The NFL Scouting Combine matters. Like it or not, the Combine matters, sometimes a lot. It is often the only time scouts and general managers can break down movement patterns and directly compare past and present players with as few variables as possible.
The on-field part of the Combine -- often derisively called the "Underwear Olympics" -- kicks off on Friday. Before we get to that, let's take some time to look back at the previous New York Giants drafts under general manager Jerry Reese.
Reese has gained the reputation among fans and observers as a GM who has drafted more "athletes" than "football players," and the Giants have suffered for it.
Is that really the case? I went back through the Combine (and some Pro Day) workouts of every player Reese has drafted as the Giants' general manager to see which qualify as being "great" athletes. My cut-off for that is recording a result in a drill that was in the top five for their position group for that year.
The Combine Matters (but not that much)
The Giants have drafted 65 players under Reese, but surprisingly few of them tested in the top five of their position groups. There were 17 who tested in the top five of 40-yard dash times, 17 in the top five of the 3-cone drill, 17 in the top five of the short (20-yard) shuttle, 19 in the top five of the vertical jump, 15 in the top five of the broad jump, and 11 in the top five of the bench press.
Only 17 of 65 players tested in the top five of three or more categories, and nine of those tested in the top five in four or more categories. While I haven't gone through every team's drafts, only (roughly) 14 percent of Reese's picks since 2007 could really be called "great" athletes, and that seems low to me.
Fast, Quick, or Explosive?
One of the most well-known "Mayock-isms" is the description "Quicker than fast." It's a term draft analyst Mike Mayock uses to describe players, usually receivers, running backs, and defensive backs, who can change direction quickly and easily, but lack top-end speed.
At first blush, the Giants haven't seemed to favor one over the other. However, among the players they drafted who won multiple events, they seemed to favor a combination of quick (3-cone drill or short shuttle) and explosive (vertical or broad jump).
Drafting For Traits On Day 3
In the past, Reese has said that once they get to the back end of the draft -- generally fifth round and beyond -- the Giants look for players with outstanding traits, such as strength, speed, or agility, and hope that they can build upon that.
They generally only draft one a year, but many of their multi-event "winners" come on the third day of the draft. Of course, how, or if, that athleticism is harnessed is another matter entirely.
Strong In The Trenches
The Giants drafted for bench press the fewest times of any event. However, if you are an offensive or defensive lineman who "wins" the bench press, there is a good chance the Giants are interested in you.
Bennett Jackson -- Jackson looked like a natural at safety before suffering a torn ACL in preseason last year. He was drafted as a corner, and his Combine workout was simply pedestrian for the position. However, if you compare his numbers to the safeties drafted in 2014, Jackson would have been the most athletic safety at the Combine by a fair margin. Hopefully, he is able to return from his injury and become the player he can be.
Marvin Austin - I can't help but believe that though the Giants knew full well that he was a "Boom or Bust" prospect, Reese still thinks of Austin as the 'one that got away.' No other Giants' draftee scored in the top five of every measurable drill. Austin rated no worse than fourth, and that only once. Compared to the rest of his position group, he is probably the most athletic player Reese has ever drafted.-
Jon Goff -- Looking back, Goff's torn ACL in practice just before the start of the 2011 season might be one of the most unfortunate injuries to strike the Giants in the last five years. They have been searching (in vain, so far) for an heir to Antonio Pierce at middle linebacker, and for a year or so, it looked like it could have been Goff. At the time, Goff was looked at as only a two-down "thumper" of a linebacker, but his combine workout was impressive. He scored in the top five in the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, and bench press, and was only one one-hundredth of a second off being in the top five for the short shuttle as well. Goff was often neck and neck with Bryan Kehl, the linebacker taken the round before him.
Travis Beckum -- One more for the "what could have been" file. Drafted in 2009, Beckum was painfully ahead of his time. Beckum was the first truly great athlete that Reese drafted. Now he would be called a "hybrid" tight end, but he had no place in Kevin Gilbride's offense. However, in Ben McAdoo's offense his athleticism (4.61s 40-yard dash, 4.10s short shuttle, 7.05s 3-cone, 38.5-inch vertical, and 28 reps), combined with his ability as a receiver (136 catches, 1,885 yards, and 11 TDs in his sophomore and junior seasons at Wisconsin) could have made for an incredibly dynamic player.
More's the pity...
No Athletic Freaks at Receiver -- The Giants have not drafted athletic freaks as receivers. Of the eight receivers Reese has drafted, there are a grand total of three top five scores. Working backward they are: Geremy Davis' bench press (23 reps, first), Odell Beckham's short shuttle (3.94s, third), and Steve Smith's 3-cone drill (6.68s, fourth). That's not to say that the Giants haven't drafted tremendous athletes at receiver, but they seem to favor other traits than simple measurables -- although very large hands are a favorite.
Unathletic Drafts -- I mentioned before that Reese has gotten the reputation of drafting "athletes" and not "football players." However it is jarring how unathletic his early drafts were. Before the 2011 draft he had only drafted four "great" athletes, Kevin Boss, Jon Goff, Bryan Kehl, and Travis Beckum, in his first four drafts.
In 2011 and 2012, he apparently made a concerted effort to make the Giants more athletic, taking players like Prince Amukamara, Marvin Austin, Jacquian Williams, Tyler Sash (he tested surprisingly well), David Wilson, and Adrien Robinson.
No SPARQ Monsters -- The good (I'm assuming, I haven't met them) folks at Nike created the "SPARQ" formula for NFL teams to measure total athleticism. Out here we don't have access to the specific formula, so we don't know the SPARQ scores of specific players. However, we do know that there are some teams, like the Seattle Seahawks, who put great emphasis on SPARQ for their defensive players. Looking at the measurements of the Giants' pass rushers, Reese hasn't drafted many explosive athletes to disrupt quarterbacks. The only exceptions are Austin and Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Austin's story has been written, but Owa still has his career in front of him. He is still transitioning to being a true 4-3 defensive end, but he compares favorably to some of the most athletic edge rushers in the league.
The Combine is a tool. It lets teams compare players on a level playing field, reveals mechanical flaws, and helps to break down skills in a way that teams don't get to see on tape. It also will either confirm what scouts saw on tape or force them back to the tape to see what they missed.
Likewise, what makes a great athlete is more than simple numbers on a screen itself. You don't need to be a brilliant scout to be able to see that Jason Pierre-Paul and Odell Beckham are special athletes. Very often a great athlete is greater than the sum of their parts, and true athleticism is revealed on tape and in on-field workouts.
Have the Giants relied too heavily on the Combine and athleticism to build their team? Honestly, I don't think so. The state of the Giants' roster has a number of causes. Poor drafting, injuries, and coaches failing to develop talent have all played a part.
But that shouldn't stop us from enjoying watching some of the best athletes in the country perform.