The NFL Combine begins Tuesday in Indianapolis, where hundreds of draft prospects will be graded on skills they’ll never again put to use.
The broad jump, for instance. Have you ever seen a football player leap several feet from a standing-still start? I haven’t, either. I’ve seen Marshawn Lynch jump into the end zone backward, with one hand on the ball and the other hand surreptitiously occupied, but Lynch’s jumps are usually made on the run.
For that matter, the next time a player runs back and forth between a triangle of cones during a game, it will be the first time. But there’s a three-cone drill at the combine, and those who perform the drill faster than their position peers will be lauded for possessing the agility required to, well, run back and forth between a triangle of cones.
Former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry proved adept at this during the 2009 NFL combine. Curry completed the task in 6.84 seconds, the best time among linebackers. Curry also finished first in the 40-yard dash and the broad jump, and to show he was no three-trick pony, he bench-pressed 225 pounds 25 times and recorded a vertical jump of 37 inches.
Scouts were so busy drooling over the 6-foot-2, 255-pound Curry they needed dental-chair bibs. The Wake Forest product, winner of the Butkus Award as the nation’s top collegiate linebacker, had turned the combine into what amounted to the Aaron Curry fashion show.
NFL Network scouting analyst Mike Mayock called Curry “the safest pick in the draft. He’s done it over time. He’s clean off the field. You’re going to hand him $30 or $40 million and he’s going to put it in the bank and he’s going to go to work.”
Mayock’s prediction was somewhat accurate: The Seahawks drafted Curry at No. 4 overall and guaranteed him $34 million, then the most money assured to a rookie who wasn’t a quarterback. But the safest pick in the draft? Uh, no, not quite. The athletic talents Curry revealed without pads, while performing exercises unrelated to football, didn’t carry over into a disappointing career recalled for its brevity.
Expected to retire as a candidate for a Hall of Fame bust, Curry retired merely as a famous bust. In five seasons — three spent in Seattle — the rangy linebacker capable of jumping 10.4 feet from a standing start was credited with 5.5 sacks and no interceptions.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll replaced Curry at weakside linebacker with K.J. Wright, a fourth-round 2011 draft selection whose combine numbers — he ranked among the bottom third in the three-cone drill and the 60-yard shuttle — were not drool-inspiring.
But Wright has a sense for where the ball is and a knack for making a stop when he finds it, linebacker skills much more relevant than mastering some three-cone drill. A year after his five solo tackles helped the Hawks defeat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 48, Wright had 10 solo tackles against the New England Patriots, whose 28-24 victory was achieved thanks to the MVP performance of quarterback Tom Brady, himself a noted combine flop.
Watching video glimpses of Brady’s 2000 audition in front of NFL scouts, it’s easy to understand why he remained on the board until the sixth round. His 40-yard dash resembles a jog, and his unprepossessing physique suggests an unhappy familiarity with schoolyard bullies.
Brady’s “measureables” in Indianapolis included a 7.20 time in the three-cone drill — it’s possible the custodian told him to turn out the lights and lock the doors when he was finished — and a vertical leap that would’ve turned a jump ball against Meat Loaf into a challenge.
Fifteen years after his combine experience appeared to reduce him to a practice-squad journeyman, Brady has assembled a convincing case as the best quarterback in NFL history.
While it’s impossible not to mock the ridiculous practice of evaluating future pro football players on drills unrelated to football, the combine can be beneficial to a team such as the Seahawks, scheduled to make the 31st selection of the first round.
The Hawks’ most urgent need is for a playmaking wide receiver. They doubled down with their gamble on Percy Harvin — we all know how that turned out — and last season’s choice of Paul Richardson in the second round is looking like a swing-and-miss.
Richardson caught only 29 passes for 271 yards before tearing up his knee in the divisional round playoff victory over Carolina. It’s doubtful Richardson will be at full strength in September, and equally doubtful whether he’ll regain his breakaway speed.
Which brings us to Dorial Green-Beckham, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound force who has been likened to to the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson.
Green-Beckham will turn heads at the combine. He’s big and strong and fast and blessed with the sure, soft hands of somebody born to demand double coverage.
But there are reasons Green-Beckham might be available at No. 31. He got in trouble for possessing pot at Missouri, got in trouble again for possessing more pot, and was kicked off the team after allegedly breaking into apartment house of his girlfriend and throwing another woman down the stairs.
Green-Beckham ended up at Oklahoma, where he was forced to sit out last season per NCAA transfer rules. Rather than return to the Sooners, Green-Beckham declared himself eligible for the 2015 draft.
There’s a lot to like about Green-Beckham, and a lot, obviously, not to like. The opportunity for Carroll and general manager John Schneider to sit down with him for an interview that covers all the sensitive questions — beginning with, what in the blazes were you thinking about when you put your multimillion-dollar career in jeopardy? — could be invaluable.
The combine will be televised, but I won’t watch. A competition that vaulted Aaron Curry into a can’t-miss superstar after humiliating Tom Brady strikes me as the ultimate trash-sport endeavor.
Besides, the real action is taking place behind closed doors, where Green-Beckham’s body language figures to tell the Seahawks much more than his ability to run back and forth between three cones.