People have been obsessing about the workouts at the combine for so long that it has now become a widespread cliche, annoying in its own right, to overreact and declare that the combine is totally useless. It isn’t, of course. Athleticism is important in football, and the combine allows for that athleticism to be quantified in a semi-controlled environment. Of course, 40-yard dash times and bench press repetitions will never, ever replace game tape when it comes to evaluating a player. Coaches could would probably learn significantly more about a player by watching him practice his actual football position at something like the senior bowl than they would watching him at the combine, simply because at least that unfairly brief snapshot would involve the skills involve football. But still, consider the importance of team/player interviews, and it’s clear the combine has its place.
And, in certain cases, it’s fair for NFL GMs and coaches to let combine performances influence draft stock. If a wide receiver clearly relied on his straight line speed at the combine, a 4.6 forty is going to be a big red flag, and if he runs that slow in his second attempt, it’s probably worth reexamining gametape and reevaluating that prospect. However, if a big, physical receiver that depended on precise routes and physical pass-catching in college, a 4.6 may not be the end of the world. It’s about context.
In the case of Desmond Trufant, the Washington cornerback that will work out at the combine tomorrow, I believe it’s an example of the latter. After four years of heavy playing time, including a straight up dominate senior campaign, Scouts and GMs have no shortage of tape to pour over. The fact that Trufant’s stock has ascended to the point that he is considered a first-round talent in the eyes of many is a testament to this. Corner, more than most positions in football, has to be evaluated on film. A corner can’t be properly judged based on his statistics. A player with 70 tackles and five picks might seem impressive, but it’s possible that a look at the tape shows that he only made so many tackles and picked off so many passes because he was leaving his man open enough that the quarterback consistently threw his way. On the flip side, a guy can have very few tackles, and even very few picks or passes defended, simply because he did such a good job of shutting down his man that few quarterbacks dared throw his way.
Trufant has shown he can play the position very well, and if he hadn’t, scouts wouldn’t be labeling him a first-rounder. Based on that, I don’t think Trufant has as much riding on his combine workout as the average prospect. Now, that doesn’t mean he can’t hurt his stock with a total flop of a day, but I think if he runs a forty-yard dash in the 4.5 range while posting roughly average numbers in the bench-press, vertical jump, and other drills, his stock will stay basically the same. Scouts might wish he had done a little better, but then they will watch his tape against USC, a game in which he limited Marqise Lee to his worst game of the season, and know that he played his position at an NFL-level, and they will know that his success was based on position skills that go deeper than speed or strength.
That being said, Trufant is in good position to boost his stock with an especially strong workout, with the infamous forty-time having the greatest potential impact. His current 1st round grade is based on the assumption that he will run right around 4.5, or at least that seems to be the rough expectation. If he runs in the mid to low 4.4 range, or somehow posts a sub-4.4 time, I have to believe it would lock him in as a first-rounder. It might be a bit silly for a measurement of straight-line speed to boost Trufant’s grade given the fact that he has never had an issue staying with speedy receivers, but every single year multiple prospects see their stock soar based on extraordinary workouts, especially when they have good tape to make GMs confident that they aren’t dealing with a workout warrior that is more talented in shorts than pads.
We will see how Desmond performs tomorrow, when cornerbacks are set to work out, and I will have a post up soon after.