NFL Draft: 'Football players' belie combine tests, undefined positions
Every NFL Draft season there are players who don't tear up the combine, or don't have a position but become big-time NFL players. Pat Kirwan identifies eight to watch.
One of my favorite coaching/personnel expressions come draft season is, "He's a football player," reserved for the player who doesn't tear up the combine but makes plays.
You don't read about his fast 40 time or bench-press reps, but he gets the job done on the field -- no matter what the tests and measurements say about him.
In other cases, it's just tough to figure out the position where a player works best, but you know he belongs on the roster -- so you figure out the rest later.
And this draft class is no different, possessing a few guys who fit the he's-a-football-player criteria. These guys succeed with smarts, toughness and a passion for the game that trumps the world of the measurable.
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When with the Jets, I had a guy named Wayne Chrebet -- a 5-foot-10, 185-pound wideout who wasn't fast -- come to our club the day after the draft. We weren't even sure if we could find him a spot on special teams.
All the gritty Chrebet did was start all 16 games as a rookie, making 66 catches and scoring four touchdowns. Eleven years later he retired with 580 receptions and 41 touchdowns.
Smart teams are looking for the Wayne Chrebets of the world, guys best described as "a football player."
Here are eight guys who may not have all the measurables, but when I watch them play, I see "a football player."
Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford: He ran a 4.91-second 40 at the combine, but he made 78 plays behind the line of scrimmage, has a real knack for finding the ball and plays much faster than his recorded time because he sees the game the right away.
Jordan Hill, DT, Penn State: He was the shortest defensive lineman at the combine, but I watched him at the Senior Bowl for a week, and he plays hard every down. He had 30 plays behind the line of scrimmage at Penn State and will be hard to cut at the end of whatever camp he attends.
Conner Vernon, WR, Duke: Some watches at the combine had him in 4.77, which is way too slow for an NFL wide receiver. One thing: How do you explain his 283 receptions and 21 touchdowns in college? I watched him at the Senior Bowl, and he does what Wayne Chrebet did: gets open in a short area and catches the ball.
Robbie Rouse, RB, Fresno State: Rouse measured in at 5-5 at the combine and ran a 4.8 40. Nothing like a small guy who's slow to scare away NFL people. But his game tapes show you why he's Fresno State's all-time Fresno leading rusher. He finished his career with 4,647 yards and 37 touchdowns on 898 carries. Throw in 109 receptions for 794 yards and five more TDs, and the newest "Pocket Hercules" totaled 5,441 yards and 42 touchdowns.
Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford: Taylor ran a 4.77 40 and didn't show much explosion with a 30-inch vertical leap. I got to know him at the Senior Bowl and the versatile back plays like a guy who runs 4.4. He had more than 5,000 all-purpose yards and found the end zone 45 times in college.
Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin: Frederick ran a 5.6 40 on many watches and only had 21 reps on the bench-press test. The 40 time was one of the combine's slowest, and he was 33rd among the offensive linemen in the bench press. One problem: He's the best center in the draft and strikes with more power than testing indicates. He's a very solid player and will be one of the biggest centers in the NFL.
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