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INDIANAPOLIS – The guy who almost didn’t get an NFL scouting combine invite ended up rewriting part of its history. And along the way, Shaquem Griffin became the centerpiece of one of the biggest offseason stages in the NFL.
The All-American UCF linebacker – who suffered from Amniotic Band Syndrome and had to have his left hand amputated at 4 years old – ran a blazing 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash, marking the fastest time at his position in the history of the event. The NFL also added another remarkable twist: since official record-keeping began, Griffin’s time is the second-fastest of any player in league history weighing over 225 pounds. Only a hand-timed 4.37 seconds in 2005 from former Jacksonville Jaguars first-round pick Matt Jones has proven faster. It’s also the only sub-4.4 second 40-yard dash for any linebacker in recorded history.
Griffin was already the talk of the combine by the time he lined up to run. But when Griffin’s time posted, he became a player whose performance will be talked about at this event for years, if not decades. That much was apparent when NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock predicted on the broadcast that Griffin would run faster than 4.6 seconds, then gave a prolonged “Oooooooooooooooooooooooh” when Griffin’s 4.38 seconds posted. Mayock followed up with a “Are you kidding me?”
Griffin just looked into the camera and said, “Happy birthday, momma.”
For this event, it was defining moment. As 40-yard dashes go, anything in the 4.3’s is remarkable from any player. But it’s more stunning for Griffin, who wasn’t even extended a combine invitation until after he was selected to play in the Senior Bowl in January. For those who don’t follow the NFL combine, that’s an extremely late invite for a guy who was a second-team All-American in college.
[Watch on Yahoo: Live stream the 2018 NFL scouting combine on Yahoo Sports’ website, app]
It exposed the bias in the system. The scouting invites are extended using a collection of feedback from NFL teams, aiming to bring in only players who are likely to be selected in the draft. With Griffin having only one hand, the doubt in his NFL prospects was solidified.
That changed about as drastically as it could this week. Not only was Griffin a hit on the interview circuit, his performance put him squarely in the wheelhouse of NFL teams that were recognizing his athletic talent and unparalleled intangibles. After Griffin posted his 40-yard dash Sunday, one NFL evaluator could only distill his overall performance into a singular thought: “Crazy.”
Asked for a draft forecast, a second evaluator said it’s no longer a question of whether Griffin will get selected, but how high. The ballpark is somewhere in the late third or early fourth round, with designs on Griffin starting his NFL career on special teams and in defensive sub packages at linebacker.
That would be solid placement for Griffin, whose twin brother Shaquill was selected out of UCF by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round of the 2017 draft. Interestingly, Shaqeum’s performance at the combine eclipsed his twin in several areas. The two both ran 4.38 40-yard dashes, but Shaqeum pulled his off weighing 227 pounds – 33 more than Shaquill’s recorded weight of 194. Shaqueum also surpassed his brother on the bench press in spite of his missing left hand, putting up 20 reps (three more than Shaquill).
While Shaquill has always been one of his twin bother’s biggest champions, it’s probably also safe to say the Seahawks are firmly in Shaquem’s corner, too. When his 4.38 second time was announced inside Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, the Seahawks’ contingent of coaches and evaluators could be seen celebrating, including a little fist pump from head coach Pete Carroll.
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) March 4, 2018
It’s simply been that kind of weekend for Griffin, who has been one of the most inspirational and talked-about prospects at night in Indianapolis, a time when team executives typically exit meetings and gather to socialize into the wee-hours of the morning. Griffin seemingly jolted everyone in attendance on Saturday, when he hit 20 reps while bench-pressing 225 pounds while using a prosthetic in place of his missing left hand. Following that performance, Griffin became a trending topic on several social media platforms, with video of the feat going viral and the biggest stars in the league expressing their amazement.
This is still the cold business end of football and there will be critiques of Griffin that rightfully linger from his college tape. Physically, teams would like to see his lower body get stronger. And the criticisms involving his missing left hand will continue to center on the same concern that confronts every NFL linebacker: Specifically, whether he’ll be able to make contact with a larger offensive lineman and have the hand and arm strength to shed blocks and continue his pursuit of a play. As scouts will tell players, they want guys who either avoid blockers or engage and shed them. They don’t want players who try to run around linemen because that opens up opportunities for an offense.
As Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said of Griffin this past week, “You have to admire the type of success he’s had already with that [hand] impairment. But I think when you look at certain players like that, there is something to be said for what is in their heart. It’s something you’d have to talk to the trainers about and see what his restrictions would be moving forward. Again, putting players in a position to succeed, that would be a key – can he do the things we ask him to do?”
That will continue to be part of the conversation and evaluation for Griffin from this week forward. But the assessment certainly got more interesting. Griffin is no longer merely an inspirational player in the draft. And he didn’t just become one of the most memorable players in the history of the combine, either. Instead, he exits as the fastest linebacker the combine has ever recorded.
That will open a lot of eyes – and draw more of them toward what he has, rather than letting them focus on what he doesn’t.
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