We're delighted today to bring you an exclusive interview with the Mayor of the Combine (and JetsFix.com founder) Marcus Armstrong, whose website MockDraftable is heavily-trafficked at this time of year as fans, media and even teams, agents and players are all fascinated to see his trademark visual representations of combine measurables.
JetsFix: Can you talk generally about what metrics are most important at certain positions and what a good score is indicative of?
Marcus Armstrong: I think the biggest thing to keep in mind when looking at combine testing is the notion of “creator”/“protector”. That is, in general, it’s convenient to think about positions in one of two categories: creators, who are tasked with “creating” space or chaos; and “protectors” who are tasked with stopping it. So positions in the first, “creator” group, would be offensive ball carriers (RB, TE, WR), and defensive “attackers” (DL, EDGE). Conversely, positions in the “protector” group would be offensive linemen (and to some extent TEs) as well as coverage linebackers and DBs.
Generally speaking, when you’re looking at a creator position, the more valuable traits are going to be focused around explosion (vertical jump, broad jump, 10 yard split) and ability to misdirect, which frequently comes down to a player’s ankles—a trait best measured by the 3-cone drill. That said, with a “creator” position, the more athleticism you add, the better chance the player has: each .01 second is a “win” against some other player.
On the other side of things, the most demanding physical task “protectors” deal with is mirroring which really comes down to a players’ hips—best measured by the shuttle drills. Overall, though, for a protector, athleticism is about not getting beaten. Once a player has reached that threshold, there’s less marginal utility out of additional athleticism so the key thing is to be well rounded, and hopefully above average across the board.
JF: Were there any themes or trends at this year's combine that weren't present last year or in recent seasons?
MA: I think the biggest thing you can see this year, more-so than in years past, is the movement of the elite athletes out of the running back position. This is a continuation of a trend that’s been going on for a while (similar to the OL -> DL shift that we’ve mostly reached a steady state on), but it’s more obvious than ever this year when you take a look at the top 40 times. On that whole page of 20 players, we’ve only got two RBs: a scatback and Saquon Barkley.
JF: I think we can safely hand the wooden spoon to Orlando Brown, but who would be your nominees for combine MVP in terms of the workouts?
MA: No doubt. But doing themselves some significant favors last week you’ll find a lot of Penn Staters: Here's safety Troy Apke...
Tight End Mike Gesicki...
And, of course, running back Saquon Barkley:
JF: Right. Ian Kenyon came up with a revealing nugget on that front:
Holy crap. Just looked into this. Penn State's head of strength and conditioning is Dwight Galt. Galt ran the Maryland program from 1993-2011 (Vernon Davis, Shawne Merriman, Derrius Heyward-Bey, etc.) https://t.co/igB330l3TD— Ian Kenyon (@IanKenyonNFL) March 5, 2018
MA: Leaving State College, Kolton Miller has to be in the running for the overall best showing, with fantastic numbers in every category from him:
Last one I’ll nominate (because it feels wrong to talk about combine MVPs without mentioning an EDGE) is Harold Landry out of BC. Those are the kind of numbers you want to see about of an attacking edge defender:
JF: Who are some prospects who had particularly good performances that nobody is talking about?
MA: I think the biggest one would be Courtland Sutton. The combine’s more than the 40, and on everything else Courtland showed that he has elite athleticism to go with excellent size at the WR position:
On defense, I’ll go with Avonte Maddox, who certainly solidified himself as a draft-worthy prospect with some borderline elite numbers at cornerback:
JF: How about some bad performances nobody is talking about?
MA: I think Calvin Ridley was pretty disappointing. At his size, you really need to show more than just a decent 40 to convince me you’re going to be a round 1-type receiver:
On defense, I think Hercules Mata’afa really didn’t show much of anything. Athleticism is so, so crucial at that position and posting mediocre numbers to go alongside a mediocre weigh-in isn’t going to help him:
JF: Who were some prospects you were surprised with, either because they did better or worse than you expected?
MA: Honestly, I expected better numbers from Bradley Chubb. He was such a fantastic player in college and has all the skills on tape that I was expecting a much more dominant combine performance than we got. Overall his numbers aren’t bad—But I’m not sure they’re top-5-pick EDGE numbers either with some pretty weak agility times.
On the plus side, I was happy to see Quenton Nelson put up some excellent numbers across the board. Always knew he had the technique down, but it’s exciting to see that he’s got the makeup to be a top-tier athlete on the line for years to come.
JF: Which of this year's prospects had the most interesting comparables?
MA: How about Derwin James grabbing the esteemed Eric Berry comparison?
Or Rashaad Penny with THREE (ex)Ravens RBs in his top ten list?
JF: In terms of linemen, we were intrigued by Trenton Thompson/Sheldon Richardson being a close comparison and those Vita Vea comparables you tweeted out were very interesting.
MA: Yes, even though we didn’t get a full workout from him, Vita Vea managed to accumulate quite a list of pro-bowlers. Can’t help but be excited to see him in the league next year:
Last one I think it worth calling out is Brian O’Neill, who managed to grab comparisons to what feels like every first round tackle of the last 5 years.
JF: There are always players whose numbers we're looking forward to seeing so that we can compare them with a player they remind us of. Sometimes, you get a close match and at other times it exposes the biggest difference between the two prospects. Did you have anyone you were eager to compare with someone from the past - and if so, how closely matched were they?
MA: Perhaps not quite for the right reasons, but I was very interested in seeing how Scott Quessenberry and his brother, David matched up, but as you can see, it’s a bit of an unflattering comparison (even though Scott actually did quite well overall).
More to the intent of your question, however, I was interested to see how Orlando Brown compared to D.J. Fluker.
To be honest, I’m not sure anybody could have anticipated Brown’s performance, and while it’s on a different scale than D.J., I think to a large degree the comparison holds up—they’re players who win with length and size rather than technique at the tackle position, and that’s a fairly unusual thing to really be able to do in the NFL with any longevity.
JF: For us it was Peyton Hillis/Jaylen Samuel (Hillis is bigger and his pro day numbers were pretty similar to Samuel's combine numbers), Brandon Jacobs/Chris Warren (not far off - Jacobs edged him in speed and explosiveness, but Warren had better strength and agility) and Poona Ford/Grady Jarrett ... but Ford didn't get invited so we went for Derek Nnadi instead and it wasn't remotely close.
JF: To wrap up, of the players you've watched film on so far, do you have any who you believe will either be bad, despite good combine numbers or will be good, despite bad combine numbers?
MA: Well, despite his host of top-10-pick comparables and excellent showing last week, I can’t really get myself to believe that Josh Allen will make anything of it. In all the games I’ve watched from him I’ve really struggled to develop any trust in his decision making—and that’s something that really scares me about him as a prospect for the Jets.
To end on a positive note, though, I have to think a player like Josey Jewell will be successful in the NFL despite poor size and a bad 40—if there’s a position where you can mask some weak athleticism, it’s ILB, and his instincts are top notch.
JF: Huge thanks for Marcus for taking the time to provide us with some great analysis!
If you have any questions for Marcus, leave them in the comments section and he's said he'll endeavor to try and pop in later this afternoon/evening to respond to any feedback.
Make sure you pay a visit to Marcus' MockDraftable site, a veritable rabbit-hole that allows you to compare players and their combine measurables going all the way back to 1999.