The NFL Combine has wrapped up. Reactions and overreactions abound. Some players helped themselves, others not so much, and now teams, media, and fans have gobs of data to digest as we count down the days to the NFL Draft.
The big focus was on players that are seen as high first-round picks. But that group is not in reach for the Dallas Cowboys, who currently are scheduled to just sit and watch until pick 58 in the second round. That certainly doesn’t mean they were disinterested observers in Indianapolis, however. Many of their eventual selections were probably there. So as you seek to sort out what to take away from the Underwear Olympics, here are some things to keep in mind.
Somebody good will be there at 58
One phrase you will hear very frequently about players the Cowboys might be interested in is “he won’t be there at 58”. If you add all them together, you will notice a funny thing. If you include all the players who “won’t make it out of the first round” and such, there will be a lot more than 58 names involved.
It is a draft value inflation that goes on every year.
Believe we've now hit 20 players who are top 10 locks, based on Twitter. I wasn't great at math but...— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) March 3, 2019
Different observers see different things and have their own valuation of certain traits. And the Combine is all about traits. More importantly, all the stuff you see on social media is coming from draft analysts and reporters, not from the teams themselves. So take all that stuff with a grain of salt.
Interest (or lack of it) in a given player seldom starts at the Combine
If an NFL team has no idea about a player who puts on a very strong showing in the various drills, their scouting staff has not done its job. There is a possible exception for small-school talents, but if you notice, the overwhelming majority of invitees are from the FBS division of the NCAA, and most are from the power 5 conferences. There is no excuse for missing a player from those schools. Perhaps some staffs will move players up or down significantly on their boards after Indianapolis, but those are probably not very good organizations.
The Combine is about making minor corrections, perhaps swapping your number three and number four defensive end, for example. It provides some answers, but not really big ones. If a team is in the market for a defensive end, it will have already studied Montez Sweat, for example. His standout day in Indianapolis might have been a pleasant surprise, and mean scouts will revisit his video. But they knew about him. The best staffs probably just nodded when he showed out. It is what players did on the field in games that is always most important.
A good combine is probably more beneficial to late-round candidates
That is something that is very pertinent for the Cowboys. They have to work a lot harder to profit from the draft than almost any other team given their lack of draft capital this year. So they will be pouring through the results for players they are thinking might be still available for them in all the rounds. In the past, they have found some real gems, like Xavier Woods. He was tied for second in his safety class in the three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle, and had the seventh fastest 40 time. But he was also a small school prospect out of Louisiana Tech. That is how he was still around in the sixth round.
Reports at the time showed that Dallas already had interest in him, and he was one of their pre-draft visits. The strong showing at the Combine was just confirmation of his athleticism.
It will be hard to find another starter of his quality on day two of the draft, much less day three. But that is what the Cowboys are trying to do. And for them, the Combine numbers might be part of making the call.
The better, the better
As in the more prospects look really good, the more chances the Cowboys have of a good talent making it to them. In past years, Jerry Jones and others have talked about getting a second-round-graded player in the third, and similar steals. That is much easier when the top of a position group is crowded, or has a nice cluster in the areas a team is slated to pick. Fortunately for Dallas, some of the most needed positions look to be that way, including wide receiver, tight end, and defensive tackles and ends. It also looks like a solid year for offensive linemen, especially in the second round, and that is a position where Dallas will likely not be going before the latter rounds, if at all. And quarterbacks always get overdrafted. Any player not at a position of need for the Cowboys just pushes someone they can use down.
It is just simple logic that a strong draft class is better for all teams than a weak one. This one is looking pretty good.
Matching the player to the team
This is something that is at times frustrating. The Cowboys have certain profiles for their players, and that makes them steer clear of players they probably should be more interested in, such as safety Tyrann Mathieu. (He is a free agent this year, so if the Earl Thomas thing doesn’t work out, they might want to revisit that. Just saying.)
Still, the team looks for players that fit more naturally into the scheme and system they run. That is where the Combine results can mean something different for each team. For instance, Dallas places more emphasis on the blocking ability of tight ends than most. They want a more rounded player than many teams. As a result, they might take one in the draft that is not as fast as the ones like Noah Fant, but still seen as having qualities they like, such as familiarity with a pro-style system rather than the spread offense (the prevalence of the latter in college has devalued the tight end position, so the depth of this year’s class is something to exploit). The Cowboys might be able to make some gold out of a TE that wasn’t setting the world on fire in Indianapolis, but who they see as able to respond well to coaching and maybe some mentoring. They might think they have an advantage there.
It would be a lot easier to understand the role the Combine plays for the Cowboys if the staff would just publish their notes or put all the pre-draft meetings out on video. But they are strangely reluctant to cater to the fans and media like that.
Meanwhile, don’t pay too much attention to all the reports of players shooting up or falling down boards. The boards in question are all the products of writers and bloggers, and mostly one-person operations. Team boards are built by a whole roster of scouts with input from the coaches, and have access to things we mostly ignore, like on-campus research into what kind of persons players are off the field and how hard they work in the offseason. Things like those pre-draft visits mentioned above are much more indicative of how the team is thinking. And pro days can also add some new information, including players who were snubbed by the Combine.
So keep the results of the past few days in perspective. They are interesting and in ways useful, but they only tell a small part of the story.