- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The 40 times make the headlines but, at the NFL Scouting Combine, teams value two things above all else: medical testing and interviews.

The thought of drafting a player with an unknown medical problem terrifies general managers, evidenced by the slate of required tests that can include bloodwork, an EKG, X-rays, MRI exams, multiple psychological tests, and eyesight and range of motion evaluations. After the poking and prodding is complete, though, most scouts will agree that face-to-face meetings matter most.

Teams are allowed to interview as many as 60 prospects in 15-minute formal interviews but prospects can also meet informally with team representatives. Most prospects report that teams are curious to hear how they evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses, project themselves as NFL players, and react to criticism when going over game tape.

“Just go in there and be yourself,” safety Jabrill Peppers said. “Don’t lie. You know, if you made mistakes on film — which they will bring up — then just own it and explain to them what you did wrong and what you did to correct it and what you’re going to do to make sure that mistake doesn’t happen again.”

There’s no published list of all the meetings between prospects and the NFL’s 32 teams, but enough prospects will answer questions about who they’ve spoken with that a partial list can be pieced together.

A word to the wise, though: teams meet with many prospects for different reasons, so an interview doesn’t necessarily mean a team is giving serious consideration to drafting a player. It’s like a first date — there’s interest, but no one is going home and picking out a ring. With that in mind, a few patterns emerged out of the list of prospects who said they’d spoken with Washington over the course of the combine.

Among the skill position players, there was some serious star power. Two of the top running back prospects in the draft, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey, said they met with Washington.

Wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster, John Ross and Chris Godwin all met with the team. Smith-Schuster, who played at USC, projects as a physical possession receiver who has been compared to Terrell Owens. Ross was already a draft darling, and when he set a new combine record with a 4.22-second 40-yard dash on Saturday, he had scouts and execs crushing hard.

Ross counts speedster DeSean Jackson, as good a physical comparison to him as any, among his mentors. Both call Long Beach, Calif., their hometown and connected after Jackson heard about Ross through the local grapevine after Ross’ sophomore season at Washington.

Jackson invited Ross to work out with him and helped him understand how to use his speed.

“It helped a lot because he showed me how to control my speed, how to calm down and just relax and have fun,” Ross said. “Before, I just figured, I am faster than this guy, I can just outrun this guy. All the time, that don’t work. For example, if you are going up against a great corner like [teammates] Sidney Jones or Kevin King, those guys will defeat the speed with good technique. It was good for me to get into it with DeSean and learn how to use it and when to use it and when to turn it on and when to turn it off.”

They still talk regularly. Ross said they spoke before the combine and Jackson, typically, instructed him to have fun and relax.

The Redskins also spoke with former Alabama tight end O.J. Howard and former Clemson tight end Jordan Leggett. Howard is expected to be the first tight end selected in the draft, and immediately brought up the Redskins’ Jordan Reed when asked about his favorite pros to watch at his position.

“I try to steal a lot of things from his book,” Howard said.

Quarterback meetings always get plenty of buzz, and there’s no position where the interview is more important. The Redskins met with former UNC signal caller Mitchell Trubisky (hopefully they didn’t call him Mitch) and Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes.

One scout for a team that isn’t in any rush to replace its current starter said Mahomes was the most intriguing QB prospect in the draft. Mahomes has been thought of as the runt of the Deshaun Watson-Mitchell Trubisky-DeShone Kizer litter when he’s been included in that group at all, but he helped himself with a strong performance in Indianapolis.

Mahomes threw for 5,051 yards with 41 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a junior at Texas Tech last season. He put enough great throws on tape to make a highlight reel the length of a Lord of the Rings movie, but he also developed a reputation as a chuck-it-up-and-see kind of guy.

Trubisky seems destined to be off the board by the time the Redskins make their first selection, but he’s also an interesting candidate for a team that doesn’t need a quarterback right away. Evaluators like his arm and how he goes through his reads, but his footwork is questionable and his experience is limited to a single season starting for UNC.

In case they’re more into protecting the quarterback than drafting one, the Redskins also met with offensive tackles Avery Gennesy and William Holden, and guard Danny Isidora.

Common sense, though, says the Redskins go defense in this draft, and they devoted plenty of time to prospects who could help a needy defensive line and several members of this year’s stacked group of defensive backs.

Safeties Malik Hooker, Budda Baker, Jamal Adams and Obi Melifonwu, safety/linebacker hybrid Peppers and cornerback Adoree Jackson all met with the team.

Jay Gruden said last Wednesday that the team had “work to do there without a doubt” along the defensive line, and the Redskins met with Montravius Adams, Dalvin Tomlinson, Caleb Brantley, Malik McDowell, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Jordan Willis and Solomon Thomas.

Thomas, one of the top defensive ends in the draft class, said his interview with the Redskins went well, adding that he liked meeting the coaches “and the GM.”

Forgive him if the Scot McCloughan hoopla wasn’t on his radar — these guys meet a lot of people in a short amount of time. Washington would probably prefer it that way, anyway.

• Nora Princiotti can be reached at nprinciotti@washingtontimes.com.

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