The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine is here, and there have already been some interesting developments as scouts have started to poke and prod some of the nation’s top players.
The NFL draft is still a long ways away, but the combine represents the first impressions these teams are getting with players on a personal level, so it’s an important event.
Sound bites tend to get a bit overblown given the dearth of NFL news at this time of year, so it’s important to take a lot of what comes out of the combine with a grain of salt.
But there is still some useful information to be gleaned from the NFL’s biggest workout day.
Bridgewater Still the Best
As is the norm with some of the best prospects, some have started making noise that Teddy Bridgewater’s measurements and combine decisions are lowering his draft stocks.
Even as the consensus top pick, Bridgewater attracted attention when he announced he wouldn’t be throwing at the combine. Instead, he’ll throw at his pro day on March 17, attracting some unwanted attention.
But his reasoning for the decision seems pretty sound. He told USA Today’s Jim Corbett:
The biggest thing was just me being a perfectionist, I just want everything to go right. Whether I'm taking a five-step drop and the guy is not on top of his route or the times when I don't have that chemistry with the guys, I tend to look at it from a pro standpoint. You want to be with your guys to have that timing and that connection. So that was the biggest thing.
He also aroused some concern when his hands came in at 9.25 inches, deemed a bit small for a quarterback, but he deflected that criticism as well.
“At the end of the day, it doesn't matter about your hand size, the only thing that matters is getting the ball to your wide receivers,'' he told Corbett. "I feel that with my accuracy, my arm strength and my decision making, the hand size shouldn't be a factor.”
These are classic cases of nonexistent problems scouts overanalyze, and Bridgewater handled them exceptionally well.
He said himself that he’s the best quarterback in the draft, and by all accounts, he’s absolutely right.
Early Injury Worries
The real stories coming out of the combine have to do with some players experiencing early injury woes.
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington is a physical beast at 6’6” and 266 pounds, so the combine should’ve been a good chance for him to show off his skills.
But instead, he surprised observers when he announced that he wouldn’t participating in drills, prompting analysts like NEPatriotsDraft.com’s Mike Loyko to wonder what else might be at play:
Some, like DraftInsider.net’s Tony Pauline, hear he has a fracture in his foot:
Seferian-Jenkins was widely considered a first-round talent, rivaling only Eric Ebron for the title of top tight end, so a hidden injury would be a big deal for the draft.
But he wasn’t the only one with combine concerns.
Former Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio was one of the draft’s top tackle prospects, but he has since been terrifying scouts with his poor combine performance.
Kouandjio has had knee issues ever since he tore his ACL back in 2011, and the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport says it has scared away most teams he’s worked out for today:
He finished last in the 40-yard dash with a time of 5.59 seconds, and his draft stock is plummeting accordingly.
While he was once considered a surefire first-rounder, he’s since slipped drastically, as Pauline explained:
If things truly are as bad as the observers say, Kouandjio’s career could be in jeopardy in both the short term and long term. These troubling results could be partially due to the lack of preparation Pauline charged the tackle with, but if it is actually a botched surgery holding him back, that has to be very concerning.
Issues like the ones some have attributed to Bridgewater are what make the combine a frustrating process at times.
But injury issues like the ones with Kouandjio and Seferian-Jenkins are the reasons scouts still bother with the combine, and there’s sure to be more news forthcoming.
While many will be busy paying attention to fast 40 times or big bench presses, the combine will really produce some valuable information when it comes to which players are healthy and which ones aren’t.