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What to make of the combine

Feb 24, 2010, 12:53 PM EST

The big news of the day is that Notre Dame football players Jimmy Clausen, Kyle McCarthy, Eric Olsen, Golden Tate, and Sam Young are in Indianapolis for the annual NFL Scouting Combine, which starts today.

Draftniks and people like Todd McShay and Mel Kiper will talk about the importance of the Combine and give stock reports on athlete’s workouts as if they were publicly traded stock. That’s only partially true, if you look back at what one NFL executive told Peter King.

But while the top of draft boards may already be made up, there is plenty of moving in the middle rounds if an athlete has a great workout. Bruce Feldman had a great interview with Tony Villani, a trainer that works with a small group of elite athletes each year to prepare them for the combine and it’s pretty hard to argue with the results he’s gotten and the importance the combine workouts had for some of his athletes.

All that being said, here’s a quick look at what the combine means to the Notre Dame athletes that are taking part in the annual cattle call.

JIMMY CLAUSEN:

Clausen won’t work out at the combine because of offseason toe surgery, but Jimmy’s “stock” will rise and fall with his individual meetings. If you watched Clausen play last season, you’re pretty sure he’s got the arm and IQ needed to make all the plays in an NFL offense. More importantly, if you watched the junior quarterback play, you saw a guy mature and become a leader on the field. What these meetings will decide for teams is if Clausen can be the face of an NFL franchise, playing a position that’s got the highest burn rate in the business. He’ll have the chance to talk about football and what he learned in Charlie Weis’ offense, as well as show teams that he’s dedicated to football. Clausen is projected to go anywhere from the top five to the second round, so the combine is the first step of a very important process. A great interview and an elite throwing session, and Clausen should find himself in contention to be the first quarterback taken in the draft.

KYLE MCCARTHY:

McCarthy’s production on the field won’t necessarily convince NFL scouts that he has what it takes to play in the league, even if he did put up a record-setting two year run at safety. A combine where McCarthy shows good speed and athleticism is what he needs to do to put together a draft-worthy portfolio. From people I’ve talked to, McCarthy is all over the board. As I’ve expressed before, they wonder about his ability to cover at the NFL level, though his sheer tackling output gives him special teams value, though that might not be enough to get him taken before the final rounds. All indications are that Kyle could have a future in the NFL, it’ll be up to him to prove that he has the athleticism needed to stick. He can do that with impressive running numbers.

ERIC OLSEN:

Olsen’s invitation to the Senior Bowl and inclusion on a few All-American teams shows that he’s held in high regard by evaluators. It’s important that Olsen shows that his listed size and weight are legit this week, and that his strength numbers are up to par for an interior lineman. A good combine and Olsen could find a team targeting him for his versatility as high as the fourth or fifth round. It also wouldn’t be that surprising to see him slide down into the bottom of the draft or be signed as a preferred free agent. The game film that scouts watch on Olsen will be important, and Olsen’s relative inexperience, his leadership role with the Irish, and the fact that he’s only 21-years-old, make him an intriguing developmental project for an NFL team.

GOLDEN TATE:

I’m admittedly biased with Golden Tate, but I think he’ll impress teams during the private interviews as well as with his explosiveness during running drills. Tate is anywhere from the first receiver to the fourth receiver on experts’ draft boards, but his ability to produce from multiple positions, as well as his relative inexperience at the position, make him a guy that I expect will come off the board at the end of round one. For Tate to make that decision easier on teams, he’d help his cause by running a forty in the 4.4s. It helps to have players like Jeremy Maclin and Percy Harvin, two wideouts that slid to the bottom half of round one put together very nice rookie campaigns, even without the 6-foot-5 height that many associate with elite receivers. 

SAM YOUNG:

You can’t teach a frame like Sam Young’s and the fact that he started every game he played in a Notre Dame uniform has to be appealing to NFL teams. The Chicago Tribune thinks the Bears might target Young in the third round, giving him a chance to start right away opposite Chris Williams. NFL evaluators already got a look at Young at the Senior Bowl, where he didn’t overwhelm anyone, and it’ll be up to him to put together a strong performance to prove he has the athleticism to play on the edge of an offensive line. Young is another guy that could go just about anywhere in this draft. While he may not be the first-round pick many thought he’d be, he’s got the chance to become a solid pro after he hits an NFL weight room and development program.