FRISCO, Texas — Coming into The Opening, Grayson (Loganville, Ga.) linebacker Owen Pappoe had the highest score in Nike’s Football ratings system. He was dethroned at The Opening by IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) outside linebacker-defensive lineman Nolan Smith II, but it’s not like Pappoe is that broken up by it.
“It doesn’t have nothing to do with football,” Pappoe said of the NFRC tests, which includes the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, shuttle run and kneeling power ball toss. Those results are combined into one score, weighted for size and the player with the top score is considered the best athlete.
“On the (power ball toss), they tell you not to come off the pads, so you can’t really show how explosive you are. That’s just what they do, but it’s OK.”
It’s never bad to be athletic in college football. It’s just that being an elite athlete, by itself, is no guarantee of college or pro success, though it will buy you a few second chances.
Football is a contact sport and none of those ratings measure the willingness to deliver and absorb punishment or play through pain. The NFRC tests also can’t hope to show who will stay healthy and out of trouble.
There have been only two success stories among the winners of the Nike SPARQ (an earlier name but essentially the same test) or NFRC test at The Opening: 2016 victor J.K. Dobbins ran for just more than 100 yards a game last season at Ohio State and 2011 winner Landon Collins, went on to star at Alabama and become a two-time Pro Bowl defensive back with the New York Giants.
The other winners have yet to make much of an impact. A good example is 2012 winner Mike Mitchell of Prestonwood Christian (Plano, Texas).
Mitchell was a 6-4, 215-pound linebacker who had 151 tackles and eight sacks as a junior at Plano West (Plano, Texas) before transferring to Prestonwood. He’s the son of former Atlanta Falcons linebacker Ken Mitchell and was freakishly athletic for his size, running a hand-timed 4.39-second 40-yard dash and putting up a 42-inch vertical leap en route to a record score of 154.47 in the test.
“Mike Mitchell reminds me of a young, smaller Brian Cushing,” said Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said at the time, comparing Mitchell to the Pro Bowl linebacker for the Houston Texans. “He has the same build, the same mannerisms. He has the same work ethic.”
Mitchell even had a great nickname, “The Abusement Park” for his physical style of play.
He transferred out of Ohio State as a redshirt freshman and after getting seven tackles in one season as a linebacker at Texas Tech, he finished his career with 12 total tackles in two seasons at Southeastern, a small NAIA school in Lakeland, Fla.
Pappoe said without hitting, it’s hard to measure real football talent, though two tests that would help for his position would be the 40-yard dash and the 5-10-5 cone drill, which is used at the NFL Draft Combine. The latter test requires players to move laterally between cones 5 and 10 yards apart.
“For my position, I would say use the 5-10-5 and the 40,” said Pappoe, who has committed to Auburn. “The 40 obviously tells how fast you are the 5-10-5 shows how quickly you can change direction.”