Monday, February 25, 2008

Climbing the Mountain

72. 1174. 12. 4.59.

The numbers above belong to former Michigan wide receiver Mario Manningham. The first three were amassed during his junior year as a Wolverine: 72 catches, 1,174 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. An All-Big Ten season that would seem to propel him straight to the top of the 2008 NFL Draft. But wait, there’s one more number to consider. The smallest stat on the list, 4.59, is also the most important. That’s because the 4.59 seconds it took him to run the 40-yard dash on Sunday was slower then some expected. What does it mean? Could twelve one hundredths of a second (a 4.47 would put him in the top ten amongst wide outs) really negate twelve touchdowns?

Now I might be over simplifying the process. Scouts, coaches and talent evaluators around the league are paid to do more than just review the numbers posted by the 300 prospects who are being poked and prodded by the NFL in Indianapolis this weekend. Game film, all-star games, interviews and even further work out sessions held at individual colleges and universities around the country will all be entered into the equation. But the NFL Combine has become a measuring stick by which all other evaluations are compared to. The event is now televised on the NFL Network (allowing this blogger to do his job from the comfort of his own couch) and every year, players’ stocks rise and fall based on how fast they finish the 40.

Sometimes, the BMOCs (Big Men On Campus) become the BMAC’s (Big Men At the Combine). One such superstar that apparently lived up to the hype this weekend was Arkansas’ Darren McFadden. The two-time Heisman runner-up paired his prolific college career with the second fastest 40-time among running backs with a 4.33. Not to be outdone, another projected first round runner, Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart, finished among the top ten RBs in not just the 40, but the bench press, vertical jump and broad jump, solidifying his star potential. But what about Carl Stewart? No, he’s not Jonathan’s brother and although he attended a big-time University (Auburn) he was a relative unknown heading into the weekend. But that’s why they play the game; rather, that’s why they participate at the Combine.

C. Stewart led all running backs with 30 bench press reps of 225 lbs, a 39” vertical jump and an 11’2” broad jump. Now I don’t remember many moments in which Willis McGahee or Jamal Lewis broad jumped into the end zone, but with those skills, a coach can find a way to utilize your talents. I would imagine being able to leap from the 10-yard line to the goal line would be useful.

Now Carl Stewart may have been relatively unknown, but a few Sunday participants actually were unknown just a few months ago. But after impressing scouts during the all-star games held after bowl season, they were invited to the Combine and can now begin considering what to wear on draft day. After all, those big and tall suits take time to tailor.

One such prospect should actually come as no surprise considering the shocker his team pulled against Mario’s Michigan Wolverines way back in September. Dexter Jackson of Appalachian State, who scored two touchdowns in the Mountaineers triumphant upset, triumphed once again in the 40-yard dash, posting a 4.37 on Sunday. The speed placed him at the top of the wide-out list alongside high profile pass catchers like DeSean Jackson of Cal and Andre Caldwell of Florida. As the NFL Network crew alluded to during their coverage, that kind of speed should earn Jackson the nickname ‘The Yodeler’ after the Price is Right game in which a mountain man climbs the board towards greater glory. Yodel on Dex.

As the Mountaineer climbed the mountain, two passing prospects from the FCS (formerly 1-AA) were building their own buzz. A deep sleeper from San Diego, Josh Johnson threw for 43 touchdowns and just 1 interception in 2007. As Rich Eisen and Co. pointed out, that’s hard to do in your backyard, let alone in competitive collegiate football. But his stats are just the beginning as JJ posted the fastest 40-yard time for a quarterback (4.55) and the highest vertical jump (33.5”) to back up his big numbers. And for those who probably didn’t have the luxury of taking a trip to USD last fall, Johnson’s performance at the Combine will most likely encourage GMs and coaches to review some game tape of the 6’3” signal caller. Here’s a word of advice, take a look at the devastation he delivered to Davidson: 32 of 36, 428 passing yards, 6 touchdowns and 79 yards rushing. I know the Wildcats of Davidson don’t quite measure up to the Wildcats of a Kentucky or Arizona, but those are some cool numbers to comb over.

Of course the big name throwers were in attendance as well with Colt Brennan, Brian Brohm and Chade Henne all showing that they can heave the ball and throw it with heat; but one quarterback that literally stood out among them (he is 6’6”) was Delaware’s Joe Flacco. If Flacco had stuck it out at Pittsburgh, where he was originally enrolled, his story may not be such a story; but as a Blue Hen, his rise up the charts may be the most buzz-worthy of all. According to most scouts, Flacco had the strongest arm at the Combine and according to’s Mike Mayock, is now among the top-5 rated quarterbacks in the draft and is expected to go higher than Brennan. Even more impressive, unlike any of the other top QB’s, including the potential number one overall pick in the draft, Matt Ryan, his name is also his website – The page could use some work, but when you come from a small school, the World Wide Web is a valuable tool.

As the combine continues with the defensive stand-outs ready to take center stage on Monday and Tuesday, all eyes will be on ‘The Son of Howie’ (Chris Long of Virginia, son of NFL veteran Howie Long) but as Flacco, Johnson and Jackson have shown, it’s not always the most notable names that force coaches and scouts to take the most notes. As the last sporting event ever to be held at the RCA Dome concludes, watch out for the superstars, rising stars, falling stars and yodelers.

No comments: