The NFL Draft Scouting Combine is currently going on in Indianapolis and prospects from across the country are working out for NFL teams. Poor Scholars asked Troy Phillips, noted NFL draft enthusiast, to watch the combine and take notes on the action. He glady accepted and broke down a few positions of players to watch.
The NFL draft — and sports drafts as a whole — have to be some of the most underrated sports events of the year. While most fans are busy watching basketball or baseball during the spring, front offices across the NFL are working tirelessly to improve their talent base so that people will have something to cheer about come September. Free agency provides stop-gap help for teams looking to maintain a level of excellence, but franchises are truly built at the end of April during draft time.
Easier to follow than the MLB draft, yet deeper and more extensive than the NBA draft, the NFL draft is the perfect harmony for selection fanatics. In “Wonderful Pistachios” terms, NFL GMs do it with seven rounds, 32 teams, and a million imperatives. Make the right selections and become a Lombardi contender, falter and find yourself on the outside looking in.
One of the biggest parts of the selection process comes during the February combine, and it definitely provides living room evaluators like myself a good chance to view a wide variety of players in an instant succession. After watching offensive linemen, tight ends, quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers complete their portions of the Underwear Olympics I put together my thoughts on who impressed me from each group and how each positional assortment looks as a whole.
Offensive Linemen – When people say that this is one of the deepest groups of offensive linemen in years, they’re not lying. As a group, these guys ran times that were off of the charts for O-linemen with a whopping five players running sub 5.00 second 40-yard dashes. Anyone in need of better protection up front (including my hometown Bears) have no excuse not to select one of the many highly-projected linemen in the first two rounds this year.
Chance Warmack, Alabama – Yeah, he ran a bad 40 time, but word was that Warmack tweaked a muscle early in the process and is still projected to be a top 15 pick as a guard. It also doesn’t hurt that Warmack absolutely mauled would-be defenders during blocking drills; there’s no doubt that the man is the real deal.
Lane Johnson, Oklahoma – Johnson might be the best all-around athlete I’ve ever seen on the line, which makes sense after I found out that he also played quarterback, tight end, and defensive tackle during his collegiate years. However, raw athleticism alone does not make a good offensive tackle, a rule that has proven itself repeatedly over time.
Terron Armstead, Ark Pine Bluff – A workout warrior, Armstead posted the best 40 time ever for an offensive lineman (4.71 seconds) and led the 2013 o-line class with a 34.5 inch vertical. Before the combine he was thought to be a 3rd or 4th round pick, but after this performance the hype train could drive him firmly into the second.
Brian Schwenke, California – Schwenke is one of the most agile centers I’ve ever seen after watching him run in a variety of settings including the 40, where he posted a time of 4.99 seconds. Schwenke possesses a solid frame at 6-3 and 314 pounds to play on the interior, and looks like a quiet value pick in round two.
Vinston Painter, Virginia Tech – After watching him run the 40 at under five ticks and placing fourth in the vertical jump, I really hope that a team takes a flier in the 6th or 7th round. Painter may be undersized at 6’4″ 306 pounds, and somewhat raw, but he really seemed to flash a multitude of physical gifts during drills.
Tight Ends – Tight end projects to be pretty deep this year, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is one of the most difficult positions to project during the pre-draft process. Wild card Travis Kelce didn’t participate, third-ranked tight end Gavin Escobar disappointed, and 2012 darling Joseph Fauria was all but invisible. The only observation that I really pulled from the TE workouts was a temporary answer to the Tyler Eifert/Zach Ertz debate for who should be the first tight end off the board.
Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame – Eifert did exactly what he needed to do: Beat Zach Ertz in all of the major drills to establish his stock as the number one tight end in the class. Now all Eifert just to do is wait, train, and hope that there is a team out there who considers tight end as a position of need in the first round.
Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State – I recently read a short piece about Stoneburner and how he could turn out to be a solid value pick in the later rounds. I filed the information away, thinking that I wouldn’t hear much more unless Stoneburner got to the league. Then the 40-yard dash happened, where Stoneburner put up the third fastest tight end time at 4.65 seconds. He also was among the highest finishers in vertical jump, long jump, and both shuttle drills. Based on his combine showing, I wouldn’t write Stoneburner off as a day two selection just yet.
Wide Receivers – I wasn’t expecting a lot from this group after reading that there wasn’t much top-end talent, but boy was I wrong. This group is deeper than most lakes and a few oceans despite lacking the perceived “franchise” receiver that usually lands in the top ten. Teams in search of slot burners in the middle rounds will be especially pleased, but it looks like most teams won’t go wrong drafting any of the top ranked guys on days two and three.
Robert Woods, USC – In 2012, Woods was the popular choice to be a top ten pick and the first receiver off the board in 2013. Now, after a quiet year in Southern California, Woods is projected to slip into the top half of the second round. The Robert Woods of the NFL combine appeared to bear a closer semblance to the player that was a first round lock last season, particularly in the gauntlet drill. Woods ran an average 4.51 forty but looked as natural as any receiver who stepped onto the field when the football started flying, gliding across the field and hauling in passes with ease.
Tavon Austin, West Virginia – He was expected to wow scouts with his speed, and Austin did just that with a 4.34 forty time. It’s going to be nearly impossible to ignore Austin’s Wes Welker-like skill set and eye popping 1,932 all purpose yards this past season. When all is said and done, I doubt that Austin escapes the first day of the draft.
Marquess Wilson, Washington State – Simply put, Wilson possessed the most natural pair of hands at the combine and can create mismatch havoc at 6-3. Wilson had some issues with the Washington State coaching staff that has led to a slight drop in stock and his speed measurables aren’t off the charts, but the ability to catch the ball consistently can never be underestimated.
Conner Vernon, Duke – Vernon’s physical traits aren’t overwhelming, but he has good hands and got rave reviews from the NFL Network crew for his football IQ. Based on how he carried himself, I could definitely see Vernon sticking around as a 4th or 5th receiver for a long time.
Denard Robinson, Michigan – “Shoelace” needed to put on a show for front office executives to respect his legitimacy at wideout, and perform he did. Robinson systematically completed most of the numerical drills (he did not bench) with respectable totals and looked like he’d been catching the football his whole life during the gauntlet. In a league where quarterbacks are being asked to take part in the running game, how valuable would it be to have a slot receiver who could also shift over and play a mobile quarterback? Robinson could be a dangerous weapon if he is given an offensive coordinator with imagination.
Running Backs – Here we have another position that lacks first round punch but figures to provide plenty of options in rounds two through four. This year’s backs didn’t jump off of the screen, and they performed about as expected, meaning that the selection process is still going to be extremely difficult for teams in search of backfield help.
Onterio Mccalebb, Auburn – I feel obliged to give a shout out to the man with the fastest 40 among running backs this year (4.34 seconds) even if his ceiling doesn’t appear high. Mccalebb is undersized and appears to be a late round scat back selection, but in a year of burners, Mccalebb burned brightest.
Knile Davis, Arkansas – Davis is bursting with potential, and his combine numbers generally reflected that. After leading the SEC in rushing with 1,322 yards in his sophmore year, Davis was hampered by an ankle injury in 2012 and only tallied 377 yards on 112 carries. He might have had the best strength/speed combination at the combine so far, coupling 31 bench reps with 4.37 forty time.
Quarterbacks – Granted, the combine is not a great place for QBs to show off their talents, but the 2013 class continues to look like a tremendous drop off from the immensely talented classes of the last two years. There was no one in particular that deserves to be singled out after Sunday’s performance, but there were still a few nuggets of information to be harvested. Geno Smith (West Va.) proved that he was the fastest quarterback in Indy, but did little else for me when he stepped up to throw. Landry Jones (Oklahoma), Tyler Bray (Tennessee), and Mike Glennon (NC State) all appeared to have live arms but have struggled with consistency and don’t have terrific mobility, a trait that is becoming a growing necessity in today’s NFL. If I was a top ten team hell-bent on taking a quarterback, I’d be praying for a good showing by Matt Barkley at USC’s Pro Day in March.