T.J. Barnes’ invitation to the NFL draft combine came as a surprise to some, including Barnes himself.
The former Georgia Tech defensive tackle said he learned he and cornerback Rod Sweeting had made the list on a visit to coach Paul Johnson’s office shortly after the Yellow Jackets’ Sun Bowl victory over USC.
“As I was leaving, he said, ‘You and Rod got invited to the combine,’” Barnes said. “I turned my head around, like, What, me? Are you sure? Don’t you mean (Omoregie) Uzzi or Izaan (Cross). He said, no, me and Rod.”
Barnes was still in disbelief. In typical playful Barnes fashion, he said he surmised of his coach that “he’s old, he can’t see.” But Barnes returned to his room and checked his e-mail, which included his combine invitation.
Said Barnes, “It’s such a blessing.”
He’s got that right. The combine, which begins Saturday in Indianapolis, gives Barnes and Sweeting the opportunity to perform, be measured and interviewed by virtually every important NFL talent evaluator. Sweeting has been seen as a fourth- or fifth-round pick, Barnes more likely to go either in the later rounds or as an undrafted free agent. NFL.com gives Barnes a draft score of 52.0, at the low end of the spectrum for “draftable players.” (Sweeting received a 65.2, at the high end of the same spectrum.)
“He’s somebody that can really charge up the board if he goes up there and does what he needs to do on the bench and in the 40,” said Ryan Rubin, Barnes’ agent.
Rubin said that Barnes, who has been training for the combine in Boca Raton, Fla., has been running the 40 around 5.1 seconds, a pretty brisk clip for someone standing 6-foot-7 and weighing around 350 pounds. Rubin didn’t have an estimate on how many bench-press reps of 225 – a combine drill – Barnes can do, as his he said trainers didn’t want him to test himself so close to the combine. Rubin said the score will be “top tier.”
A strong performance would undoubtedly cause scouts to reevaluate Barnes and perhaps visit at Tech’s pro day March 14, as players of his size are not particularly common. Perhaps in part because of a scheme change, Barnes did not measure up to the considerable expectations placed upon him, starting only one season. He showed flashes of dominance but was not exceedingly productive.
ESPN draft analyst Steve Muench saw Barnes as a situational player who probably won’t get drafted, but also someone that, because of his size and potential, a team could be persuaded to take a flyer on. As such, a strong combine performance would only enhance his attractiveness. Every inch and tenth of a second will be critical, as this year’s draft class is particularly deep at his position.
To know the power of a good combine, Barnes only need look at former Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill, who went to Indianapolis last year tagged as a fourth-rounder at best and left near the top of his position group after a phenomenal workout. He ended up being drafted in the second round by the New York Jets.
Barnes leaves for Indianapolis Friday. After medical evaluations and other duties, his workout day will be Monday. The workout day for Sweeting and the defensive backs will be Tuesday.
Said Barnes, “All my hard work’s going to show in all my workouts.”