American Football

Do Prospects Really Rise or Fall After All-Star Games and NFL Combine?


NFL: Combine
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

A former NFL scouting director dishes on the college postseason schedule.

Every year following the All-Star games and again following the NFL Combine, we see NFL Draft analysts put out lists of players who have risen or fallen on draft boards following these events. Does this happen? Well, yes, it happens with the analysts, but not with the different NFL clubs. Here’s why…

During the previous fall, scouts from the different NFL clubs have made school calls to every college and university in the country that has a prospect. In many cases, several school calls were made to each school. These players have been well-evaluated. They wouldn’t have been invited to the Combine or an All-Star game if they hadn’t been thoroughly scouted.

As part of the evaluation that scouts do on each player, they estimate his athleticism and speed as well as his talent. By the time he gets to an All-Star game or the Combine, there are expectations placed on that player by each club. If he outperforms those expectations at either event, it doesn’t mean his grade goes up; it means “let’s look at more tape to see what we may have missed in the fall.” More often than not, their initial evaluation was spot on.

The same holds true with players who don’t live up to expectations. More game tape must be watched to ensure the evaluation they have is correct. Don’t forget, most of these players in All-Star games have not done football activities in anywhere from four to six weeks before practice begins. Instead, they have been working on looking good at the Combine, doing Combine drills over and over so that the drills become “learned.”

With analysts, they very seldom see these players live before an All-Star game or the Combine, nor have they made school calls. They don’t have anywhere near the amount of information that a team scout has on each player. Because of this, they may have graded a player much lower than a team scout. When they see him in person at these events, they find out that they have graded them way too low. They also find out while at these events that the clubs have these players rated much higher, so they adjust their grades accordingly. The reality is they are just catching up to what the club scouts already have.

Let me give you some examples of players the Chicago Bears have taken that had excellent to rare workouts at the Combine yet still got drafted where they should have been,

The first player I’ll mention goes back a little way, but he’s a perfect example. Mark Anderson, the defensive end from Alabama, had an outstanding Combine. In fact, one of the best workouts of anyone at his position. He measured 6042 – 254, ran a 4.61 in the 40, had a 42″ vertical jump, 10’7″ in the long jump, and a 6.95 3-cone. Those are first-round numbers, yet we were able to select him in the fifth round in 2006.

Next will be Marcus Freeman, the linebacker from Ohio State and now the head coach at Notre Dame. At Indy, he was 6005 – 239, ran a 4.65, had a 37″ vertical, a 6.98 3-cone, and 30 reps of 225. At his pro day, he improved his 40 to 4.51, lowered his 3-cone to 6.68, and his 20-yard shuttle to 4.08. Again, first-round numbers, but we got him in the fifth round in 2009.

Johnny Knox was another. He ran a 4.29 and a 4.33 at Indy, which was beaten only by one other receiver who ran a 4.28. The rest of his workout was equally outstanding. Where did we draft him? The fifth round in 2009.

A recent player is Darnell Mooney. Money had a great Combine as well as outstanding tape. At Indy, he ran a 4.38, had a 37″ vertical, and a 10’4″ long jump. He did not do the agilities, and because that was the Covid year, he had no Pro Day to do them. The Bears drafted Mooney in the 5th round.

Why did all these players get drafted late after having outstanding workouts? Because that is where they were valued around the League. Those rare workouts did not help them “rise.”

In March, when most schools hold the Pro Days, there are several players who weren’t at the Combine who work out at each school. Every club gets the results of every Pro Day workout, even if they didn’t attend a particular Pro Day. There are always players who put up outstanding numbers at the Pro Days. Every year, at least 35 non-Combine participants get selected. Most get picked on Day 3, but there are always a few who go Day 2. In each of these cases, clubs had better grades on the player than the Combine had, and that’s why they weren’t at Indy. In fact, many clubs love it when a player they have good grades on doesn’t get an invite. That way, they “hope” they have a better chance of drafting him. But when he has a great Pro Day, every club knows, and if they don’t have enough reports on the player, they go out and do more research.

There are very few “secrets” in the NFL. Team scouts do an excellent job finding talent regardless of the level of competition their school plays against. But, many of the analysts don’t know about these players, thus they become “risers” in the analyst’s mind.

If you were to track every “riser or faller” all the way to the Draft, you’d find out that they got selected right where they were supposed to get drafted.

In case you missed it, Greg went a bit deeper on several draft-relates topics for us in a recent Bear & Balanced Podcast with Jeff Berckes and Lester Wiltfong.

Podcast version here:

Video version here with some bonus video-only Q&A with Greg after the pod ended:

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