- The Washington Times
Monday, February 28, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — On draft night last April, Commanders coach Ron Rivera sold first-rounder Jamin Davis as a player who can “play all your linebacker positions” — a linebacker whose versatility helped him understand concepts, pick them up quickly and then apply it to the field. 

That’s not how Davis’ rookie year quite played out.

Rivera is far from giving up on Davis — the linebacker is just 23 years old — but the coach admitted to reporters in January that Davis’ best fit in the NFL may be at outside linebacker rather than inside after an inconsistent season. If that’s the case, Rivera’s initial evaluation of Davis was off base — putting more pressure on Rivera and his staff to nail their first-round pick this year. 

As the NFL scouting combine begins Tuesday, Rivera and the team’s coaching staff will meet with dozens upon dozens of prospects on site. Teams can conduct up to 45 formal 18-minute interviews with the players, and an unlimited number of informal chats.  

These interviews are an important part of the evaluation process, especially so for Rivera — who indicated the lack of face-to-face dialogue made it tougher to evaluate prospects. Last year, teams were only allowed to interview players virtually as in-person visits were scrapped because of the pandemic. 

“Going through the process, the one thing that you really didn’t get to do this time was really get to meet them,” Rivera said in January. “It’s one thing to do it on Zoom, but being up front and really be able to communicate with them, watch them in-person, their body language, ask the tough questions about: ‘Hey, why don’t we talk about this coverage? Why don’t we talk about how to draw this front up for me and explain this?’ Really get into the details … There’s a whole process that really you don’t get a true feel for when you’re not here interacting. 

“That, to me, is an important part.”

A team can only glean so much information from an 18-minute conversation. Some players, too, meticulously prepare for those interactions, which has caused some coaches to express skepticism over their value. In-person visits to a team’s facility — where longer sitdowns happen —  may be more beneficial in the long run.

Still, the combine can have a positive effect on a player’s draft value. Greg Gabriel, a former executive with the Chicago Bears, recalled on social media how teams can end up talking themselves into — or out of — a player based on the sitdowns.

“Another thing that will happen at Indy…. A club will interview a player and be completely turned off,” Gabriel wrote. “They will interview another player and they’ll say ‘we got to figure out a way to get this guy on our team.’”

The combine is also an opportunity for teams to closely examine medical information in one place. Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane said last year’s process to evaluate a player’s medical information was “nowhere near as good” as it normally is.  In 2021, the league had roughly 150 players get medically evaluated at an in-person event in Indianapolis — less than half of more than the 300 prospects who usually attend the combine. 

Washington’s 2021 draft class had its ups and downs once the season started. Second-rounder Sam Cosmi was productive when healthy, but the starting right tackle missed eight games because of injuries. Third-round cornerback Benjamin St-Juste and fifth-round safety Darrick Forrest also dealt with injuries. Davis, tight end John Bates, wideouts Dyami Brown and Dax Milne, defensive ends Shaka Toney and William Bradley-King flashed as the year progressed. 

The draft came after Rivera had remade the team’s front office months earlier — hiring general manager Martin Mayhew and executive Marty Hurney. The team also added other personnel executives, while letting former vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith leave for the Atlanta Falcons. 

“We’ve got a great group that’s working together to make these things happen,” Mayhew said. “But in terms of starting the process, getting here, we jumped right in. … We grew a lot through that process, got to know each other quite a bit. And I think we’re working really well together right now.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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