The NFL Scouting Combine has been airing for the past few days on NFL Network. I’m always fascinated by the process of evaluating these college football players who are competing to impress NFL personnel into drafting the player early thereby ensuring a significant payday. After all, it’s dolla dolla bill, y’all. What fascinates me about the combine and also the draft are the same reasons my favorite part of the Madden NFL games is always the offseason portion. It’s building a team through player evaluation that gets my high motor going.
Cliches abound at the draft. It’s what sport, and I guess life, fall back on. Two terms I hear thrown around a lot are measurables and intangibles. I’m not saying there’s no value in those terms because there is. I’m saying they’re cliched because people throw the terms around a lot. Sunday at the combine was the day the quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers were evaluated on the field, and I took special notice of how two wide receivers were being analyzed by the NFL Network crew. On most draft boards the two highest-rated receivers are A.J. Green and Julio Jones. From what I’ve seen on the field and yesterday in the drills I understand why those two are the highest rated. They are both outstanding athletes, although Julio Jones stood way out from Green in the drills yesterday. He “jumped out of the gym” as one NFL Network analyst put it. (I think it was Rich Eisen.) He did jump out of the gym. You saw his natural athletic ability in a measurable and impressive way. To be honest he kind of put Green and the other wide receivers to shame. These guys aren’t compared solely on the basis of who has the fastest 40 yard dash time or who broad jumps the furthest, though. That would be ridiculous. Mike Mayock does a good job of guiding the discussion when the people on set are talking about players. He often says things like, “go back to the tape.” He’s right, because if you drafted players on paper then Julio Jones would be the highest receiver taken, no question. The problem is I still think A.J Green is a better receiver and a better pro prospect. You have to go back to the tape to see the difference in these players, though.
Julio Jones is an athletic freak of nature
This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive analysis of A.J. Green vs. Julio Jones as players. I’m just trying to bring out a slice of evaluation pie here. Julio wins in the measurables department hands down, but A.J. Green stands out in many of the intangibles. No college football player I saw this past year competed for ball and won battles with defensive backs in the air and on routes like A.J. Green did. (with the possible exception of Alshon Jeffrey, but he’s not coming out of college this year) Green made plays, and I would say Julio Jones sometimes disappeared from games. Sure, he was double-teamed, but I’m sure I saw A.J. Green triple-teamed in games and he still made plays. This may qualify as a bold statement, but I think if you compared the tapes you would see Jones get locked up in coverage and taken out of games a lot more than Green. This is why the process of evaluation is so fascinating to me. There’s no formulas that work every time. Emmitt Smith didn’t have a good combine. Jerry Rice ran a slow 40 yard dash time. Deion Sanders probably ran the fastest 40 time ever. You can find examples on either side of the argument. The bottom line between Green and Jones is I would rather have Green on my team. It will be interesting to see who goes first in the draft and how far apart they are picked. I would draw a similar comparison today between Marcel Dareus and Nick Fairley. I think Dareus will look better in drills, but Fairley will be a better NFL player.
Side note: I expected Warren Sapp’s analysis to devolve into “Pop, pop!” I like Sapp, the QBKilla, but the way he utters a high-pitched “Wooooooo” when someone does something that impresses him reminds of the character on Community who excitedly repeats the phrase “Pop, pop!”