American Football

Mailbag: The Combine is becoming irrelevant


NFL: Combine
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

And so many options but so few Eagles picks

Contain your excitement, the NFL Combine is here. Let’s get to the questions.

TheGreatJB99: I think after seeing the data and the outliers through the years the NFL is finally figuring out that the combine just doesn’t mean so much. I do think it will hang around in TV for a while since people seem to want to watch a guy run the 40.

Joe Goldberg: Does the combine even matter? I know there have been players who have seen their draft stock rise a lot from it, but how often has such a player’s assent from this been truly justified? Conversely, how often has it misled teams in its assessment of a player? I get that having all these prospects in one place where all the teams can interview them fact to face is useful but do the workouts they do there really make a difference?

So, a brief history of the Combine. Prior to its existence, if teams wanted to test a player, they brought them into their facility. Then Tex Schramm realized it is more convenient to get prospects together at the same time and run them through the drills in batches, so a trio of gatherings similar to the Combine were put together in the early 80s. A few years later the league decided to combine them into one event to save money in the mid 80s, because NFL owners love saving money even more than they do winning. The other big benefit was that everyone got everyone’s medicals. For a while it just existed and no one really thought much of it beyond measuring players and sports writers going gaga over a shrimp cocktail.

Eventually players and agents realized that if you showed up and did really well that you could improve your draft position and make some money. It’s one reason why Mike Mamula got drafted ahead of Warren Sapp. So for a while there were prospects that showed up to Indianapolis having spent months training specifically for the Combine and they did well for themselves compared to similar level prospects who simply showed up in offseason shape.

It’s ironic, before the Moneyball phenomena moved sports away from tools and towards stats to find market inefficiencies took over, agents discovered their own market inefficiency of high tool athletes.

Eventually everyone realized what was going on and now everyone trains specifically for the Combine, not just the drills but the interviews as well. So the advantage is gone. Teams have finally wised up to this, the days of the workout warrior getting drafted high are over. And the NFL knows that the usefulness of the Combine is diminished if everyone spends the offseason training specifically for it. They’ve tried to address it by changing up some of the non-measurable drills to keep prospects off kilter, but it didn’t have any effect. Even the interviews have mostly lost their luster, participants are well coached on what questions teams ask and how they ask them. And they finally dropped the Wonderlic, a test of how well you took the Wonderlic test, which did nothing but make players look bad.

The Combine still has its uses. The medical evaluations will always be important; some of the measurable drills have value such as the shuttle drill, and the exposure can be useful to small school players and those who didn’t get a lot of playing time for various reasons. The Senior Bowl is in a similar situation of increasing irrelevance.

But its utility is waning. A growing number of coaches are staying home rather than attending, which is probably something the NFL will eventually mandate because it doesn’t look good for the league. And top prospects participating in the on-field workouts and drills is becoming increasingly rare.

Because it is hard to see it going away anytime soon for one reason: it is live TV. The TV world is in a huge state of flux right now, but the one thing broadcasters can count on is live sports. The NFL knows this too, which is why it’s now a prime time event.

qmendenhall: Which position groups do you guys think need to be addressed in the Draft? IMO, interior defensive line and DB need to be addressed. DL really floundered in that Washington game after we lost Jordan Davis to injury (fixed that by signing Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph). We need long term depth there, especially if we can’t manage to bring Hargrave back. Also, secondary looked suspect without Avonte and Gardner-Johnson. If we can get CJGJ back on franchise tag, then it’s not as much of a concern.

This could be a weird draft for a Super Bowl team because as it stands now there is almost no position group that the Eagles should not address in the draft. Well, when you think about it generally speaking there shouldn’t be any position group that every team shouldn’t address. But for the Eagles it really is true.

Go down the position groups and there’s short and long term needs everywhere, which isn’t to say that the Eagles are in a bad spot. The defense is the big one with so many free agents to be. DL: five players are in their 30s and none of them are under contract for 2023; LB: Kyzir White and TJ Graham are both free agents; DB: Darius Slay is 31 and James Bradberry, Marcus Epps, and CJGJ are free agents. The offense is in better long term shape but there’s still plenty of needs. OL: Jason Kelce will probably retire, Isaac Seumalo and Andre Dillard are free agents; RB: Miles Sanders and Boston Scott are free agents, WR: Zach Pascal is a free agent. And of course at The QB Factory a draft pick is always an option, especially with Gardner Minshew a free agent. The only position group we can safely rule out is tight end.

Free agency will change the priorities, but right now the Eagles could draft nearly anyone and we wouldn’t question why they drafted someone at whatever position they play. That even goes for punter, though I would never draft a specialist.

It might sound like a cop out but I really do think right now everything except TE and QB are in play. Some of that will change after free agency, but not dramatically so.

EaglesBlitzed: Does Howie want to make 2 first-round draft picks? 5th year option. Plus 1st rounders have more expensive guarantees. With our limited cap space and upcoming contracts does Howie move out of the 1st round with one of the picks?

It is impossible to envision Howie Roseman going an entire draft without making any trades. The picks the Eagles have almost demand it anyway. They only have six picks: the 10th, their own in the 1st (30th), 2nd (62nd), 3rd (94th), and two 7ths, their own and Houston’s (which they got from Minnesota in the Jalen Reagor trade). The 7ths have no real trade value and very little draft value, so to add more picks and quality prospects, the Eagles only have four picks to work with, three of which are at the end of their rounds.

The best opportunity to add more draft capital would be to trade down from 10. But I would not advise that unless there’s a QB available and someone is offering a bounty. The Eagles made their trade with the Saints last year, and with the Dolphins the year before, to get a top 10 pick. Now they have it. And they have it in a draft where three or four QBs may go before they pick, which would give them the 6th or 7th non-QB draft pick.

So that puts the 30th pick in play. Roseman has traded out from a similar position before, in 2018 he traded the 32nd and 132nd picks for the 52nd, 125th, and a 2019 2nd rounder from Baltimore, the Ravens took Lamar Jackson.

I’ll go over this more in depth when we get closer to the draft, but historically moving down from 31 within 10 spots adds a 4th rounder. Is that worth it to you? Right now that doesn’t sound very appealing, but on draft day the board might make that a more inviting trade, and it could set off a cascade of trades that sees the Eagles walk out with high picks in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th and 5th rounds, which would look like a normal draft but without any of the picks actually being their own. Moving back further, which would pick up a more capital than just a 4th, is a bit more palatable with the 10th pick in hand, but there’s no guarantee there would be a dance partner.

Pier 3 Eagle: Is Nakobe Dean a lock to start? Or is ILB a possible 2-3 round selection?

Dean played only 34 snaps on defense, and only anything approaching meaningful playing time in two games: 15 in the Jon Robinson Farewell Tour blowout of the Titans, and 12 the next week in the Brian Daboll Won Coach of the Year Even Though He Lost 48-22 blowout of the Giants. It wasn’t much to go on and I wouldn’t read too much into either game, but he was fine.

The Eagles have bigger draft needs than linebacker in the 2nd or 3rd rounds, though on day 3 anything is on the table. But as noted above, both TJ Edwards and Kyzir White are free agents. I’d bring back Edwards and let White walk and sign a free agent. In the past three years 11, 19, and 19 inside linebackers changed teams on 1 year deals, there will be options available. Coming off a Super Bowl appearance, the Eagles shouldn’t have a problem with players wanting to join.

That will tell us more about Dean than those 34 snaps. If can’t earn a starting job next year, and with a new defensive coordinator I would qualify that as being by the end of the season and not the start of it, then that’s a worry and we can move ILB up the 2024 draft priority.

chewy wellington: More important position to draft this year – RG or RT? Most drafts seem to value OT but there is likely to be a hole in the line at RG this upcoming season. O’Cyrus Torrence seems like a ready made monster for the Eagles. Presuming Kelce retires and Jurgens is going to play Center, I think the team may need to prioritize that guard spot.

Guard will never be more valuable than tackle. If Kelce retires they’ll likely bring back Isaac Seumalo, if Kelce returns they probably move Jurgens to right guard as a placeholder.

It’s not yet time to draft a Lane Johnson successor, but they do need to replace Andre Dillard with an actual swing tackle. That kind of player gets drafted on day two or three. If he can develop into a Johnson replacement down the road, all the better, but if not when that time comes the Eagles will address it.

alwaysaphillyfan: Should we resign Miles Sanders if he’s willing to come back cheap, look for RB talent in FA and draft, or put trust in Kenneth Gainwell and hope he can lead the teams rushing attack?

As noted earlier, the Eagles have another running back who is a free agent: Boston Scott. So they could re-sign Sanders and still draft a running back. I wouldn’t draft a running back this year though. It’s just too far down on the list of needs to justify a draft pick with so few draft picks available to them. I’d bring back Sanders, teams no longer splurge on running backs so it shouldn’t cost much to re-sign him. I’d let Scott test the market, he’ll be 28 this season and third string running back is so low a priority that I’d wait to address it with undrafted free agents and keep an eye on the waiver wire.

FlyLikeAnEagle: Which player that might fall in the draft due to non character / non health related narrative that should we target at a position of need. (Example: Devonta Smith = too small, Jalen Hurts = not an NFL quarterback)

I hope he has a successful career but Andre Carter in the first two rounds seems overly optimistic to me. I get the hype. He’s 6’7”, and in 2021 he was second in FBS in sacks with 14.5. But in 2022 his production fell off a cliff, he had just 3.5 sacks. He never screamed “big time NFL prospect” to me when I watched him, and yes I watch my fair share of Army football, I come from a West Point heritage. Circling back to the usefulness of the Combine, he’s a guy that could really help himself with a good showing this week.

That said, the Eagles are in position to take a chance on him, because with Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat as the starters they can afford to take the risk. I just wouldn’t do it in the first two rounds.

MaskedMan: Please tell us what YOUR most and least favorite events are at the Combine, aka the “Annual Underwear Olympics.”

My least favorite event is the 40, but not for the obvious reasons. The 40 does have some use. My problem is that there are various stances that football players use before running or accelerating as fast as they can during games, and none of them are the track stance used in the 40.

I wouldn’t say I have a favorite event but about a decade ago there was a vertical jump that stood out to me. Nothing special was happening until one prospect went up and set the record. This must have been Donald Washington in 2009 because I remember the next guy was a safety. And I remember the next guy because he attempted his jump and couldn’t reach any of the markers. So we saw someone do it better than anyone had ever done before, and then the very next guy did pretty much the worst anyone could do short of falling over. Quite the 1-2.

RedBurb: Will the only acceptable DC hire be a Buddy Ryan disciple?

No but this had me curious, how many Buddy Ryan disciples are still out there? Obviously there are Rex and Rob. Rex is on TV, while Rob is on the Raiders staff. But they’re not the only ones still going in some capacity.

Northwestern Oklahoma State head coach Ronnie Jones was Buddy’s defensive coordinator in Arizona and LB coach in Houston and Philadelphia. Matt Cavanaugh, who was a QB for Ryan with the Eagles and his QB coach with the Cardinals, was most recently an assistant with the Jets in 2021. Current Falcons LB coach Frank Bush got his start as Ryan’s LB coach in Houston. And then there is Jeff Fisher, who got his first position coach job under Ryan and coached in the USFL last year. That’s a surprising amount of vegetation left on a bad coaching tree that stopped growing twenty years ago.

PhilliFan: What’s your favorite cheesesteak?

Woodrow’s is the unofficial cheesesteak of BGN. For a price, they could be the official cheesesteak of BGN.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login