The NFL combine represents a turning point in the NFL offseason, the point when all the evaluations created by NFL personnel get a first review. All 32 organizations and media members to get a first look at the prospects on an even playing field, a six-day boot camp testing over 300 potential draftees.
Preliminary draft boards have been made, but executives and coaches are eager to begin to gain true clarity as to where depth does, and does not, exist in the draft.
Seahawks GM John Schneider has made it no secret: Draft picks are extremely valuable to his team building approach. The Seahawks currently hold seven, possibly more depending on how the lockout affects compensatory picks.
Schneider has previously noted one of the biggest mistakes a GM can make is to let pre-draft events, such as the combine or Senior Bowl, change an evaluation too much on one player; the film doesn’t lie.
The combine is best used as a supplement to film, an in-person look at both positive and negative aspects of players that jumped out on tape.
Do position drills show players have watched the tape and worked on deficiencies going into their biggest job interview yet? Is a player prepared, in shape for generic tests such as the bench press and 40-yard dash?
With the needs of the 2011 roster in mind, below are four aspects of the combine I’m focused on:
Note: I previously listed my initial group of players that are potential fits for the Seahawks in 2011. For the sake of expanding the scope of the talent pool, these players will not be mentioned below.
1. How well do quarterbacks explain football concepts: Can they diagram, evaluate and explain plays drawn on the white board in limited time? For the Seahawks, do the players understand the concepts of the West Coast offense; is he a player that projects and leads in line with the attitude of the coaches?
Technically, footwork is a key physical tool to watch; does the player throw off his front foot? Is the release compact and consistent? Is there touch and velocity?
Three quarterbacks I’m watching: Pat Devlin, Jake Locker and Nathan Enderle.
2. The 3 Cone Drill displays explosiveness and athleticism out of cuts; do players have strong angles of leverage at a low pad level? At 30 yards with multiple changes in direction, it’s a good test for both hip fluidity in and out of cuts and change of direction acceleration and foot stability.
Scouts are looking for the ability to “dip and rip” in running the arc, a test of snap anticipation and the ability to use leverage and rush skills to get to the ball. The Seahawks need explosive lineman that fit the hybrid 4-3 scheme.
Bruce Miller and Sam Acho standout as under the radar “Leo” rush end prospects; Stephen Paea, Muhammad Wilkerson, Kenrick Ellis and Marvin Austin are candidates for adding depth at the 1, 3 or 5-tech positions.
3. Position drills will be used to identify technique; are backs explosive out of cuts, capable third down backs that have good downfield vision? Do receivers run crisp routes and snatch the ball from the air; do any small school prospects standout? Are lineman polished using their arms to create separation with a good initial punch and move well laterally on the line of scrimmage? Do linebackers show the ability to pass drop as a three down linebacker?
Two potential third down, versatile RBs: Jacquizz Rodgers and Jordan Todman. Two under the radar WRs: Edmund Gates and Cecil Shorts. Two talented OT prospects with appropriate size for the new scheme: Demarcus Love and Lee Ziemba. The linebacker class is thin, but two players can up their stock with a good showing in pass drop-coverage drills: K.J Wright and Akeem Dent.
4. In this year’s cornerback class, straight line speed is a question. How do defensive backs transition from a backpedal to breaking on the defender in coverage or recover from a misplayed fake to make a play downfield on the ball?
Ball skills and change of direction will be a focus for the Seahawks, looking to improve the press coverage scheme. There is good size, but teams are curious as to the depth of speed at the position.
Two lesser known CBs that could fit for the Seahawks: Ras-I Dowling and Cortez Allen.
Beyond the Drills
Beyond the physical display put on by the combine participants are the behind closed doors aspects of the event. Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com quotes Schneider as saying the interview and physical examination process is the major value of the combine for him.
The psychological exams, intelligence tests and physicals are the main focus of the behind closed doors part of the evaluation. Schneider will look for players who are “fit” for the overall mentality of the organization.
The NFL is attempting to implement strict rules for communication between coaches and players during a potential lockout, making it difficult for teams to install new schemes. Schneider is focused on finding guys who fit both character- and scheme-wise.
Players who have familiarity with the schemes in place will be of even more value to the Seahawks. A player familiar with the language of the concepts should have a smoother transition and ultimately has a better chance of making the roster and contributing.
How the Seahawks approach the draft will be a little clearer when the dust from the combine settles. Schneider has been frank about his joy for trading back in the draft to acquire picks; do the Seahawks find themselves in a favorable position to trade back from No. 25 on draft day?
Carroll praised the depth in this draft class Saturday—Seattle could use an extra pick to exploit that depth.
Furthermore, Carroll noted he liked the depth the Seahawks have created within the program at the interior lineman position, highlighting an unheralded group of potential contributors to the 2011 offensive line: Will the Seahawks steer clear of a guard in Round 1?
The combine is just another step in the process for the Seahawks, but don’t be fooled; it’s another chance for this organization to compete, as Schneider is excited to begin making the final changes to the draft board. Aiming to acquire picks and uncovering players of value throughout the draft is the fun of the process. History shows John Schneider has been bred to compete with the best on draft day.
He has transformed his always-ready, able-to-be-everywhere, no-stone-unturned philosophy into the Seahawks way; an active and aggressive approach to finding the players that best fit the holes in the roster.
The combine is just another chance to turn over some new stones.