HOUSTON — If there were ever a cautionary tale about the NFL’s Scouting Combine, it would be The Story of Jadeveon Clowney. A year ago he was the headliner, the 6-5, 266-pound human who ran a 40-yard dash in 4.47 and reached a vertical jump of 37.5 inches.
At last week’s Combine, which has made a home at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, NFL Network showed Clowney’s feats from last year, simulcasting his running with the 40-yard dashes by the current class.
So now we hear deafening buzz about Clemson’s 6-3, 246-pound pass rusher Vic Beasley coming closest to Clowney, with his 40 of 4.53 and his vertical of 41 inches.
The mistake scouts and reporters alike made last year was paying too much attention to what Clowney did well and too little to what he did not so well. Or at all. His bench-pressing was wide-receiver level: 21 reps of 225 pounds. And he bowed out entirely from the shuttle and three-cone drills because of a “hip flexor.”
What we saw at that Combine was the real Jadeveon. Very fast, very athletic, but very prone to injury, not eager to perform when hurt, and not all that strong.
The Houston Texans made him the NFL’s No. 1 draft choice, and he became possibly one of the biggest busts. Few people in this city expect he will ever return top-pick value.
Clowney’s rookie season was all but eradicated by injuries, the most serious being his right knee requiring microsurgery. He’s rehabbing with something called Blood Flow Restriction Training, in which wrappings are applied to restrict blood flow to, oddly enough, strengthen a muscle.
The Texans aren’t sure Clowney will be healed by the time the next season begins. Then what? His history suggests there will be more injuries, more game missed than played.
The Combine shows athletes accomplishing a few tasks under ideal conditions without opposition. It provides few clues about how they will do under stress and over time.
While it offers an opportunity to converse with players, it’s unlikely to uncover useful information. “You only have 15 minutes time here,” 49ers GM Trent Baalke pointed out. “How good of a tell can you get on a guy in 15 minutes? They’re so well prepared for these things now. It’s not like 10 years ago, 15 years ago.”
Scouts raved about Jameis Winston’s interviews. Some compared his football IQ to Peyton Manning. Could we please hold off on that?
Let’s also remember some stars that didn’t shine at past Combines. Pencil-legged, narrow-chested Tom Brady running the slowest 40-yard dash — 5.3 — in Combine history and lasting until the 6th round of the subsequent draft. A flustered Tony Romo looking lost on every drill and going undrafted.
At last year’s Combine, Teddy Bridgewater was distracted by a medical exam that revealed an irregular heartbeat (since found to be nonthreatening). He performed so poorly that he fell to the very end of the first round. He went on to have the best rookie season of any NFL quarterback.
The Combine is so far removed from being a football game that it misinforms as much as it informs. If you want to know if an athlete is likely to succeed in the NFL, study his game tape against the best college players who are most similar to pros.
If you want to know about his character, talk to those who knew him the past several years: coaches, players, even sports writers, who can tell you about his work habits and what off-the-field issues are known or suspected.
There was a parade of red flags waving in South Carolina (some by his coach, Steve Spurrier) about Clowney dodging practice and even games. He was focusing instead on being healthy for the Combine and the draft. It would be a shame if the Scouting Combine turns out to be the high point of his football career.
Click here for Jeff Legewold’s article (ESPN.com): “Jameis Winston throws at combine.”