The NFL brought 332 players to Indianapolis to be interviewed, examined and put through their paces, but for NFL hopefuls not included in that group there’s another way.
There’s always a way if you’re good enough.
According to NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock’s calculations, “Last year there were 41 kids drafted that weren’t here at the combine, three of which went in the fourth round.”
So it can happen.
And once it does anything is possible for a player who doesn’t have “combine participant” on his resume.
“There’s one that ended Super Bowl XLIX, if I’m not mistaken,” NFL Network host Rich Eisen pointed out.
Eisen was referencing Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, who managed to make it from West Alabama to the NFL’s biggest stage and even came up with the game-saving interception against Seattle without having gone through Indy on his way to Super Bowl immortality.
Mayock discussed in detail how a player such as Butler happened to fall through the cracks.
“There was a bad 40 (-yard dash time) on the kid coming from a small school, so there’s not a whole lot of cross-check on him,” Mayock explained. “All the teams do something where after the draft and all the priority free agents are signed they’ll bring unsigned free agents in for separate workouts, 20 or 30 of them, and hope to find one to sign.
“The Patriots brought a whole bunch of these guys in, no-names that people didn’t even want to sign after the draft. In that group, of course, is our guy Butler. So he goes out and runs a crazy 40 and the entire Patriots’ scouting and coaching staff is like, ‘What happened to this kid?’ They signed him immediately, on the spot. And three months later, four months later he’s the MVP of the Super Bowl, basically.”
Players overlooked initially can get themselves noticed eventually.
Sanders maintained recent developments have also affected the way teams view players with red flags based on behavioral/discipline issues, players that might have otherwise been passed over.
Cornerback Rashard Robinson was a combine invitee despite his being suspend by LSU in 2014 and having missed the entire 2015 season.
“There are some kids that were an idiot in college and did stupid stuff and guys like (Arizona safety) Tyrann Mathieu and (Kansas City cornerback) Marcus Peters have opened up that gateway for a second look,” Sanders said. “I called several teams (about Mathieu) and said this kid is real, take a shot on him.
“Now he’s All-Pro.”