Welcome to the first edition of Road to the Draft, a weekly column that will cover it all as the Browns march toward the final week of April, when they make the No. 1 overall pick and five of the top 65 selections.
We’re kicking it off with a topic that will only get hotter as the NFL Scouting Combine nears at the end of the month.
Spotlight on … Measurables
Last month in Mobile, Alabama, inside a darkened convention hall, hundreds of scouts, front office executives and coaches from around the NFL and beyond watched more than 100 prospects walk across a stage and have themselves weighed and measured.
It’s an annual tradition that seems to pick up more steam each year on social media, but it’s only a small glimpse into the poking and prodding that happens behind the scenes and well beyond the football field. On top of height and weight, players have their hands, arms and wingspan tracked down to the one-eighth of an inch.
The same exercise occurs one month later at the NFL Scouting Combine, where 300 prospects come together for an even deeper evaluation, one that includes daylong physical examinations from all 32 teams.
The teams and league wouldn’t go through this exercise if it didn’t matter. Time is too valuable for something that holds little value. The debate, though, is how MUCH it matters.
In a recent interview, Browns Director of College Scouting Bobby Vega explained the delicate balance.
“Let's take a receiver for instance,” Vega said. “If a receiver has 7-inch hands, it's probably going to be difficult for him to catch the ball as opposed to a guy with 10-inch hands. There's some things that play into it understandably so, but it's also one of those things where if you don't think it affects him on the field, you don't put as much weight on it.
“If you have a defensive end who measures with short arms and you think he plays with short arms, meaning it's hard for him to get off blocks and he can't separate from blockers, it kind of confirms what you saw. But if a guy has shorter arms but he's explosive and can shock a blocker and get off a block and really disrupt the backfield, then maybe the length isn't as important as you thought.
“Yes, we take it into account but by no means is it the end-all be-all.”
It’s a key point to remember, especially when the Scouting Combine begins next month. The fascination with 40-yard dash times and bench press repetitions will never be higher. But in the weeks leading up to one of the biggest tentpole events of the offseason, scouts from around the country converge on their team’s facility to relay all of the information they’ve gathered over the past year and “stand on the table” for certain prospects.
Understandably, it goes miles beyond the size of a player’s arms.
“There will be some good conversation,” Vega said.
Each week, we’ll pick a draft-related category and rank it, 1-5. This week, we’re pulling from the pool of 2017 Senior Bowl players and projecting the order in which they come off the board in April.
1. TE O.J. Howard (Alabama) - The star attraction in Mobile didn’t disappoint and most draft analysts consider him to be the top player at his position in this year’s class. The question now centers on which team will pull the trigger in the first round on a position that hasn’t produced a first-round player since Eric Ebron, who went No. 10 in 2014.
2. LB Haason Reddick (Temple) - A Mike Mayock favorite throughout the week, Reddick could be this year’s off-the-radar player who builds major momentum at the Senior Bowl and rides it all the way to draft day. His versatility as an inside linebacker who can help a team with a 3-4 or 4-3 will aid his chances of landing in the first round.
3. DB Tre’Davious White (LSU) - A talented defensive back at a school that has put plenty in the first round, White is in a cluster of a number of players at his position pegged for the first round. The combine will be vital for him as he hopes to separate himself from the pack.
4. OG Dan Feeney (Indiana) - It’s not the sexiest position on the field, but an offensive guard or two always seem to find their way into the first round. Last year, it was Joshua Garnett, who went 28th to the 49ers. Laken Tomlinson went in the same spot the previous year and two guards even went in the top 10 in 2013. Feeney might just be this year’s best after a strong performance in Mobile, so the odds could be in his favor for a Day 1 selection.
5. WR/TE Evan Engram (Ole Miss) - For a team looking to simply add one of the best athletes with high upside, it’s hard to find a better candidate than Engram. A tight end with the Rebels, Engram could very well play both wide receiver and tight end in the NFL.
Honorable mention: OL Forrest Lamp, S Obi Melifonwu, DL Montravius Adams, DB Jourdan Lewis, TE Gerald Everett
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Small school spotlight
WR Corey Davis (Western Michigan) - The players in this section will get a little more off the radar as the weeks go by, but there’s no bigger “small school” prospect than Davis, who has been pegged as high as the No. 5 overall pick in recent mock drafts. A two-star recruit out of Wheaton, Illinois, Davis rattled off three consecutive seasons of more than 1,400 receiving yards to close his four-year career. He nailed an even 1,500 in 2016 to go along with 19 touchdowns in a season that saw him catch touchdowns in all but three games. Davis, though, is more than just a stat sheet stuffer against MAC competition. According to draft experts, he very well could be the best receiver available because of his route running, competitiveness and versatility.
Did you know?
The last time a team held two picks in the top 12 of the draft was 2000, when the Washington Redskins selected LB LaVar Arrington at No. 2 and OL Chris Samuels at No. 3. The pair combined to make nine Pro Bowls.