As job interviews go, it’s hard to imagine one that’s more nerve-wracking – the candidates are run through an endless series of physical and mental tests as they compete against the very best in their field from across the nation, with millions of dollars at stake. So, heavens forbid you should run a 40-yard dash one one-hundredth of a second slower than the guy next to you.
The movers and shakers of the NFL are in Indianapolis this week for the annual prod and probe fest known as the NFL Scouting Combine. It’s where hundreds of college players take a battery of tests and coaches and scouts spend countless hours dissecting and analyzing the results, all to find out which players are ready for prime time. And then the Eagles draft Brandon Graham instead of Jason Pierre-Paul …
One of those prime-time players at this year’s combine is defensive tackle Devon Still from Howard High and Penn State. Still was a consensus All-American and is a certain first-round pick in April’s NFL draft, maybe even a Top 10 pick. But Still is here because he’s supposed to be here and that’s enough for him. He spent the last couple of months in Florida working out with professional coaches and trainers hired by his agent and all with one goal in mind – impress everybody at the combine. If he can move up a couple spots in the draft because of a good showing at the combine, it could mean millions of more dollars over the course of his career.
That’s one reason the NFL combine, like the NFL draft, has become a major production. The combine has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, something Rich Gannon, the former Delaware All-American and Oakland All-Pro quarterback, noted in a recent tweet as he got ready to head for the combine in his role as a television analyst: Said Gannon: “Amazing how much it has changed since I went through it in 1987. Much more intense.”
It’s even changed in the way the NFL presents it to the world. The league used to discourage the media who traveled to exotic Indianapolis in February, which was a real departure from a league that has always led the way in media relations. There were no league officials to help reporters find players and/or coaches for interviews and the NFL even used to have all the sofas and chairs removed from the lobby of the league’s hotel so media members couldn’t camp out as they waited for somebody.
That all changed for the same reason so many things change in the NFL – money. The league discovered that the public’s appetite for football is insatiable, even in a down month like February and even for a watching-paint-dry event like the combine. So the NFL Network started to televise the sprints and jumps and squats and found out that people will actually tune in and advertisers will actually pay for the privilege.
That, of course, means all sorts of NFL experts will analyze and dissect all of those sprints and squats and tell their breathless audience what it all means. And a good amount of the time it means … nothing.
Eagles fans will never forget defensive end Mike Mamula, a decent player who was drafted No. 7 overall in 1995. Mamula had a solid career at Boston College, the kind of career that would have made him a solid second- or third-round pick. Then he went to the combine and looked like Spider-man and coaches fell in love with him, including the Eagles’ coach at the time, Ray Rhodes.
Rhodes moved up from No. 12 to No. 7 to grab Mamula, bypassing a pretty good defensive tackle named Warren Sapp on the way. Mamula wasn’t a bad player and it’s not his fault the Eagles didn’t know what they were doing, but he wasn’t worthy of a Top 10 pick and the fans have never forgiven him for that.
So far, Brandon Graham hasn’t been worthy of the No. 13 pick the Eagles used on him in 2010. Time will tell if he ends up being another Mamula and the Eagles have wasted another week in Indianapolis.