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What Did It All Mean? A Look at the ‘Risers/Fallers’ Myth


Tempest
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The NFL scouting combine represents a fascinating collision of diverging interests.


There are the fans watching on TV, thirsting for information about players they might be seeing or hearing about for the first time. They’re watching highlights, bench press numbers and 40 times and believe that there is a strong correlation between what is happening right now in front of them (the NFL, and their massive televised operation do nothing to dissuade them from this) and what will happen on draft day.


There are the reporters, serving the fans that believe player stock vacillates like the biotech market (I try and catch myself whenever talking about “stock,” though it slips into the cringe-worthy lexicon more than I’d like). They’re caught with one foot on either side—smart enough to know that teams use the combine more for validation and reaffirmation than to scramble the board, but also clairvoyant enough to predict that no one would read a story with the headline: “Nothing Actually Happening at Combine; Check In Next Year!”


There are the scouts, scouting directors and personnel executives, fine-tuning their boards like ship-in-a-bottle hobbyists. Most of the thing has been put together already; now it’s time to simply glue on the tiny bowsprit.


It’s not sexy, but it’s true: Incredible circumstances aside, the notion that there are risers and fallers at the combine is largely mythical.


As one general manager told me this week, you want to guard against any massive rearranging. A good scouting department empowers its staff, and a good staff will have already thoroughly graded these players, twice, based on what they did on the field—the most important factor—before they arrive at the combine.


Any “rising and falling” usually takes place in the middle of a team’s board, where they’ll use the in-person meetings or on-field drills to break ties between a pair of prospects they have a similar grade on. A good example? Shaquem Griffin’s performance, both on the field with a blazing 40-yard dash and off the field in impressive, inspirational meetings, probably helped him leapfrog a few other dime linebackers or special teamers this week (something similar happened to his brother, Shaquill during All-Star season and the combine a year ago). Conversely, Oklahoma tackle Orlando Brown, with a memorably poor showing at the combine, likely dropped a few spots among offensive linemen.


Other than that, this part of scouting season is largely devoid of swaggering, Sonny Weaver-type moments. The reason? If a player shoots up your board this time of year, a few things may have gone wrong within your scouting department:


1. You are far too wowed by non-football movements, such as the 40-yard dash and the bench press (Mike Mamula syndrome).


2. Your scouting department is overworked/spread too thin and didn’t have adequate information on a player. The corresponding action is to overrate certain traits (heavy on combine buzz) in a quick effort to get caught up.


3. Your absentee owner is just starting to get involved, and has some thoughts of his or her own.


Back when Bill Parcells was heading the Dolphins’ scouting department, the team had a similar “riser” in 2009: West Virginia quarterback Pat White. At the time, there was a sense that spread offenses could become increasingly popular in the NFL and the Dolphins could expand the use of their “Wildcat” formation. White had a dominant All-Star season and ended up being taken in the second round despite Miami already having Chad Pennington and Chad Henne. White, who was taken two picks before Pro Bowler Connor Barwin, five picks before Pro Bowler Max Unger, and nine picks before LeSean McCoy, was a training-camp cut before his second season.


Parcells’ solution after that? Set the board before the combine and change it only if there are injury issues, arrests or behavioral inconsistencies that arise. Most good teams tend to lean in that direction as well.


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