Prospects mulling whether to work out; Long sports impressive measurements
By Todd McShay
Updated: February 20, 2008
Participation was at an all-time high at last year's combine, a trend NFL teams can be cautiously optimistic about continuing for a few reasons. First, the RCA Dome's surface is now synthetic Field Turf and is no longer viewed as a slow track. In fact, an AFC West scout told me, "Of the players who ran 40s both at the combine and on-campus last year, more than 75 percent ran faster in Indy."
Second, the elite prospects who elected to participate -- either fully or partially -- in the workout portion of last year's combine benefited from that decision. In addition to impressing NFL decision-makers with their competitiveness, players like WR Calvin Johnson (No. 2 overall, Detroit), OT Joe Thomas (No. 3 overall, Cleveland) and RB Adrian Peterson (No. 7 overall, Minnesota) posted outstanding test results. Finally, the recent increase in media exposure serves as a valuable marketing tool. Now that the combine is telecast live agents are far more likely to encourage clients to partake.
There will be lots of speculation regarding whether this year's top prospects will participate. While a report may accurately depict a player's intention at the time, intentions have proven to be penetrable over the years. It is commonplace for a prospect to board a plane to Indianapolis intent on not working out, then 72 hours later find himself on the ground stretching for his second 60-yard shuttle attempt.
Some prospects are pressured into changing their mind by NFL coaches and scouts, while others simply get caught up in the moment. Calvin Johnson's change of heart a year ago worked out well, as the 6-foot-5, 239-pound wideout blazed a 4.39-second 40-yard dash. Of course, not even Johnson's heroics can top Deion Sanders' famous last-minute decision in 1989, when he came in under 4.2 seconds and ran perhaps the fastest 40 time in combine history.
This year, Arkansas RB Darren McFadden's competitive juices may wind up getting the better of him as well. It was thought McFadden was not going to work out this week, but one scout I spoke to said he hears differently. That scout spoke with McFadden recently and the running back said he intends on partaking in at least some of the network of drills.
Boston College QB Matt Ryan will likely run, go through interviews and undergo the medical evaluation. On the surface, this move could be viewed as Ryan backing down from the challenge of the big stage. And the truth is not a lot of quarterbacks can get away with skipping the throwing drills without hurting themselves in the eyes of scouts for just that reason. However, Ryan is not most quarterbacks. He is the top quarterback prospect, so he has nowhere to go but down and the combine is one of the most difficult places for a quarterback to succeed.
Beyond the obvious pressure that comes with the territory, the receivers the quarterbacks throw to are unfamiliar and could easily throw off his rhythm. If one receiver is considerably faster or more explosive than another it affects the timing on routes, which can make the quarterback appear less accurate. Besides, it's not as if Ryan's decision is unusual. Neither JaMarcus Russell nor Brady Quinn threw at the combine last year, and as was the case with Russell and Quinn, interested teams will get to see Ryan work out on his pro day and during private sessions at their respective facilities.
Thursday's main event from a personnel standpoint was the measurement process for all offensive linemen, tight ends and specialists in attendance. NFL scouts and coaches gathered around to record data on 75 half-naked prospects, who were herded onto a stage for the four-part prodding session.
The weigh-in is a valuable part of the scouting process and the biggest story on Thursday had to be Michigan OT Jake Long looking very much like a top-five pick. For starters, Long measured in at an even 6-7 and weighed 313 pounds. That's prototypical size for a starting left tackle, and he isn't carrying a lot of "soft" weight on that frame either. Secondly, he has a hand span of 11 inches and an arm length of 35¾ inches.
Let's take a moment to put those numbers in prospective. Longs hands are bigger than those of any other offensive lineman in this year's draft or last year's. Even more impressively, his arms are two inches longer than Thomas measured last year. Remember, Thomas had an impressive rookie season that ended with Rookie of the Year votes and a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Finally, teams want to see how elite prospects handle the pressure of being in the spotlight and Long is passing that test with flying colors. He couldn't have looked more comfortable or confident fielding questions during his press conference.
And while Boise State OT Ryan Clady doesn't compare to Long when it comes to the eyeball test, the 6-foot-6, 309-pounder did measure in with the longest arms of the 48 offensive linemen in attendance.
Day 1 notebook
• Louisville QB Brian Brohm should view Ryan's decision not to throw as an opportunity to gain some ground, and things are getting interesting. I have been told that Brohm will perform the full workout and is even asking combine officials if he can do the bench press after throwing, so it doesn't affect him during those drills. It's a fair request, and the fact that he is even asking is impressive considering only three of the 21 quarterbacks in attendance last year -- Quinn, Isaiah Stanbeck and Trent Edwards -- performed the bench. Hats off to Brohm for being prepared to take advantage of this opportunity.
• Prospects dealing with minor injuries are in a difficult spot. They dont want to appear soft by not participating but they don't want to put up numbers that don't reflect what their true ability, either. Oklahoma WR Malcolm Kelly finds himself in just such a situation with a lingering but relatively minor thigh injury. He has wisely chosen not to run as that would put him at risk of running a slow time or, even worse, aggravating the injury. He is already considered one of the top receiver prospects so he has more to lose than he does to gain. If he turns in a good time during his pro day everything all will be fine.
• It's being reported that LSU DT Glenn Dorsey won't work out and might not even show up in Indianapolis, but don't expect it to hurt him if he does stay home. Dorsey recently lost his grandmother and he wasn't expected to work out anyway, in part because playing in the BCS championship game set his training back. Scouts will get a chance to see him at LSU's pro day and teams will simply make provisions to administer necessary psychological and medical testing between now and the draft. On thing is certain, though: interested teams will take a close look at the knee injury that slowed Dorsey down during the second half of his senior season.
• Dorsey's situation is obviously unique and his absence would be understandable, but it should be noted that all of the 333 other combine invitees are expected to be in attendance this week. The players not participating in the workouts still spend at least three days in town completing the medical exams, psychological testing, NFL team interviews and a NFLPA meeting.
Todd McShay is the director of college football scouting for Scouts Inc. He has been evaluating prospects for the NFL draft since 1998.