The most recent well-written post by our very own manager, James Dator, gave me an insightful take on how most scouts and front offices view the combine. With all the media hype surrounding this annual event, their is always a chance that a coach and/or gm could become more enamored with measurables than they actually should. While there is no doubt that scouting departments across the league must proceed with caution when evaluating these prospects based on combine numbers alone, there is also a caveat to consider if one goes into this event with there eyes wide shut. Let's take some time to find out who ignored some gaudy numbers, and as a result, has payed a heavy price over the last several years.
Vernon Gholston is widely known today as the poster child for good combines gone bad. But there is another side to this that sometimes goes unnoticed. Let me put it to you this way: For every Vernon Gholston, I'll raise you a Connor Barwin. Let's go ahead and examine his remarkable story for a few minutes. Barwin was, for all intents and purposes, a failure during his first three years at Cincinnati. Up until his Senior season, his coaches had come to the conclusion that special teams and back-up tight end was his ceiling. Through some trial and error, they finally came to their senses by realizing that it wouldn't hurt to give him a shot at playing defensive end. To their surprise, he was a natural at the position and his stats only confirmed this fact. Barwin posted team highs of 11 sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss that final season, thereby introducing himself to the scouts and the nation in a very big way. His stock was appropriately on the rise, but there was understandable skepticism out there as well. Determined to further make a name for himself, he entered the combine with God-given talents that many players could only dream of. The only question that would remain in the aftermath was this: How much could his draft stock actually rise after putting up such formidable numbers? Let's review the tape and find out who he out-performed.
Barwin was already viewed as a third round prospect who could slip into the second round with an outstanding combine, and let's just say, he didn't disappoint. At 6' 4", 256 lbs., he only went out there and ran a 4.59 forty, with a 1.57 ten yard split. He further displayed his explosion by posting a 40.5 inch vertical and a 10' 8" broad jump. Can you guess who else was at this combine and in the same draft class. Everette Brown. Let's examine Brown's numbers for a moment and see how they measured up to Barwins'. Brown, who was two inches shorter, was still a viable comparison with Barwin because they weighed in at the exact same weight, 256 lbs. Here are Brown's combine measurables: 4.63 forty, 1.58 ten yard split, a 31 inch vertical and a broad jump of 9' 8". How could someone ignore the fact that these numbers were significantly less than those that Barwin posted? I'll tell you how. Brown produced better numbers in college. He had 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in one less game than Barwin in his final season at Florida State. Perhaps this is where the Panthers went wrong. As painful as it is, let's see if we can gain some perspective on this subject by re-living the debacle that was the 2009 draft for the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers were already somewhat behind the eight ball when the 2009 draft came along because of what they had done in the previous draft. They had given up their 2009 first rounder during the 2008 draft for the right to move from the second round to the first round in order to pick Jeff Otah. With that being said, their first pick in the '09 draft was late in the second round at number 59. If ever there was a wrong move to be made, this was certainly it. They apparently saw something that the other front offices didn't when they traded their 2010 first round pick away for the right to move up sixteen spots in the second round to pick Everette Brown. The same Everette Brown who out-produced Connor Barwin in his final season of college, but was overwhelmingly out-classed at the combine. Did you know that Barwin was selected three spots later by the Houston Texans and, unlike Brown, he hasn't disappointed. After being cut by the Panthers last year before the season even started, Brown was signed two months later by the San Diego Chargers, who couldn't even find a place for him in their rotation, while Barwin was having a career season by posting 11.5 sacks with the Texans.
What does all of this tell you? I don't know about you, but it doesn't tell me anything more than what we've all heard before. This is a confusing business, an inexact science if you will, and its as difficult today as it ever was to navigate its murky waters. It most certainly isn't a job for those who are unwilling to take risks, but it does require a level of prudence when evaluating each and every prospect on a case by case basis. Ultimately, I believe Hurney has over-achieved during his tenure as GM here in Carolina. Sure, he's made some egregious errors along the way, but I believe he has learned from his mistakes, and is driven even more to pick the right players at the right spots. After all, he has given us a slew of outstanding players to cheer for every Sunday, and I feel we, the fans, are very blessed to have him as our GM. In closing, remember to proceed with caution if someone blows up the 2012 combine with flashy numbers, but don't ignore them completely.