The annual scouting combine has become an entity of its own with all the coverage, media hype, and fan reaction. For the evaluators it’s a chance to see if your film thoughts are confirmed up close and personal. Nothing more, nothing less.
Teams have learned from past mistakes and will rarely change an opinion based on someone’s workout. I have fielded a ton of emails since the release of my latest rankings. Most of the questions have surrounded my statement that I was paying close attention to 17 draft prospects in Indianapolis. Everyone wants to know what 17 I’ll be watching and why I’ll be watching. The answer is simple…There’s a handful of guys that I want to confirm what I see in terms of speed, change of direction, or footwork. There’s another handful that I have limited tape on and want to see what type of athlete they are.
Outside those aspects I look forward to measurements to see how people have taken feedback and whether they are capable of making adjustments. It speaks to work ethic and character. We know that NFL teams evaluate interviews and medicals. Since we don’t have access to information (except for the occasional leak) we can’t judge on that.
Here’s a look at the offensive preview of the event. For those dying to know what 17 players I will be watching, it’s likely that they will be included in my offensive and defensive previews.
If we’ve heard it once, we’ll hear a million times; the 2013 class lacks Robert Griffin, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and maybe even Ryan Tannehill. We will be beat over the head with this fact for the next 65 days.
Thus far the news of the combine for the quarterbacks has been that Geno Smith and many of the top quarterbacks will throw at the event. Something that isn’t the trend as of late. With the lack of a top guy, these guys will be looking to get a leg up in any way possible. With the exception of Matt Barkley and Zac Dysert we should have an opportunity to compare and contrast this class.
Who we’ll be watching
Tyler Bray is the physical prototype of a dropback passer. At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds Bray possesses arguably the best arm in the draft. There is no one questioning his arm talent but questionable character and maturity have plagued Bray throughout his career at Tennessee.
Bray is off to a solid start according to Ty Detmer, who has been working with Bray leading up to the draft has described him as “humble” and “coachable”.
Bray’s interview session will be as important as any quarterback in attendance. He has been an interesting interview in the past and will be grilled on his off-the-field indiscretions and handling of NFL terminology and concepts.
I don’t doubt that Bray will wow with his arm talents but his accuracy is questionable at best. He will need to spot-on during the throwing portions. Bray has first round tools but the many questions with him will have him slotted in anywhere from the 3rd to 5th round range. He’s not ready to start next season but could be stashed away as a long-term project for a vertical passing team. Appears really well suited for the Cardinals or Browns passing attacks.
The running back class is fairly jumbled in the mid round range. With the trend of mid-to-late round backs emerging into some of the league leaders continuing teams shouldn’t be in a hurry to draft a back early. Eddie Lacy may be the top back on a lot of boards but may not come off the board until round two.
We have a pretty good feel for most of the top guys but have some questions out there on the second tier of backs.
Who we’ll be watching
The Rutgers offensive line was mediocre at best and I didn’t get a great feel for redshirt sophomore back Jawan Jamison. Jamison started the season on fire but an ankle injury slowed him down late (literally and figuratively). Jamison appears to be a great blend of compact size, power, and burst.
Our question on Jamison is whether he has the long speed to be a difference maker in the NFL. When Jamison steps to the 40 yard dash line, my eyes will be glued to the TV. It’s my one question that remains on Jamison and a low 4.5 time could dispel any concerns I had with long speed. Jamison is a do-it-all back that can catch out of the backfield, skilled in pass pro, and does all the little things. He drew comparisons to former Scarlet Knight Ray Rice and for good reason.
Jamison has a lot of tread on his tires with 486 carries in two years starting experience at Rutgers. In a day and age when you have backs coming into the league with boatloads of collegiate carries, this is an important and underrated aspect of the evaluation process.
This wide receiver class intrigues me on many levels. While there isn’t an A.J. Green-type receiver in the class there could be as many as 10 receivers taken before round three kicks off.
Cordarrelle Patterson is locking in as the draft’s top receiver in the media war. With incredible size, speed, and athleticism the raw receiver offers loads of upside. We know what we get in Patterson but there are others that I don’t have such a great feel for.
Speed kills in today’s NFL. The NFL game is beginning to mimic the collegiate game in more ways than just quarterback play. Having outside receivers that can stretch the field is an important piece of today’s game. Like it or not the 40 yard dash is important for several positions. Not that you rely on the 40 to determine someone’s speed but have to confirm what you see on film and it’s a tool to determine long speed. There’s several receivers in the draft that the 40 will be important for. Guys like Keenan Allen and Robert Woods will scrutinized for their playing speed. For Allen, he hasn’t played football since October and there’s some less than positive reports on his showing at pre-draft workouts. The Combine will the first time to prove he’s healthy and can stretch the field vertically. Robert Woods is in a similar boat as he was hampered by injury for much of the season. Woods draft stock took a bit of a dip with Marqise Lee’s emergence and the injury slowing him down. He will look to regain some of that stock with a solid 40 time and good drill work.
Who we’ll be watching
It’s not Allen or Woods that we will be spending our most watchful eye on this week. It will be two receivers that were overshadowed by their own teammates; DeAndre Hopkins and Stedman Bailey. Both put together consecutive seasons of spectacular play but went relatively unnoticed due to the presence of Sammy Watkins and Tavon Austin respectively.
Hopkins got a little more press this season due to Watkins injury but still carries a chip on his shoulder. He like many in this class will be looking to prove he has the long speed to separate from the NFL’s finest. A solid 40 time this week could put Hopkins at the top of draft boards if he already wasn’t.
Over the span of the last two seasons, Stedman Bailey caught 30 fewer passes than Tavon Austin yet gained more than 430 yards and caught 17 more TD’s than the aforementioned Austin. It’s likely that everyone and their brother’s sister’s cousin has heard of Tavon Austin. Yet outside of Morgantown and hardcore football fans, not many know of Bailey. I have a standing $200 bet with a reader of NFL’s Future that Bailey is drafted ahead of Austin and I’m banking on Bailey running better than expected at the Combine. Clearly, Bailey isn’t the dynamic athlete that Austin is and he’s not that much bigger but the guy is as reliable as any pass catcher in the draft. Austin could blow the roof off Indy with his speed, change of direction, and most other agility drills but it’s Bailey that could help himself more than anyone in Indy.