Fact or Fiction: Previewing the Combine

Posted Feb 19, 2016's writers debate upcoming free agency and give their opinion on the NFL Scouting Combine

It is better to have the NFL’s best offensive player than the best defensive player.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - The NFL’s best offensive player, more likely than not, is going to be a quarterback. It is the position on the field that has the greatest impact and can lift everyone else up around them. If you tell me I can have the best quarterback in the league, I will take that player over the best defensive player in the league and it wouldn’t even be close to a tough decision.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - Yes, two out the last three Super Bowl MVPs have been defensive players. But it’s still an offensive era dominated by the quarterback position. Just look at the teams that have a franchise QB and ones that don’t. That’s all you need to know.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - Quarterback is arguably the most important position in the NFL. If you don’t have consistency out of that position, it’s very difficult to win in this league, regardless of how your defense performs. Now a quarterback isn’t necessarily always the best offensive player in the league each year but more often than not a QB is atop the list. Case in point, this past season, Panthers QB Cam Newton was named Offensive Player of the Year and thanks to his play Carolina posted the best record (15-1) in the NFL and advanced to the Super Bowl. Texans defensive end JJ Watt won Defensive Player of the Year and helped Houston win the AFC South with a 9-7 record but the team was ousted in the wild card round because of inconsistent play from the quarterback position. With all that being said, the Broncos slowed down Cam Newton and company and won the Super Bowl with defense but they claimed the Lombardi Trophy thanks to ‘team’ defense, not because they had one individual in particular. Von Miller certainly had a dominant performance but think about the opportunities his teammates opened up for him with their play. It’s very difficult to double team one individual when you have a whole group of game-changing defenders.

The first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft will be on defense.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - Six or seven of the first 10 picks, maybe even eight, will be defensive players, but the first two picks will be offensive players. The Titans selected Marcus Mariota last year, and now he needs an improved offensive line to protect him a little bit better. The Titans will pick the best offensive tackle in the draft, who will most likely be Laremy Tunsil, if the experts are correct. The Browns will then pick the quarterback they think is best at No. 2 (likely either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz). For the rest of the top, there might be another offensive lineman, or perhaps the top wide receiver or running back, Laquon Treadwell or Ezekiel Elliott. Otherwise, we are looking at mostly defense.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - Most mock drafts fluctuate between defensive end Joey Bosa and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil as the No. 1 pick, but most of those draft experts have Bosa as the top prospect overall. There seems to be a consensus that the defensive line is the deepest group this year, and that could start right at the top.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - Most mock drafts have Jeremy Tunsil (OT Mississippi) going to Tennessee at number one. The thought process being they can move Taylor Lewan (2014 first round pick) to right tackle and insert Tunsil at left giving them two young bookends to the offensive line for years to come. When you have the first pick in the draft it means you likely had issues on both sides of the ball the previous season but with the Titans drafting Marcus Mariota last year, one of their biggest priorities has to be protecting their signal caller. Tennessee surrendered 54 sacks in 2015 (most in the NFL) and the running game ranked 25th (92.8 yds per gm). In comparison, the defense made strides after struggling mightily in 2014. In 2014, the Titans were 27th in total defense. This past season, they jumped to 12th. Based on those stats, beefing up the offensive line makes a lot of sense for Tennessee.

The combine is more important than a player’s pro day.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - The combine puts players in a neutral forum where they are performing next to their peers. The Pro Day happens in their college environment, which is far more comfortable. The players can tailor their Pro Day workouts to minimize risks and accentuate their strengths. It is a far more controlled environment, and less difficult, so I think you can learn more at the combine.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - We’ll get the correct answer when we hear from scouts next week, but the combine is the biggest job interview of the year, ranging from personal interviews to running around cones. Players are being evaluated as much on how they handle themselves as they are on specific times or scores. But both the pro day and

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - They’re both one of many different factors/events you take into consideration when evaluating a player but I would rank a player’s pro day higher up on the list than the combine. During a player’s pro day, you get a closer look at the player, at his team facility, which mimics much better the type of environment that player will deal with in the NFL. For example, a quarterback usually throws to his own wide receivers during pro day which is what happens at practice every day in the NFL whereas at the combine it’s likely a stranger, if a quarterback decides to even throw. You can make the argument the controlled setting favors the player and it’s better to see them in a new environment but NFL players are all about routine so I’d rather see a player’s work ethic in a comfortable environment to get a better idea of what a typical practice day looks like. Measurements and drills at the combine are beneficial to teams but most players repeat those things during their pro days so you get more equal, if not more, substance at the latter of the two.

Interviewing with teams is the biggest part of the combine.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - Ten years ago this might have been the case, but not anymore. Players are coached up so much in the interview process now that it is more difficult to cut through the fake stuff and see what a player is really about. The interview is useful, especially when the players are asked to go through football stuff on a white board, but more is learned about a player off the field by talking to people from his college and doing a lot of research. The workouts, even though they are done in shorts and a T-shirt, are still based on numbers. If a guy is fast, he’s fast. If he is quick, he’s quick. Those numbers, to the extent they are important, do not lie. What players say in interviews, however, can be nothing but lies.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - The combine is all about confirming what scouts have seen from their tireless work throughout the year. And I don’t know if any one part is bigger than the other. We’ve seen many players who wow during the drills and go on to shoot up the draft board. On the other hand, we’ve also heard general managers say they’ve been blown away by a player in the interview process and went on to draft him based on that. It’s the overall picture they’re looking for at the combine.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - For my answer, I’m interpreting biggest as also ‘most valuable’ part of the combine, for both the players and teams. Overshadowed by all the measurements and drills are the interviews and even the Wonderlic Test so you get a better feel for players beyond the x’s and o’s. In order to make a wise decision on who to take in any round of the draft, it’s much more beneficial to learn about “the person” and not so much the football player. Drafting a player is a big investment. More often than not how that individual behaves and conducts himself off the field can spell out/dictate how he’ll perform within the boundaries of the field.