If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times: The NFL Combine is the best mindless programming on television right now.
Ok, so maybe I’ve never said that. And maybe I never even thought it until this week. But either way, it is.
Really, the NFL Combine is right in every sports commentators wheelhouse, the perfect blend of actual football analysis (at a time in the year when basically any football analysis will do) with plenty of snark and sarcasm mixed in too. Not to mention it allows for dummies like me to make completely baseless comments and spit out random, unproveable stuff like, “Oh man, I like the way that guy moves his hips” and “his foot speed simply isn’t NFL caliber.” Safe to say it’s good times. Well, unless you follow me on Twitter anyway.
Regardless the NFL Draft Combine is in fact great TV, and with no other sports on at this particular time of year (at least during the daytime) it provided me hours of entertainment over the last four or five days.
Here are 10 Takeaways after watching all weekend long.
1. I’m Through with Manti Te’o:
So here’s the deal: I am in no way, shape or form anti-Manti Te’o. I enjoyed watching him play these past four years, and honestly if I had a Heisman vote probably would’ve picked him second behind Johnny Manziel this year. Also, this whole thing has nothing to do all the Lennay Kekua drama. In Te’o’s defense, every guy in his early 20’s spent his youth dealing with strange girls on some level. Even if for most of us those girls were, you know, real (sorry, I had to).
Point being that I’ve got nothing personal against Te’o, and had you asked me even five or six days ago if I’d draft him, my answer would’ve been “absolutely.” Would I have used a Top 5 pick on him? Of course not, but he was one of the better linebackers I saw in college football this season, and if I had to guess I’d predict he ends up a productive NFL player.
That is until the Combine, and at this point I’m not totally sure. No, the Combine shouldn’t be a be-all, end-all in player analysis, but at the same time, it’s kind of just one more red flag in what is quickly becoming a pile of them. I already had enough questions about Teo’s competition over the course of the season (other than Stanford, Notre Dame didn’t play an elite team until Alabama) and his umm, performance against the Crimson Tide (if you can even call it a “performance”) didn’t help. Now he’s running a 4.81 40 at the Combine? Yikes.
It also leads to a bigger question I have on Te’o: At this point, what is his best, actual, tangible skill? Yes he’s a talented, instinctual linebacker, but then again, plenty of linebackers have good instincts. And besides, what do instincts have to do with anything if you don’t have the speed or skill to put yourself in position to make plays?
So really at this point, couldn’t you make the case that Te’o’s best skill is actually just his leadership? And at this point, well, who the hell is going to let this guy lead them? Veterans wouldn’t have paid him any mind to begin with, and I doubt anyone his own age will now either.
As a matter of fact, you know what all this actually reminds me of?
You know how when you start dating a girl- you know, one that actually exists- and after things go well the first few dates, all of a sudden she starts sharing strange stuff with you? Maybe it’s small stuff at first, like the fact that she got fired from her last job (at Walmart, coincidentally enough), but over time it gets bigger and bigger? Eventually you find out her ex-boyfriend is in jail, she had three tattoos you never knew about and went through a weird period where she listened to entirely too much Marilyn Manson music? And at some point don’t you just say to yourself, “Yeah, she’s cute, but there’s just too much drama here. I’m out.”
Well isn’t that’s kind of the point we’re at with Te’o? Lennay Kukua was bad enough, but again, who amongst us hasn’t had a fake girlfriend (Kidding! Sort of.)? But when you factor that in with the crappy combine and crappier effort against Alabama, all of a sudden aren’t you thinking to yourself, “Damn, let someone else deal with him?”
I say so, and because of it I think I’m officially out on Manti Te’o.
You know who I’m surprisingly back in on though?
2. Tyrann Mathieu:
Look, I’m not an “NFL guy” and at the end of the day, I’d be lying if I said I knew how the guy projected to the next level. I don’t. I also don’t know how the year away from football will affect his play. Or whether he’s a true cover corner, nickel or strictly a special teams guy. Crap, I can’t even promise he’ll make it through his rookie season if he can’t find some good clean urine on the black market.
What I do know though, is that it wasn’t until I saw him Tuesday (with his blonde Mohawk glistening off the Lucas Oil Field lights) that I realized how much I missed him this past year. And I’m guessing most people who truly love college football felt the same way.
And it wasn’t until the end of the defensive back drills, when Mathieu had his arms wrapped around another one of the DB’s, which I remembered something that I’d long since forgotten: In addition to being a great football player, Mathieu is also a truly spectacular teammate. Guys absolutely love Mathieu, to the point that even seven or eight games into this past season, LSU’s players were still speaking publicly about how much they missed him. I mean seriously, look at the picture to the left and tell me you wouldn't LOVE playing with that guy?
Does that mean he’ll be a good NFL football player? Honestly, I have no idea. At the same time (unlike Te’o) when Mathieu was playing in games, he performed at an elite level, week-in and week-out, against the best competition in college football. Basically, there wasn’t a single week during the 2011 season where Tyrann Mathieu didn’t make his presence felt.
And while I’m lukewarm on Te’o I’m white hot on Mathieu. If I’m an NFL GM, I’m taking a chance.
And finding someone to get him some clean urine.
Moving on to less serious topics, I’ve got to admit...
3. I Love that the NFL Network is Playing Up This Leon Sandcastle Thing:
So the Super Bowl was played nearly a month ago, and admit it, you don’t remember most of what happened during the game. Sure you might recall bits and pieces- the power outage, Ray Lewis and something with deer antlers, that those Harbaugh boys were somehow loosely involved- but again, isn’t all a blur? It is to me, anyway.
But one thing that does stand out is the absolutely fantastic commercial I linked below, with Deion Sanders starring as the great “Leon Sandcastle.” It was the defining moment of the entire Super Bowl, and maybe one of the three defining moments of the entire 2013 calendar year to date. As I joked at the time, I personally think Leon Sandcastle should’ve been Super Bowl MVP, instead of Joe Flacco.
Either way, I’m also happy to report that even a few weeks later, the NFL Network isn’t giving up on the Leon Sandcastle shtick, and if anything, is only blowing it out even further. During Tuesday’s Combine coverage they had Sanders dressed as Sandcastle and running the 40 right alongside Rich Eisen.
It was awesome, and it also got me wondering how far we can take this Leon Sandcastle thing? I mean seriously, if they sold Leon Sandcastle gear- hats, hoodies, whatever- you mean to tell me you wouldn’t buy them? If they made a Leon Sandcastle movie, you wouldn’t watch it? If they made a football-themed late night show hosted by Leon Sandcastle, you wouldn’t tune in every evening?
Ok, so maybe I’m taking it a little bit far, but all I will say is that I’m glad the NFL Network is keeping Leon Sandcastle prominently involved in their coverage.
And if anyone is looking to get me a nice birthday gift (July 6 is coming up fast), a Leon Sandcastle jersey will do just fine.
4. Speaking of Deion:
This guy is quite possibly the single funniest person on the planet. That is not my opinion, but something that I suspect will be proven by the world’s top scientists in the coming years.
That was once again proven during Tuesday’s coverage when Sanders told a great story from his experience at the Combine back in 1989. If you missed it (and I’m guessing you did, since most of you actual, real jobs) Sanders explained that when teams brought him in to interview, in the end, Deion actually ended up interviewing them.
Here’s how Sanders explained his experience from the Combine:
“I walked into the interview room and asked each team where they were picking. Depending on where some teams drafted, I’d say ‘Let’s not waste our time, I won’t be around when you pick.’”
It was basically the most Deion Sanders story I’ve ever heard, and further proof that he’s the single most fascinating person on the planet. Well, besides Leon Sandcastle of course.
Anyway, let’s get to football, and back to my single favorite story that’s not really a story...
5. This Year’s Quarterback Crop:
Which is quite possibly the worst group of quarterbacks to hit the NFL Draft since the forward pass was invented by Thomas Edison in 1978. I mean seriously, have you seen this crop of guys? Geno Smith? Matt Barkley? Mike Glennon? I’m not saying they’re bad... but at the same time I’m guessing all 32 NFL GM’s would gladly start Tim Tebow over any of them tomorrow.
Unfortunately as I mentioned above, the ineptitude of these quarterbacks is a “story which isn’t really a story” since, well, we all know that someone is going to take at least one of these guys in the first round.
How am I so sure? Well probably because... TEAMS REACH ON QUARTERBACKS EVERY YEAR!!!! It’s my favorite springtime rite of passage, right alongside pitchers and catchers reporting, the trees blooming and Joe Lunardi emerging from his cryogenic chamber to predict the NCAA Tournament brackets.
Now understand that when I talk about teams reaching on quarterbacks, I’m not talking about the Andrew Luck/Cam Newton/RGIII types, ones which any Mel Kiper wannabe with a bad haircut and stopwatch could project out to be a good pro. Instead I’m talking about the next tier of guys, the Jake Locker’s, Blaine Gabbert’s and Ryan Tannehill’s, the ones which college fans watched closely throughout their careers and literally laughed out loud at the concept that they’d ever end up as first round draft picks. Only guess what? All those guys ended up being actual, real, first round draft picks! America is some country, isn’t it?
It also got me thinking, and wondering if NFL GM’s really should consult college football fans before making their NFL Draft selections, specifically with quarterbacks. After all, NFL GM’s are too busy spending their Saturdays in the fall doing NFL GM’ish stuff, and unlike the rest of us aren’t watching 12 hours of college football a day (some nerve, I know). So in a way shouldn’t we give them a pass for making all those spectacularly bad quarterback picks through the years? They are busy with real stuff, after all.
At the same time, if they did consult with fans who watched these guys play, not only would they be surprised by the response, but I suspect they’d also get cold feet about drafting lousy quarterbacks.
As a matter of fact, here’s the response they’d get from the average fan, on a bunch of recent first round picks.
Jake Locker: “Oh, you mean that guy who hasn’t thrown a real spiral in two years?”
Ryan Tannehill: “Wait, wasn’t that the converted wide receiver who blew like 48 fourth quarter leads at A&M?”
Blaine Gabbert: “I always liked his hair way more than his game.”
Christian Ponder: “A first rounder? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA. Oh wait, you were serious?”
Of course nobody actually did poll the fans, and all these guys went in the first round. And because of it, all have had varying degrees of success in their first few seasons. They’ll also collectively as a group cost roughly 27 GM’s their jobs by 2020 (as a matter of fact, “Jake Locker” might go down as the No. 1 cause of unemployment over the next decade).
Unfortunately, those guys are also examples A, B, C and D of why some overzealous GM is going to reach on Matt Barkley, Mike Glennon or Geno Smith in April. It happens every year and will happen again this time around too.
Staying with the quarterback theme...
6. Here’s What I Would Do if I Were The Chiefs:
So let’s say for hypothetical purposes you’re the General Manager of the Kansas City Chiefs---
--- no, no, put down the flask. We’re going to work through this.
--- No, seriously. Put it down.
Ok, say you’re the GM of the Chiefs. You basically need help all over the field, specifically at quarterback. The problem is that you just so happened to get the No. 1 pick in the only NFL Draft where there not only isn’t a quarterback worthy of going in the top spot, but in a draft where drafting a quarterback at No. 1 will automatically qualify you for the No. 1 pick in 2014 as well.
It sucks, but it also leads me to a bigger, broader question on the quarterbacks in this year’s draft: Rather than reaching for a crappy quarterback, why not get a sure thing at No. 1 overall, like Luke Joeckel or Bjoern Werner. Then why not hope and pray Tyler Wilson from Arkansas falls to the second round?
As a matter of fact, I’m going to take that last point one step further and say this: I don’t care what the projections tell me. I don’t care what GM’s think (in case I hadn’t already expressed that point). Wilson is the only quarterback I’d consider taking in the first two rounds of this draft.
Think about what you’re getting with Wilson. When he got half-competent coaching, the guy was the best quarterback, in the best conference in college football. He had his best season in 2011 when he was playing behind a revamped offensive line, without any great receivers and his best running back out for the year with injury. Oh, and by the way, he also took about 3 bajillion big hits over the course of his career, and got up just about every single time.
Not to mention that Wilson passed my “Fan IQ” test. If you asked most people who watched him play over the last two years, what would they all say: “Man, that dude deserves better than he got. I’m not promising he WILL be great, but I bet he’ll at least be good.”
Granted, that’s not a rave review, but I guarantee it’s a better review than any college football fan is going to give any quarterback in this draft.
If I’m an NFL GM and I need a quarterback, Wilson is the guy I’m taking.
7. One Other Funny Quarterback Story:
So anyone who regularly reads my stuff knows that I’m not a huge Landry Jones fan. And by “not a huge fan,” what I actually mean is “I wouldn’t trust Landry to run a two-minute drill in a seven-on-seven Pop Warner League.” Let alone ever select him for an actual, tangible, professional football team.
Either way, I’ve got a great story on Landry. And I swear on Les Miles’ hat that it’s true.
So picture this: It’s Sunday morning, and I wake up after a long night of, umm, not being a very responsible young adult. It’s the kind of day where Kate Upton could walk by in a bikini and I couldn’t have mustered the energy to get up off the couch, one where showering is optional but greasy food was a total necessity. In other words, it was a typical Sunday for Stephen Garcia.
Anyway, at some random moment during the course of this painfully long morning, one of my roommates- who just so happens to be female, and just so happens to know nothing about football- saunters in the room to ask me a question. At the time Landry Jones was on the screen throwing to wide receivers while they went through drills.
So right as my roommate is about to spit out the question, she looks at the screen, freezes and goes “Oh man. Something doesn’t look right about his form.”
I swear on my life that happened, and it also made me wonder: Is that the most Landry Jones comment ever?
I think it was. And I also think that every Oklahoma fan in the country is shaking their heads right now.
8. UConn Guys Showing Out:
Alright, so entering the Combine we all knew that the guys from Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia were going to perform well. I mean we watched those teams every Saturday and knew that while the record didn’t always show it on the field (yeah, I’m talking to you, Derek Dooley) the talent was there.
But how about the guys from UConn- yes, that basketball school in some strange, far-off conference called “the Big East”- who not only showed up at the Combine, but showed out as well.
In case you didn’t hear cornerback Dwayne Gratz ran a 4.35 40 (the third fastest individual time of any defensive back). Sio Moore finished in the Top 5 for linebackers in the vertical jump, broad jump, bench press and 40 yard dash, and oh by the way, Trevardo Williams finished with the top 40 time for any defensive lineman. So much for SEC speed, huh?
(Chill SEC fans, I’m definitely kidding)
Of course there are a few reasons I bring up these UConn guys. Those reasons are the following:
1. I’m a UConn alum
2. I grew up in Connecticut
3. I’m a UConn alum
4. I’m Dwayne Gratz’s second cousin by marriage
(I only made up one of those four things)
Unfortunately it also leads me to a bigger point about my Huskies which I repeatedly brought up during the season which mostly fell on deaf ears: If this team had simply gotten half decent quarterback play, they would’ve won the Big East this year.
Call me crazy (Aaron, you’re crazy!!), only, well, I’m serious. They had the defense (obviously) and could’ve had a decent running game (Lyle McCombs rushed for over 800 yards) if they only could’ve gotten competent quarterback play. Only they didn’t get it (Huskies’ quarterback completed just 56 percent of their passes and threw 10 touchdowns and 18 interceptions) and UConn went 5-7 instead. And oh by the way, one of those wins just so happened to be against Louisville, who ended up winning the Big East.
What does it all mean big picture? Well, nothing, unless you’re a UConn fan.
At the same time, this is my column and I want to talk UConn football. And I also want to know how the hell this team only one five games last year?
9. Matt Elam’s Beard Makes Him Absolutely Mortifying:
For anyone who watched college football this year, you know that Matt Elam may have been the single most ferocious player in the sport during the 2012 season. Over the course of the year I heard him referred to as a “Weapon of Mass Destruction” and his hitting ability deemed “Cruel and Unusual Punishment.” And while I’ve been unable to verify the number, I’m almost certain that at least seven SEC wide receivers were given last rights after trying to go over the middle against him.
Point is, Matt Elam is a scary dude. Only you know what surprised me watching the Combine? The dude has a beard which makes him look 11 percent more scary than a helmet and shoulder pads ever could.
I mean seriously, look at that dude? He looks more like a bad guy from a Dark Knight movie than a football player.
It also got me thinking, why wouldn’t an NFL team draft him? He’s got first round talent, first round skill and a first round attitude. And he’s got a Hall of Fame look.
One that unquestionably would mortify the opposing team.
10. Finally, I’ve got to Ask:
Did anyone else feel weird watching Tennessee wide receiver Coradarrelle Patterson and Da’Rick Rogers go one after the other during drills?
For those who don’t know, Rogers was once a Tennessee Vol, right up until this past August when he was booted off the team for failing too many drug tests. It was also in large part because of Rogers’ departure that Patterson put up the stats he did and is in the position to get drafted as high as he likely will.
So in a way, this is one of the strangest subplots of the entire draft and it also got me wondering if at any point during the weekend things got awkward for Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, who you’ve got to imagine is friends with both. Like say Bray and Patterson are walking through the lobby of the hotel and bump into Rogers. Does Bray quickly grab Patterson by the shoulder and steer him in the other direction? Does he avoid eye contact and hope Rogers doesn’t see him? Is it like being out on a date with your girlfriend and bumping into your ex?
I’m not sure, but unfortunately these are questions that popped into my head while watching endless hours of Combine coverage these last few days.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times: The NFL Combine is the best mindless programming on television right now.
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