Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Combine!

We all do it.  We watch college football for the enjoyment of it, but when a standout player jumps off the screen, we think, "Let's keep an eye on that player at the NFL Combine" or, "That player would look good in Black 'n Gold."

Ray Mansfield, circa 1966
It's NFL Combine Weekend, and that means it's time to learn a whole lot more about draft prospects. Draft "stock" will rise and fall based on interviews, Wunderlic tests and, most crucially, workouts and drills in gym clothes -- all of which can be misleading.

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls have identified several players we find intriguing as possible candidates for the Steelers. Many of them simply won't be available when the Steelers draft, but it's fun to debate and speculate, and to second-guess afterward.

Last year, nose tackle Dontari Poe (Memphis) was a textbook example of a Workout Warrior who emerged from obscurity to blow away scouts at the Combine. At 346 pounds, Poe shot up the charts with a 4.87  straight-line 40-yard dash and a freakish 44 reps on the 225-lb. bench press.

Following the Combine and before the draft, enthusiasts raved about his Combine performance. More than a few skeptics remained unconvinced, however, and speculated Poe would be over-drafted. Debate intensified over whether his relatively lackluster college career should be over-shadowed by his athletic showcase at the Combine. The workout showed nothing, of course, about Poe's ability to shed blocks, pressure quarterbacks or tackle running backs.

As Draft Day approached, some Steeler fans clamored for Poe at No. 24 in the first round, and there was a case to be made for him at that spot (nobody anticipated that Stanford guard David DeCastro would still be on the board at No. 24). Then, on Draft Day, Kansas City's "genius" GM Scott Pioli outsmarted everyone and invested the No. 11 overall pick to make Poe the first defensive lineman selected in last year's draft. Pioli projected Poe's Combine performance to the NFL playing field, but ... 

After a "disappointing" training camp, Poe had little impact his rookie season: He started all 16 games but tallied just 28 tackles, zero sacks and no forced fumbles. It's premature to project how he will do in the future, but it is fair to say he had not much impact his rookie year. His spotty performance with the Chiefs mirrored his college career; not what he flashed at last year's Combine.

Kansas City's record last year? Two wins, 14 losses. The Chiefs have the first overall pick in this year's draft.

From our perspective, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls tend to gravitate to productive players with demonstrable success from big-time programs; football players, not workout wonders.

About any draft prospect, we don't want to hear too much about so-called "character issues" (Chris Rainey last year out of Florida); or so-so motivation; or positional-transfer projections; or drug/alcohol history (this year's Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia, DUI last weekend); or medical red flags (like this year's Jarivs Jones, LB, Georgia, spinal stenosis).

The Steelers, with the 17th pick in the first round, simply cannot afford to take chances.  They cannot afford to whiff. Coming off an 8-8 record with holes galore to fill, they need a sure-fire, can't miss impact player. Let's hope they get it right.

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