Monday Musings: March 13

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Tony Pauline

Draft Analyst Writer

Now that the combine is complete, it’s time to get ready for pro days and get back to film work. Last we left I was entering the back half of the Pac-12. Here are a few observations on those teams and some final thoughts on the NFL combine.

Christian McCaffrey had one of the most complete combine workouts of 2017. His testing marks were some of the best from the running back class, and he was head and shoulders above everyone else during position drills. I still believe McCaffrey doesn’t have a true every-down position in the NFL; he will be moved between running back and slot receiver, line up on the flanks as a wideout and, of course, return kicks and punts. He’s a dream prospect for an innovative offensive mind.

Where does he end up in the draft? During the combine I consistently heard daily rumors that the Denver Broncos could take McCaffrey in Round 1 in large part due to the Elway/McCaffrey family relationship dating back to Stanford.

Solomon Thomas looked every bit a top-10 pick on tape. While he has to improve his playing strength, Thomas was a constant nuisance and his intensity is infectious. When I saw him Wednesday night at the Omni Hotel in Indianapolis, Thomas looked ripped and ready for a Mr. Universe contest.

My favorite player from the UCLA film was linebacker Jayon Brown. Entering the season he was stamped as a street free agent by scouts despite productive game film in 2015. As a senior, Brown looked very much like a three-down defender and was constantly around the ball stuffing the run, covering the pass or running down ball handlers in pursuit. Vertically challenged at under 6-feet tall, Brown will fall into the draft’s final day but will play on Sundays.

Despite the fact his testing at the combine was awful, I love the film on USC guard Damien Mama.

He’s a big, strong blocker who annihilates opponents run blocking and does not give up an inch in pass protection. His 40 time (5.82s), shuttle mark (5.38s) and three-cone time (8.51s) usually mean Mama will struggle in a zone-blocking scheme. It’s also likely to push his draft stock down, but I still feel he offers starting potential in the right system.

Utah’s Hunter Dimick wasn’t invited to the combine and may go undrafted, but after watching the game film I feel reasonably sure he will play on Sundays. Dimick plays with a non-stop motor and is a disruptive force behind the line of scrimmage besides showing the ability to make plays in space.

What to say about University of Washington?

What happened to Sidney Jones was a tragedy in the football sense. I graded him as a top-10 pick, but he’s likely to fall into the draft’s last day. An Achilles’ injuries is tricky, especially for a defensive back who must plant his foot, explode to the action and move in every direction possible.

Let’s hope Jones makes a complete recovery.

When it comes to receiver talk from Washington State, the name of Gabe Marks is the first and usually only one mentioned. Yet before his late-season injury, River Cracraft impressed the heck out of me.

Cracraft displayed himself as a tough and reliable receiver who consistently came away with the contested throw. He has better size than Marks, equal speed and does not drop as many catchable throws. Unfortunately he tore his ACL in mid-November and has a long road ahead of him.

The Future of the NFL Combine

The NFL has turned the combine into a giant media event, and now it wants to turn it into a giant fan fest. Is this a good idea?

The abbreviated answer is no -- and there could be repercussions.

The first combine I attended in 2001 did not have a media center. Chris Mortensen, John Clayton and a few other reporters stood outside the workout area of the RCA Dome with cassette recorders and notebooks in hand ready to get the scoop. At night everyone hung out at Shula’s Restaurant in the Westin Hotel -- the place to be. The few reporters on hand would drink with coaches, general manager and scouts.

The more drinks consumed, the more freely the information flowed.

Now there are more than 1,000 media members on hand for the combine, many who cover the NFL Draft just a few weeks a year. This year the media center was on two separate floors of the Indiana Convention Center. It was about three-quarters empty come Saturday, as most people fled town Friday night after the first workouts were completed.

The bench press took place in the middle of a fan fest with hundreds of people watching. There’s rumors of allowing ticket-paying fans into Lucas Oil Stadium in coming years to watch the workouts. This is what the NFL wants – to turn the combine from a scouting event into a full-blown media spectacle.

It will all backfire.

Agents who represent players and for the most part represent the best interests of their clients told me last week they’ll no longer have their players take part in the bench press at the combine unless they’re assured the player can put up a good mark.

No one will let their 300-pound lineman lie on a bench press in front of hundreds of people at the combine to complete less than 20 repetitions at 225 pounds.

And what about charging fans to watch the workouts in Lucas Oil Stadium?

Several agents told me if the league goes down that road or continues to commercialize the combine, they will demand players are paid for participating.

Why should the league make all the money from the commercialization of the combine?

Remember the controversy about 10 years ago when the league used college game film given to them free of charge during broadcasts of the draft on NFL Network? Game film that was supposed to be for scouting purposes only?

Get ready for a larger and more contentious controversy if the league continues to commercialize the combine.