John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports



I find it interesting, or maybe the better word would be perplexing, that so much emphasis is put on the NFL Scouting Combine. The former collegiate players who are invited to participate in the event already have years and years of game tape available and, to me, what's on the film is a better indication of that which someone is actually capable. I'm not saying it's all bad, but I don't believe it gives a fair representation of a player's true football ability. For example, game speed is different than the straight-line speed that's timed during a 40-yard dash, and making a judgment (or misjudgment) based on a drill such as that can be costly. After all, according to Bill Walsh, Jerry Rice ran a 4.59. These days, that might have made Rice "slide" a bit in the draft, which seems almost laughable when you think about it.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with my assessment of the Combine, you'd have to admit that what takes place there over the course of a weekend can, in some cases, go a long way in helping or damaging a prospect's draft stock. For Saint Francis University defensive back Lorenzo Jerome, it appeared to be the latter. Jerome, who was thought to be a mid-round pick by some, seemed to fall out of the draft altogether because of a Combine performance that saw him run a 4.70 in the 40.

But to discount Jerome because of the Combine would be doing a great disservice to a promising safety. You see, Jerome has excelled at every opportunity, and against every level of competition he's faced on a football field. During his collegiate career, Jerome recorded 18 interceptions, including six in his senior season. He was a first-team All-Northeast Conference selection every year of his career and was named a first-team FCS All-American by the Associated Press, an honor which helped him earn a trip to the Senior Bowl. During that game, Jerome shined against some of the best competition college football had to offer, grabbing two interceptions, forcing a fumble, and adding three tackles (one for a loss). Simply put, despite the perceived pedestrian Combine numbers, Jerome can flat out play football.

"He was easily the most instinctive safety at the Senior Bowl, said an AFC Scout. "He jumps everything, and I mean everything." ESPN's Todd McShay agreed with the scout's assessment, stating that Jerome is more a football player than a world class athlete, and named him the best player available after the draft concluded. "A smaller safety who didn't test well at the Combine, Jerome is a better football player than athlete, and he eased concerns about the level of competition he faced in college with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl. Jerome's experience returning kicks will help his stock."

Even with praise coming his way and teams like the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks still very interested in his services post-draft, Jerome was still hurt in more ways than one that his Combine performance had set him back a bit.

"The Combine definitely hurt me," Jerome said on the 49ers Webzone No Huddle Podcast. "It hurt me deep down inside because I ran a 4.7 (40-yard dash). I'm really not a straight-laser guy that can burst out and just run straight. I think football's more about angles and having a feeling where the ball's at. So the Combine did hurt me, but at the end of the day you gotta play football."

Despite the frustration, not getting drafted may have ended up being the best thing for Jerome, as he decided to sign with the 49ers, who were in desperate need of a single-high free safety to back up projected starter Jimmie Ward. San Francisco's new defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is installing a 4-3 defense similar to the one the Seahawks have been running in recent years, and quality play on the back end is essential for the scheme to be successful. Think about how important Earl Thomas is to what Seattle does. While Ward played safety in college, he's spent his first three years in the NFL as a corner, so this upcoming season will be a bit of an adjustment for him. He's also battled some injuries thus far, so staying healthy isn't a given. Those factors make the backup safety position all the more important, and Jerome will not only have a chance to make the team but also play a large role should Ward struggle or get hurt. Given his style of play, should Jerome get the chance, he certainly fits the mold of the type of player for whom the 49ers are looking.

"They (the coaching staff) wanted to get a competitive safety, they compare me to Earl Thomas all the time and I relate my game to Earl Thomas and Ed Reed so I feel like I have a good shot of running this defense and playing in coach's system right now. They say just keep pushing and keep doing what I do, get the ball back and be a great safety."

As good as Jerome has been on the field, he might even be more impressive off of it. He has a calm, confident demeanor, but also knows how hard he has to work to make it in the NFL. He's 100-percent dedicated to his craft, and his goals are strictly centered around becoming a better football player and helping the 49ers win. Jerome says that if you want to be great there's always something you can get better at, and proof that he walks the walk was evident when he was asked to name some of his favorite Bay Area spots to frequent so far. In fact, his response was one that every team official and fan should applaud.

"My honest answer is I haven't been out since I've been here (in the Bay Area). I've been in my playbook and working out. I was just at the facility today getting a good lift and a good sweat in so I haven't really had time. I feel like after I settle in and make the 53-man roster, I'll have time to go and enjoy myself with my family and friends, but right now it's all business and focus."

If you want to hear the complete interview with Lorenzo Jerome, you can listen to the 49ers Webzone No Huddle Podcast below, on iTunes, on SoundCloud, or go to our dedicated podcast page.



Al Sacco has been covering the 49ers since 2013 and has had his work used by national outlets such as ESPN and USA TODAY. In addition to his writing duties, Al is also the co-host of the No Huddle podcast presented by 49ers Webzone. If you'd like to reach Al with a media request, please contact him via Twitter @AlSacco49