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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Astros suffer a huge loss. Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

On Tuesday night former Astros center fielder George Springer agreed to a 6-year $150 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays according to MLB Networks, Jon Heyman.

But the Blue Jays still appear to be looking to add to their roster in free agency. Their next target, former Astros left fielder Michael Brantley. Rumors have been swirling about George Springer's desire for Michael Brantley to join him on his next team. Springer and Brantley are close friends and also share an agent. And apparently the Blue Jays have serious interest in Brantley, according to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal.

This would be a crushing blow for the Astros to lose both Brantley and Springer to Toronto. Former Astros right fielder Josh Reddick is also a free agent that won't be returning to Houston, which puts the Astros in a position where they only have one starter locked-in to play the outfield in 2021, that being Kyle Tucker. Just last year the Astros lost one of the best pitchers in baseball, when Gerrit Cole broke the bank signing a 9-year $324 million contract with the Yankees. Add that to Springer leaving for Toronto and possibly Brantley as well, and you have an Astros team losing three of their best players in short order. Hopefully, the Astros can find a way to bring back Brantley who is clearly one of the best hitters in the heart of Houston's lineup. In Brantley's two seasons with Houston he hit over .300 with 27 bombs and 112 RBI.

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