The NFL Combine rumbles on in Indianapolis and after two days of player and NFL staff interviews and a such dearth of news that the size of some hands became a controversy, we'll finally get to see some action on the field today. The running backs, offensive linemen, and special team players will go through their physical workouts, which means we'll see 5 of our UCLA Bruins in action today.
The workout component of the Combine features a variety of physical tests as well as position specific drills. The common physical tests for all Combine participants include the bench press (number of reps at 225 lbs), vertical jump and broad jump, the 3 cone drill, the shuttle run, and the 40 yard dash. Participants can choose to participate in any or all of those events, understanding that for an offensive lineman, a 40 yard dash time isn't a big deal while the bench press test is, and conversely a bench press for a place kicker doesn't mean much but the broad jump might.
Each position group also has position specific drills which are significantly more important for determining their draft prospects. Today the running backs will test their footwork to demonstrate acceleration and cutting ability. The OL will demonstrate their ability to get out of a stance and move with good balance and flexibility. Kickers will, well, kick. There are some great videos and demonstrations of some of the position drills at the NFL official site for the Combine here.
With the RBs, OL, and kickers on the field today, we'll get a chance to see Paul Perkins Caleb Benenoch, Jake Brendel, Alex Redmond, and Ka'imi Fairbairn represent the 4 letters and themselves in front of the NFL scouts and brass. We'll break down the 5 Bruins below. All the Combine participants will have a letter/number combo on their fancy underwear that identifies both them and their position group, followed by a preliminary scouting grade based on their prospects as an NFL player. The grading system is structured like this:
4.50-4.74: Chance to be in an NFL training camp
4.75-4.99: Should be in an NFL training camp
5.00: 50/50 chance to make a team
5.01-5.19: Better-than average chance to make an NFL roster
5.20-5.49: NFL Backup or special teams player
5.50-5.99: Chance to be an NFL starter
6.00-6.49: Should be an NFL starter
6.50-6.99: Chance to be Pro Bowl caliber
7.00-7.49: Pro Bowl caliber
7.50-7.99: Future All-Pro
8/00-8.99: Perennial All-Pro
9.00-10.0: Once in a lifetime player
Please don't ask me what grades previous Bruins got, because I didn't have the time to go back to look at a bunch of players and the NFL used to use a different grading system anyway. Johnathan Franklin, for instance, was a 72.3 which predicted him to be "an eventual starter". If you are curious about anyone, Google will be your friend in this quest, and please feel free to share any info you find to help give us all a frame of reference.
With that in mind, let's look at our Bruins who will be on the field today and see what the NFL scouts have said about them so far.
Paul Perkins RB20 5.76 5-10 208
As I said on Wednesday, I think Paul Perkins stands to gain the most from the Combine. I feel he didn't get enough credit for his play as a Bruin and the All-Conference voters proved that twice. There was also the usual East Coast media
bias ignorance and the fact that the running backs are more often overlooked nowadays due to the spotlight on the big play making receivers and quarterbacks. The role of the running back in the NFL has changed dramatically over the last couple decades and so less emphasis is put on actually running in lieu of skills like pass blocking and pass catching. Perkins however excelled at all three of those tasks at U.C.L.A. with two different quarterbacks, and he now has a chance to show the NFL what ESPN and the rest of the mainstream media were missing.
Pros: One of the top creators in the draft combining elite vision and a wicked jump-cut. Shows no directional tendencies with his cuts and can make defenders miss in tight quarters. Decisive when working between the tackles. Flashes sudden, 1-cut ability on stretch plays. Reliable hands when asked to help in passing game. Willing to stick his nose in against the blitz.
Cons: Smallish frame for the big-boy workload asked of him. Runs halted abruptly when tacklers square him up. Could be forced off field in short yardage spots. Missing NFL-caliber force to run through contact and fall forward. Might lack requisite sand in his pants to be counted on for NFL blitz pickup.
Bottom line: If Perkins had more size and play strength to go with his elusiveness, we would be talking about whether he or Ezekiel Elliott would be the first running back off the board.
Awesome. Even with a 5.76 grade, there are still doubts about Perkins size and strength. Fine. Power running is one thing but questions about Perkins ability to pass block are silly. Pass blocking is a matter of want-to far more than a matter of size. Does Maurice Jones-Drew ring any bells? Remember Perkins is coming out as a junior and we've heard how the Bruins strength and conditioning program maybe didn't focus on all the areas it could or should have. We know he has the moves. We know he has the heart and desire. Give Perkins a bit of time in an NFL camp with pro level S&C designed for a running back and he'll answer the doubters about size, too. Just as he always has.
Caleb Benenoch OL04 5.15 6-5 305
Benenoch has a middling grade, but considering his ability to play both guard and tackle (though I don't think NFL left tackle is in his future, and if it is, look out quarterback!), he may have the best shot of the three Bruin linemen to nail down a job in the NF, but it's still a bit of a long shot and all the more surprising that the would come out as a junior. Despite his versatility, he may not have quite the reach for a tackle and quite the girth for a guard at the pro level. He does have very good feet and athleticism though which can make up for size, especially if he improves his technique. That athleticism would suit him better in a zone blocking scheme than a man-on system. It will be interesting to see how these three Bruin linemen fare with the next level of coaching. If the three all exceed expectations and their current grades, that will make lend further credence to the concerns about the offensive line coaching at U.C.L.A.
Pros: Plays with good knee bend. Above average athlete with long arms. Has lateral quickness off the snap to put himself in position for difficult zone blocks. Has feet to mirror in space in pass protection. Aggressive worker with some recovery athleticism to work himself back into the play.
Cons: Has thin hips and lack of natural base. Lacks core strength and functional power to pin blocks to completion once he gains advantage. Way too much waist-bending as a tackle. Leans into pass rushers opening up balance concerns. Opens the gate early in pass pro and tends to overreact when shifting his weight to defend against bursts upfield or back inside.
Bottom line: Athletic prospect with some roster value as a tackle or guard, but concerns about his play strength could be an issue at either spot. Benenoch has the makeup of an NFL backup with potential to work into a lineup for a zone-scheme team.
Jake Brendel OL07 4.93 6-3 286
I was really surprised to see the low grade given to Brendel. He was a semifinalist for the Remington Award for the Nation's tip center, and I considered him the Bruins best offensive lineman in the last 4 years after Xavier Su'a-Filo, who was the first pick of the second round two years ago. This however speaks more to this NFL prospects than his play at U.C.L.A. His analysis below really harps on his body (looking at you Alosi) and technique (looking at you Klemm) which he clearly overcame by preparedness, aggressiveness, and quickness. As noted in his scouting report, he's a pure center and his prospects elsewhere along the OL are nil. Still, that grade is too low and I think he'll find an NFL roster. Brendel has a lot of intangibles in his leadership and his awareness on the field that can separate him form more physically gifted players, particularly at the center position..
Pros: Co-captain for three season and considered a "glue guy" on the offensive side of the ball. Uses quick steps and positioning to hook nose tackles and wall them off in the running game. Moves up to linebackers with measured, controlled steps. Able to turn and steer defenders while on the move. In pass protection, usually keeps weight centered rather than letting it drift too far outside and has enough strength to handle bull rush. When pulling, takes smart angles to linebackers helping him to seal off the perimeter.
Cons: Small frame with unimpressive build. Lacks muscular definition and NFL-level mass. Upright blocker with a pad level that gets him jostled. Doesn't have the bend or feet to stop suddenly and change directions to catch up to a counter move. Reactive movement and body control are below average. Inconsistent at sustaining blocks due to marginal contact balance. Lack of arm length allows defenders to intrude on his frame and control the rep at times.
Bottom Line: Leadership, durability and an ability to battle it tight quarters are all admirable qualities for Brendel, but his lack of athleticism and consistency in space will be challenges for him when NFL teams pound the tape.
Alex Redmond OL35 5.04 6-5 294
Redmond's early departure from the Bruins as a junior was the most disappointing for me. While Benenoch seemed to have a reasonable if long shot at making an NFL team due to his performance and versatility, and Brendel's decision made sense since he was a senior and an Academic All-American and had no more eligibility, Redmond's decision was just puzzling. He left his team the week of the whatever-it-was-called bowl game for what has been widely accepted as academic reasons, and announced he was making himself available for the draft, rather than addressing the academic issues and working another year. What went unmentioned at the time was explained yesterday by Rich Hammond in the OC Register.
Redmond, a Los Alamitos High product and UCLA's starting right guard, had just been declared academically ineligible and also was a new father. Moreover, Redmond said, he planned all along to leave UCLA after his junior season and declare for the NFL draft.
"I couldn't have played in the bowl game," Redmond said. "It wasn't that I deserted my team or anything. I would never do that. I'm all about the team. It was a disappointment. I was ashamed of myself but there was nothing I could do at that point. It was over."
...He seemed unconcerned about how NFL teams might view his departure from UCLA and explained his desire to turn pro in order to financially support his 6-month-old daughter.
...Also, I have to support my family now and be that example. If I want to be a man, I've got to do what men do and take care of my family.
Academic issues aside, that's a pretty respectable reason. After a promising start that saw him get honorable mention All Pac-12 as a freshman, Redmond never really fulfilled his enormous potential (Klemm...). I am rooting for Alex, but this one seems like an uphill battle.
Pros: Fluid and athletic out of his stance. Moves well in space and is able to block angles as a pulling guard that many guards can't. Instinctive and intelligent on the field. Anticipates twists and responds to them with well-timed passing of first block.
Cons: Linear frame missing the girth of an NFL guard. Play strength and functional power will be his biggest challenge as a pro. Must find training table and weight room. On run plays, weight gets too far out over his feet causing him to whiff against a sidestep. Might not have the anchor drop necessary to brace up against NFL bull rushers.
Bottom Line: Redmond is a very good athlete for the guard position but may not have the strength or frame to stick long term even with a zone scheme team. He has some talent and field intelligence and his best chance might be to continue to add as much bulk as he can and then try and make the move inside as a zone-scheme center with range.
Pros: Incredible precision as a kicker. Made all 16 of his kicks this season from 40 yards and in and finished college with a streak of 41 straight makes from 35 and in. Has a powerful leg. Successful kickoff specialist as well with no kicks out of bounds and a touchback rate of 70 percent. Kicks with consistent rise trajectory. Cons: Three of his four misses came in the fourth quarter. Kickoff hang time was average by NFL standards. Could cause major issues for jersey maker if he asks to go by given name Ka'iminoeauloameka'ikeokekumupa'a. Bottom line: Fairbairn is the total package as a kicker. He is consistent from middle to long, has a strong leg to handle kickoffs and has never had a kick blocked thanks to his trajectory. Fairbairn should be drafted and step right into an NFL job.
Kickers are rarely drafted before the late rounds, if at all, and typically get free agent invites to camps, but Fairbairn could be one of the rare exceptions to this. His 5.4 grade is about as high a rating as a place kicker can receive. I think Ka'imi is the most likely Bruin to be starting on Day One of the NFL 2016-17 season this fall.
Those are our five Bruins in action today. Tomorrow is a day for the quarterbacks and receivers, so we'll look in on Thomas Duarte and Jordan Payton, and then Kenny Clark and the ghost of Myles Jack will be the focus on Sunday. If you're such a football junkie that you'd sit around today watching a bunch of college kids in tights go through drills while old guys in team jackets with notebooks and stopwatches follow their every move, then you're only slightly more hopeless that I am. You can cath the action on the NFL Network or watch a live stream on the internet at NFL.com.
Good luck to Paul, Caleb, Jake, Alex, and Ka'imi!!