By Marc Sluis, Staff Writer
Athleticism in a broad sense can be analyzed and measured, but it only gains meaning with context. Being able to run in a stright line for forty yards measured linear speed but explains very little about an athletes agility or strength. If the person is an Olympic sprinter the latter qualities are discarded as they are rather unimportant. If you’re looking at an NFL pass rusher, however, all of the aforementioned qualities have tremendous value.
The NFL Scouting Combine developed as a central location for evaluators to convene and, well, evaluate future NFL talent. There are multiple drills, tests, medical checks and grueling interviews designed to analyze everything about a prospect and whether or not he’s worth the million dollar investment.
But how exactly do we judge a prospect’s potential based on the information we gather at the combine? To be honest a lot of what’s televised and reported is for show. I mean does an offensive lineman ever run 40 yards in a straight line? However, it does give you a picture of his overall athleticism, movement skills and coordination. In fact the combine is built to do just that: gauge athleticism. There is a clear distinction between athleticism and skill.
Skill refers to the acquired or learned abilities you can actively practice, improve and eventually master. An example of a football skill would be for a running back to carry the ball high and tight, an offensive lineman to execute a proper cut block or for a quarterback to master a seven step drop. All those skills are vital to being successful at the NFL level, but to be elite it requires talent.
Talent is the inherent raw ability to jump higher and run faster than the competition. Although yes its possible to “learn” to run faster through technique and practice, but everyone is limited by their genes. And you certainly can’t learn to be taller. So, let’s focus on the main aspect the combine helps to evaluate. Talent. Every position needs a different type of athleticism. Height is great, especially for receivers who need to attack the ball at its highest point, but interior offensive linemen lose leverage at anything over 6’5 or so.
Most art forms take time and a diversified skill set to fully master. The art of pass rushing is no different. Just ask Bruce Smith, Reggie White or some of the current masters of disruption Jared Allen, Von Miller or DeMarcus Ware and they’ll surely tell you it takes athleticism but also technique and a natural feel to get after the passer with regularity. Like any art form it will never be distilled down to pure arithmetic or established science and with that means opinions of what it takes to be the best will differ.
Some scouts prefer long, rangy athletes whose arm lengths are exceptional and able to control blockers at a distance. Others overlook such measureables and seek fast, quick twitch athletes who can explode off the edge avoiding blockers altogether.
There are an array of potential Patriots with the ability to make an impact at the next level. Here is a quick look at how those who participated in a meaningful way at the combine (Dee Ford and others excluded) stack up in terms of their measured athleticism.
The following is my attempt at being creative. I took the most athletic prospects at each position and used the intensity of the color green to map each prospects level of talent at each attribute or measurement. The darker the green the better or more elite a prospect is in terms of that particular trait. Height and weight are listed first and then what I consider to be the most important trait next. Notice how the 40 is one of the last indicators for this group. The prospects not reviewed here will be covered in the next post.
|Player||Ht||Wt||10 Split||AL||Broad J||Vert||HS||3 Cone||20 YSH||40||Bench|
|Jadeveon Clowney||6’5 ¼||266||1.56||34 ½||124||37.5||10||7.27||DNP||4.53||21|
|Kareem Martin||6’5 7/8||272||1.53||35||129||35.5||10||7.2||4.33||4.72||22|
|Khalil Mack||6’2 5/8||251||1.56||33 ¼||128||40||10 ¼||7.08||4.18||4.65||23|
|Anthony Barr||6’4 7/8||255||1.56||33 ½||119||34.5||9 3/8||6.82||4.19||4.66||15|
|Larry Webster||6’5 ¾||252||1.57||33 ½||123||36.5||10 1/8||7.29||4.44||4.58||17|
|Adrian Hubbard||6’6||257||1.62||34 ½||117||38.5||9 ¼||DNP||DNP||4.69||DNP|
|Jackson Jeffcoat||6’3||247||1.6||33 7/8||123||36||9 5/8||6.97||4.18||4.63||18|
|Chris Smith||6’1||266||1.59||34 1/8||121||37||9 ½||7.55||4.46||4.71||28|
|Ronald Powell||6’3 1/8||237||1.56||32 ½||114||35.5||9 3/8||DNP||DNP||4.65||21|
|Demarcus Lawrence||6’2 7/8||251||1.62||33 ¾||113||34.5||11||7.46||4.31||4.8||20|
|Tyler Starr||6’4 1/8||250||1.65||32 ½||116||32||9 ½||6.64||4.15||4.95||24|
|Kyle Van Noy||6’3 1/8||243||1.6||31 5/8||112||32.5||9 5/8||7.22||4.2||4.71||21|
Jadeveon Clowney is a freak, but won’t be available for the Pats so let’s leave it at that.
Kareem Martin is a real X-factor among this group of pass rushers. He stuffed the stat sheet with 21.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in 2013 but looked stiff and without elite burst at times. Then he goes and busts out at the combine athletically testing out at or darn near close to Clowney. Scouts have always taken notice of his ideal frame and long arms but in Indy he effectively dispelled any concerns about his explosiveness and physical ability. The 1.53 10 yard split he ran was insane and far and away the fastest for any lineman. While getting to take that unadulterated start is not quite the same as lining up outside across an NFL left tackle, it does show his natural get off is elite.
His overall lower body explosiveness is solidified by a strong showing at both the broad and vertical jumps, which when paired with his arm length could become a lethal combination allowing him to not only get on a tackle quickly but also keep space and control the interaction while pursuing the quarterback. Going back to the awesome work by Greg Peshek we see that even the advanced stats paint Martin as underrated. His sack time of 3.62 isn’t special but he did show that he can make an impact in a variety of ways. He had an evenly distributed sack profile with 50% coming on outside rushes and 50% on bull or inside rushes. In addition none of his 11.5 sacks were coverage sacks and only 8.3% were unblocked. The final landing spot for Martin will come down to tape, but there are some intriguing tools to work with and certainly merit further study.
Khalil Mack, like Clowney, will not be a worthwhile target where the Pats currently stand. The one thing that stands out about Mack’s physical profile is his height at just under 6’3. The fact that his arm length is in fact all but equal to a taller and seemingly lankier Barr means that height actually lowers his center of gravity without losing the advantage of length.
Anthony Barr is a premium prospect to some and an overrated and underdeveloped gamble to others. Such a deviation in opinions makes the UCLA product a realistic possibility at #29 overall. His athleticism and natural ability would seem in a fit in any system, but his game is actually very limited. Ask him to explode off the snap, dip and flex his body under a tackle while he turns the corner into the backfield and he’s got it covered. But making him do much else and you might not be satisfied.
One thing that could surprise the casual fan on draft day is how high relatively unknown prospect from no name schools are selected. Larry Webster of Division II Bloomsburg University is one of those prospects. A former basketball player with excellent size and athleticism didn’t make the usual conversion to tight end, but instead defensive end. The tallest of these selected prospects Webster does look awkward at times but is still learning the ropes of football.
However his natural flexibility and body control is evident and could be molded into a solid NFL defensive end. Last year 6’7 Devin Taylor from South Carolina was similarly raw but played pretty well for the Lions, so we know its possible for a player of his size to win at the line even with an inherent leverage disadvantage.