of any player at the combine.

    Predicted Loser: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

    I'm rooting for Verrett to have a great combine because he'll likely start his time in Indianapolis with question marks about if he can be a starting cornerback in the NFL because he's under 5'10".

    In terms of the vertical jump, however, I'm not sure Verrett can impress teams enough to overlook his lackluster stature. Verrett is a playmaker on the field and one of the most technically sound cornerbacks in the 2014 class, but teams may leave the combine with concerns about his size and athletic upside, potentially pushing him outside the top 50 picks.

Broad Jump

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    Predicted Winner: James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech

    James Gayle has flashed near-elite upside throughout his Virginia Tech career with his impressive explosiveness and athleticism, but he has never taken the next step in his development to emerge as a first-round contender for NFL teams.

    Despite his inability to dominate in college, he could dominate in Indianapolis in a majority of the combine drills among defensive linemen. In particular, the broad jump showcases a player's explosiveness from his initial position, which for defensive linemen shows the explosiveness off the snap. Gayle could put up the best numbers in the broad jump of all defensive linemen at the combine.

    Predicted Loser: Max Bullough, ILB, Michigan State

    Max Bullough was a leader of the Michigan State defense throughout his career and had most of his college success thanks to his build, physicality in traffic and football IQ. However, he was never known for his athleticism in college.

    After entering the East-West Shrine Game at 265 pounds, question marks arose as to what his NFL position might be. He'll likely struggle to compete with his linebacker peers in most workout drills, especially in the broad jump, which is one of the most important drills when evaluating linebackers.

3-Cone Drill

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    Predicted Winner: Marcus Smith, DE/OLB, Louisville

    After a breakout season where he emerged as a leader on the defense and produced 15 sacks, Marcus Smith has put himself firmly in the top-50 discussion.

    I expect Smith to be one of the leaders among defensive linemen in most combine drills, including potentially posting the best three-cone drill time. Smith possesses the change-of-direction and lateral explosiveness to leave the combine as one of the most intriguing pass-rushers in this draft class.

    Predicted Loser: Larry Webster, DE/TE, Bloomsburg

    One of the most hyped small-school players in the 2014 class, Webster has a basketball background and plus-production over the past two years to intrigue NFL teams.

    After watching him on film and live during the Shrine Game practices, however, it's clear that Webster is a work in progress and maybe isn't an elite athlete laterally.

    After playing defensive end in college at Division II Bloomsburg, his lack of ideal bend around the edge may force teams to consider him at tight end in the NFL if he doesn't impress at the combine.

Shuttle Runs

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    Predicted Winner: Aaron Lynch, DE, South Florida

    Similar to Marcus Smith in the previous slide, Aaron Lynch will likely leave the combine as one of the most impressive defensive athletes in Indianapolis.

    He transferred from Notre Dame and sat out a year before getting his chance on the South Florida defense. After a lackluster junior season, the high-upside athlete opted to leave school early and make his talents eligible for NFL teams.

    For defensive linemen, the shuttle runs are designed to test a player's transition explosiveness, which is one of Lynch's best qualities as an athlete.

    Predicted Loser: Michael Sam, DE/OLB, Missouri

    Michael Sam will be one of the most intriguing names to follow at the NFL Scouting Combine after his announcement that he is gay in an interview with ESPN's Chris Connelly. When it comes down to teams' final draft grades on Sam, however, his combine workout will mean much more than his sexual orientation.

    In terms of his athleticism, Sam doesn't possess elite upside and likely won't be among the best at his position at the combine in a majority of the drills. In the shuttle drill specifically, Sam doesn't have great lateral explosiveness, which is a primary concern in his scouting report as he hopes to sell 3-4 defenses on his ability to fit in their defensive fronts.