Previewing What the Patriots Will Be Looking for at the Scouting Combine
You can call the NFL Scouting Combine the "Underwear Olympics", but the New England Patriots will be looking at far more than Under Armor when they land in Indianapolis for the annual showcase involving the best NFL draft prospects in the land.
Here are eight specific facets of a prospect's makeup that Bill Belichick and his army of scouts will review at the combine.
Accurate medical information might the most important thing NFL teams receive at the combine. All prospects are poked and prodded in nearly every medical way as teams look for reasons not to draft them.
Teams were scared off of Vince Wilfork during the 2004 NFL draft due to concerns about his knees. That enabled him to fall to the 21st pick of the first round where the New England Patriots—they would have done their own evaluation of Wilfork—snatched him up.
Accurate height, weight and body measurements are also important, especially for underclassmen who were not measured at the Shrine Game or Senior Bowl. College Sports Information departments certainly can't be trusted. Prepare to see a lot of prospects shrink an inch or more in Indianapolis.
The New England Patriots learned the hard way that character—or lack thereof—can sometimes be hidden in combine interviews and official visits. Aaron Hernandez certainly pulled the wool over the eyes of Bill Belichick and the Patriots front office in the pre- and post-draft process.
Nevertheless, teams are able to get an initial feel for the character of prospects during their interviews. Everything is scrutinized. How you sit, how you talk, how you interact with other prospects, it is all under a microscope.
Luke Hughes from NESN.com passed along this nugget from Jerod Mayo:
The Patriots have been known to ask some strange questions while interviewing prospects, including linebacker Jerod Mayo saying they asked if he had ever cheated on his girlfriend. This line of questioning shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, though. Belichick and his staff are very big on integrity and like to ensure they take guys who are dedicated and willing to finish what they start.
New England's process of crossing off players that don't fit their organization will certainly continue in Indianapolis.
Character isn't the only thing that the New England Patriots will be looking for in their interviews. Accountability is another key trait that Bill Belichick will want to see.
The prospects will almost certainly be asked about a poor play or game. How they respond to that question is quite telling.
Do they come up with an excuse? Do they blame their coaches? Or do they take accountability for the mistakes and mention how they prevented them from happening again. The latter is what the Patriots want to see.
Ability to Quickly Digest Information
In his fantastic book Take Your Eye Off the Ball, Pat Kirwan related another interesting anecdote of Jerod Mayo's interview process.
Supposedly, Bill Belichick quickly diagrammed some plays for Mayo on the whiteboard and then conducted the rest of the interview. At the conclusion of their time, Belichick asked Mayo to diagram the play back to him. Mayo repeated everything nearly verbatim and could articulate his responsibilities on each play.
With an offense and defense that change up large swaths of their playbook on a weekly basis, that sort of recall and processing speed can't be overvalued.
"[D]efensively, we need to play with an element of urgent athleticism." Thomas Dimitroff's use of the phrase urgent athleticism (h/t Brian McIntyre of NFL.com) while at his current job as General Manager of the Atlanta Falcons is no surprise. He is the former New England Patriots director of college scouting
Explosive athletes are going to be on display in droves at the combine. Like Patriots draft pick Jamie Collins last year, look for the Patriots to target players with big numbers in the vertical leap and broad jump.
These quick-twitch athletes are needed on defense as the Patriots need to transition to a lighter, more athletic defense—especially in the linebacker corps.
In addition to the jumping events, the New England Patriots are known for using the 3-cone drill to separate prospects from the pack. According to Chris Price of WEEI, top performers in the drill that the Patriots have drafted in the past are Devin McCourty (6.70), Julian Edelman (6.72) and Chad Jackson (6.74). 2013 draft pick Josh Boyce ran a 6.68 as well.
Wide receivers and defensive backs that do well in the 3-cone show the quickness necessary to compete within the confines of the Patriots' offensive and defensive schemes.
This perhaps leads to shorter players ending up on the Patriots, especially on the defensive side of the ball. If the Patriots find a taller defensive back or receiver—Jackson for examplewith a quick time in the 3-cone drill, you can start to connect the dots.
The New England Patriots want competitors. They want winners. Jim Trotter of SI.com relates a story from Asante Samuel about Tom Brady's competitive drive.
Brady often projects an image of calm and cool, whether facing a rush of defensive linemen or the crush of paparazzi. But former teammates speak of a different Brady, one whose competitive engine has no kill switch.
"We would just go out and take advantage of Tom," Samuel told SI then. "I think he probably beat us once or twice the whole year. When we go against each other, it's fun and games and we talk smack. But it's also very competitive, and he gets real upset when he doesn't win. He's throwing helmets, turning red, cursing, everything."
New England staff will be watching the players compete in drills and timed events at the combine. They'll also see who doesn't want to throw or run against their peers on a level playing field.
It is not like competing on the football field, but remember, nothing goes unnoticed at the NFL Scouting Combine.
For more Patriots and NFL Draft discussion, you can follow James Christensen on Twitter at @NEPatriotsDraft.