Previewing What the New York Jets Will Be Looking for at the Scouting Combine
The NFL Scouting Combine is often cast aside as nothing more than a shorts and t-shirt contest, but the combine serves as an important cog in the scouting process.
The most important aspect has and will always be the medical evaluations of every player. After all, the combine was originally constructed as a one-stop shop for NFL teams to get medical records of the top draftable players.
The combine also serves as a way to separate the elite athletes from the average ones, in addition to giving each team a chance to meet with prospects on a one-on-one basis.
Here is a list of some key items the New York Jets will be paying close attention to at this year's combine.
Odell Beckham Jr. in Speed Drills
There is a lot of like about LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr. as a prospect. With tremendous athleticism, shiftiness, body control and hands, Beckham has first-round talent. Combined with the fact that he plays with a level of toughness that few players replicate, Beckham is a coach's dream.
There are, however, two major concerns with Beckham's game: his height and his top-end speed—two measurables that can be scientifically measured at the combine.
The 40-yard dash is already the premier event at the combine, but it has even more significance for Beckham. Teams will also be able to get an official measurement on his height without relying on sketchy numbers provided by school websites.
If Beckham passes the "test" in these two areas, he will be one step closer to convincing NFL teams that he is capable of handling the burden of being a No. 1 receiver.
The Top Three Tight Ends
Given their extreme need at the position, the Jets should count their lucky stars that this year's first round is littered with talented prospects at the tight end position.
Depending on how the board ultimately plays out, the Jets will likely get their choice of either UNC's Eric Ebron, Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Texas Tech's Jace Amaro.
Each prospect has a somewhat unique set of skills. Ebron is regarded as the player with the most raw talent, but he struggles in the finer details of his route running and run blocking, although he is a willing blocker.
Seferian-Jenkins, on the other hand, carries with him concerns regarding his effort on a play-by-play basis as a blocker. Like Ebron, he is a massive target with a ton of athletic ability, but there is some risk in regard to his willingness to play a complete game up to his potential.
Meanwhile, Amaro is a willing blocker and a matchup nightmare when detached from the formation, but he was rarely used as a blocker at Texas Tech. In fact, he was more of a glorified receiver listed as a tight end than a true tight end.
There is no doubt that the Jets will be constantly comparing these three prospects to each other in every drill and interview as they try to stack their board in the proper order.
Mike Evans in Agility Drills
The biggest knock on star Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans is how he relies too much on his ability to make contested catches to generate production as opposed to gaining separation the old-fashioned way—something that may not fly in the NFL against bigger and more skilled defensive backs.
Because of his size, it is natural that Evans will not be able to make cuts as well as a smaller receiver can with a lower center of gravity. However, if Evans wants to be taken at the top of the first round, he must prove that he is capable of running routes most players his size cannot.
While Evans won't be able to run routes against defensive backs at the combine, he may be able to ease some concerns about his lateral agility in the shuffle and cone drills.
If he can convince NFL teams that he is capable of running routes at a much higher level than what he showed at Texas A&M, there is a strong chance that he winds up getting drafted much earlier than most expect.
Marqise Lee's Medical Evaluation
Prior to the 2013 season, Marqise Lee was in the same category as Sammy Watkins as one of the best wide receivers in this year's class.
However, an injury-plagued junior campaign that saw a significant dip in production (that was also derived from a dunk-and-dunk offense at USC) transformed Lee from a bona fide prospect into a limited player. Lee is seen more as a "catch-and-go" than a true No. 1 player who can stretch the field.
The question the Jets need to answer is exactly how much of Lee's disappointing season can be blamed on his bum knee.
The combine will be the first time the NFL will get a chance to examine Lee and every other attendee as if they were cattle, breaking down every single medical issue into nauseating detail. After Lee's evaluation, every NFL team will have a much clearer picture of whether or not Lee's knee will improve or get worse once he enters the NFL ranks.
Depending on the results of Lee's medical evaluation, the Jets will adjust their draft board accordingly with the comfort in knowing where Lee stands in terms of his knee's health.
Kelvin Benjamin in Catching Drills
Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin is one of the more polarizing players in the draft. At times, he shows superstar ability with his unique blend of size, speed and strength—which he counters with a truckload of maddening drops (sprinkled with sloppy route running).
What is odd about Benjamin's concentration issues is that he makes the tough catch that requires an acrobatic move—then follows it up by letting a simple five-yard slant pass go right through his hands.
Benjamin is a matchup nightmare for most cornerbacks, but what good is a receiver if he is unable to reel in the pass on a consistent basis?
The combine catching drills won't test Benjamin against a defense, but that is not where Benjamin struggles. Benjamin needs to prove that he can make the easy catches that require a bit more concentration than he is willing to give at this point.
Under the scrutiny of dozens of coaches and scouts watching his every move during the drills, Benjamin may be able to put some of those concerns to rest with a strong showing in the drills.
James Gayle in Movement Drills
With Calvin Pace set to be a free agent, the Jets must continue to stock their roster with young talent at the outside linebacker position to prepare for life without Pace, whether it be this year or 2015.
Virginia Tech defensive end James Gayle would make perfect sense for the Jets as a late-round option. He has tremendous flexibility to bend around the edge, an array of pass-rushing moves and plenty of strength to hold up in the run game.
The biggest question surrounding Gayle is whether or not he can play out in space as a traditional 3-4 outside linebacker. With the relatively heavy Quinton Coples occupying the other side of their front, the Jets need their opposite outside linebacker to be able to operate in space.
Gayle is an athletic player, but he has little experience playing out in space from his college days. Gayle must prove that he is comfortable in his footwork in the foot speed and agility drills if he wants to see his draft stock spike.
There will also be a careful medical checkup on Gayle's arm injury, which sidelined him during January's Senior Bowl.
With uncertainty looming over Geno Smith's future as the Jets' franchise quarterback, the Jets have every reason to be in the quarterback market this offseason.
The Jets will do their due diligence on the top prospects, such as Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles, but the bulk of their preparation will be on some of the middle- to late-tier prospects.
Jimmy Garoppolo, David Fales, Logan Thomas and Zach Mettenberger will all be on the Jets radar as they search for a possible alternative to Geno Smith—and they will all be under the intense scrutiny as they undergo the all-important combine interviews.
The most important aspect of the combine (outside of the medical evaluations) for quarterbacks is the in-person interviews. For many of these prospects, this is the first time they get to interact with coaches and high-ranking personnel men, and making a good first impression is of the utmost importance.
In the game's most cerebral position, a player's mental makeup is just as important as their physical gifts. Each prospect must prove their mental capabilities in a 15-minute conversation that may cause them to rise or sink up the Jets' draft board.
Depth Offensive Linemen
With two of their starting offensive linemen set to hit free agency (guard Willie Colon and right tackle Austin Howard), the Jets will be in the market for depth offensive linemen they can add as insurance in case either of them leaves via free agency.
There are a handful of flawed-yet-talented prospects in this year's class, including:
- Seantrel Henderson: athletic player who struggled at Miami but had a strong Senior Bowl.
- Jon Halapio: fantastic run blocker who struggles with his balance in pass protection.
- Chris Watt: physical player whose ceiling's limited athletically.
- Anthony Steen: holds up well against the bull rush but struggles with his hands against more advanced swim and rip moves.
These are all flawed prospects, but given their needs at other positions, the Jets cannot afford to be picky with the offensive linemen available in the latter rounds.
At the combine, the Jets will be able to separate the more athletic players with upside that they can stash on the bottom of the roster to develop.