NFL combine day 2 takeaways for the college football fan
INDIANAPOLIS — Combine Friday is the equivalent of real-life Tuesday. The end is nowhere in sight, but things are starting to get busy enough that you forget how far you have to go until the next break. With on-field drills, weigh-ins, 40-yard dashes and interviews all happening, players are tugged in a dozen different directions and begin to realize how little sleep they’re going to get while in Indianapolis. It’s the wild west out here, but for the first time in a few years, the media portion of the event has been pretty subdued. There’s no Carson Wentz Phenomenon. There’s no Robert Nkemdiche telling reporters presumptive no. 1 pick (how naïve we were) Laremy Tunsil was in the room with him when he fell out its window. Here are a few (mostly lacking in drama) thoughts from the day:
1. NFL Network’s graphics department won the combine. Around lunchtime Friday, it was Christian McCaffrey’s turn to run the 40-yard dash (which he did in 4.48 seconds), and before he took off, a genius producer flashed an infobox across the screen. The facts: McCaffrey’s father, Ed McCaffrey, played for the Broncos. McCaffrey plays the harmonica. And—get ready—he used to own a potbellied pig named Terrance.
This is combine journalism at its finest. What happened to Terrance? Here’s where the story takes a dark turn: Terrance, whom the Denver Post learned was actually a hog, eventually died of obesity.
Whoever was in charge of gathering and synthesizing those facts (apart from the minor species error), congratulations. You are the MVP.
2. For the quarterbacks, it’s a fine line between self-assured and downright cocky, especially when so much is up in the air with the players in question. This year’s quarterback class could be a weak one. There may not be a consensus best player, and if recent history is a trend, some team with a need will talk itself into one of these guys, use too high of a pick on him and be underwhelmed. The combination of that uncertainty, the amount of teams who need quarterbacks and the stakes involved led to a theme in quarterback media interviews, basically: Are you actually good? Why is that true? For North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, who started only one season but, he made sure to point out, played in 35 games, these questions were more pointed. Trubisky walked the line well, saying that though he lost a quarterback competition to Marquise Wilson (who went undrafted a year ago and is now a free agent), he thought he was the better player. “I wasn’t given the spot, even though I felt I was the better quarterback deep down,” he said. “I knew I could do the same things, if not better, to help our team win. But it wasn’t my call. It was out of my control.” Point, Trubisky.
Then, when asked if he’s the best quarterback in this year’s class, he demurred: “I’m confident in my abilities, but that’s not really for me to say. Trubisky 2, media 0. (Only tangentially related: Later Friday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Trubisky would like to go by Mitchell, rather than Mitch, which everyone in the football world has called him since we recently discovered his existence. It’s perfect. We were calling the most mysterious player in the draft by the wrong name.)
A few podiums down from the artist formerly known as Mitch Trubisky, former Cal and Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb was asked about his circuitous path to the NFL and if he ever doubted he’d make it here. “I've always been 6-5, 230 pounds and can throw the ball better than anybody,” he said. Well then.
It may not be fair, but quarterbacks face an extra level of scrutiny at the combine. How they walk that line between confident and cocky may actually be important for guys, and my favorite self-assessment of the day came from Clemson’s DeShaun Watson when he was asked about Dabo Swinney (loosely) comparing him to Michael Jordan. “I’m not Michael Jordan,” he said. “I’m DeShaun Watson. … One day I hope people can talk about me like Michael Jordan.” Coached or not, it was the perfect response.
3. I couldn’t help but think about the gap between what it takes to be a successful quarterback in the NFL vs. at the college level when I saw Greg Ward sitting at a table talking to just one reporter during a session of quarterbacks and receivers. It wasn’t surprising, but after watching Ward’s stretches of greatness at Houston, it was still jarring. Seven months ago, he was on the cover of this magazine. But the former Houston star played in a spread offense, and with his undersized (5’11”, 186-pound) frame, he just isn’t an NFL quarterback. He’ll get his shot in the NFL as a receiver, and it must have been strange for him to sit and watch guys who had significantly less successful college careers field bigger crowds and discuss their futures at a position where he was once considered a Heisman contender.
4. On-field drills began at Lucas Oil Stadium Friday. Offensive linemen and running backs ran the 40-yard dash, and my personal highlight was Western Kentucky guard Forrest Lamp, who ran a 4.99-second 40. That made him the first offensive lineman to run a sub-5-second 40 in five years, which, if you like watching large people in spandex do unlikely things, should be as exciting to you as it was to me.