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2015 NFL Combine Players to Watch Primer: How Do You Pick A Winner?

NFL Network's Mike Mayock talks about the challenges facing every evaluator at this year's combine.

Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

As we work our way into the meat of the Combine, I wanted to take a minute to share with you some of NFL Network's Mike Mayock, and what he had to say about the evaluation process in general as well as some input on the specific players we are following this weekend.

On the general feedback you get from things like the 40-yard dash:

"From my perspective, I always say, Fast guys run fast, slow guys run slow. It's only a story when the opposite happens. I think the change-of-direction stuff, the short shuttle and the three-cone is important for the linebackers, the defensive backs, the running backs. You get to see quickness, change of direction. You see whether a guy is quicker than he is fast in a straight line, and those are important things. The broad jump and the vertical jump are really lower body explosion, and it's another cross-check. If a guy is a 4.5 40 guy, he probably should be jumping 35 inches in the vert. If he only jumps 30, there's a question why. It all kind of balances out.

I would argue that sums it up quite nicely. The Combine is not intended to make or break any player - unless they have a performance that is wildly out of line with what anyone was expecting, which will put you on everyone's radar, for better or worse. Additionally, you can't look at any one event in isolation (no matter how highlight-worthy any one moment may be), because each event provides context for all the others, and has different value for different positions.

On the difficulties in evaluating players, quarterbacks specifically:

I think the evaluation job is changing because of what's coming out of college today on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Quarterback was hard anyway just because of the intangibles... [but now] the systems are so diametrically different from college to the NFL. It's getting to the point where you're almost grateful when you get someone like Jameis Winston who comes out of the pro style.

I'm not sure how I feel about this one. Chip Kelly is probably at the forefront of something resembling a tipping point for this topic. College offenses have drifted the way of the spread and the read option, and that makes your average current non-pro-style college player is a great fit for the Eagles right now. That offense hasn't failed poorly enough that other teams won't adopt it, and if they do such players will only increase in value. So it makes the evaluative process more difficult right now, but that is at least reasonably likely to change.

On teams' challenges in accurately evaluating players with character concerns:

It's a really intriguing conversation. I've had it with a lot of GMs and coaches. What the psychologists are trying to tell them is whether the guys that have demonstrated a certain type of behavior, is it intrinsic to their personality and is it going to be repeated?

So you have all the information. He was arrested. He was convicted. He was this, he was that, whatever. You hear the kid's side. You sit him down and have the conversation with him and his parents, and you do everything you can to get to know the kid and his family situation. Then you have the psychologists tell you here's what he tested. What happens sometimes is the ability and talent of the athlete overwhelms the other analysis, and that's where we make a lot of mistakes.

[Dorial] Green-Beckham this year is going to be a polarizing conversation, similar to when Dez Bryant couldn't do his Pro Day at Oklahoma State because they wouldn't allow it. I was at his Pro Day at his high school. [Justin] Blackmon was the fifth pick in the draft. The kid, [Josh Gordon] from Cleveland, second round supplemental pick. All three of these guys gifted wide receivers with significant off the field issues. One of the three has turned out (Bryant). That is probably about the right ratio.

So how do you not mess up? I'm not sure there is a right answer other than being a little more conservative. I think we all get overwhelmed with talent and want to buy into the fact that your organization can change people when most of the time statistically, it can't.

This one is tricky, because really you have no way to know whether a guy is lying about having turned a corner until he demonstrates to you that he hasn't, and that often doesn't happen until after you've believed him long enough to reward him with a draft pick and a contract. You really have to probably just create a line of demarcation that serves as your "this is how much we will tolerate," be thorough in your assessment, and stick with guys who pass muster. Then, of course, admit your wrongness when it's necessary.

Evaluation is never simple, because you are assessing players outside of game action and attempting to make educated guesses about how all those things will translate onto the field. It's impossible to get them all right, but some teams tend to be better prepared and therefore luckier than others.

I'll have more a little later today on Mayock's commentary on some of our more draft-pick-worth underdogs.