HELPING THEIR CAUSE

The 2018 NFL Combine is here for your viewing pleasure

Will Baker Mayfield help or hurt his stock? The scouting combine interviews may be the key. Brett Deering/Getty Images

It’s time again for the annual gathering of prospects at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. I’m as excited as anyone to watch the best young athletes at the NFL’s equivalent to field day. I wonder who will take home the participation ribbon. Maybe if they run faster and jump higher than everyone else they will automatically be an All-Pro at the next level. And then again, maybe not.

For the scouts, coaches, and executives in attendance, the more important aspect of the week will be the interviews and medical evaluations. It’s what the event is about anyway; the other stuff is just measurables to see if the player is on par with his peers. I know the lead up to the draft used to be filled with a player’s 40 time and bench press reps as if it would determine his success at the next level, but I’m glad to see that notion starting to tail off in recent years. Players are still going out there to impress, but as long as they stay near the top range of their position it will be their game film and pre-draft interviews that sets their draft order.

Hopefully 2018 will see less and less of the draft gurus making predictions based on 40 times and vertical jumps. It’s something I’ve never liked. Track skills and football skills are very different things. One is about how well the players perform with no pads after practicing for a month and the other one is about his instinct and reaction time when the play is live. It’s the draft day wizards who put too much stock in combine measurables that sometimes over predict where a player should go in the pecking order.

Not to say that there isn’t some relevance to it though. The reality is that it is much easier for these prospects to hurt their draft stock than it is for them to help it. If their results are on the low end of their group without a noticeable reason, some questions might be raised. If they give a terrible interview or fail the medical portion they can really see a precipitous drop in draft rounds. But being faster by a tenth of a second or stronger by one more rep on the bench press doesn’t weigh too much into the overall evaluation like the players want it to.

Quarterbacks are especially susceptible to combine hype. The phrase “he can make all the throws” gets bandied about like it’s what will be on the back of his jersey. It’s the hardest position to project at the professional level and yet the most important. Now quarterbacks are starting to really assert themselves because of it. Recent years have seen some of the top prospects at the position decide not to throw the ball in Indianapolis, opting only for the medical and team interview portions. Good for them. If they want to showcase their skills then it should be on their terms. Most choose to do so at their school’s pro day where they throw to players they are familiar with and get coaching tips from the ones who got them where they are.

The combine isn’t going away and it is still important in the grand scheme of things. Teams and players can find out if there is a concerning medical issue that might hinder them as a pro. Teams also have the chance to see how a player fares in an interview under the pressure of the week. Most of these guys will leave town in the same draft order they were in when they arrived. Front offices don’t put a ton of stock in combine performances like they might have 15 or 20 years ago. They’ve learned lessons from previous years when a player’s combine performance may have stood out but he was still a bust on Sunday.

If you’re interested in watching your favorite college players give it their best then you can watch the NFL Network starting Tuesday, Feb  27 through Monday, March  5.  You might see something special that makes you excited for a player. There might be someone you want your team to draft and you want to scout him for yourself. Maybe you’re just into watching everything football and this is no exception. I will just acknowledge that the combine is going on and watch for any highlights that the internet thinks I should watch. Then I will wait for the draft and try to enjoy the pick my team makes.

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THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Quaker State 400 preview

Photo via: WikiCommons.

This week, the NASCAR cup series heads to Kentucky Motor Speedway for the Quaker State 400. Built in 2001, this track is a 1.5 mile tri-oval with a dog-leg on the front stretch. The most dangerous part of the track has to be turn three as the corner is flat compared to the other three corners that are banked. This has been a major point of contingency for these drivers as most of the cautions end up being there. Look for turn three to be a hot spot come Sunday. Last year, both the Busch brothers finished 1-2 in one of the most exciting finishes of the season so there will be a lot of hype for this race to live up to.

Last week at Indy, as we all expected the race was a crazy one. Over the course of the race's 160 laps, we saw many horrific accidents including a scary pit road accident involving Corey Lajoe, Ryan Blaney, Justin Allgier, Ryan Preece and others. The wreck started when everyone got stacked up entering the pits and the calamity was on from there. During the wreck Brennan Poole struck Rear Tire Changer Zach Price as he was trying to avoid the wrecking cars in front of him. After the incident fans and media alike all held their breath as they awaited news on his condition. But when the camera panned to him being loaded into the ambulance, there was a huge sigh of relief as he gave everyone a thumbs up signifying he was okay. Another scary moment was both Erik Jones and Alex Bowman's vicious crashes. Both cars had tire failures that sent their cars directly into the wall. Fortunately both drivers were okay but their days were over.

In the end, tire wear would end up claiming one more victim as it took out Denny Hamlin as well. With seven laps to go, the four-time winner this season was in prime position to get his fifth victory until his right front tire blew out, sending him hard into the turn 2 wall. This mishap handed the win to his main rival in the championship, Kevin Harvick, as he went on to claim his third Brickyard 400 victory and fourth win of the year. When it was all over, many questioned why there were so many tire failures and if new owner Roger Penske would make an effort to possibly widen the pit-road after the massive accident on Sunday.

Needless to say, there are a lot of questions on what will be different at Indy in 2021. When I talked to spotter Freddie Kraft on Tuesday, he gave a lot of good insights on both topics. When it came to the tire failures, he talked about how the increasing corner speeds at the racetrack has put a lot of pressure on these Goodyear tires which eventually led to them coming apart. As far as Pit-Road and what they can do to fix that, he talked about how it is difficult to make changes to a track that is so historical. Which makes sense, but he followed this up by saying that maybe it would be wise to give up a little history and move the wall over and make it wider. It will be interesting to see what NASCAR does in the coming months.

On Friday, Associated Press journalist Jenna Fryer revealed a bombshell announcement that 7-time champion and NASCAR's biggest name Jimmie Johnson, had tested positive for coronavirus. As everyone knows, the world is going through the worst pandemic it's ever faced in this lifetime. With the sport coming back and racing again, it was only a matter of time until one of the drivers came down with it. Unfortunately it had to be NASCAR's most recognizable driver. Thankfully, Jimmie made a full recovery and was cleared to return this weekend at Kentucky. This was a big scare for everyone in the NASCAR world, but I have to give a lot of credit to Johnson for being as forthright as he was about his diagnosis with everyone who he works with. It will be good to have Jimmie back on Sunday.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Kyle Busch. While this season has been a disappointment for the defending champion, Kentucky would be a great place for him to turn it around. Ever since the cup series has started going there, Kyle has always been in contention to win. In fact, he won the first cup series race that was run at this track back in 2011. In his nine starts there, Kyle has finished outside the top ten only once and even then he finished 12th, back in 2016. Last season it appeared that Kyle was on his way to a third victory at this track, but he came up one spot short to his brother Kurt in a fantastic last lap duel. After a late race restart this weekend though, I see Kyle redeeming himself and capturing his first victory of 2020. Look for Kyle to get back on track come Sunday.


All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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