The Patriots are in Indianapolis for the 2016 NFL Combine, which is one of our favorite times of the year. And this event with all of the media coverage now is one of the “must-see” moments of the preseason.
It is also one of the most overblown events as people will fawn all over a player who blows every event away in Lucas Stadium and proclaim that “so-and-so’s draft stock is plummeting” over a not-so-great performance in the Under Armor Olympics.
It’s important to remember what it is…This is just the beginning for many of these players. Teams have compiled lists of players and watched the tape of them in their college football games. Now this will be coaches’ and GM’s first opportunity to meet with them face to face, and check them out medically and see what kind of young man each player is.
The truly two most important aspects of the Combine? The interviews and the medicals and those are the two parts that all of us aren’t allowed to see. We’ll get to more of that in a second. But right now many of are thinking, “Are you crazy?” The on-field workouts are the most important thing. Think again. Better yet, listen to Bill Belichick speak about the preparation that players go thru for the combine from an interview last summer.
“I think that’s a huge mistake that a lot of those players make, but I’m sure they have their reasons for doing it,” Belichick said. “We’re training our players to play football, not to go through a bunch of those February drills. Yeah, our training is football intensive. We train them to get ready to play and ultimately that’s what they’re going to do… We just train them for football. I think it’s huge.”
“I think there are a lot of players and I think a lot of players learn from that, that they look at their rookie year and feel like, ‘I wasn’t really as physically as well prepared as maybe I was in college or what I will be in their succeeding years in the league,’ and train more for football and train less for the broad jump and three-cone drill and stuff like that. I think a lot of those guys hopefully learn that lesson and intensify their physical football training after they’ve had that year of, in a lot of cases, I would say non-football training or very limited training for actually football.”
While there is certainly a ton to be said about his comments, the Combine and the on-field workouts can help a fringe prospect out. Look at T.J. Moe, slot WR from Mizzou who was signed by the Pats before injuring an Achilles. He’s one of the more outspoken critics of the way the combine is conducted yet credits his time in the 3-Cone Drill as turning the Patriots heads.
The prospects will be tested in various on-field tests and then specific positional drills that relate to their particular specialty. The events include:
40-Yard Dash: Measures straight line speed and is often the most overrated of the tests.
225-LB Bench Press: Measures strength and endurance
Vertical Jump: Measures explosion and athleticism
Broad Jump: Measures strength, explosion, athleticism and balance
Shuttle Run: Measures change of direction, agility and explosiveness
3-Cone Drill: Measures lateral agility, change of direction
It is a well-known fact that the Patriots value the 3-Cone Drill as much if not more than the others. Why? Because it is the most football-centric move of the ones tested. No other drill more closely mimics actual football moves than the 3-Cone. Players have to be able to sink their hips, change their direction and then explode back up to speed.
For wide receivers and running backs, especially in the New England system that equates to running short routes, shaking off a defender, catching the ball, change direction again and get yards after the catch, (see Edelman, Julian). It is why the Patriots value that drill over say the 40 where a prospect is running in a straight line.
The on-field workout schedule this weekend plays out as such:
Fri., Feb. 26 – RB, OL, ST
Sat., Feb. 27 – QB, WR, TE
Sun., Feb. 28 – DL, LB
Mon., Feb. 29 – DB
Why the Interviews/Medicals are most important: Medicals are a must. Before a team invests a top round draft pick in a player, they want to make sure that they’re healthy. So their doctors will poke, prod and generally invade a prospect’s space for the examination.
It is also a good time for checking out players who have had injuries and ensure that either they’re completely healthy or well on their way to recovery. The Patriots did a check like this on Rob Gronkowski in 2010. He missed his junior season for a back injury and surgery and their medical check satisfied them that he was indeed ready to go in the NFL.
And finally believe it or not, the medical checks ensure the actual height and weight of prospects. Frequently colleges put out somewhat skewed information on players exaggerating their height and weight. This sorts it out.
Interviews Are #1: The interview is many things to many teams but it is a chance for the first time to see what kind of man and player each team is getting. Some teams ask ridiculous questions that are head scratchers. LeCharles Bentley, former OL for the Saints and Browns recalled being asked “Are you a paperclip or a rock?” Rest assured Bill Belichick isn’t asking anything remotely close to that.
But the interviews will tell you where a guy’s head is at. Is he a team player or is it all about him? Is football important to him or is he just cashing a paycheck. For New England, as Moe pointed out in his interview by Chris Price, the Patriots asked detailed questions about his overall knowledge of football.
Moe recalls Pats WR coach Chad O’Shea drilling him questions about not only his responsibilities but other players on different down and yardage situations. The Pats are looking for football intelligent players. He then contrasted those questions to those of the Rams who he says barely touched on football questions.
And finally the interviews are extremely important to ask about guys with off-field baggage and it seems that every year the draft is chocked full of them. Examples include:
Noah Spence from E. Kentucky who is an edge rushing nightmare on the field was kicked off of Ohio State’s program for two drug violation suspensions. Ole Miss DE Robert Nkemdiche who was charged with marijuana possession after he fell out of a hotel window and suspended from his team’s bowl game.
A player rumored to be on the Patriots radar, Rutgers WR Leonte Caroo was involved in an incident where he was accused of an assault but the charges were eventually dropped. After the situation involving a TE that shall not be named…the Pats will be leery of bringing in a guy with a lot of baggage.
So while we’ll all watch riveted to how these players do in their on-field workouts, the Patriots will be watching too but their true work will be behind the scenes in the interview and examination rooms. That’s where the big questions get answered this week.
Unless someone blows them away with a 3-Cone time….