Unless you like looking at 20 year-old guys in some newer version of Lycra, the Senior Bowl weigh-in is a mash-up of a slave trade auction and the opening prison scene at Shawshank. A majority of these athletes would be told to lose weight if they were at a doctor’s appointment. With the rate of obesity and violence of the game, it’s no wonder NFL players have such short life spans.
It’s a sad sight in many respects. At the same time, you have to have some sort of macabre, gallows humor about this segment of the all-star event. It helps that for most of these athletes playing in the NFL is a dream and the compensation has the potential to be life-changing – if they can manage to keep an agent, accountant, family member, or future ex-spouse from robbing them blind. There I go again. I’d quit while I was only slightly behind, but this is just the intro.
The highlight of the weigh-in this year wasn’t a particular player or group of players. I’ll get to some of those tidbits soon. Weigh-ins just offer another layer of information that can be helpful within the overall analysis of a prospect. What was most telling was Senior Bowl Head Phil Savage giving a five-minute speech at the podium, something I’ve never seen the head of this event do in the past.
Savage has made some noticeable changes to the Senior Bowl event since taking over. The first difference I saw was this summer when he published scouting reports since the beginning of the college season and sent them to media on a weekly basis. The more important changes to the event were unveiled this morning.
The weigh-in was in a much larger room with far more strategic and organized seating than in previous years. Savage had the room split into two sections. The ground level seating near the stage was reserved for NFL personnel. Behind this area was stadium seating for media, although a lot of NFL guys also chose to sit there, too.
Savage’s opening statement covered a number of topics that I think reflect the NFL’s desire to upgrade the Senior Bowl experience and the former Browns GM has acted upon this feedback with a sense of urgency:
- Structure to Team-Player Interviews: There was no defined interview schedule for teams and players in the past. It’s been a free-for-all and based on Savage’s commentary, I get the feeling teams weren’t happy that they couldn’t get equal time with every player and the lack of structure often put players in a bad light because the chaos made it easy for players to miss appointments. This year Savage created one basic schedule where each day there were would be 36 players scheduled to meet on the first floor of the team hotel. There will be four media rooms and nine players from this group of 36 will be cycled through each room four times so they can meet with every team. The fact that there was no planning like this before just boggles my mind. The remaining 70 players not scheduled are free to meet with teams as arranged informally.
- Planning Instructions to Teams: Savage recommended teams to give players business cards with times for any interviews they arrange from a conversation. Savage has given the players notebooks to keep business cards. The Browns GM said these notebooks were to help players be held accountable for meeting interview times, but I have to say that it smelled a lot like a smart executive teaching his players to manage upward by expecting some documentation from scouts and team reps who might have contributed equally to the chaos.
- Future Goal – Increase Player Acceptance Rate: Savage told the audience of NFL teams and media that his team examines 300 players on a Senior Bowl Watch List and visits 25 schools with the help of NFL team personnel men to provide feedback on performances. They narrow this list to 100 players on December 1. This year, 24 players turned down the opportunity to participate in the Senior Bowl. Players like Geno Smith and Montee Ball simply opted not to participate. Guys like Matt Barkley, Travis Kelce and Tyler Eifert had in-season injuries where they opted to continue rehab to maximize their showing at the combine – emphasis on placing higher emphasis on the combine than the value of all-star game practices. Tavon Austin was a late injury scratch. Savage asked the teams to continue helping the Senior Bowl selection committee moving forward because they want to cut the non-attendance rate of first-invitees in half from 24 for 10-12 in 2014. The biggest takeaway is that I think he wants to change the player-agent mentality that the Combine and Pro Day workouts are more important than this all-star environment.
The weigh-in continues to offer small layers of information that some may blow out of proportion, but at the same time might offer important clues as time passes and we gather additional intelligence on these prospects. Here are some highlights from my perspective as a skill positioned-focused analyst of player talent:
Although there are an increasing number of quarterbacks who possess physiques that look more like running backs and wide receivers, many of them – especially the pocket passing quarterbacks – don’t look like guys you’d imagine capable of handling the most difficult position in sports. There are pro golfers in this era of sport who look far more impressive as athletes than some of these guys. NFL Draft Monster analyst Benjamin Albright compared Mike Glennon’s side profile to a pasty ironing board. Even E.J. Manuel didn’t strike me as an unbelievably conditioned athlete. Again, this is the norm and it goes to show you that quarterback has a large mental component to the craft. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to this commentary about the position.
As for running backs, that’s a little different. Auburn’s Onterrio McCalebb weighed in at 164 pounds. He has the musculature of a 185-pound guy, but that 164-pound result indicates to me that he’s a kick return specialist at best. I’ll be surprised if the South Roster allows him to participate in all the running back drills. McCalebb was listed at 174 before the weigh-in.
Another back on the border is Fresno State’s Robbie Rouse. At 5’5″, 186 pounds, I like the physical dimensions but it’s still rather small for a back. If he were 5’7″ and 198 – or 208 – I’d really be far more intrigued. Nonetheless, he was a good player and I look forward to seeing if he can run big and win over folks this week. I think he has a far better shot than McCalebb. Rouse was listed at 190 pounds before the weigh-in.
The most physically impressive tight end of this group was Rice’s Vance McDonald. Of all the players here, I thought McDonald’s frame was the best proportioned from his arms and chest to his waist and legs. He was a well-muscled, but not overly chiseled 6’4″ 262 pounds with 10-inch hands and an 81.58-inch wingspan, longest of any skill player here and longer than many linemen. McDonald is a versatile player, who often saw time split as a wide receiver on cornerbacks as a part of the Owls.
The largest wingspan at the weigh-in was Clemson defensive lineman Malliciah Goodman. The 6’3″ 272-pound defender has an 87.68-inch wingspan with 10.78-inch hands. He physically reminded me of what I’ve read of novelist Walter Moseley’s character Socrates Fortolow, a convicted felon who did his damage with his bare hands. Goodman’s arms were so long I joked that he could probably tell you if the ground was wet without bending his knees. He was also one of the most impressive physiques in the building.
- I thought UCLA runner Jonathan Franklin was a little light at 201 pounds. I hoped he’d be another 8-10 pounds heavier. I wonder if he has the frame to add more weight. He’s a tough, smart runner and it’s not a major concern, but a layer of information I’ll probably continue to think about as I watch him.
- Michigan quarterback-turned-wide receiver Denard Robinson has 10-inch hands, which are a half-inch larger than the receiver with the next biggest hands on either roster. However, he also has an injury to his left hand where he cannot extend his pinky. It will be fun to see if that impacts his ability to catch a football. Judging from Torry Holt’s mangled fingers, I doubt it.
- Think there isn’t a bias against Harvard players? The most audible sound I heard in this auditorium came when fullback Kyle Juszcyzyk took the stage and the announcer listed his school. The 6’3″, 248-pound prospect looked every bit the football player but that collective murmur told me that Harvard still elicits a reaction and I don’t take it as necessarily a positive.
More coming after practice. If you want to see preview from Jene Bramel and me, check out the NY Times Fifth Down.
For additional player analysis heading into the 2013 NFL Draft, here’s my running page of blog pieces here and at Football Outsiders.