|Griffin runs the 40 fast and answers questions well, but can he win in the NFL? (AP)|
INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL's scouting combine has come and gone, which means it's time to look back on the official kickoff of what I call "paralysis-by-analysis" season.
I have to say I am not a big combine guy when it comes to evaluating players. But I do like the process. It brings the entire league together, gives us all a chance to gossip and lets us get a small feel for what the players are like in this draft -- even if much of what we get is canned, coached-up talk.
Over the course of my time in Indianapolis -- am I a resident now with 14 days in a month? -- I gathered a lot of stuff. Here's some of it.
• You know what drives me nuts? People who say a kid won the combine because of his interview session. Yes, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III came off as a good kid, but does that really matter? Didn't we know that before he came in for a 15-minute session with the media? Yet you should have seen half the media room drooling as they wrote their stories about him. If he can't play, who in that room cares what kind of person he is? The NFL won't. The media won't. The kids are all so prepped now that it's taken some of the fun out of the media sessions. I want more raw talk like we used to get when there were only 20 or so media members at the combine, rather than the 700 or so who were there this year. He won the combine? Can we eliminate that talk, please?
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• I expect Atlanta to put the franchise tag on corner Brent Grimes. And it makes sense. He is 29 and coming off a season where he finished on the sideline because of an injury. They can tag him, then see how he plays, and then maybe work out a long-term deal. If he struggles, he's gone. It's a smart move.
• So Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd ran a 4.4 40 and Baylor receiver Kendall Wright ran a 4.6. You know what I say to that? Who played faster in college? It certainly wasn't Floyd. Michael Jenkins ran a better-than-expected 40 at his pro-day workout in 2004. That led to teams thinking he was fast. Did he ever play that way? No. Even so, the Falcons drafted him in the first round. His career per-catch average is 12.7, and he's now with the Vikings. Football speed and speed in the 40 are two different things. When teams realize this, they will do a better job of drafting.
• Even before Janoris Jenkins let it out that he had four kids by four different women to go with his other problems -- see marijuana -- a coach I respect said he would be a tough evaluation because he is so talented. The kid can flat-out play. But does a team overlook all his problems? "Somebody will, because we're all looking for those guys, with all the passing," the coach said. "But he's going to have to change his ways, that's for sure." In terms of coverage ability, he might be as good as Morris Claiborne, the top corner in this draft. Is that enough? Can he change?
• Am I surprised Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict ran a 40 near 5.0? No way. He never played that fast at ASU. Having gone to ASU, I always wondered about the Burfict hype. He was always more bark than bite to me -- and I watched almost all his games. He was never sudden, and he seemed to lack foot speed. Now we know he isn't fast at all. Then there are the anger issues, which led to seemingly one or two personnel fouls a game. The personality isn't great either. As one scout told me, he once cursed at one of the old men who always watch ASU practices. The guy just said, "Nice game, Vontaze." The response was something like "[Expletive] you, old man." He's now a third-round pick -- at best. Always was in my book. You have to love how he blamed the coaches for his poor play last season. "I just know that I'm the best linebacker in this draft," Burfict said. "I thought I played average last year, I should've played better. Coaches kinda messed me up. I didn't know if I was going to start a game, didn't know if I was going to be benched -- it hurt me." Is he a good representation for the Harvard of the West? (OK, so that's a joke.)
• There are a lot of teams waiting to get their free-agent budgets from the owners. How much can they spend? There is a lot of cap room for many teams, but will they be allowed to spend to it? One team that bears watching is Jacksonville. New owner Shad Kahn has said he will spend. And he even did a video at a recent fan event where he was at a poker table and pushed his chips all in. But we'll see if he does that. There is some concern and talk that he might not. If he doesn't, it will open him and the team up to a lot of criticism, especially since his $112 million yacht was recently parked downtown on the river. The blue-collar Jaguars fans won't take too kindly if he doesn't spend in free agency. The Jaguars should make a run at Houston defensive end Mario Williams right out of the gate to appease a fan base that is restless for big-time change. Tampa Bay is another team that will be watched closely for free-agent spending. They have a lot of cap room and a new coach, so the Glazers -- who have a reputation for being thrifty -- have to spend. One name who could go there: Falcons middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, who is all but gone in Atlanta.
• Is RG3 worth two first-round picks, a second, a third and maybe a player? That's probably what the Rams will be asking for the second overall pick in any potential trade. That's a steep price, especially when next year's quarterback class could be a good one, led by USC's Matt Barkley. However, there are coaches who might need to win now, guys like Mike Shanahan in Washington. He needs a quarterback. He also calls the football shots. It's a tough decision. Griffin will be good. But how good? I guess if he's Cam Newton good, then it's worth it. Whoever makes a deal better hope he isn't Ryan Leaf bad. He went second overall in 1998 after a guy named Peyton Manning.
• If I had a good back that could become a free agent, I'd tag him every time. Ray Rice and Matt Forte will almost certainly be getting the tag, which will pay them $7.7 million if they sign it. Why not give it to them? You get another year out of them, putting more wear on their bodies, and you don't have to give them huge money. It makes sense. Backs get used up quickly and they aren't as valuable to teams as they used to be. Free-agent backs need to be ready for this strategy down the road.
• Don't count on Steelers receiver Mike Wallace going anywhere. The Steelers, who are trying to clear cap room to keep him, will not let him go. The idea that some team will sign him to an offer sheet that the Steelers won't match isn't going to happen. For one, it will cost a lot more to pay Mike Wallace than it would for a first-round receiver. Two, the Steelers would match -- so all you would be doing is their negotiating. "The thing I can say for sure about Mike is that we want Mike to finish his career with the Steelers," GM Kevin Colbert said last week. "And I'm very confident Mike wants to finish his career with the Steelers and play with a great quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger and the other receivers we have. We're going to do everything we can to keep Mike Wallace with the Steelers. We think he's only scratched the surface in what he can do. There's a lot left there that can still be developed. We're anxious to see it happen as a Steeler." It will.
• It looks as if Mario Manningham is out in New York. He's their No. 3 receiver, and the Giants can't afford to pay him a big contract. But is Manningham really that good? I spoke to one coach on a receiver-needy team who said he thought Manningham was overrated and wasn't worth the money will command. I know this much: He isn't a No. 1 and he might get paid like it. That would be a mistake.
• The NFL needs to change the rule on allowing assistants to move up on another team. There is something wrong when a position coach or a quality control coach has a chance to move to a better position with another team and isn't allowed to do so. League rules prohibit a coach from moving to another team for a position other than head coach without receiving permission from his current team. The Giants denied offensive quality control coach Kevin Gilbride Jr. a chance to leave to go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as quarterback coach. "Our staff had lost two on that side of the ball," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We're not training coaches so they can go somewhere else to work." The Cardinals denied receivers coach John McNulty a chance to become the Tampa Bay offensive coordinator, moving him to quarterbacks coach. I know there were some abuses in the past with some coaches, but why should a head coach stop somebody from bettering their situation? "Guys forget they were once in those shoes," said one head coach. "It's just not right to do." I agree.
• Close to the draft, I always come out with a list of guys I like better than the scouts. One who will almost certainly be on that list is Michigan defensive tackle/nose tackle Mike Martin. He is short at 6-foot-1, 306 pounds, but he is a tough guy to handle because of his low power base. "I can definitely handle it full time," Martin said of playing at his size. "My leverage is one of my strengths and I love being called small. I love it. I have a chip on my shoulder. I've been called undersized my whole life. I know I can play that position."
• I can tell you this: there are a lot of personnel people happy LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers didn't have a great workout. Why? They might get him now. Forget that workout at the combine, which included really bad 40 time (5.36). The kid can play.