It was only a month ago that the NFL season ended with the Denver Broncos beating the Carolina Panthers for the Lombardi Trophy, yet the league’s annual Scouting Combine has already come and gone. This year, 332 prospects were invited to Indianapolis to show their skills in front of coaches, scouts and owners. Two were chosen from the Jackets: defensive lineman Adam Gotsis and cornerback D.J. White.
Historically, the Jackets have put on strong performances at the combine. A prime example is Stephen Hill, who posted a blazing 4.36 40-yard dash and an equally impressive 39.5 inch vertical leap. Hill was drafted as the No. 43 pick to the New York Jets in 2012, but his prodigious talent has yet to materialize in the form of professional production.
A happier ending belongs to arguably the best receiver in the NFL, Calvin Johnson. While Johnson only participated in the 40-yard dash, his posted time of 4.35 seconds bolstered the already outstanding resume he had put together on the field.
Other notables include Demaryius Thomas (who was injured during the combine), Derrick Morgan, Daryl Smith and Jeremiah Attaochu.
The results for White and Gotsis were extremely typical of Tech players at the combine. First, Gotsis did not participate because of his knee injury, just like Thomas a few years ago with a foot injury.
White, on the other hand, put on a stellar physical performance with his 132-inch broad jump (the second longest this year at the cornerback position), 33-inch vertical and 4.49-second 40 time. Both players are currently scouted as being possible starters in the future with some work to be done on their technique, impressive in a league where few players ever attain that level of success and encouraging for their longevity.
This year’s NFL combine was a little different than most for the star players though. In the days leading up to the event, the focus was not on who would perform the best physically but on who could explain their off-the-field actions best to team decision-makers. It seems that more and more often, we as fans hear of escapades harming performance on the field, and the NFL teams want to know if this behavior will continue into the NFL.
Now, for players like Gotsis and White, this isn’t really a big deal. These two players should be and are most focused on fixing their weaknesses that scouts have noticed in their game tapes. However, for exceedingly talented prospects like defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche of Ole Miss, there is a lot more explaining to be done.
Whether it is the growing presence of social media in our world or just the fact that college players feel more and more entitled by the status afforded to them on campus, there is a growing epidemic of athletes ruining their chances of going pro, not by performing poorly on the field, but by doing unintelligent things off of it.
Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston and Trevone Boykin are players with extreme athletic talent that have made their NFL careers questionable with actions off the field. While Winston has largely improved his image, Manziel’s continues to threaten his prospect of making a living in the National Football League, despite his physical ability.
Boykin and Nkemdiche are among the players that are currently facing questions from the teams of the NFL: Boykin for his felony assault and Nkemdiche for his marijuana possession. Nkemdiche took ownership for the situation in which he put himself, but the truthfulness of his statements — whether he is truly regretful or desperate to rehabilitate his image — is ultimately up to the teams to decide.
Boykin, on the other hand, has not sufficiently explained what happened and why he was out after curfew. This could possibly cost him a bigger contract as a professional, all because he put the interests of himself before the interests of his team.
While teams are taking a big risk with players that have shown attitude and behavioral issues, there are examples of these players reforming over the long term, with the best example being Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant.
Bryant is one of the most talented and athletic wide receivers currently in the league, but if the Cowboys had mismanaged him, he probably wouldn’t be where he is right now. Dallas essentially handled the mercurial talent by babysitting him. Not confident that he could handle the distraction-heavy world around him, they assigned him a handler.
Now, this is a huge investment to put in a player, but when you’re already spending millions of dollars, I think it makes sense. It seems that at this point Dez has learned to control his actions on the field, but it was only through the help of his organization.
Proactive management on the behalf of an eagle-eyed owner such as Jerry Jones can provide the margin between success and failure. A coach and team that are willing to “let boys be boys” and don’t support their players with positive veteran influences leave themselves vulnerable.
What all players have to realize now is that they are basically companies trying to sell their products (themselves) to the teams of the NFL. Their problem is exacerbated by the constant creeping of social networks into our lives and the way athletes are treated on most campuses.
While college athletes aren’t paid in any tangible form, they are certainly compensated in local popularity. When a star running back sees himself as immune to consequences, that parlays into an image that can scare off character-minded scouts.
Just think, if Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist, would Manziel still have been caught partying in Vegas? Would we hear the news of Nkemdiche’s arrest over marijuana possession so rapidly? Probably not. Whether it’s fair to athletes to judge them on a poorly-conceived social media post or not, it is certainly as much a part of the evaluation process as analyzing game film to determine ability.
Players can prevent a character-related drop in their draft stock from occurring by thinking about their future. Players like White and Gotsis have done this thanks to themselves and the staff here at Tech, but for players that don’t have the same resources, I think they need to take a step back and think of what they’re doing.
While it is all too easy for coaches and college training staffs to overlook academic performance and citizenship in favor of winning football game, part of the responsibility resides with them as well. For all of the NCAAs bluster about preparing athletes for life after the game, its most highly-paid cogs must exemplify that care.
Time and time again, it has been proven that, as humans, we are inept at accepting long-term gratification; however, this is probably the most important thing for upcoming athletes to learn. Players must consider the effects of even innocuous actions.
This season, we focus on the combine star who seems destined to make his fair share of All-Pro teams and the relative unknown whose outrageous feats catapault him to notice. We must consider the other half of the game, though: conduct.
If this happens, then the combine can finally return its focus to the cornerback who ran the fastest 40 or is the biggest freak of nature. Nevertheless, they’re worth little without good PR.