All eyes will be on Indianapolis this week as NFL fans try to steal a glimpse of hope for their teams next season.
We’ll see plenty of overreactions each time a stopwatch clicks at the scouting combine. People will debate over what each tenth of a second means, or what it means that a certain player is meeting with a certain team.
The Saints will be there, taking notes, clicking stopwatches and meeting prospects. What they won’t do is get too high or low about what happens between the cones on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf.
It takes something exceptional for the Saints to go back to their war room and start shuffling the magnets on the draft board. The combine isn’t and shouldn’t be used for those purposes. But that’s not to say a player hasn’t forced the Saints’ eyes to pop and go back to work.
In fact, one of the more important players on the roster, Terron Armstead, cut his path to New Orleans by doing just that. After the left tackle lit up the combine in 2013, New Orleans decided it needed to do more work on him and ended up selecting Armstead in the third round of the draft. He is now one of the better left tackles in the NFL.
But Armstead’s story isn’t the norm. As general manager Mickey Loomis explained to The Advocate at last year’s combine, the Saints mostly use this event to confirm or disprove what they already believe about prospects.
In other words, players need to perform up to expectations and not create cause for concern.
But sometimes players like Armstead force teams outside of the norms.
“They can definitely help themselves,” Loomis said. “If somebody comes in and does off the charts in all these athletic endeavors and you don’t necessarily think he’s a good athlete, yet all the numbers prove he is a good athlete — yeah, that’s going to influence you.”
Because of this cerebral approach to the combine, it’s nearly impossible to build a profile on what kind of players the Saints favor based on testing numbers. There are some trends, but the evidence isn’t strong enough to consider it anything more than circumstantial.
For instance, if the Saints draft a cornerback, there’s a good chance that player will run the 40-yard dash in lass than 4.48 seconds and have a broad jump longer than 10 feet. Damian Swann (4.5 seconds) and Johnny Patrick (9 feet, 2 inches) are the only corners the Saints have drafted who do not fit this profile.
Where Stanley Jean-Baptiste fits remains up for debate. The former second-round pick timed out at 4.61 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine. A month later at Nebraska’s pro day, he was reported to have run the 40 in 4.45 seconds.
But at other positions — even ones where the three-cone drill or 20-yard shuttle could be used to evaluate a player’s ability to change direction, which could be valuable for receivers or cornerbacks — New Orleans does not seem to have a profile that can be quantified by testing numbers.
While former draft picks Mike Hass, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem and Brandin Cooks all ran the three-cone in under 7 seconds, Kenny Stills timed out at 7.13 seconds. And Colston broke the profile in the 20-yard shuttle by running it in 4.43 seconds. No other player timed higher than 4.31 seconds.
A lot is made of those numbers, but it’s debatable how much they matter. While neither player was drafted by New Orleans, Brandon Coleman (4.51 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle; 7.33 seconds in the three-cone drill) and Willie Snead (4.38 in the shuttle; 7.18 seconds in the three-cone) both end up on the outside of those baseline figures.
Snead nearly notched 1,000 receiving yards last season, and Coleman appears primed to become a bigger piece of the offense next season.
The Saints have taken a lot of swings in the draft in recent years. The percentage of misses is staggering. There is plenty to criticize about their approach.
Improvement is needed. The approach must be refined. The hope is assistant general manager Jeff Ireland can continue helping in this regard. There’s reason for hope considering the success of last year’s draft class.
But their approach to the combine seems to be a solid one. Teams that value combine measurables over video tape often end up making regrettable picks in the draft.
Once you start building profiles people can identify by simply looking at a spreadsheet with a bunch of times marked down, it’s likely a good sign that team is not putting enough faith in its scouting.