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Nine Tigers Invited to the NFL Combine

Kim Montuoro, Photo Editor

Ben Boulware (10) is one of several Tigers projected to be drafted in 2017. 

The National Football League (NFL) Combine is an event held about halfway between the draft and the end of the college football season. It is meant to provide an opportunity to showcase the individual skills and talents of highly athletic players. This year, nine Clemson players have been invited to participate, with Deshaun Watson headlining the crew.

Even though Watson might have the highest potential, he is under the highest amount of scrutiny because of his being a quarterback. Bad quarterbacks drafted in the first 10 picks of a draft tend to get executives fired when they don’t work out. 

This is not to imply that Watson is a bad quarterback, but it does make sense that scouts and higher-ups would want to be absolutely sure about a make-or-break kind of player like Watson. 

The main events at the Combine are: the 40-yard dash, bench press (225-lb. repetitions), broad jump, vertical jump, 20-yard shuttle, three cone drill and 60-yard shuttle. There are other drills, but they are specific to certain positions. 

The most important drill for any defensive back, wide receiver or running back is the 40-yard dash which measures pure speed in a straight line. Most of these positions average around a time of 4.5 seconds, but very fast players run a sub-4.4 second time. The (unofficial) fastest time ever was a 4.12 second time by multi-sport athlete Bo Jackson. 

For reference purposes, the top Clemson player was Jacoby Ford who ran a 4.28. Surprisingly, although it is the most important event, players with the top times don’t usually turn out to be all that good in the long run. 

The second most important event is the bench press. Players attempt to lift 225 pounds worth of weights as many times as possible. Most of the speed-related positions don’t do as well in this, but it is crucial for the bigger players. Offensive linemen, defensive lineman and linebackers have the chance to show off their raw strength in this one. 

Most other positions don’t need to rely too heavily on this event, but it can increase draft stock. In fact, the Chicago Bears drafted a punter in the sixth round in 2013 because he was able to bench press more than South Carolina’s premiere defensive pass rusher, Jadeveon Clowney. 

The other physical events test agility, jump height and breadth as well as general footwork. All positions can benefit in these challenges, but skill players like wide receivers, running backs and tight ends find higher bumps in draft stock than most other positions. 

Teams also get a chance to interview up to 60 players of their choice in 15-minute intervals. This is what many players call “The Gauntlet.” Interviews can take up to eight hours for some of the higher-tier players. 

Part of this time is also spent taking tests of general aptitude and football smarts. A common doubt among quarterbacks is their football IQ and how well they can handle adjusting to a new system. The Wonderlic Test is the most common. Aaron Rodgers scored 35 out of 50 on the test, which is 11 points above the average for a quarterback. 

All of these events have been questioned as to whether they actually help to predict future success in the NFL.  A study done in 2011 analyzed results of the Combine and careers of players and concluded that the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drill are the only drills that had any impact at all, but even still, it was limited. 

The main critics of this Combine say that college performance is a more likely indicator of NFL success. It isn’t an accurate way to measure a player’s full worth either. What it does do is make a point as to whether or not certain players can play specific positions better than others. 

This year’s quarterback class is fairly weak. Only three have thus far separated themselves and with a lot of QB-needy teams out there, a strong Combine showing could make one of them the cream of the crop. Deshaun Watson skipped out on the Senior Bowl at the end of the year in order to better prepare for the Combine. 

Watson will have to do better than North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky, a one-year starter, and DeShone Kizer from Notre Dame. The biggest knock on Watson, so far, has been his throwing accuracy on medium and long throws. Watson’s uneven decision making and less-than-stellar footwork caused a few too many interceptions this season (17), even though he didn’t throw any in the National Championship game. 

The throwing drill could make or break the way scouts and executives see him as the future of a franchise. If he misses enough throws, Watson may not just fall out of the first round, but he could fall to round three or four. 

At that point, for a player with Watson’s intangibles that would be the biggest steal of the draft, but that is a worst case example. The most likely scenario of him doing badly is falling to the second round. 

Dabo Swinney had this to say about the Cleveland Browns and their two first-round picks, “I’m just telling you, if they pass on Deshaun Watson, they’re passing on Michael Jordan.”

Other Clemson prospects such as Carlos Watkins, Ben Boulware, Jadar Johnson and Artavis Scott also have something to prove at the Combine.

Watkins is a strong player already, so he should do well in the bench press. What will really “wow” scouts is putting up an above average time in the 3-cone drill. Having above average agility for an interior lineman could make him an even more dangerous pass rusher on the line. 

If Watkins does fail during the bench press, there isn’t much he can really do to keep his draft stock from falling into the Day 3 rounds (rounds four through seven). 

Boulware has the opposite problem. He is incredibly strong, but he has to prove that he has the smarts to be a force in the middle of the field. Many times throughout the year, Boulware blew up and missed a tackle or missed a gap and gave up huge chunks of yards. If he doesn’t show some sign of being able to tame that, he will undoubtedly slide into the seventh round or even be undrafted.

Jadar Johnson will probably excel in the strength and speed competitions, but might falter in agility and jumping. Safeties are some of the most athletic players on the field, but they also need to have good ball-hawking instincts. Johnson usually lets those get the best of him. If he works on his lateral agility as well (20-yard shuttle), he could be picked as high as the third round. 

Last, Artavis Scott comes in as an undersized and underappreciated wide receiver that is a bit of a do-it-all kind of guy. He returns kicks, he catches screens and quick passes and he has incredible spatial awareness as evidenced by his toe-tapping touchdown against South Carolina in 2015. Hopefully, the Combine gives him a chance to shine and shoot up draft boards. The icing on the cake would be a killer 40-yard dash time around 4.4 seconds. 

The real world is not quite like a video game. In games like Madden, players are given ratings for each of their attributes and it’s easy for coaches to see which one is the best. 

In the real world, people lose their jobs for making one mistake with a first-round pick that looked like the he would be the next Peyton Manning, but turned out to be the next Ryan Leaf. Peyton Manning was the first overall pick that year and led the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl win. Ryan Leaf fell out of the NFL within a few years. 

It isn’t easy, but the Combine is the single most important event for prospects looking to make a good third impression.  




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