College football, for all its glory — bringing classmates together, encouraging intercollegiate interaction, raising tons of money for a corrupt National Collegiate Athletic Association that still refuses to pay players so they won’t have to cover injuries over workers’ compensation — has some glaring holes in its level of competition. This is inevitable, since there are roughly 65 bajillion college football teams. That’s a lot more than the 32 teams that make up the National Football League. And from that primordial culling ground rises the NFL Draft Combine, where college athletes will compete with each other’s measurements (40-yard dash time, throwing accuracy, etc.) to try and prove that they’re worth paying vast sums of money.
It’s where the wheat is pulled from the chaff. Every year, some fun things that happen at the combine, like Chris Johnson’s absurd 40 time (4.24 seconds; fast) or when Ryan Leaf bailed on a meeting with the Colts, causing them to pick Peyton Manning instead. The futures of franchises begin to take shape here, like when RGIII blew the doors off the combine and almost ended up being taken by Indianapolis. And teams other than the Colts are influenced, too, with Darrius Heyward-Bey being picked way, way higher than he should have been by the Oakland Raiders after running a 4.30.
The draft combine is so important that when details about Ray Rice’s arrest surfaced, the Ravens were unable to comment since many of the team’s top executives were immersed in the combine. What follows are five facts that have come out about the draft class of 2014. Some of them may shock you.
1. Johnny Manziel is not 6 feet tall
He is, instead, 5-foot-11 and 3/4. Seriously. This is important. It’s important because Manziel had given his word that he wouldn’t measure under 72 inches. Doesn’t this put Johnny Football’s word under scrutiny? Isn’t this the definition of a red flag in a sport so concerned with having men of quality in the locker room? Furthermore, doesn’t this indict the entire NCAA system, which allowed Texas A&M to fraudulently list Manziel’s height at 6-foot-1 for his entire tenure as their quarterback?
More seriously, this means that Manziel is short. About as short as Russell Wilson, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback J-Football credits with making teams disavow height in the draft. Luckily, Manziel was saved by a hand measurement of 9 and 7/8 inches. According to ESPN, the unofficial cutoff for QB hand size is 9 inches.
Oh, and he also ran the second fastest 40-yard time at the combine for a QB, behind South Carolina’s Conner Shaw. Manziel ran a 4.63 and a 4.56. The 40-yard dash has evolved into the gold standard of the combine, as it serves the need for NFL teams to establish a baseline speed as well as a measurement of explosiveness (the dash finishes after 40 yards but also measures the runner’s speed at the 10- and 30-yard marks).
2. Sammy Watkins runs a really fast 40
Sammy Watkins is considered the best wide receiver in the best wide receiving draft class in years. He’s awesome. He’s also fast, posting unofficial times of under 4.40 (per CBS). Watkins was officially credited with a time of 4.43.
While not officially the fastest wide receiver to run — that’d be Brandin Cooks — Watkins continued to cement his status as a strong receiver prospect in the draft. At 6-foot-1 and just over 200 pounds, Watkins, who looks as explosive as anyone on tape, needed a fast 40 time to help convince NFL scouts and managers that he would be able to continue to create separation at the professional level.
After his successful combine showing, Watkins is most likely going to be the first wideout off the board. Odds are he will almost certainly round out the bottom half of the top 10 picks overall, anywhere from seven to 10 (teams like Buffalo and Tampa Bay are possible landing spots). You can see footage of Watkins’s combine footage here, courtesy of the NFL.
One team asked Tennessee OL Tiny Richardson, “How would you have handled Richie Incognito if you had been Jonathan Martin?” Interesting.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 22, 2014
3. NFL teams are concerned about bullying
Or they’re possibly trying to figure out which players might go public with the kind of locker-room logic that could occur in an NFL facility. The teams, which have been investigated for improper questions before, have always tended toward the absurd. Per the Associated Press, teams have asked players about their preference between McDonald’s and Burger King or the professions of their parents. The fact that the NFL has investigated teams for asking questions that are not football related seems to have weighed in on this new interview strategy, which is, technically, football related.
Between the lines, though, the question seems to ask whether the player will be unable to handle abuse from his teammates. That’s a weird one. It’s also a hard one to define explicitly as malicious.
As former NFL player Kerry Rhodes told Deadspin readers in an open Q&A: “The rookie and vet player dynamic is always tricky. Every locker room is different.” Rhodes also said that, in his eyes, “A teammate’s personal life doesn’t and shouldn’t enter the locker room.” If Rhodes is any barometer of the modern NFL’s thinking, it appears that the people with the biggest concerns about locker room bullying or sexual orientations (more on that in a second) are the general managers who anonymously comment to Peter King.
4. Michael Sam crushed it — again
“I’ve been in locker rooms where all kinds of slurs have been said, you know, and I don’t think that anyone means it. We can say things to each other [in the locker room] — it’s all fun and games. Heck yeah, I would love for you guys to see me and say, ‘Hey, Michael Sam, how’s football going, how’s training going?’ But it is what it is.” Sam, famous for being on track to be the first openly gay NFL player (other players have come out but not while playing, let alone before the draft), delivered a period to the sentence that started with his announcement earlier this month. You can see him deliver that bit of oration to a team of journalists, via Fox Sports, here.
One news item doesn’t seem to have been on the table for many NFL teams, though. Presumably because all the managers already know the answer:
— Sam Hartle (@Sam_Hartle) February 22, 2014
5. Teddy Bridgewater skipped out on most of the combine
Bridgewater continues to burn bridges. The potential No. 1 draft pick declined to throw or run the 40, eliciting gasps of horror from fans who wanted quantifiable data to mix and match the combine QBs. Measuring in at 6-foot-2 and 218 (well over what he was listed as weighing in college), Bridgewater was at least able to avoid a Manziel-like reduction of his listed stats. Despite his decision not to run or to throw, Bridgewater is still expected to be the most NFL-ready quarterback in this draft class.
The decision not to throw was one made by many of the top tier quarterbacks in the draft, with prospect Blake Bortles being the biggest name to do it. Bortles, another contender for the No. 1 overall pick, was joined by AJ McCarron, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Taj Boyd. They played for Alabama, Eastern Illinois, and Clemson, respectively. While Bridgewater did not throw or run the 40, he did participate in some combine drills.
— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) February 23, 2014