NFL likes to size up prospects
Linebacker Jon Abbate is leaving Wake Forest early to pursue a professional football career. But it's evident he already has a complete education in the NFL draft process.
Abbate was as productive a defender as could be found in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He started each of his first three seasons at Wake Forest and became only the third player in conference history to lead his team in tackles as a freshman, sophomore and junior. He earned All-ACC acclaim in 2006 when he posted a career-best 120 tackles on a conference championship team.
Abbate would have been a candidate for the Butkus Award as college football's best linebacker had he returned to Wake in 2007. But Abbate saw no point in returning to the ACC for his senior season.
"Unless someone could promise me if I went back that I'd grow three inches, the decision was pretty easy," Abbate said. "I could have gone back and been productive again, had another 100-plus tackles. But I'd be in the same situation with my height as a knock."
And it's a big knock. Abbate played middle linebacker for Wake Forest. The school listed him at 5-11, 245 pounds. At the NFL scouting combine, Abbate measured 5-9½, 231 pounds.
That's too small to play middle linebacker in the NFL. He'd be engulfed by blockers who are 70 to 80 pounds heavier. So most NFL teams have slid Abbate to outside linebacker on their draft boards. But he only ran a 4.99 40-yard dash at the combine. That's too slow to play outside in the NFL.
Abbate figures to be another of the countless collegians who falls victim to the NFL draft process every April. They were great college players – but they do not project to be as successful at the next level because of a missing measurable or two.
Fit the mold
There's a misconception that the NFL drafts the best players. In fact, the NFL drafts the players with the best chance for success at the next level. So the NFL looks for players with specific measurables.
"The measurables are a piece of the puzzle, like the Wonderlic test," said Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. "You can't put too much weight on the measurables – but big, fast guys do play in our league."
The NFL wants productive players like Abbate – but it wants them to fit the prototypes in height, weight and speed. Intelligence, hand size and arm length also come into play at various positions.
So good players like Abbate are shoved down the draft board. All-Americans like Justin Blalock of Texas and Heisman Trophy winners like Troy Smith of Ohio State will probably be nudged down as well.
Blalock started four years at Texas at right tackle and was a three-time All-Big 12 selection. But the NFL looks for offensive tackles that are 6-5, 310. Blaylock is only 6-3, so most NFL teams have moved him inside to guard.
The NFL wants tackles with length. You need long arms and legs to steer the speed rushers coming off the edge. The prototype would be Tony Ugoh, a three-year starter and All-SEC selection as a senior at Arkansas. He goes 6-5, 301 with 36-inch arms. He will benefit on draft day from his measurables.
Arron Sears doesn't fit the prototype. Neither does Tala Esera or Steve Vallos. Sears was a three-year starter and two-time All-SEC left tackle at Tennessee. But he's only 6-3, so NFL teams have moved him inside to guard as well. Also moving inside will be Esera, an All-WAC left tackle at Hawaii, and Vallos, an All-ACC right tackle at Wake Forest. Esera is only 6-3 and Vallos 6-2½.
The NFL can live with shorter guards. The prototype there is 6-4, 305. The NFL can live with even shorter centers. The prototype there is 6-3, 300.
Wanted: tall QBs
But the NFL cannot live with shorter quarterbacks. The prototype for the position is 6-3, 220 pounds.
The NFL wants its quarterbacks to stand at eye level with the offensive and defensive linemen. To make plays down the field, you must be able to see down the field. A 6-0 quarterback is continually looking through windows in his pass protection to throw.
That's why Michigan State's Drew Stanton figures to be drafted higher than Smith – even though Smith won the Heisman as the best player in college football playing in the same conference as Stanton. But Smith goes only 6-0, 226. Stanton is 6-3, 226.
"I can't do anything about the height thing," Smith said. "I don't think you can play taller than what you are. You make it seem like being 6-foot is a disease."
Big hands catch on
Wide receivers come in all sizes. Pro Bowler Steve Smith is 5-9, and Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson, the top receiver in the 2007 draft, goes 6-5, 239 pounds. But hand size is critical at this position.
Bigger hands translate to more reliable hands on draft day. Nine-inch hands are good, 10-inch hands are better. Johnson has hands that measure 9¾. Ted Ginn Jr. of Ohio State is six inches shorter (5-11) than Johnson but has bigger hands. They measure 10 inches across. David Clowney of Virginia Tech has 10¼-inch hands. He's 6-0, 188 pounds with 4.39 speed. The NFL loves his measurables.
Wideouts with small hands generally are moved to defensive back earlier in their football careers. The only cornerback on this draft board with 10-inch hands is Marcus McCauley of Fresno State (10¼).
Ten of the top 35 cornerbacks on the 2007 draft board have hands smaller than nine inches. Only four of the top 40 wide receivers in this draft have hands smaller than nine inches.
In the thick of it
Height isn't as big a factor for running backs as thickness. Barry Sanders was only 5-8 but was thick across the thighs and chest. He weighed 205 pounds and could absorb a hit.
The NFL prototype for the position is 5-11, 215 pounds with 4.4 speed. Marshawn Lynch of California fits the prototype to a tee at 5-11, 215 with 4.48 speed. That will get him drafted in the first round – not necessarily the 1,356 rushing yards he gained last season in the Pac-10.
Garrett Wolfe rushed for 1,928 yards in 2006 at Northern Illinois and has 4.39 speed. But he stands 5-7 and weighs only 186 pounds. There are questions in draft rooms about his durability. Can he can absorb NFL punishment from tacklers and survive a 16-game season?
There are exceptions in every draft. Small players make it every year. So do short players. And slow players. But they earn their spots in training camp in August. They don't get the benefit of the doubt in April.
"There are things you can't measure, such as instincts," Abbate said, "and no one is going to outwork me. Heart and hustle are what made me successful on the collegiate level – and that's what's going to make me successful in this league. No one is going to outwork me."
But players without the measurables have to work a little bit harder.
MEASURING UP: OFFENSE
The minimum measurables for each position in the NFL draft:
Measurables: 6-3, 220, 4.75 speed
Key trait: A quarterback doesn't need to be a runner, but he must have foot quickness for escapability.
Prototype: Jay Cutler (6-3, 226, 4.77 speed). Denver, 1st round, 2006.
Exception: Drew Brees (6-0, 213, 4.81 speed). San Diego, 2nd round, 2001.
Measurables: 5-11, 215, 4.40 speed
Key trait: Defenders are bigger in the NFL and deliver bigger hits than they do in college. So runners must have some thickness through their legs and chest to absorb 16 weeks of punishment.
Prototype: Joseph Addai (5-11, 214, 4.40 speed). Indianapolis, 1st round, 2006.
Exception: Maurice Jones-Drew (5-6½, 207, 4.39 speed). Jacksonville, 2nd round, 2006.
Measurables: 6-0, 240, 4.60 speed
Key trait: NFL looks for fullbacks who are blockers first, receivers second, runners third. So the day of the 230-pound fullback is coming to an end.
Prototype:Cory Schlesinger (6-0, 247). Detroit, 6th round, 1995.
Exception:B.J. Askew (6-3, 233). N.Y. Jets, 3rd round, 2003.
Measurables: 6-2, 200, 4.40 speed
Key trait: Speed to stretch the field. You can find possession receivers in the second day of every draft. The speed all goes in the first day.
Prototype: Roy Williams (6-2½, 212, 4.37 speed). Detroit, 1st round, 2004.
Exception: Anquan Boldin (6-0½, 216, 4.62 speed). Arizona, 2nd round, 2003.
Measurables: 6-5, 250, 4.50 speed
Key trait: Running teams want bigger tight ends to block. Passing teams want faster tight ends to stretch defenses.
Prototype: Todd Heap (6-5, 252). Baltimore, 1st round, 2001.
Exception:Alge Crumpler (6-2, 262). Atlanta, 2nd round, 2001.
Measurables: 6-5, 310, 34-inch arms
Key trait: Pass protection is more steering than blocking on the edge. So tackles need long arms to shove rushers wide of the pocket. Height and 35-inch arms are the attractive commodities.
Prototype: D'Brickashaw Ferguson (6-6, 312, 35½-inch arms). NY Jets, 1st round, 2006.
Exception: Jordan Gross (6-4, 300, 33¼-inch arms). Carolina, 1st round, 2003.
Measurables: 6-4, 305, 33-inch arms
Key trait: Arm length is less important inside, where guards are asked to block in a closet. It's more important to have lower-body thickness to anchor against the growing number of 310-pound defensive tackles.
Prototype:Logan Mankins (6-4, 307). New England, 1st round, 2005.
Exception:Jake Scott (6-5, 295). Indianapolis, 5th round, 2004.
Measurables: 6-3, 300, 32-inch arms
Key trait: Bulk is less important than athleticism. A center needs to pull, slide over to help the guard and also step out on the middle linebacker. But the center also needs some anchor against 3-4 defenses when a nose tackle is on his helmet.
Prototype:Nick Mangold (6-3½, 300). N.Y. Jets, 1st round, 2006.
Exception:Todd McClure (6-1, 289). Atlanta, 7th round, 1999.
MEASURING UP: DEFENSE
The minimum measurables for each position in the NFL draft:
Measurables: 6-4, 270, 4.6 speed
Key trait: Size is flexible depending on if it's a 4-3 defense or a 3-4, or if the end is playing strong side or weak. Bulk is needed on the strong side, speed on the weak side.
Prototype: Justin Smith (6-4, 275, 4.58 speed). Cincinnati, 1st round, 2001.
Exception: Dwight Freeney (6-1, 268, 4.39 speed). Indianapolis, 1st round, 2002.
Measurables: 6-3, 305
Key trait: In an era of specialization, the NFL rotates pass rushers into the game on passing downs. The NFL wants tackles who can play the run.
Prototype:Kevin Williams (6-4, 304). Minnesota, 1st round, 2003.
Exception:Casey Hampton (6-1, 314). Pittsburgh, 1st round, 2001.
Measurables: 6-3, 240, 4.50 speed
Key trait: The outside linebackers need to be the most versatile players on the field. They must have the bulk to stalemate pulling guards and tackles on run downs and the speed to chase running backs down the field in pass coverage.
Prototype: Derrick Johnson (6-3, 242, 4.50 speed). Kansas City, 1st round, 2005.
Exception:Ernie Sims (5-11, 231, 4.50). Detroit, 1st round, 2006.
Measurables: 6-2, 240, 4.60 speed
Key trait: Middle backers often have to engage a center or guard on rushing downs, so he must have the upper-body strength to stalemate a block in the hole.
Prototype: Dan Morgan (6-2, 240, 4.59 speed). Carolina, 1st round 2001.
Exception:Lofa Tatupu (5-11½, 238, 4.83). Seattle, 2nd round, 2005.
Measurables: 5-11, 190, 4.40 speed
Key trait: Speed, speed, speed: Speed to break on the ball, speed to turn and run with a wide receiver, speed to come up in run support.
Prototype: Marcus Trufant (5-11, 199, 4.38 speed). Seattle, 1st round, 2003.
Exception: Jason David (5-8½, 175, 4.37 speed). Indianapolis, 4th round, 2004.
Measurables: 6-0, 200, 4.45 speed
Key trait: In the 1990s, the NFL looked for run-support safeties. In the 2000s, the search is on for ballhawks. Now it's more important to play the ball when it's in the air than when it's on the ground. So the days of the 4.50 safeties are dwindling.
Prototype: Michael Huff (6-0, 204, 4.34 speed). Oakland, 1st round, 2006.
Exception:Bob Sanders (5-8, 204, 4.40 speed). Indianapolis, 2nd round, 2004