Being limited to one hand hasn’t stopped Shaquem Griffin from stealing the show at the NFL scouting combine.
The Central Florida linebacker, who is missing his entire left hand, has turned heads in Indianapolis and potentially raised his draft stock with jaw-dropping performances in the drills.
Griffin first dazzled by racking up 20 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press on Saturday by using a prosthetic on his left arm. For comparison, Carolina Panthers star Luke Kuechly, who is widely considered one of the top linebackers in the NFL, pumped out 27 bench press reps at the combine in 2012.
Griffin’s followed up the show of strength by displaying amazing speed to clock a time of 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash on Sunday – the fastest for any linebacker since 2003.
For perspective on how quick that is for the position, running back and top prospect Saquon Barkley raised eyebrows for running the 40 in 4.40 seconds on Friday.
The 22-year-old Griffin, whose twin brother Shaquill is a cornerback with the Seattle Seahawks, was born with a deformed left hand due to amniotic band syndrome and had it amputated at the age of four to relieve pain that nearly caused him to cut off his remaining digits himself.
Griffin’s display at the combine not only makes him the draft’s feel-good story, but bodes well for his stock as he attempts to become the first player with one hand to be drafted in the NFL in the modern era.
Another premium defensive talent is on the move in the NFL’s offseason.
The Los Angeles Rams are trading pass-rusher Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins for this year’s fourth and sixth-round picks, while shipping their own sixth-rounder back.
The move for the reigning NFC West champions comes a little more than a week after they acquired cornerback Marcus Peters from the Kansas City Chiefs, which signaled their aggressive intent to get younger and gain salary cap flexibility.
And that’s exactly what the trade of Quinn achieves as well.
The 27-year-old will count for more than $25 million against the cap over the next two seasons and isn’t the same force he was when the Rams inked him to a four-year extension worth $57m in 2014.
The signing of the extension was sandwiched between Quinn’s two Pro Bowl campaigns, when he racked up 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles in 2013, followed by 10.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in 2014.
His production, however, tailed off the next two years with his sacks dropping to 5 in 2015 and 4 in 2016 as he played just 17 games over that span due to injuries.
This past season, Quinn remained relatively healthy to appear in 15 games and bounced back with 8.5 sacks while switching to outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.
After being one of the Rams’ best players since being drafted 14th overall by the franchise in 2011, Quinn simply became too costly, especially in the context of defensive tackle Aaron Donald set to break the bank.
#Rams have very quietly moved into the top 8 or 9 in cap space. Have to think they are targeting someone.— Jason_OTC (@Jason_OTC) March 2, 2018
So instead of losing Quinn for nothing by cutting him loose, Los Angeles pick up a mid-round pick they can potentially use to replenish their linebacking unit.
While the Rams gain cap relief, Miami have put themselves in a position in which they’ll need to shed salary to make space for Quinn.
The Dolphins just franchise-tagged wide receiver Jarvis Landry for $16m and already had Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh accounting for $9.6m and $26.1m, respectively, on the defensive line for the coming season.
In all likelihood, Quinn’s arrival could spell the end for Suh in Miami, with the Dolphins able to save $17m in cap savings if they cut the defensive tackle by March 19.
Landry’s future could also be affected if Miami decide to trade him by March 14 or rescind his franchise tag and let him hit free agency.
Quinn figures to pair with fellow edge-rusher Wake to bolster what was an area of weakness for the Dolphins this past season. Miami ranked 26th in the league with 30 sacks, 10.5 of which were Wake’s.
Though Quinn isn’t much of a factor against the running game, the Dolphins have some room for error after being middle-of-the-road in that area in 2017, ranking 14th with 110.5 rush yards allowed per game and 17th with 4.1 yards allowed per rush.
The price of a fourth-rounder – with the swap of sixth-rounders being a wash – is minimal to add a talent like Quinn.
Because of past decisions and contracts handed out, however, the move also brings with it some cap gymnastics.
It’s that time of the year again in the NFL, when we froth at the mouth over the NFL combine and pick apart prospects based on measurements and bench press reps.
The week-long combine in Indianapolis allows all 32 teams in the league to evaluate and scout the pool of players that will be available in the draft, which takes place from April 26-28.
Everything in the NFL calendar seems to be its own ‘event’, but that’s especially true of the combine, which has, over the years, become a spectacle separate from the draft.
And there are so many elements to the combine that it’s easy to shoot down or raise a prospect’s stock based off a limited showing.
Here’s what you need to know about the combine and how useful it is for evaluating players.
Don’t be fooled by all the workouts and individual drills the prospects have to go through. At the end of the day, teams use the combine to gauge the mental strength of players as much as they use it to see how fast they can run or how high they can jump, if not more.
So while an outstanding 40-yard dash time could put a prospect on a team’s radar, so could an impressive interview.
Something like the Wonderlic – a 12-minute, 15-question test designed to measure how quickly someone can process information more than intelligence – doesn’t hold much that much value, but an interview could potentially make or break a player’s standing with a team.
It may sound like a cliché, but teams want to see how well players can deal with adversity. That’s why they throw them all these off-the-wall, non-football related questions, which are supposed to put prospects under pressure and reveal a little bit of their character.
When a scout asked me at the combine if I had to murder someone: Would I use a gun or a knife? pic.twitter.com/R5BHMxiDM7— Austen Lane (@A_Train_92) February 23, 2016
There are also plenty of football-specific questions tossed at players, related to drawing up plays or what to do in certain situations, but again, the mental aspect of the combine isn’t a way to shine a light on who’s smart and who’s not – it’s meant to show how prospects’ minds work.
And while character and mental fortitude may not seem as crucial as how accurate you can throw a football, they matter to some extent to the people ultimately making the decisions in the draft.
When it comes to the hands-on activities at the combine, not every drill or workout is created the same.
While each drill measures some physical aspect, some are more valuable than others when it comes to practical application on the field on Sundays.
Take, for example, the bench press, which is mesmerising to watch with some of the best athletes in the country pumping 225 pounds as many times as they can. But there’s little value in that from a functionality standpoint, considering the NFL is so much about having a low centre of gravity. Plus the longer your arms are – and some of these prospects have incredible limbs – the more energy you have to exert on a single rep.
Two drills that are as eye-catching as the bench press, while being sizably more useful, are the vertical jump and 40-yard dash.
This isn’t the NBA, but if you’ve been watching how football is played these days, you’ve noticed it features elements of basketball. One of those areas is having a wide receiver or tight end who can simply out-jump a defensive back.
Some of the biggest plays over the course of an NFL season involve players fighting in the air for a ball that’s thrown up for grabs. So if you can jump higher than the next guy, that’s definitely an advantage.
The 40-yard dash, meanwhile, has become the main attraction at the combine. There’s just something cool about being the fastest guy on the field, even more so than being the strongest.
And as the saying goes, speed kills, which is why evaluators are so often hypnotised by 40 times and that alone can push players up the draft board.
As sexy as it is, however, the 40-yard dash – and pretty much all other drills at the combine – pale in comparison to the three-cone drill.
For those in the know, the three-cone drill is in many ways the holy grail of evaluating the athleticism of skill players like running backs, edge rushers and defensive backs.
The reason for that is it measures the ability to change direction, cut and quickly accelerate – all vital in practically any situation on Sunday. If a prospect performs well in this, it’s a strong indication that they’ll be coveted in the draft and have some sort of success in the league.
With all that said, there’s nothing at the combine – mental or physical – that offers a clear cut indication that a player can’t make it at the next level.
That’s why it’s important to keep in mind that no one knows anything (for certain) and for all the evaluation tools teams use, it’s impossible to predict a prospect’s future in the league.