The Clay City Combine… BEHOLD!

The dust has settled on the inaugural Clay City Combine, shattering a few dreams and creating heroes from ordinary men.  From this sprawling lawn in rural Kentucky, the National Football League, and perhaps the game itself has been forever changed.  Well, maybe not, but at least we have an idea of how bad we truly are.

Since Kevin was in charge of the general run-down of the day’s events, complete with the story of how such an awesome/asinine event could actually come to pass, the burden is on yours truly to evaluate the talent and release scouting reports for each individual gladiator.  With the actual draft nearly upon us, and time being a factor, I will simply cut to the chase.

I’ve detailed each competitor’s pros and cons, leaving all of the statistics in tact and accurate, while embellishing the truth just a little.  Since none of us are in particularly good shape, and since none of us will be sitting by the phone on draft day, I took a few liberties with our positive and negative qualities, just to make things interesting.  Once again, all stats are accurate, but they exist in a world where the actual rookies run the 40-yard dash in comparable times… thus, not this particular version of reality.

I’ll be assigning likely positions to each player, then suggesting a team that just might benefit from their services.  So here we go, in no particular order (and just for fun, I’ve assigned everyone to a university based either on what I presume to be their favorite, or what seems to fit):

Cody Meadows (CB – Louisville)

cody

40 Time:  6.6
3 Cone Drill:  9.49

Up:  While a bit undersized, Meadows exhibits the type of enthusiasm and work-ethic that can turn a mediocre draft choice into a pro-bowler early in his career.  Hampered by injury early in the workout, Meadows opted to run the three-cone drill despite the obvious strain, pulling down a respectable 9.49 time and demonstrating flashes of strong agility.  Aside from football, Cody Meadows also comes from a soccer background, putting to rest any endurance concerns that may have arisen during his workout.

Down:  Meadows may have the ability to outmaneuver receivers of his size and even slightly larger, his presence downfield could be a problem for teams looking for a solution to stop some of the larger, stronger playmakers.  Injury concerns did arise after his early-exit from the combine, but should be viewed as more of a freak-occurance than an alarming trend.

Summary:  Cody Meadows has the awareness and ability to compete at the highest level as an NFL CB, possibly being moved into the FS position for teams in need.  His versatility and work-ethic make him a strong locker room leader and long-term contributor.

Current NFL Comparison:  Ronde Barber

Suggested NFL Franchise:  New Orleans Saints

Cory Graham (DT – West Virginia)

cory

40 Time:  6.65
3 Cone Drill:  10.00
Receptions:  8/10
High Jump:  7 3/4
Broad Jump:  6-2 1/2
Passing Accuracy:  60/150

Up:  Graham has a strong burst from the line of scrimmage, that while ineffective over long distances, places him right at home as a run-stuffer on the interior of a defensive line. Graham will never pad his stats with quarterback sacks, but he is who you want on the line in crucial short-yardage or goal-line situations. Size is an issue with the 5-7 Graham, but endurance is not.  As was shown during the combine exercises, Graham left everything on the field, playing with determination seemingly beyond his physical ability.

Down:  With speed certainly being an issue, one of the larger hurdles that Cory Graham will have to overcome in the NFL is his lack of agility. He won’t find it easy to maneuver around offensive lineman, but his bull strength should make him an object of double teams for years to come.

Summary:  Graham has a strong understanding of the game and a willingness to push himself further than would seem initially possible. He might never see his name attached to multiple Pro Bowls, but given the right defensive scheme, he could definitely be a crucial component of Super Bowls.

Current NFL Comparison:  Sedrick Ellis

Suggested NFL Franchise:  Denver Broncos

Nathan Johnson (LB – USC)

nathan

40 Time:  5.72
3 Cone Drill:  8.75
High Jump:  9′
Broad Jump:  7-1 1/2

Up:  One of the best athletic prospects at the combine, Johnson showed the speed and agility that we had come to expect form his performance
at the amateur level.  While he declined to participate in passing or receiving drills, that shouldn’t hamper his draft status on the defensive side of the ball. Johnson has the reach, speed and endurance to track down both running backs and receivers, and no one in the game likes to deliver hard tackles as much as he does.

Down:  It is certain that Nathan Johnson possesses the abilities to become an elite NFL prospect, but concerns linger about his dedication to the game. He is a work-in-progress and is still learning the finer points of his position. In the right system, he could excel, but at his age, how much longer can a team wait for him to blossom?

Summary:  With the raw talent on display, most teams in need of a solid linebacker will be hard-pressed to overlook Johnson in the first round.  While he certainly left a few questions unanswered at the combine, his overall performance will certainly be the talk of war-rooms throughout the draft.

Current NFL Comparison:  Brian Urlacher

Suggested NFL Franchise:  Houston Texans

Kevin Hall (WR – Notre Dame)


kevin

40 Time:  5.53
3 Cone Drill:  8.66
Receptions:  9/10
High Jump:  8-10 1/2
Broad Jump:  7-3 1/2
Passing Accuracy:  30/150

Up:  Kevin Hall exhibited one of the strongest overall days at the combine, refusing to take plays off and exhibiting strong ability in nearly every exercise.  With a 5.53 40, Hall was easily the fastest rookie of the day and with an impressive time of 8.66 in the 3 Cone Drill exhibited very respectable agility and awareness.  In receiving drills, Kevin showed excellent hands and a strong knack for running routes with a true knowledge of the game.

Down:  The main knock on hall, being mumbled throughout the circles of scouts, were concerns about health and endurance.  While he did successfully complete each exercise, by the end of the day the wear was beginning to show.  Having recently recovered from a second knee surgery, many in the stands held their breath with each pivot and turn.  The knee didn’t appear to cause any major limitations in Hall’s workout, but will nonetheless be an item of concern on draft day.

Summary:  While scouts were quite pleased with his showing, the concerns over Hall’s future as a big, playmaking receiver tend to revolve around his health.  His stock still sits as the top overall receiver available in the draft, and with only hours before d-day in the NFL, it is unlikely that his stock will actually drop.  Hall should be a top-ten prospect, and has the ability to be a game-changing receiver at the next level.

Current NFL Comparison:  Marques Colston

Suggested NFL Franchise:  Cleveland Browns

Chad Birch (DE – Michigan)

chad

40 Time:  5.84
3 Cone Drill:  8.96
Receptions:  7/10
High Jump:  9-3
Broad Jump:  8-2 1/2
Passing Accuracy:  90/150

Up:  Much like Chris Johnson in the 2008 combine, Chad Birch stood out as the major surprise at this year’s workout.  Initially, his imposing size caused scouts to view him as a one-dimensional player (strong, but lacking the athleticism to compete at an NFL level), but those rumors were put to rest with an outstanding workout.  Aside from the speedy 5.84 40 time, Birch wowed scouts with a stunning vertical and broad jump performance and demonstrated remarkable agility in the cone drills.  A former offensive lineman, Chad Birch has a strong understanding of the inner-workings of the line of scrimmage from both sides and is an excellent option for teams in need of a strong pass-rushing DE.

Down:  The weaknesses in Chad Birch’s game aren’t so much physical as they are mental.  While he possesses the raw talent capable of elevating him to the upper echelon of NFL talent, his tendency to let his competitive nature get the best of him could potentially interfere with the day-to-day operations of an NFL franchise.  A bit of a diva, Birch is best suited to a team aching for a superstar.

Summary:  Chad Birch has the natural ability to become a pro-bowler in his rookie season, and is capable of making life a living hell for divisional foes.  However, with Birch comes the almost assured guarantee that contract disputes will surely follow.  While Chad Birch is an immediate fix for a team in need of help on the line, he may be destined to become an NFL journeyman.

Current NFL Comparison:  Kyle Vanden Bosch

Suggested NFL Franchise:  Kansas City Chiefs

Jared Dotson (FB – Northwestern)

jared

40 Time:  6.93
3 Cone Drill:  10.69
High Jump:  8-10
Broad Jump:  7-3 1/2
Passing Accuracy:  30/150

Up:  With a strong jump and good short-distance speed, Jared Dotson is a prototypical blocking fullback.  While the FB is often regarded as an afterthought in entirely too many war rooms on draft day, Dotson has the ability to open holes and clear a path that could rejuvenate the position.  His leg strength, paired with his quick release from the line of scrimmage could make the difference between one and three yards in a third-down situation.  At this point, Jared Dotson is widely regarded as a true full back, a throwback to the old-school vision of the NFL.

Down:  Distance speed and explosiveness are the main concerns surrounding Dotson’s combine efforts.  In a post-Shannahan world, fullbacks are expected to carry the load from time to time on the ground, while Jared Dotson is best utilized in blocking schemes and as a line decoy.  However, in the right system his work ethic could translate into success.

Summary:  Jared Dotson is primed to give new life to aging RBs and extend the life of a young backfield.  Very few players posess the game-changing ability that we find here, a rookie that can increase a team’s offensive production without touching the ball.  However, to get Dotson into a primary back or RBBC situation, a strong offensive coordinator will need to polish the edges.

Current NFL Comparison:  Owen Schmitt

Suggested NFL Franchise:  San Diego Chargers

Kyle Bush (QB – Florida)

dsc01314

40 Time:  6.03
3 Cone Drill:  8.94
Receptions:  10/10
High Jump:  9′
Broad Jump:  6-6
Passing Accuracy:  150/150

Up:  Hands down the best QB prospect at the combine, Kyle Bush wowed scouts not only with distance but accuracy.  Choosing to excercise in the reception drills, Bush pulled down the day’s best totals as a receiver, quelling any doubts about his ability to handle the ball in a hurried situation.  Arm strength aside, Bush is quick to adapt to changes in coverage and has an easy understanding of professional offensive schemes.  His poise in the pocket, strong arm and incredible accuracy make him a viable opening day starter in the NFL.

Down:  While his accuracy was never in question, the only concern becomes his arm strength.  While Bush certainly has a capable arm, statistically he didn’t manage to rank at the top of performers at the combine.  Questions linger in the minds of scouts as to whether he can truly make the deep throw.  There is no denying that Bush is deadly between the zero line and the 40, but his accuracy becomes a bit shaky after receivers cross that line.

Summary:  Kyle Bush is as sound, fundamentally, as any QB to ever come through this combine.  While he may lack the “gunslinger” mentality, Bush is a sound fit in a true West Coast Offense, offering the kind of reliability that is worth a dozen successful hail mary passes.

Current NFL Comparison:  Chad Pennington

Suggested NFL Franchise:  Seattle Seahawks

John Martin (TE – Kentucky)

john

40 Time:  5.99
3 Cone Drill:  13
High Jump:  8-2
Broad Jump:  5-2
Passing Accuracy:  30/150

Up:  Strong, and eager to make an impact, John Martin performed remarkably well given his circumstances.  With a respectable 40 time and an excellent vertical leap, Martin quickly established himsef as a speedy, athletic TE with strong pass-catching ability.  What he may lack in size is quickly dismissed by his aggressive nature and competitive drive.  He has a natural ability to transform the field and would fit well into a pass-heavy offense.  Martin is a locker room leader, whose intangibles are off the radar.

Down:  The main NFL strike against Martin is his YAC average.  While his strength isn’t in question, his agility and speed make him an easy target for league defenses.  Scouts doubt that he’s likely to drop many passes, but the overwhelming feeling is that the ball is likely to be spotted at the point of the reception.  For teams without a deep receiving threat, looking to turn the TE position into an additional WR, John Martin is to be avoided.

Summary:  John Martin is a powerful, capable TE, capable of keeping defenses off-balance and opening up holes for the running game.  For teams with a strong pass-catching RB, Martin is a dream come true, acting not only as a 30-40 reception TE but also as a blocker for the screen pass.

Current NFL Comparison:  Chris Cooley

Suggested NFL Franchise:  Atlanta Falcons

Of course, these weren’t the only available rookies for this year’s NFL Draft.  There were countless talents that chose not to participate in the inaugural Clay City Combine… prominent names like Brinton Epperson, Shane Carpenter and Teddy Ray Lacy.  While Lacy and Epperson provided valid explanations for their absence, it was Carpenter who truly sent shockwaves through the scouting community.

Once considered a top-prospect, Carpenter’s outright refusal to participate raised more than a few eyebrows at the combine and could potentially cost him first-round status.  My sources tell me that while scouts are still impressed with Shane Carpenter’s speed and overall body of work, his last-second refusal to participate in the combine is shocking enough to generate serious character issues.  On top of his refusal to report for combine exercises, Sports Illustrated is currently reporting that Carpenter’s absence may have been due to a recent arrest for running a meth lab/black market ivory dealership out of his home.

>>Note:  Sports Illustrated has since retracted this statement and Shane Carpenter has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against SI and its parent company, Turner Broadcasting.<<

With this information in hand, I fully expect NFL franchises to pay close attention, causing each of us to hold tightly to our mobile phones during the draft.  Based on the stats provided, we can guarantee only two things:  Kevin (having the fastest 40) will be contacted by Al  Davis and Shane (now, thanks to Ted Turner, having a dubious past) will be contacted by Mike Brown.  Like Bo Jackson before me, I will casually glance at the phone, expecting to be drafted for the 2nd time in my football career.

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