'Tis the season of the NFL Combine. Once a year, toward the end of February, dozens of representatives from each NFL team travel to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the home of the Indianapolis Colts. They spend six days with the top football prospects in the country, measuring them, interviewing them, and watching them run around in spandex, all the while gathering information to aid them in determining which select few they want to invest in, to the tune of millions of dollars.
Every professional and amateur draft devotee looks forward to the Combine all year. It’s a chance to see all the best college players in one place, running the same drills and answering the same questions. Quite a cottage industry has developed around the year-round analysis and projection of players’ “draft stock.” Professional scouts within NFL team scouting departments often pinpoint a player’s true draft value long before the Combine, and they use the interviews and workouts to make final adjustments to their assessments. But because those of us on the outside aren’t privy to all the intimate details of each player’s performances and character, we talk about a player’s rising and falling stock as if it’s constantly in flux.
In reality, only major events dramatically affect a player’s stock. Arrests, suspensions, major injuries, and catfish hoaxes involving fake dead girlfriends can cause his stock to actually rise or fall significantly in the eyes of NFL teams. Typically, though, a poor Combine performance won’t be the difference between a player being drafted in the top ten picks and being drafted in the middle of the second round.
There are certain cases, however, where specific players can either significantly boost or permanently damage their stock based almost entirely on what happens at the Combine. In this piece, we’re going to take a brief look at a player who is likely to gain the most from his Combine appearance. Later today we’ll talk about a player who may see his stock fall right after he leaves Indianapolis on Tuesday.
The player with the most to gain is Tennessee Tech wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers. While the focus at the Combine is always on all of the positional drills, especially the 40 yard dash, the most significant parts of the weekend are usually the team interviews with each prospect. Each team gets fifteen minutes with each prospect, and in that short time, the team has the opportunity to grill the kid on specifics of his position, try to rile him up or offend him to see how he reacts, or dig into his character issues to see if there’s a likely-to-be-repeated pattern. Rogers’ interviews will be of the latter sort.
On physical talent and the tape alone, Rogers is a guaranteed first round pick. He’s big, strong, quick, fast, runs good routes, and put up great statistics at Tennessee. However he had numerous run-ins with the Tennessee coaching staff, including a huge meltdown that left team officials questioning the wisdom of keeping him with the team. He failed three drug tests between his sophomore year and the beginning of his junior year, and upon the third failed test, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley finally kicked him off the team. He immediately transferred to Tennessee Tech, where he had a phenomenal season. He decided to forego his senior year and enter the draft this year, a year with an already extremely crowded wide receiver class.
It will be up to Rogers to convince NFL teams that his drug problems are an issue of the past. If teams are going to spend a first round pick and millions of dollars on a player, they’ll want assurance that he’ll be available and playing every week and not dealing with suspensions from an unforgiving league office. They’ll also want to know that he’s matured emotionally and that he’ll be eager to accept and respond to coaching.
If he can prove that his uneventful junior year is representative of a new leaf he’s turned over in his life, and that he’s ready to be a mature, productive member of a professional squad, his talent and production easily merit a late-first round pick. If he’s unable to persuade them, though, he’ll likely be waiting until at least the third round.
Given that a late-first round pick in 2013 ended up with a $7.7 million contract over four years and a mid-third round pick ended up with a $2.8 million contract over four years, this Combine weekend is probably one of the most critically important weekends of Da’Rick Rogers’ young life.