Before maybe the biggest crowd of reporters for any offensive lineman at the NFL scouting combine Thursday, Cody Ford spoke his truth: His combine performance? Yeah, it doesn’t really mean anything.
Not to him, at least. Sure, it can help his draft stock. Or maybe it’ll hurt it. But if he learned anything from the experience of former Oklahoma teammate and current Ravens rising star Orlando Brown Jr., it’s that 40-yard-dash times and bench-press repetitions shouldn’t define you.
“He came here, he didn't perform like he wanted to, went in the third round and he still played half a season and only gave up half a sack or just 1½ sacks” as a rookie, said Ford, a potential first-round pick at tackle or guard who had not yet met with the Ravens. “So I think the combine for him was just a stepping stone, but I think his on-field performance was what drove me to realize that the combine is not as important as you may think.”
Brown’s combine performance last year was memorable: 5.85 seconds in the 40-yard dash, worst of any player; 14 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, weak for the son of “Zeus”; a vertical jump of 19.5 inches and broad jump of 82 inches, last among all draft prospects.
His rookie-year performance: also memorable. But for different reasons. He didn’t allow a sack all season at right tackle, according to Pro Football Focus, and rated as one of the analytics site’s top rookie linemen.
On the eve of this year’s combine, Brown argued in a string of tweets Monday night that film and technique should matter more than speed and strength. “Don’t count him out cause he isn’t a Super athlete,” he wrote.
“The OL position isn’t easy to evaluate,” he tweeted. It’s “easy to turn to numbers because typically your best blockers are your best Athletes. In my opinion it’s simple, OL is like a form of art. We all have different tools and abilities.
“While my game is played by manipulating angles and understanding where the QB will be in his drop, some get to a spot and react from there. The reason that the numbers in the drills are so ‘valuable’ is because they believe you have to be a ‘athlete’ to react.”
Some drills have only so much value. Washington State offensive tackle Andre Dillard said if he could devise one drill to showcase his talents, it would be a 10-yard dash. Which made sense, really. How many plays require a 300-plus-pound grinder to sprint nearly half the length of the field, anyway?
But he understood the need for speed. Defensive linemen are getting faster, quicker. The offensive linemen blocking them can’t be slowpokes.
“I think, from an athletic standpoint, this is basically just to see how we move,” said Dillard, who had not yet formally met with the Ravens. “That's an important thing for a coach to observe in offensive linemen. They've got to be able to move, but the drills themselves, they're not completely realistic to the actual game, but they're good at showcasing just how we can move.”
West Virginia offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste said the combine testing provides just another data point for teams to consider. It’s up to the teams to decide what matters more: a player’s performance in pads or tights.
“Do we really want to go off a workout, film, both?” said Cajuste, a potential first-round pick who’s met with the Ravens. “That's not something I control, but I just try to control what I can control and hopefully have a good workout.”
That was not a problem for Garrett Bradbury this week. The North Carolina State standout, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s best center, came to Indianapolis in a position not unlike Brown’s last year, looking to establish his first-round credentials.
On the bench press, he expected to hit 35 reps. He settled for 34, second most among all offensive line prospects. Now it’s unlikely that any center-needy team will pass on him late in the first round. A Brown-like fall to No. 83 overall seems impossible.
“This is a four-month job interview, and every step of the process is the most important thing,” Bradbury said of his combine showing, adding he’s met with every NFL team. “This is the most important thing because it's right now. This is what I'm focusing on. And every little step of this process factors into a team's decision to take you or not take you. So you just have to be a professional with it because, in a few months, I'm going to be a professional. That's the goal.”
Maryland offensive lineman Derwin Gray’s takeaway from Brown’s fall last year was one familiar to students the world over: Some people are great testers. And some aren’t.
Brown’s flop cost him financially, if not professionally. He won’t make more than $1 million annually in base salary over the course of his rookie contract. The New England Patriots' Isaiah Wynn, a first-round pick, is due over $2 million in 2021.
For a prospect like Gray, who could secure a draft guarantee from NFL teams with a standout performance, there’s no worth in playing strong and testing weak.
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“It was definitely a lesson learned to take your training seriously, to continue to fuel your body, to take care of your body in every aspect, to always go hard in everything you do,” he said. “Orlando is a hell of a player, and it showed last year that he’s a hell of a player. Combine is one thing, but on the field is a different thing.”