The Scouting Combine seems like it's becoming a mockery of itself. More and more we hear how forming opinions of the workouts is a waste of time and that the biggest impact of the event happens in meetings behind closed doors. In essence, it's become nothing more than a media monster where coaches and general managers are pressed for specifics they'd rather not reveal and the young players become show dogs who can talk and try to answer questions on topics that they haven't thought about before. The television analysts tell you what to watch for during the workouts and then say none of it matters anyway because it isn't football. The whole thing looks silly from a distance and perhaps it should be reexamined as a whole.
Another game like the Senior Bowl would be great but there are concerns. First, if the players at the combine are represented by the NFLPA, then they might not go for a game. Second, the league doesn't want to tarnish its precious resource of new talent with a bunch of injuries in an exhibition game. If Andrew Luck tore his ACL in such a scenario, the guy who said another Senior Bowl game would be a good idea might be thrown into a river.
I think a mini-camp with full pads could be a happy medium between underwear olympics and a real game. Coaches could supervise drills and try to keep the players as safe as possible, but still provide scouts with live action rather than simulated nonsense. It would make for better television which makes more money and more corporate sponsorship and everybody walks away satisfied.
Since my idea is unlikely to be adopted in this season, however, the show must go on and so there are a couple of guys I do want to watch.
One is Zach Brown. This guy is a lighter outside linebacker from North Carolina who is described with those weird athletic superlatives like "freak" and "beast". I have read in some scouting reports that he is expected to run near a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash and could even finish under that mark. He flashed in the Senior Bowl, especially in coverage and I feel he could be a trendy prototype of player in response to the recent emergence of the receiving tight end. On the surface, it doesn't appear that the Bengals would have a need for a player like Brown (not great at point of attack, smallish), but with two first-rounders, I wouldn't mind taking a flyer on a guy who could be something new to the league. The first thing everyone points to in regard to fixing the Cincinnati defense is the secondary but acquiring a player who can impact the passing game by sticking with larger, more powerful receiving targets could be worth the risk of taking him before more obvious needs.
The topic of Bengals linebackers is one of curiosity to me. Thomas Howard and Rey Maualuga return, and while both made plays and had solid seasons, neither bring much excitement to the bigger picture. Manny Lawson and Brandon Johnson are free-agents, and Dontay Moch and Roderick Muckleroy get a second chance to show they can stay healthy enough to play NFL football, and even Keith Rivers may surface in a striped helmet again in 2012, but there no game changers in the bunch. All the top defenses have an excellent linebacker somewhere on their roster, and despite searching high or low, Cincinnati still hasn't found one since the woeful tale of Odell Thurman.
Another area the Bengals could take a chance on is receiver. Since T.J. Houshmandzadeh bolted for Seattle after the 2008 season, Marvin Lewis has yet to secure a reliable No. 2 receiver. First it was Laveranues Coles, then it was Antonio Bryant, then it was Terrell Owens, and lastly it was Jerome Simpson, and now we're hearing names like Stevie Johnson and even Braylon Edwards, God forbid.
I like Alshon Jeffry, especially in the second round. Mike Mayock says that if Jeffry doesn't run a good time in Indy, he will drop because being big and slow doesn't help anybody. This guy has a Megatron frame and can jump up over defenders but if he really is that slow, I might cool off on him. I also like Michael Floyd who has better hands and seems more like an AFC North kind of player than does Jeffry. Floyd is another big guy with speed concerns, but he would be an excellent compliment to AJ Green's deep-ball game. With Jordan Shipley, Andrew Hawkins, Green and Jermaine Gresham already in the mix, adding another high pick to that collection would put pressure on the rest of the division. The lack of receiving depth severely wounded the team's chances of any postseason run in 2009 and again last season. Rather than gamble on stop-gap veteran free-agents, why not draft someone solid and be done with it?
I know that interior offensive-line play, secondary, and running back are the most widely discussed positions as likely draft targets, but having two picks in the first round might let Mike & Marv gamble on someone purely out of curiosity. Mike Brown has been known to experiment when it comes to draft picks (Akili Smith, Chris Perry, Peter Warrick), and this year's scenario has to tempt him to some degree to do the same.
So as the Combine sprints and lifts and and shuffles its way through Indianapolis, and the media swarms around podiums and tries to outcheese one another, conversations elsewhere are taking place that really make the difference of a player being drafted or not. Speculation will fly about the internet based on this thing and that, and we will read into free-agent moves to identify a Bengal draft philosophy, but, like always, none of us know unless we're drinking ice tea with Mike Brown and talking about personnel moves, which most of us aren't. So watch the combine if you want, just don't pay any attention to it.
Mojokong—The circus strong-man's hammer.