The NFL Combine opened yesterday in Indianapolis and officially kicks into gear today with the top 300+ NFL prospects from the college ranks undergoing interviews and up close physical, medical, and mental evaluations over the next 6 days.
The U.C.L.A. Bruins will be very well represented in Indy with nine players attending the activities this weekend. Only tOSU (15), Notre Dame (10), and Alabama (9), have as many or more players as U.C.L.A. That's pretty good company for our football program, although our performance the last couple years hasn't come close to hanging with those teams. I guess that addresses the issue of whether or not the Bruins have elite talent, but that's a different discussion (feel free to continue that discussion in the comments).
But back to the events at hand, the Combine is the biggest single event for evaluation NFL prospects. From our friends at the SB Nation Mothership
The Combine is the premier pre-draft evaluation and scouting showcase for college prospects looking to fulfill their dreams of playing in the NFL. It is an intense week-long job interview for the potential draftees, who perform various drills, physical and mental tests in front of hundreds of coaches, scouts and front office personnel.
It has also become a bit too overrated.
After the NFL Preseason, the Combine, aka the Underwear Olympics, has become the most overhyped event in the NFL. Ask any NFL lineman how often he ever ran a 40 yard dash after the Combine. The answer will be zero. Ask him how many times he needed to run a 40 yard sprint wearing only an Under Armor base compression layer in a game. That will also be zero. Critical and practical skills like how fast a lineman can get out of his stance and whether he bends at the knees or waist, or whether a receiver can quickly separate from press coverage at the line of scrimmage, or whether, or whether a linebacker can read a play and maneuver cleanly through the front seven to the point of attack are far more important in determining who can play and who can't. And of course, there's the Wonderlic Test. Want to take your own? Here you go.
Take for example our hero, linebacker Eric Kendricks, who waited until pick #45 in the 2015 draft to hear his named called. Despite winning the Butkus Award as the Nation's best linebacker his senior year, EK's size, speed,and strength were fine but not flashy enough to make a huge splash at the Combine. But the Combine doesn't see tackling technique and vision and motor and football sense. Kendrick was a mid second round pick then simply went on to be a top contender for defensive rookie of the year and a Sports Illustrated 2015 Redraft now puts EK as the #7 pick overall. Ah, if only those Combine scouts weren't watching shuttle runs and vertical jumps.
For our Bruins, U.C.L.A.'s Pro Day on March will be far more meaningful to those players looking to impress the NFL scouts and improve their draft standing. But it's still the NFL, so the Combine is automatically big news, and so I'll automatically be watching. And typing. Baaa.
Wednesday: Media Interviews - running backs, offensive line, special teams
Thursday: Media Interviews - quarterbacks, receivers, tight ends
Friday: Media Interviews - defensive line, linebackers; On field workouts for running backs, offensive line, special teams
Saturday: Media Interviews - defensive backs; On field workouts for quarterbacks, receivers, tight ends
Sunday: On field workouts for defensive line, linebackers
Monday: On field workouts for defensive backs
The Combine will be televised live on the NFL Network and there is a live stream on NFL.com here.
The nine Bruins invited to the Combine include WR Jordan Payton, RB Paul Perkins, TE Thomas Duarte, C Jake Brendel, OL Caleb Benenoch, OL Alex Redmond, DT Kenneth Clark, LB Myles Jack, K Ka'imi Fairbairn.
We can talk more about the individuals as the week progresses, Personally, I think Paul Perkins has the opportunity to get the most out of the Combine. The running back position has become pretty undervalued in the NFL in recent seasons, due in part to the continued dominance of the passing game and also to the limited longevity of running backs in the NFL. There are very few Adrian Petersons or Todd Gurleys who can be real difference makers. Perkins, however, has always been underrated (looking especially at you idiot All Pac-12 voters) and his combination of speed, vision, shiftiness, and versatility suit him beautifully for success at the next level. If he can get a notable time in the 40, he'll move up on a lot of draft boards.
Jordan Payton is in a similar situation, though WR is always a much more highlighted position in Indianapolis. Payton's best attributes are his hands, route running, reliability, and blocking abilities, none of which will really get featured this week. He does have a chance to impress with the strength exercises where he should outperform most if not all of the receivers present. Like Perkins, an impressive 40 time will provide some separation between himself and the middle/upper tier pack of receivers.
Kenny Clark should also shine at the Combine. The Bruin defense understandably didn't get a lot of national headlines and Clark's utter dominance wasn't fully appreciated across the country. His explosiveness, quickness, and strength will be under the spotlight this week and I expect he'll impress a lot of observers now that they are paying attention.
Combine workouts for the kickers are a bit different from the defense linemen, so Ka'imi Fairbairn hopefully won't subject himself to the bench press. Considering his accuracy inside 40, I expect he'll do very well this week, particularly in an indoor setting. NFL.com did express this one major worry about Ka'imi though:
Could cause major issues for jersey maker if he asks to go by given name Ka'iminoeauloameka'ikeokumupa'a.
On the other hand, I'm a bit concerned about the prospects of a couple Bruins. I love Thomas Duarte's game and he filled his role with U.C.L.A. beautifully, but the tight end position is a different beast in the NFL and Duarte's size may be seen as a liability. Duarte is plenty athletic, but the bench press exercise at the Combine could expose Duarte's strength and power compared to others at the position. He's certainly not ideal for the traditional NFL blocking TE and will have to rely more on finding an offensive system that splits him out as a receiver more frequently. I am worried Duarte could follow the path of Joseph Fauria. Fauria was a fantastic player at U.C.L.A. but concerns about his blocking ability resulted in him going undrafted. He was signed by Detroit and excelled as a red zone pass catcher due to his size and hands in his first year, but was limited by injury his second season and then bounced around the practice squads of the Arizona Cardinals and the New England Patriots this season before ending the season off a roster.
I also worry about Caleb Benenoch and Alex Redmond. Both are juniors and are foregoing their senior years at U.C.L.A. with hopes of finding an NFL roster and they have some ground to make up to get there. Both have good size, but neither have the types of skills that will flash at the Combine and I would be surprised if either of them significantly improve their standings this week. I'm rooting for them like crazy to succeed, but it seems like spending another year in Westwood would have benefitted them, especially as neither has exceptional game film to compare to others at the position. Then again, Adrian Klemm. So maybe this is the right long term of for them. The Bruins other OL in Indy, center Jake Brendel should do well this week. A good bench press performance will answer any concerns about upper body strength, but he has very good movement and footwork and should do very well in interviews and cognitive testing which are key issues for centers.
Oh, and then there's that Myles Jack guy. Jack's participation this week will be limited as he hasn't been cleared medically to participate fully in the Combine events. That's too bad because, as meaningless as a 40 time really is, I'd love to watch Myles totally scorch that thing. He is still uber highly regarded by scouts for his athleticism and ability to play multiple roles on defense from the LB position and he is projected in many mock drafts as a top 5 draft pick. As a result of those predictions, it's very wise of Myles and his doctors to "not be cleared". The Combine can't possibly improve his draft stock so best for him to interview (which he'll do beautifully), show of his physique (which he'll do beautifully), and get back to rehabbing the knee for rookie preseason camp for some lucky NFL squad.
So stay tuned this week as we follow the progress of our Bruins in Indianapolis. Check out NFL.com here for breakdowns of each of our Bruins as well as all of the invitees.