Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen's absence from the 2010 NFL Combine can’t come as a surprise too many draft followers and team executives.
Many top quarterback prospects have chosen not to perform in drills in recent years. The past three years, no top quarterback taken in the draft (Stafford in 2009, Ryan in 2008, and JaMarcus Russell in 2007) threw at the Combine.
However, the past two combines, the quarterback taken second in the draft at his position has performed in all workouts at the Combine and both emerged as top flight prospects.
Joe Flacco in 2008 wowed scouts with his tremendous arm strength and surprising solid technique as a passer. He rose from a mid-round pick to a steal at the middle of round one.
Last year, Mark Sanchez performed surprisingly well in drills, and showed his completeness as a passer, his athletic ability, and his potential at the next level with his interviews. He won over the Jets at the Combine, and they traded up twelve spots just to nab him.
So, it’s not unheard of to have a first-round quarterback throw at the Combine, yet both of the 2010 presumed top quarterbacks are choosing to not throw or run for scouts.
Why it’s Not Smart
First off, let’s realize that more often than not, it’s these players’ agents that are telling them not to workout. Most of the quarterback prospects are confident in their skills and are ready to show them off, but their agents feel that working out can only hurt.
By performing in the passing drills at the Combine, a spread offense quarterback like Sam Bradford can reveal that he isn’t very fine-tuned as a drop back passer at the NFL level and could show that he needs much work.
Keep in mind that in the past five years, only two shotgun, spread offense quarterbacks have been first-round picks: Vince Young and Alex Smith. Young is just starting to come on, and Smith is fighting for a starting job. So teams are very cautious of this for a first-round pick.
I think the more important reason why it’s foolish for these top quarterbacks to skip workout is that a team could fall for another quarterback prospect. Now, I’m not saying that Colt McCoy or Dan LeFevour could go ahead of either of these two quarterbacks just because of a Combine showing.
However, look at the Brady Quinn situation. He didn’t workout at the Combine, which seemed smart at the time because he was viewed as a lock for the top 10. His fallback option was the Dolphins at No. 9, and when it came time to choose a player, they didn’t take Quinn. Instead, they had their heart set on taking John Beck in the second round and felt that a Ginn/Beck combination was more valuable than Brady Quinn.
So if a team like the Browns, Bills, or Seahawks feels that McCoy or LeFevour could be a long-term answer at quarterback, they can get a talented prospect in the top 10 and pass on Clausen or Bradford.
With rumors of Clausen’s lack of leadership, teams could be worried that he’s the next Joey Harrington and go with more of a leader with their quarterback. It’s speculation as of right now, but with tens of millions of dollars at stake, Clausen should be worried.
Why It’s Smart
The reason that quarterbacks will refuse to throw at the NFL Combine is that they could have a poor accuracy showing because of their lack of familiarity with the receivers there.
Every receiver runs routes differently, and it takes years to get comfortable with certain player’s routes. So if Golden Tate runs a crisp yet short out route, and Clausen is comfortable with that, he might throw it the same way to a receiver who runs a deep out. When it falls incomplete, it looks like Clausen “struggles with the out route,” when in reality, he’s just not comfortable.
I hate that argument, because everyone has to deal with that, but it still makes sense on a pure “prospect momentum” standpoint. Quarterback prospects need to seem like perfect players to be top five picks, so any sign of weakness may scare teams out of dishing out huge contracts to players with question marks.
Also, by skipping the workout, both Bradford and Clausen can focus on interviews and not worry about meeting the high demands on the field. Interviews are key for quarterbacks, so staying physically and emotionally ready for interviews is crucial.
What Scouts Think
As you would expect, scouts hate when quarterback prospects don’t workout at the Combine. This is a chance to see each top prospect compared to his peers on the same field, under the same conditions, with the same coaching and directions.
Players can’t hide deficiencies, and guys who haven’t had the chance to show their traits can explode on the scene. By skipping this, scouts can’t get a complete feel for these prospects.
Plus, now scouts have to travel to these players' Pro Days in mid-to-late March and try to evaluate these prospects under Bradford’s and Clausen’s ideal conditions with their ideal receivers.
Rarely does a prospect hurt himself at a Pro Day, but rarely can he make his stock rise substantially if he chooses to pass on the Combine.
From a scout standpoint, I’m disappointed that I won’t get to see Bradford and Clausen working side by side next to quarterback prospects I love, like Zac Robinson and Dan LeFevour.
But, I can’t deny that it’s probably a smart move. Both prospects figure to be top 10 picks, with the slight chance that Clausen slips outside it.
Bradford gets a chance to answer his shoulder woes with the injury evaluation, and both prospects can showcase their high football IQ’s in the interview process. They face less public pressure and can focus entirely on being perfect in the locker room and in the huddle quarterback, and hope that scouts like their film enough to warrant a high pick.
So, fans, don’t get too frustrated with Clausen and Bradford not working out. With huge sums of money at their finger tips, they are like star actors competing for the lead role in the 2010 blockbuster: They know the money will be there if they don’t make any mistakes, and by evading any chance of hurting their stock, they can ensure that they’ll make out well.
Check out www.NFLHouse.com for more great information and insight. Contact me at EricG@nflhouse.com.