Scouting The Combine With the Chiefs

1 Feature From The Bleachers

By the time most of you begin reading this post I’ll be scouting prospects at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. No, I won’t be IN my new least favorite football town but yes, I will be observing any and all college prospects — who have been invited to the combine — via high def flat screen heaven.

1 Johnny ManzielIt has occurred to me some time ago that many everyday fans of our beloved K.C. Chiefs might be wishing upon the star of “Gee, I wish I was a scout for the Chiefs.” Well, first of all I can tell you… it’s tedious work. Now, I’m not someone who has worked for any football organization. However, I’ve been scouting football players for my own pleasure for years now. So, here’s a little bit of what I know… just in time for you to scout the NFL Combine.

Firstly, players have to be scouted so that they can eventually be ranked. On Friday, from Indy, Chiefs GM John Dorsey said,

“I think that history has shown, that if in fact you stay true to that model, the best player available usually will prevail.”

Dorsey was making a case for being disciplined about taking the best player available in the draft.  That, places a tremendous amount of emphasis upon the observation, evaluation and ranking process… which is exactly what the Kansas City Chiefs coaches, GM and totality of their player personnel staff are all doing feverishly in Lucas Oil for the next four days.

For me, this is one of the most exciting events in the NFL’s calendar year. So, let’s take a look at what you can do when you’re tuning in… if you so decide to take the challenge.

1 Dorsey on Alex SmithWhen you’re watching a football game… what do you look at? If you’re like most of us, your eyes have a tendency to “follow the bouncing ball.” That is, many of us get stuck watching the ball and where the ball is going. Now, if that’s all you do when you’re attempting to fairly analyze a football player, then you’re going to come away with very little information about 95% of the players on the field.

Take a wide receiver for example. If you’re wanting to evaluate a wide receiver you also have to take into consideration the play of that receiver on plays when he knows he’s NOT getting the ball… like a running play. Successful teams have every offensive player engaged in blocking, and blocking well, to make their running game effective. If a WR doesn’t do his job on plays that he knows the ball is not coming to him, it should affect how you evaluate him.

Now, how is that going to help you analyze a player at the combine? It isn’t. Make no mistake about it, observing a player in game action can not be substituted by half-clothed calisthenics and half-cocked calculations.

So, what good can scouting players be during the NFL Combine?

While you won’t have the opportunity to see whether or not a prospect is doing his job when he knows he’s not getting the ball, the are a host of other important traits that can be determined by observing them in the sterile environment of these underwear olympics.

So, here’s “Laddie’s Little Tips” for scouting the combine.

1. Focus

Choose a part of a prospects body (hands, head, arms, feet, mid-section) and then stick with that focus throughout the whole exercise that the coaches are putting the prospects through.

One of my favorites is to focus on their feet. I recall a couple of years ago when the coverage was focusing up close on the feet of offensive linemen. A specific player really popped out at me and remember saying out loud to myself, “Wow, he’s got great feet,” because his lateral movement was not only fluid but the quickness with which he moved was apparently much better than any other prospects. That player turned out to be Rodney Hudson. So, when the Chiefs drafted him two months later I could say to myself, I have a good idea about one of the reasons they choose him.

2. Speed and quickness

One game I like to play by myself to test and see if my observations match the statistics is → as I watch the 40 yard dash segment, I guess if each prospect in that group is faster or slower than another prospect… like the guy who has the fastest time.

This little game not only helps me to trust my own eyes (which I often refer to as the “eyeball test”) but, helps me to more accurately analyze prospects.

Safeties quote DorseyThe “speed” of a player is a bit of a tricky wicket. If you talk too much about the speed of a player, homers will call you the next coming of Al Davis. If your team doesn’t take speed seriously enough, they’re more often than not, on the outside of the playoffs looking back and saying, “They (the opposition) were just too fast for our players and we need more team speed.”

Take the most recent Super Bowl. It looked like the Seattle Seahawks defense was faster than the Denver Broncos offense. However, when I went back and checked, not that many of their players possess top notch top end speed.

So, there’s truly… a difference between “speed” and “game speed.”

Now, at the combine, there’s 40 speed and then there’s the speed a prospect carries over into all the other activities.

Four years ago, linebacker K.J. Wright out of Mississippi State simply looked (to me) like the fastest LB out there. I recall writing about him as a possible draft choice for the Chiefs. While Wright was timed at 4.65 in the 40, his on field play looked much faster. By comparison, Derrick Johnson was once timed at 4.52 in the 40 so, Wright was not to be confused with DJ.

As it turned out, Wright is a LB who looked terrific helping the Seahawks win their first Super Bowl victory.

3) Comparison Shopping

Contrary to popular belief, Free Agents aren’t necessarily compared to draft picks. When John Dorsey was asked, “Do the players you sign in Free Agency have any effect on who you select in the draft? He answered, “No, I don’t think so.” Consequently, let’s spend our time watching the combine without thinking about who the Chiefs may or may not sign in Free Agency.

At the combine, your able to see how players look in comparison to other similar prospects when those prospects are standing right next to them and performing right after them. “Maturity” has become a major issue in this draft. Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney have both raised red flags in the past year. Plenty of them and even though their talents make end up taking to the pinnacle position of this draft, their maturity, or lack thereof is a major point for comparison in this year’s draft.

Another reason maturity is an issue of this draft is the high volume of non-seniors coming out this year. Look for maturity to be a continued story for the next two and a half months with possible lingering side-effects until September and beyond.

4) Notes, Ratings and Rankings

It may not sound exciting to everyone who travels down this road of fandom but, if you’re going to go so far as to watch game day tape and YouTube Highlights, you may as well take notes. Write down whatever occurs to you at first. Then begin to take one aspect of a players game and follow it all the way through a game and maybe make up your own rating system.

One of my favorite places to visit regularly to get a feel for what many other homemade scouts are thinking about prospects is to visit Walter Football’s NFL Mock Draft Database. It’s a collection of dozens and dozens of mock drafts. Please be careful if you visit there. It’s too easy to allow other bloggers opinions to become your own. Nothing replaces watching players in game action so remember that. Not even the combine.

If you’re interested in putting up a little cash so you can have this kind of thing done for you, go to ProFootballFocus which will set you back $26.99 per year but you’ll be given access to a play-by-play- rating system of most players in the NFL.

Getting to see the GMs huddled in a group with their entourage of player personnel evaluators is always a thrill and telling. In many ways they’re like the tallest kids on the playground choosing up sides for basketball. Some GM’s and personnel people have worked together before and know each other’s tendencies, talents and weaknesses.

For example, Team A is seriously evaluating a WRs for a possible selection at pick #18 but they also know their conference rival, Team B, who is picking at #16, is looking for a top notch WR too… but during the process they become aware that prospect “J” … can not be leaned on hard by coaches nor prodded like other WRs (just as their area scouts and combine scouting report states) and if he is pushed… then he shuts down emotionally (sound like anyone you know of?). So, because Team A believes they have the right coaches to coach prospect “J” up reel-gud… on draft day Team A will have a trade with Team C in place for their draft spot at #15 in the event that prospect “J” is available there.

So, information learned, or confirmed, at the combine can have a tremendous effect and leave a lasting impression on team coaches, GMs and player personnel. Accordingly, this information informs  them as to whether or not this is one of the players they’d like to invite in for a visit in the weeks before the draft… knowing full well that there are a limited number of visits that a team can give to prospects who would come in and see the team’s facilities.

Just yesterday, John Dorsey, from the combine in Indianapolis, had this to say about the mechanics of the draft,

“Well, I think every year you go through the draft process, regardless if you’re drafting one, or twenty-three, you begin to build your board and you begin to identify certain players who will unfold at certain spots. And then as you begin to go through there, you can determine who these guys are who can fit those criteria that you’ve set up. And that’s how that unfolds. And you do have to be disciplined because when you build through the draft , discipline is so critical because you have to take the best player available not thinking instantaneously but also thinking down the road in terms of the future. Two years, three years down the road.”

So, if you decide to do a little combine watching and then want a little bit more out of the experience, remember what John Dorsey said when asked, “What are you looking for in a prospect?” He chimed, “At the end of the day… does the guy make plays?

It might be harder to tell that while watching 24 hours (over the next four days) of the NFL Network’s Combine coverage. At least you’ll know now what you’re looking for. Or not.

In the end, Mr. Dorsey says his job in Indy is, “Looking for athleticism and competitiveness.”

Alright. That should be easy.

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Tags: KC Chiefs

  • berttheclock

    Laddie, if you manage to slip into the 40s event, be sure to wear Addidas cleats, as Addidas is going to pay the fastest competitor $100,000 this year if that person wears their new cleats (about $150 a set). All other Combine gear is supplied by Under Armor. I would try this myself, but, I read the timing equipment shuts off after 10 minutes.

    However, as to speed. Good point about observing how they run. There is overall speed, but, often that can be misleading. Look at Jonathan Baldwin, who ran a 4.5, but, needed several long strides to attain that top speed. What he didn’t possess was quickness separation. Several posters want KC to take the tall wide out from Florida State, Benjamin, who does possess speed, but, he may have that quickness separation needed and even though Rang places him in a “Boom or Bust” category, may be worth the risk. Another important aspect of speed is closing speed, which is much needed by both defensive backs and linebackers. One of the knocks on Nico Johnson is he appears to lack any closing speed to go after players he missed. This is why I place importance on the 3 cone drill, where a player has to momentarily stop and, then, restart in a different direction and repeat that once more. Look back at the 3 cone drills of both Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston. Johnson was just over 7 (7.12?), whereas, Houston had a 6.95. Very quick for big men.

    • freshmeat62

      One thing I like that they now do at the combine, is give the 10 yd time also. This may be a more telling stat as to quickness coming off the snap.

      • berttheclock

        Did you read that Jonathan Baldwin just agreed to having his $1.4 M contract cut down to $645,000? Not bad for only catching 3 passes for 28 yards and being deactivated for the final 5 games and all of the playoff games. Welfare in the Bay at its best. The sfgate article said this does not guarantee him a spot on the September roster, so, Palko will have to wait a little bit longer for him to join him in Pittsburgh for his Pop Warner team.

        • tm1946

          Should keep him in baloney/mustard sandwiches for another year.

  • berttheclock

    However, one caveat about Combine results. Consider taking this player. Six foot two, weighs 254 pounds. Ran a 4.52 40 and did a 7.15 3 cone. After the combine, folks raved about him, including Arrowhead Pride. He was considered to be a “Can’t Miss” and Herman Edwards thought he was the best at his position to come out of the draft. That fellow ended up lasting only a short time in Seattle and did not benefit from switching to the Raiders. The major knock on Aaron Curry was he was so aggressive, he took bad angles and kept over running plays and drew unnecessary penalties for being far too aggressive. In addition, ask Andy Reid about a player named Mike Mamula, who had a 49 on the Wonderlik and truly impressed everyone with his Combine results. He ended up wasting the Eagles draft pick as he went down in Eagles history as one of their worst selections.

    • tm1946

      That is why the draft is such a crap shoot. Not only does a kid need the physical assets but does he fit the team and coaching. Then that thing called “heart”, no test for that. So you check off all the boxes you can and the kid is still a flop, NFL wise.

  • freshmeat62

    As far as taking the best player available (BPA), I would imagine that is based on a numbering system. For instance Mel Kiper gives number 10 down to 4 to rank players. He breaks that down to tenths, so actually he’s using a system of 100 to 40. Last year he had 1,285 players rated at 4.0 and above, that’s an average of 61 players per number, and 430 players rated 6.0 and above, which comes to an average of almost 11 per number. That’s a lot of players, and a lot of positions w/ the same rating. When they get down to a player rated 8.5 lets say, he had 35 players listed w/ that rating. So when they say they take the BPA, they still have multiple positions to choose from as there will be many w/ the same rating.

    Lets say they refine it to where they break it down even more, say to 100.0 instead of 10.0, that’s still multiple players w/ the same rating.

    • berttheclock

      I wish they would refine that BPA to Best Player Available At That Position because the GMs draft to need far more often than just taking the best player available on the board.

      • freshmeat62

        I would imagine that somehow the teams do have a weighted system that takes into consideration team need, along w/ BPA. People like Kiper can’t do that, or their books would be as big as the NY phone book. He, and others do break down each teams needs, as they see them, and then leave it up to us that have no lives, to obsess/decide who the picks should be.

        • berttheclock

          I have read where most mockers comb through comments by GMs, HCs and even owners to ascertain what position is being rated the most important for 1st round picks. The mockers depend on such to make their picks. As most mock drafts are only rated on who comes closest in the first round, the winner, usually, ends up being the one who is closest to the hole. Many of those mockers never really spend significant time trying to peruse lower round players. That is the area which really separates talent in mockers. Kiper, for example, lost me when he said Stanzi was the steal of the draft. Walter Camp lost me when they raved about the can’t miss aspects of Jonathan Baldwin. Shay stands out, IMO, over Kiper for the late round picks.

          • freshmeat62

            I didn’t mean to say that I thought Kiper was the best at rating players, I only used him as an example of how ratings are done. I too think Shay may be a little better than Kiper, but I like Mayock also. None of them are perfect.

            One site I like is, not that I think they are so accurate, but I like how they rate D-linemen and LB’s as to whether the are best in a 3-4 or 4-3, WR’s are they a slot or a primary type, etc.

      • ladner morse

        As fresh has pointed out above, many prospects have the same rating in Kiper’s system so one possible explanation for GMs taking need over BPA is they can “say” they took the BPA when in reality they took the needed player. Also, GMs are paid to take the best “value” in their responsibility to the owner but also want to take the best “value” in their commitment to the head coach who wants to fill the holes and win now, not later.

    • Andy

      I’m thinking that the BPA means closest to a need. Close like hand grenade range. The best player available could be a qb, but a greater need is a slot or so lower. Bottom line is you don’t try to out think the rest of the nfl with a reach like T Jackson.

  • ladner morse

    BTW… just saw Scott Pioli sitting next to Thomas Dimitroff while scouting the combine.


    • berttheclock

      File that under the cruel and unusual punishment category.

      • ladner morse

        Crazed and Donfused… trying to figure out of my bringing up Pioli is more “cruel and unusual” than you bringing up Stanzi.

        Perhaps were just attempting to sub-consciously re-cast the re-make of the 1999 version of “The Haunting.”

    • Merlin_Arrowhead_Addict

      I am pretty good at lip reading. Pioli was telling Demitroff about a candy wrapper on the steps a few rows down.

      • ladner morse

        Best laugh of the week!!!!!!!

  • Canad-Ian

    Great article. Really enjoyed reading it. My girlfriend already makes fun of me for watching prospect youtube videos, I might as well jot notes down too.

  • freshmeat62

    Watching WR’s at combine, and really like Mike Evans. Also, and this hurts since I’m from Maryville and a Bearcat fan, but that Brown kid from Pitt St looks good. Thought he ran the gauntlet best of all, and that 4.30 doesn’t hurt – wow.

    At the other end of the spectrum, I wouldn’t touch the Benjamin kid. It seemed an eternity for him to take his first 3 or 4 steps. Can anyone say Jon Baldwin version 2.0?

    • berttheclock

      I believe Mike Evans took himself out the range of the Chiefs. But, did you see the time for the wide out I’ve been touting for over a month? Brandin Cooks. BTW, speaking of Northwest Missouri State, I met the track coach from the University of Portland, recently. In talking track, he said he had gone to that school for a year. Small world, at times, eh?

  • Canad-Ian

    I keep hearing a bunch of reports of all these CB and S prospects the Chiefs are meeting with. Is there a place to find who they’re meeting with or does somebody need to dig and do the tedious work?

    • berttheclock

      I wonder if there is much difference between the 23 pick and the 34 pick. The Redskins keep asking for a 2nd round pick if anyone wants Cousins. Now, this is not about trading Cousins, but, Washington has no first round pick and would like to move into the 1st round. If the do trade Cousins, they would pick up an extra 2nd round pick. So, should the Chiefs trade for their 34 pick, Washington would have to kick in an extra lower round pick. They do not have any multiple picks in the lower round, but, could Dorsey wrench their 5th round, as well? If so, what really is the difference in quality between 23 and 34? Only other 2nd round picks, may be should Tampa Bay really want Albert, or, the Niners do have two 2nd round picks, but, they are at 56 and 61. Ok, Baalke, so you want a wide out, fork over both of your 2nd round picks.

  • Joe ThisnThat Woodley

    Mike Evans an Sammy Watkins looked the best of the receivers. But I think the chiefs will draft either Brandon Cooks, Odell Beckham jr, Jordan Mathews, or Marqise lee with the 23rd pick! Just depends on who is available!!