Democracy Dies in Darkness

Early Lead

A one-handed linebacker with blazing speed was the NFL combine’s best story

March 5, 2018 at 2:33 PM

Add a 1,000-watt smile to the attributes Shaquem Griffin displayed at the NFL combine. (Gregory Payan/Associated Press)

The first time Shaquem Griffin was held out of a football game, he was 8 years old. Football was for people with two hands, an opposing coach told him, and his left hand had been amputated four years earlier as the result of a painful prenatal condition.

“That was the moment I realized I was always going to have to prove people wrong,” Griffin wrote on the Players’ Tribune.

Griffin, the Central Florida linebacker, has done that and more, vanquishing even more doubters with attention-getting performances last weekend that led him to become the best story at this year’s NFL combine.

Related: [Vikings emerge as favorites to land Kirk Cousins but Broncos reportedly ‘all-in’ for QB]

On Saturday, he bench pressed 225 pounds 20 times with the use of his right hand and a prosthetic device on his left wrist. That was only four reps off the pace of the combine’s leader, West Virginia wide receiver Ka’Raun White. On Sunday, he followed that up with a blazing, official time of 4.38 seconds in his first attempt at the 40-yard dash, and a 4.58 in his second.

How good was that? Well, the NFL Network reported that 4.38 was the fastest 40 time by a linebacker at the combine since 2003.

After initially not being invited to the combine, Griffin’s draft stock has been on the rise, with scouts now predicting he could be taken anywhere from late in the third to the fifth round at next month’s draft. Richard Sherman, the Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback, tweeted that if Griffin isn’t drafted in the first three rounds, “the system is broken.”

Scouts told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and Albert Breer that they had Griffin going in the middle rounds of the seven-round draft. “Late third, early fourth,” King wrote. “He can be the best special-teams player on any team early, and maybe have a pass-rushing or sub-package role right away.” Breer added: “A college scouting director told me on Sunday that he thinks Griffin leaves [the combine] a fourth-rounder, and I ran that by a couple other scouts and they agreed. To start, he can be a strong special teamer, and developmental linebacker, with a chance to grow into more.”

Rick Spielman, the Vikings’ general manager, told Bleacher Report’s Doug Farrar that he didn’t think Griffin having one hand “should be a factor, just because he’s shown he can be productive at a high level against some high-level competition.”

And across the NFL, star players from J.J. Watt to Ryan Shazier to Von Miller noticed the combine’s best story.

Griffin’s twin brother, Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin, ran a 4.38 a year ago, and was drafted in the third round, as the 90th overall pick. He reveled in Shaquem’s moment in the spotlight.

It felt like everyone was talking about Shaquem and his road to the combine, a road that began with surgery when he was 4. That’s when doctors decided to amputate his left arm the day after his mother found him threatening to cut off his fingers with a kitchen knife. It was the only way he could think of to cope with the searing pain in his hand, the result of Amniotic Band Syndrome his mother suffered while pregnant, causing an amniotic membrane to wrap around his hand.

At the combine, he showed that he can catch passes that might come his way, too. (He had one interception last season.)

The NFL Network’s Deion Sanders was yet another impressed observer.

“You are straight balling, man!” he tweeted to Griffin. “You gon mess around and get the call. LOL ‘If you ball u get the call.’”

Read more on the NFL:

As NFL debate rages about his position, Lamar Jackson says ‘I’m strictly a QB’

Baker Mayfield, bursting with confidence, is ready to play the role of the savior

Running backs are coveted once more and Saquon Barkley’s stock is soaring

At long last, we’re at the ‘no doubt’ stage of Andrew Luck’s recovery

Cindy Boren arrived at The Post in 2000 as an assignment editor in charge of baseball and NFL/Redskins coverage. She switched to full-time writing, focusing on national sports stories and issues, when she founded The Early Lead blog in 2010.

Jacob Bogage writes about sports for The Post, where he has worked since 2015. He previously covered the automotive and manufacturing industries for the Business section.

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