With the 2017 NFL Combine starting up, a lot of information will be revealed about hundreds of prospects. Players will be able to prove to NFL teams that they have the athleticism to compete at an NFL level. Some guys will impress and surprise but others could be disappointing in terms of how they test. However, with interviews and medical examinations, there will also be a handful of nuggets coming out about players beyond the football. Every one of these things is a piece of the puzzle that is a player's draft stock.
When looking at the NFL Combine, it is important to know how to quantify players' athletic ability. For one, never let yourself be surprised. Players should be testing well in regard to what they do well on the football field. Fast players should have good 40s and 10 yard dashes, guys who can win at the catch point should have good verticals, powerful players should have good broad jumps, etc. When you know what trait is embodied in various tests, it is easier to predict how well players will do. Once you get an idea of how the tests translate, how well a player does helps quantify just how strong that trait is in relation to other football players. For example, we know a guy like Carlos Henderson is fast, but a lower level competition could make him look faster than he is, by relation. However, if he shows to the Combine and runs in the 4.4s or 4.3s, then it is easy to say that he is an impressive athlete at NFL level instead of just being relatively good.
Other things to consider is weight adjusted athletic ability. A guy who is 240 pounds will move a lot differently than a guy who is 190 pounds. If D'Onta Foreman and Kareem Hunt run the same 40 yard dash despite being 40 pounds apart, that is either incredibly impressive for Foreman or a bit of a worry for the smaller Hunt. Also, age is a big factor. Players who are 20 or 21 during the combine are still a few years away from the peak of their athletic development, so their numbers are a bit more fungible. However, guys like Cooper Kupp and Garrett Bolles who will be 24 and 25 before their rookie year, respectively, (yikes) will likely have impressive numbers in a vacuum, but they are so much more physically advanced than the majority of combine participants, it is hard to be surprised by those numbers or put too much stock in them.
Lastly, leaps of faith are still allowed. I am a big believer in the Combine as an important tool in the process, but there are some good prospects whose games are simply not predicated on dominating athletic ability. If you are still in love with their tape at the end of the day despite underwhelming testing, there is danger in that, but some guys are able to overcome mediocre athletic ability to be valuable pieces in the NFL.
So with the ground rules for the combine set, here''s intrigue at the NFL Combine for Eagles fans:
- Dalvin Cook is a known great athlete. He will probably have impressive agility test and absolutely burn up the track on the 40-yard dash. I am not concerned about him testing well. However, interviews and medical checks will be big for him. He has serious questions to ask about his past and some of the transgressions he has been involved in, even if they came when he was a teenager. People mature and can redeem themselves for mistakes and Dalvin Cook has a great chance to show NFL teams the past is the past. As for his health, there have been some not so quiet murmurs about a bad shoulder. While Cook was as dependable as the postal service at FSU, proving his health at the combine will be important to cement himself as a first round player. There is no doubt he is a first round talent, but the combine will determine how his health and history affect his draft positioning.
- Taywan Taylor is one of my favorite players in this year's class. The former Hilltopper receiver caught 34 touchdowns in his last two seasons at WKU and he dominated Conference USA with overwhelming athletic ability and route running. Taylor's athletic ability was easily his trump card when he was in college, so how does it stack up to other NFL prospects. While having a mediocre combine will not dash Taylor's NFL chances, he could confirm his athletic ability on tape by putting on a show in Indy. Taylor was a Bruce Feldman "freak" this past summer and posting anywhere near those cited numbers could put Taylor in the conversation for being a top 50 pick (which is where his tape places him). I also expects he absolutely kills interviews after hearing him talk on Setting the Edge. Taylor seems to have not only a great attitude, but an incredibly good football IQ. He should have a great week.
- To generally sum up the Eagles' NFL Draft needs; it is that they need playmakers. It's not about adding one specific position on one side of the ball, but just adding guys who can score and take the football away. The Eagles should be confident in their trenches the way they are and while they could stand to maybe add depth or potentially upgrade a starter (along the defensive line), their biggest need is adding dynamism to their skill positions. The combine will help create that list for the rest of the process. What guys are testing well at cornerback, wide receiver and running back? While athletic ability at the positions is not everything, it helps give an idea of what guys can bring the most upside to a position. Eagles need field stretchers, home run threats and cornerbacks who can run. Luckily, in a deep class at the skill positions, there will hopefully be a lot of names that get circled this week.
- On top of being a deep class at the skill positions, there is a lot of depth at edge rusher and defensive line in general. While Brandon Graham is a stud and Fletcher Cox is an elite defender, I doubt anyone would disagree that the Eagles could stand to add competition to the other side of the defensive line. Connor Barwin is probably on the outs this offseason and Vinny Curry did his best work this year rushing from inside. The Eagles need another body in the rotation and potentially another starter if Bennie Logan leaves. There is a very strong correlation between athletic testing and NFL success for defensive linemen. Thus, keeping an eye out for big time numbers for edge rushers and interior defenders will be important for the Eagles.
- I am especially looking forward to how Corey Davis and Mike Williams test. While Davis looks like a much better athlete on film, Williams' is somewhat of an unknown due to his health and wondering how it affected his game his final year at college. Davis was also playing against MAC cornerbacks most of the time, so quantifying his athletic ability will be integral for seeing where he stands as a wide receiver prospect. Williams game is not really predicated on his athletic ability, but testing well would certainly help have more confidence in his NFL translation. A guy who makes a lot of contested catches in college and then runs poorly signals that he made contested catches because he could not separate. Williams does not need to blaze the track, but running sub 4.6 would definitely make a lot of people feel better about how he projects. While Williams running slow would not change a lot of perceptions about him, he needs to jump well at the combine. His game is so based around his ability to get vertical that jumping poorly would be a huge red flag. Most importantly of all for him and Corey Davis is how they check out medically. While Davis' ankle injury is minor, it is worth monitoring and Williams' neck injury history is absolutely in need of being updated on. Both have lots of potential in the NFL, but both will need strong weeks in Indy to answer lots of concerns about them.