Scouting the Bears
9:35 PM CST, February 20, 2013
What did he run?
That's the one question we want answered this week when rookie prospects put their hand down on the line and run the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Two shots. Two chances. That's all you get.
Forget about the short-shuttle, the vertical jump, broad jump or the three-cone drill. Those are purely sideshows, amateur acts compared to the main attraction: the 40.
Think about this. These kids have played football their entire lives — from pee wee to high school and to major college programs around the country. Yet, their prospects largely will be judged and graded based on two speeds measured inside the stale environment of Lucas Oil Stadium.
And everyone will be watching them.
Advice? Warm-up on your own, get a good sweat going and run hard. Real hard. Oh, and try not to pop a hamstring at the 30-yard mark. That's the last thing you need with every coach, general manager and scout in the stadium eagerly holding a stopwatch in their hands.
You think there is some pressure there, some stress? You bet there is.
These prospects will get into a stance and hear the dull sound of their own heartbeat as they explode off the line.
I know I did as a rookie hopeful in 2000 at the combine. Nervous and tense, I dropped my hand on the line at the RCA Dome and got into the stance I had practiced for more than two months. That was a long way from running the veer option as a quarterback at Glenbard West.
Hey, there is money on the line here. Good money. Make no mistake about it. Run a great time and your draft stock could rise. Run slow and, well, its time for scouts to re-evaluate your status.
One NFL assistant coach I talked to yesterday said it best: "You don't have to be fast, but you can't be slow."
But does the 40 really tell us if a guy can play ball at the pro level? Heck no.
The NFL scouts I talk to all say the same thing: Go with the game tape. That is the best tool, the top tool to grading prospects. You get a wide out or defensive back that runs a sub 4.4 40 in Indy? Time to go back to the tape and find out if he plays at that speed.
Does it match up? Or is this a case of a guy that just turned heads with a time posted in a drill and nothing more?
The same can be said for a prospect that runs a slower time than expected. Do you grade him down, drop him off the board? Nah. Check the tape. Maybe he didn't run a 4.4, but he sure does play at a top speed where it counts — on the field.
The 40 also is broken up with splits at the 10- and 20-yard marks. That's a key to evaluating the speed of the big boys up front, the explosion (or burst) for a linebacker and the "get off" for that one defensive end everyone drafting in the top 10 wants on their roster next season.
Take former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o. One scout told me he expects Te'o to test well in Indy and run in the 4.65-4.7 range in the 40. Is that fast enough in today's passing league where spread sets are king? I think it is at the middle linebacker position.
But what happens if Te'o runs in the 4.8 range? Ah, the questions will come because the 40-yard dash still sells and creates discussion no matter how much we want to dismiss its value.
I know it's just a number. A static drill. And outside of covering a kick in the NFL, you won't find many players running 40-yards at top speed on Sundays. Even on the deep ball, wide receivers don't usually get a free release nor are defensive backs allowed to start with their hand on a line — in shorts.
This isn't track. Its football. Its a game of angles and transitional movements when you really break it down. Players in full gear are asked to stop, start and change direction with a violent burst of speed.
The 40 doesn't measure that. It never will. But I guarantee it is the one drill we all will be talking about once the numbers start to post in Indianapolis.
Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety.
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