The NFL sent a pretty strong message to Alabama quarterback Jake Coker last week:
Dude, you should have gone to Liberty University.
Forget that Coker, a touted recruit out of Mobile, Ala. in 2011, lagged behind two current NFL quarterbacks during his time at Florida State (E.J Manuel, 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston — both first-round picks).
And forget that Coker, upon transferring to Alabama two years ago, had to wait his turn, among quarterbacks, before leading the Crimson Tide to a national championship in 2015.
No, in the eyes of NFL and its combine-invite committee, Coker might have been better served playing at Liberty (like QB Josh Woodrum), or Louisiana Tech (brief home of ex-Florida QB Jeff Driskel) or some largely anonymous college outpost west of the Rocky Mountains.
Had that been the case, maybe Coker (3,110 yards passing, 23 total TDs in 2015) would have garnered an invitation to this year’s NFL Scouting Combine.
(Here’s the full list of QB invitees — ranging from Cal’s Jared Goff, likely the first passer off the draft board, to Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott.)
The above mini-rant was partially delivered with tongue in cheek.
Yes, every pro prospect likely yearns for the chance to participate in the NFL combine, aka The Underwear Olympics, one of the most strangely fascinating TV events on the sports calendar. It’s a wonderful showcase for demonstrating one’s worth as a physical specimen in public (in front of omnipresent cameras) and as a whiteboard/Xs-and-Os connoisseur in private (when holding court with coaches/teams inside various hotel suites).
At the same time, it’s not a death knell to Coker’s chances of cultivating a prosperous NFL career, citing five key reasons:
1) At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Coker (classic pocket passer) won’t be running any read-option offenses at the pro level, making his 40-yard dash time irrelevant. The same holds true for the “Three-Cone Drill” — a favorite among NFL talent evaluators when determining quickness/closing speed among defenders.
2) A flood of NFL scouts will be at Alabama’s Pro Day, which typically occurs around mid-March. Come then, Coker (335 yards passing, two TDs in the national-title game) will have a scripted platform for displaying arm strength, accuracy, anticipatory skills and deceptive quickness (below).
3) Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, the former head coach of the Oakland Raiders, has friends and acquaintances within NFL front offices. He should be an invaluable resource for Coker (projected as a Round 4 through 6 pick) when pressed to answer questions about character, work ethic, applied knowledge of the pro game, etc.
Also, Tide coach Nick Saban (four national titles since 2009) could probably reach any NFL coach or general manager in less than five minutes, via phone, when speaking on Coker’s behalf.
4) There’s no discernible advantage to throwing at the combine, since the majority of quarterbacks have little prior knowledge of their pass-catching cohorts’ speed and route-running abilities — allowing for some awkward moments on timing patterns.
It’s also why many top-tier quarterbacks, projected as first-round selections, don’t throw at the combine. They want a controlled environment when appearing before the scouts and general managers, running scripted plays and tossing balls to their college teammates.
5) Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (34,154 yards passing, 252 total TDs; undrafted out of Eastern Illinois) never received an invitation to the combine.
And if the NFL combine had been a thing in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Hall of Famer Warren Moon (undrafted out of Washington) and Dave Krieg (undrafted out of Milton College) — respectively ranked No. 7 and No. 19 in all-time passing yards — likely wouldn’t have been invited to Indianapolis, either.
Perhaps Krieg should have gone to Liberty, that heralded football factory, as well. Milton College (founded in 1844) closed its doors in 1982.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.