Why the 2009 NFL Combine Matters

Last year I ran a post entitled "Why the NFL Combine Matters" except "The" was capitalized because English Grammar eludes me. Wait, no, I fixed that. The gist of the article was that the NFL Combine is not about the players who excel and move from obscurity to drafted way higher than they really deserve, but about what it says about established prospects and moreover how it affects their draft stock. Seattle was fast off another exciting season culminating in a nail biter against...Idon'tknow, somebody. The Hawks had late round picks throughout the draft and the focus of the post was bad players whose draft could surge because of a strong combine, and good players who could fall because of a poor one. Like:

John Carlson: Carlson is considered by many to be the most complete tight end in the draft. Carlson's production dipped dramatically in 2007, a consequence of the Irish's overall decline, decline in pass blocking and the departure of Brady Quinn. After missing the Senior Bowl, Carlson must play catchup with Fred Davis and the suddenly much beloved Martellus Bennett. A Draddy Award winner, don't be surprised if this guy ends up in Seahawks blue.

Verdict: Better that he have an off day, could fall as late as the third round if others rise up.

What I then called an "exploitable weakness of tools focused GMs". Same basic story this time around except with a top ten pick, there's a few names Seattle might target that I'd prefer do well. Today, the picks Seattle could take at four. Tomorrow, everyone else.

Everette Brown: Brown should post a solid, even maybe awesome 40, but that's not very important to me. Neither is his 225, shuttle or three cone. I've seen enough to know the guy is a phenomenal athlete. What I want to see is his literal measurables: weight, hand size and reach. I'm not a fan of pass rushers with short arms, but the real story is his weight and what it tells us about his potential as a 4-3 end. Not just potential either, but desire. If Brown shows up small, small at all, it probably means he's destined for a 3-4.

Verdict: Five defensive ends is a bit unwieldy, but Brown could be the best overall talent available at four. Seattle could run its own kind of "Four Aces" package with Patrick Kerney and Lawrence Jackson playing tackle and Darryl Tapp and Brown playing end. It might mean someone gets buried for a season, but drafting Brown certainly has its charms short term and long term. Brown needs to prove he is an elite talent, and one that can field his athleticism at an NFL weight.

Malcolm Jenkins: Jenkins has a ton to prove at this year's combine. Whereas wide receivers dictate the pace of a play, and therefore their speed is not that important, cornerbacks respond to the pace of the play, and if they don't have the wheels, teams will double move and go route them into oblivion.

Verdict: I'm not sold on Seattle's interest in Jenkins. The pass defense struggled, but corner is perhaps Seattle's deepest position. Other than the aforementioned Trufant, Jennings and Wilson, Seattle has Jordan Babineux under contract through 2012 and Kevin Hobbs likely to return. If he bombs out, Jenkins could still be a safety, but that sounds a little radical for Seattle's blood. Jenkins probably impacts Seattle thus: If he shines, the Rams could take him, if he bombs, he falls.

Andre Smith: The forgotten left tackle once looked like and attractive option at four. My guts say Tim Ruskell is going to say "What kind of competitor gets himself suspended for his team's bowl game?" and move on, but from a talent standpoint, Smith is the kind of bruising blocker that could complete Seattle's power run game.

Verdict: Smith needs to show at agility tests and during individual drills and then kindly be drafted by a team that's less concerned about competitive fire and having their head in the game. (Update: Or refuse to participate and fall off the board of every GM with a brain.)

Knowshon Moreno: Moreno is the best moves back to come out in a while. The remaining question might be why he had so few long runs in college. Is he slow?

Verdict: The other possible explanation is that Georgia's line was so bad that Moreno had to make five moves to get into space and by then the secondary was surrounding him. If Moreno runs a sub 4.4, is he suddenly worth a top five pick? Moreno busted quite a few in college, but got caught a lot too. He had too few longs run only compared to what was expected of him.

Chris Wells: Wells will kill the 40. If ever a 240 pound man was built to run really damn fast in one direction, it's Chris Wells.

Verdict: Wells contributes nothing as a receiver, and despite the troglodytic take of too many NFL fans, that severely limits his value. My interest in Wells extends to his ability to displace better prospects. Run big man run.

Jason Smith: This year's Martellus Bennett is a converted tight end rather than an active one. Smith is athletic, knows it, and could set the combine on fire.

Verdict: Smith has great potential...for injury. Tons of knee injuries make Smith a non-starter for me.

Eugene Monroe: The top tackle not named Smith, the most rounded of the three and tackle most likely to be both a top pass blocker and run blocker.

Verdict: I hate to be monolithic about this, but

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For all the bust potential inherent in every position, I'll throw injury prone offensive lineman up with the worst of them. Few skills like injury prevention so define the position, and nothing ends a lineman's career faster.

B.J. Raji: Looks like we're getting some new readers, so I'll throw his name out because you've likely read it elsewhere.

Verdict: Not going to happen. Raji defies the Ruskell Rubric for Roster Construction and Good Citizenship. Late riser that sat out his first Senior season because of academic concerns. Struggled against double teams at Boston College, excelled in the drills but not the game at the Senior Bowl, and, should all this mock draft prophesying be true and Raji is picked in the top ten, a true reach that's risen for all the wrong reasons.  

Michael Oher: Here's a quick story. For much of my childhood, it was just me and my dad. My dad was a mechanic and in the wake of every 20/20 style pseudo-journalistic, television newsragazine reporting that mechanics are cheats and swindlers, shops turned the screws on the profession. Garages devised a diabolical pay structure known as the "flag system" that paid for the job (and not the work or the hours) that kept us steadily under the poverty line. Translation: We were white trash. And what I learned from the suburban ghetto is that for every overblown story of surviving hardship, building character and overcoming a botched childhood to do something special, there's about ten thousand it just screws up.

Verdict: I wish Oher nothing but the best, but let's get a grip. Having a screwed up childhood doesn't make you a better football player. I read Oher seemed really uncomfortable around the media. Giving troubled money can be a fantastically bad idea. Oher's character must be scrutinized like every other entrant and an unbiased opinion must be formed free of consideration for how exceptional it is he's made it this far, and how admirable that accomplishment is. I'm proud to live in a country were talent gets its due, but it's time for football to do the talking. Many scouts think Oher is a clear step below the top rung of offensive tackles. He still has much to prove.

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