Combine Stars Aren't Always Perfect

With the 2010 NFL Combine now just days away, The Ranch Report takes a closer look at the process scouts must go through to identify the best of the best.

It's a name general managers across the league know well: Mike Mamula. Prior to the 1995 NFL Combine, few outside of New England had heard him, despite the fact that he had registered 17 sacks as a junior defensive end at Boston College.

But when he went to the NFL Combine, he made NFL personnel executives drool like a dog looking at an untended chunk of filet mignon. He trained ferociously for the league's annual meat market, and when he got there, he ran as fast as most outside linebackers proved to be as strong as many offensive linemen who had 60, 80 or even 100 pounds on him.

Suddenly, he was shooting up the draft board of several teams. Philadelphia swung a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to get him, sending two second-round picks to Tampa Bay for the right to move up five spots in the first round to grab Mamula. A little more maneuvering on the Bucs' part gave them another first-round pick; with their two selections in the first round, Tampa Bay grabbed two potential Hall of Famers in Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks.

Mamula played five seasons before his career was cut short by injuries, and his numbers weren't nearly as mediocre as some like to suggest — he had 31.5 sacks, including 8.5 in 1999 — but his numbers were hardly the kind that would lead to any kind of debate about which team got the better end of the dealings between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.

Making Mamula the poster boy for Combine-stars-turned-NFL-busts is patently unfair. He was a good college player who set the world on fire at the Combine, but that didn't change the fact that he was undersized for his position and didn't project as a high first-round pick before his stunning performance at the Combine. That the league's personnel wonks discounted their scouts' reports and allowed their opinions to change so much, so quickly, is their fault — not Mamula's.

All of this is brought up now because the 2010 version of the NFL Combine starts Wednesday in Indianapolis. If it could be predicted who would become each year's version of Mamula, then NFL teams wouldn't send armies of scouts and personnel executives to Indianapolis to watch the plays run and jump and lift. But it isn't, so every team will continue to scrutinize every player and try to turn over every stone to make sure the player they draft will live up to expectations.

Sift through the players headed to Indianapolis this week, and most have a lot of positive stats and records and stories. But a couple raise red flags. Could they be projected higher than they deserve?

Florida's Carlos Dunlap is a big (6-6, 290), powerful defensive end whose "measurables" (there's a word that comes up way too often at this time of year) have NFL executives frothing at the mouth. In three seasons with the Gators, he has 77 tackles and 19 sacks, including nine in each of the last two seasons.

But there are some who are concerned about his focus and dedication since his DUI arrest in December that cost him a chance to play in the SEC championship game — a game his team lost, thereby missing out on a chance to play for a national championship. Does one arrest mean Dunlap is a bad guy, or a serial rule-breaker? Of course not. But the fact that his incident took place so shortly before what was his team's biggest game of the season definitely made some teams pause to dig a little deeper.

Penn State's Navorro Bowman is another in the long line of gifted linebackers to play for the Nittany Lions. At 6-1, 230, he was a very productive player for Penn State, collecting 214 tackles in three seasons, including a career-high 106 in 2008.

But he also entered the 2009 season under a bit of a cloud, having been held out of his team's spring Blue-White scrimmage for what head coach Joe Paterno said were a pair of failed school-administered drug tests. He also admitted to a county judge that he had smoked marijuana a few months earlier.

As is the case with Dunlap, this alone doesn't mean Bowman is not worth drafting — he clearly is a very talented player — and it's very possible that both players have learned from their past indiscretions and have gained the maturity needed to have long, successful, incident-free careers. But it is this kind of incident that makes executives around the league think twice before making the kind of huge financial commitment that goes selecting players in the top half of the first round.

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