Top Ravens officials will descend on Indianapolis next week for the NFL Scouting Combine, and invariably, players will begin to soar or sink on various mock draft boards based on how they perform in what some have dubbed “the underwear Olympics.”
Throughout the course of four days beginning Thursday, Feb. 27, 337 of the top NFL hopefuls will be examined, timed and observed under the watchful eyes of coaches and team talent evaluators, breathless NFL Network commentators and fans.
But as the Ravens illustrated two years ago, you can’t always believe what you see.
In 2018, the Ravens performed a bit of orchestrated subterfuge, deliberately showing no interest in Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson, knowing all along they had intense interest in him.
That same year, Orlando Brown Jr. had what is considered one of the worst Combine performances in history, which sent him tumbling down draft boards. The Ravens scooped him up in the third round, and he’s been a starter since the middle of his rookie year.
Jackson was drawing plenty of interest in the 2018 Combine as a former Heisman Trophy winner, but he was hounded by questions about whether he would consider a switch to another position. (His short answer: No.)
The Ravens lay low, consciously choosing to avoid Jackson; teams were officially allowed to interview 60 players at the Combine (a number reduced to 45 this year), and the Ravens made sure Jackson wasn’t one of theirs.
“We didn’t even interview Lamar at the combine because we didn’t want to be associated with him,” DeCosta told NBC Sports’ Peter King. “We didn’t want rumors about us and him to start. They didn’t. We were proud of that.”
Of course, the rest is history. The Ravens traded back twice in the first round of that 2018 draft, then when on the clock at No. 25 took tight end Hayden Hurst. Then the Ravens traded with the Philadelphia Eagles, jumped back into the first round and selected Jackson with the No. 32 pick, only then making clear their intense, well-concealed interest in the player who in two years would dramatically alter the direction of their franchise.
As for Brown, he called his Combine performance “surprising,” while others called it disastrous. His 14 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press was the lowest number among tackles at the Combine, and he rated last in the entire Combine field in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump and broad jump.
Brown’s draft stock plunged, and the Ravens were the beneficiaries, selecting him in the third round.
“The tape is what we always go back to, especially with offensive linemen,” DeCosta said after Brown was drafted. “… That’s how they play. The other thing is offensive linemen don’t have to run 40 yards very often. When you see a guy consistently control his man, knock his man down, block to the whistle and protect the quarterback, what else do you have to see?”
Brown is aware of the national dialogue surrounding his Combine performance, and in a series of tweets last year, Brown cautioned against jumping to conclusions based on Combine readings.
“A lot of OL rely on there (sic) athleticism instead of developing a set of fundamentals you are confident in,” Brown tweeted. “The DL in football are only getting smarter, they recognize those that try to use athleticism to there (sic) advantage.
“With it being Combine week,” Brown continued, “many evaluators will write off several OL because of his ‘lack of athleticism.’ I’m here to tell you to pay attention to his film, figure out how he manipulates his blocks based off his tools and don’t count him out cause he isn’t a Super athlete.”
The Ravens didn’t count out Brown after his Combine performance, and they didn’t count out Jackson, despite their best efforts to give the impression that they had.
With the Combine, as with the rest of the pre-draft process, things aren’t always as they seem.
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