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Kirwin: Some Players' Competition Not At Combine


The 3-4 defense might keep late-round DLs like Corey Williams off the draft boards.

For an athlete aspiring to make it to the NFL, getting invited to the scouting combine is a big step toward being drafted in April, but it isn't a guarantee that the young men in Indianapolis this weekend will hear their name called at the draft podium.

Excluding kickers and punters, who are rarely drafted, there were 327 players invited to the combine last year. Offensive players made up 171 of those invites and defense called 156 athletes to attend. Even with extra selections due to "compensatory picks" awarded by the NFL for players lost during free agency from the year before, there are about 260 players drafted every year. So not every player in attendance is going to be selected.

This is serious business and some football players fall out of "draft favor" during this weekend. There are also two other forces at work for a draft class, but I'll get to those after you take a look at the breakdown of the 114 football players that came to Indianapolis last year and never heard their name called during the 2004 draft.

Position , Invited , Drafted , Passed over

Quarterback, 20 , 14 , 6

Offensive line , 53 , 37 , 16

Wide receiver , 50 , 29 , 21

Running back, 29 , 15 , 14

Tight end, 19 , 11 , 8

Defensive line, 61 , 40 , 21

Linebackers, 38 , 27 , 11

Defensive back, 57 , 40 , 17

Some positions seem to have more risk than others when it comes to being at the combine and eventually getting drafted. I wonder if the 2005 combine running backs realize almost half of last year's crop never got drafted, or that 42 percent of the wide receivers running around the RCA Dome had to scramble to make it to an NFL camp.

Everyone agrees that quality defensive linemen are hard to find, and inviting more of them to the combine is understandable. Yet 21 of those invites never got the call from a club last year. The shift to the 3-4 defense by a number of teams over the past few years has effected the number of defensive linemen on rosters. Teams that play the 4-3 defense will bring upwards of 14 defensive linemen to camp and keep eight or nine on their roster. Teams that use the 3-4 typically bring nine or 10 to camp and keep six or seven on the roster.

Multiply those numbers by the five teams that run the 3-4 defense, and throw in Cleveland, Dallas and Miami, which may gravitate to the 3-4, and there are close to 20 less jobs in the league for defensive linemen. But there is another force at work that makes getting from the combine to the draft difficult.

Being excluded from the combine is not the end of a college player's hopes of being drafted and making an NFL team. Last year, 39 players who were not invited to the combine at the non-kicking positions got drafted. With 32 players constituting most rounds of the draft, that means that a little over one whole round of the draft was taken up by athletes who never even got invited to Indianapolis.

Another warning shot to the young men in attendance this weekend is that not all of your competition that will get drafted is staring you in the face, doing the same drills, getting interviewed and taking countless medical exams. There is a whole group of guys at home mad because they weren't invited, working out hard and getting ready to impress the scouts when they come through their hometown for Pro Days.

It's at this point I ask myself why a person who wants to be drafted into the NFL and gets invited to the combine chooses not to work out in Indianapolis. I still believe a player should declare before he gets to the combine if he is going to work out or not. If he elects to pass on the drills and running, then do everyone a favor and stay home and let one of those 39 guys who are good enough to be drafted come in and show what they have to offer. Heck, maybe there's even more men out there who could have heard the commissioner call their name if they had a chance.

You might find it interesting to see by position the number of players drafted last year that never received a free plane ticket to Indy.

Position, Drafted, but not at the combine

Quarterback, 3

Offensive line, 6

Wide receiver, 2

Running back, 5

Tight end, 4

Defensive line, 7

Linebackers, 2

Defensive back, 10

Let's compare the defensive backs at last year's combine (57) and the fact that 40 of them were drafted, which meant 17 didn't make the grade. What is astonishing to me is that NFL teams still drafted 10 players not even in attendance at the big job fair better known as the combine. It begs the question how could 10 draft picks from the secondary not even be in Indy?

I asked a few of the people who watch personnel for a living that question and the answers varied from, "Some of the people at the combine didn't impress enough to draft," to my favorite response of, "Every good scout has a kid tucked away somewhere."

I guess that's true in life for every profession.

There's a person tucked away somewhere that can perform your job better than you, and if the guys in Indianapolis remember that during their stay at the combine and focus on competing every second they are there, then they have a chance not only against the guys they can see but the men "tucked away" somewhere.

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