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Recapping The Combine: 3 Up, 3 Down

March 1, 2012 Leave a comment

The general wisdom is that the Combine is used to confirm what you have seen on tape throughout the course of a player’s collegiate career. Too often, fans and even some experts overstate the importance of the week long scouting event in Indianapolis. A guy who runs a bad 40 has “seen his stock plummet!” and a guy who tears up the bench press is “a budding monster!”. Indeed, the physical drills at the Combine are less important than what happens behind closed doors in the physicals and interviews – things that the average fan, blogger and even most in the media are not privy to. It won’t be until the draft is over, or near over, that you’ll hear reports about “apparently player X failed a lot of his medical exams at the combine” or “player Y had character issues that came up.”

 
Still, there is definitely money to be made and lost and a few guys every year see their draft stock increase or decrease enough to make the Combine a compelling event for all fans of the draft. Here are some guys who helped and hurt themselves the most:

Three Up:

Harrison Smith – A lot of people seemingly didn’t know who Harrison Smith was 2 weeks ago. Even despite the poor crop of safeties in this draft, Smith was flying under the radar in draft circles. An impressive combine seems to have changed that to the point where one well known draft expert claimed Smith could work his way into late round 1. His instincts and size are near ideal with only some questions remaining about his athleticism. He didn’t blow anyone with his 40 yard time (looking nervous and stumbling a little) but he did enough to alleviate concerns about his fluidity and agility to the point where a top 40 pick seems likely. A team like the Patriots, desperate for a safety and with two late 1st rounders, seem like a natural fit for the Notre Dame safety.

Mychal Kendricks – Coming into 2011, Kendricks looked like a mid-round pick who had “Future Special Teams Ace” written all over him. However, he had a very solid year at Cal, showing that he has the tools and instincts to match his athleticism. He turned in one of the most impressive overall showings – being amongst the best in every drill except the bench press. Kendricks’ stock had been rising towards the end up the year and the Combine should help solidify him as a Top 50 pick who could sneak into the early 2nd.

Nick Perry – Most people knew about Perry coming into the Combine. A standout at USC, there isn’t much question about Perry’s talent at getting to the QB. What did surprise some people was how explosive he looked in drills and how well he moves his 6’3 271 frame. His size and lower body strength have answered some questions about his scheme versatility. He looks like an ideal 3-4 “elephant” who could also play RE in a 40 front. Seattle would love to have Perry to play Pete Carroll’s “Leo” position but Perry has probably solidified himself as a Top 10 pick now – surpassing former OLB/DE front runner Courtney Upshaw.

 

Three Down:

Mohamed Sanu – Sanu has been a consensus late 1st rounder for a long time and watching him on tape you can see why – he’s big, plays pretty physically and has reliable hands. The big knock on Sanu  is his lack of speed and explosion off the snap. Despite what some draft scouts say, I don’t see a guy who is a great route runner. He looks to have some stiffness in his hips coming out of breaks – and could struggle to separate from NFL CB’s. It’s one thing to dominate Big East zone coverages, and another to be able to beat press coverage at the next level. Sanu’s 4.67  40 yard time confirmed a lot of fears about his slowness and sluggishness. While he did a little better in the other agility drills, he doesn’t have the quick feet that will be needed to overcome his other shortcomings. He has potential as a #2 possession receiver, but he needs to go to a team with an established vertical threat. Even then, he might not be athletic enough to cut it in the pros.

Vinny Curry – Like Sanu, there were some questions about Curry’s fluidity and athleticism. He looks great at times on tape – a potential stat 3-4 OLB or 4-3 RE. Other times, he looks stiff and totally out of place on a football field. Curry’s combine did do much to allay concerns about his athletic ability. Compared to other potential early round OLB/DE options, Curry had a very poor showing. He ran a poor 40 (4.98) and didn’t really make up for it in other drills, though he did have a good showing in the 3-cone drill. There are a lot of concerns about Curry’s awareness and ability to react to plays rather than just pinning his ears back and getting after the QB. For a guy who isn’t a big factor in the run-game, a lack of explosion and speed is damning. Curry is probably a late 2nd or early 3rd rounder right now.

Vontaze Burfict – The Arizona linebacker came into the 2011 season with first round hype, some figuring he was headed for a top 10 pick in April. However, a poor year on-field and some well-publicized issues with his ability to take coaching had Burfict coming into the Combine with a lot to prove. Some still had him as a top 50 pick (perhaps going to the Ravens or Steelers at the end of round 1). Things went from bad to worse for Burfict in Indianapolis though. First, there were reports of him showing poorly in interviews, making excuses and failing to own up to his own shortcomings (i.e. lack of maturity). He followed that up with a disastrous showing in drills, running a 5.09 40 yard dash and putting up a 30 inch vertical. Absolutely nothing has gone right for Burfict since 2010 and it looks as if he has completely destroyed his stock. While he is sure to draw comparisons to Patriots LB Brandon Spikes – who had an awful Combine two years ago – Spikes had a much better final season at college and there weren’t the same concerns about coachability. Burfict will probably go earlier than some of his critics think, but it wouldn’t come as a total shock if he is still available on Day 3.

 

More thoughts on the Combine to come later this week.

 

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Goodbye 2011 Season. Combine Here We Come.

February 7, 2012 Leave a comment

(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)

The 2011 NFL season is just about in the books. There are a few loose ends to be tied up – the Giants parade, a few coaching/assistant vacancies, retirements, etc, – but for all intents and purposes we are ready to kick off the 2012 offseason. For many of us (especially those of us reading an NFL-draft themed website) the offseason is nearly (equally?) as exciting as the regular season. The first stop is the NFL Scouting Combine in just over two weeks. While some of us will be watching each and every drill and keeping our eyes and ears open for draft-related rumblings, others will just pay attention to the big daily headlines. Here are some things to watch:

1. The top of the DL class. Unlike in some recent years, there is no consensus Top 5 pick DL on the board. There are two guys – LSU’s Michael Brockers and North Carolina’s Quinton Coples – who have very high upside but question marks. Brockers, a redshirt sophomore, is thought to have elite upside but is very raw. Coples is a bit of an enigma, flashing top-end skills at times and disappearing at other times. In a draft class short on 5-techniques, and a league shifting more and more to 3-4 base schemes, both Coples and Brockers could draw a lot of interest early. It’s possible 4-3 teams take an interest in both guys, Brockers is probably atop the list of 3-techniques in the draft and Coples could play DE in some 4-3 schemes. After those guys, Devon Still, Dontari Poe, and others are looking to jump into the top half of the 1st round.

2. The WR class in general. If there’s a position which has a lot of moving and shaking in terms of draft stock at the combine, it’s the receivers. Can Alshon Jeffery run well and prove some of his naysayers wrong about his athleticism and speed? Can Michael Floyd interview well and show better-than-expected fluidity in drills? Is Kendall Wright really as impressive athletically as a lot of people are starting to think? Moving beyond the top tier of receivers, the Combine could help shape the 2nd tier of WR’s. This draft is loaded with speedy, dynamic playmakers: Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, T.Y. Hilton to name a few. Not to mention some bigger guys who could boost their stock with good 40 times: Juron Criner, Rueben Randle, Mohamed Sanu. This is a class which will be very deep in WR prospects and a superlative Combine showing can theoretically make a WR a lot of money. Conversely, with so many good prospects, a bad combine could cause a WR to slip a lot.

3. The “other” QB’s: Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, Brandon Weeden. Like with the WR’s, there is a bit of a muddle after the first tier of WR’s. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are obviously the #1 and #2 guys. After that, there isn’t much of a consensus on anyone. Seeing how some of these guys do in drills and how they interview will probably cause one or two to shoot up the board and possibly one or two to slide into Day 3 territory.

4. Smaller school guys. Guys like Appalachian State WR Brian Quick, Midwestern State OT Amini Silatolu, Louisiana-Lafayette TE Ladarius Green, Cal Poly DB Asa Jackson and Montana DB Trumaine Johnson are among the lesser known prospects (to many) who the casual draft follower or college football fan might not know about. There are usually one or two such players who see a boost in their stock by performing well in the drills or interview process.

5. Character or injury guys. How does Ryan Broyles’ knee check out? Is Alshon Jeffery’s work ethic bad or just a myth? This portion of the process goes largely unseen until the draft itself when you hear cryptic comments from a so-called expert about how “from what I understand, Player X didn’t do well in the interviews” or “Player Y apparently has some drug issues in his past” or “Player Z’s injury is more worrisome than many thought”. However, as we have seen in the case of Aaron Hernandez (drugs) or Rob Gronkowski (spinal injury), sometimes these red flags can be too highly considered on draft day. We all remember the hoopla about Cam Newton’s comments (“I’m an entertainer and an icon”). Many labeled him a diva or character risk based on those comments and his issues at Auburn. Luckily, Carolina was smart enough to trust their own interview process and make him their franchise QB.

6. Position conversion projects. With the increase of 3-4 teams in the NFL, but no real increase in college, there are more and more teams looking to convert college DT’s to 5-techniques and college DE’s to OLBs. In many cases, teams project these conversions with very little tape to go on. The drills at the combine (and pro days) can go a long way. Guys like Whitney Mercilus, Melvin Ingram, Vinny Curry, Cam Johnson, Andre Branch and the like will need to show well in LB drills to be considered by 3-4 clubs. Some DB drills could also help scouts identify CB’s who could flip to safety (especially important in this weak safety class).

All in all, it should be an interesting kickoff to a 6 month offseason.

Pass Rushing Class Of 2012 Has Tough Act To Follow

January 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Aldon Smith, Von Miller, Jabaal Sheard, Adrian Clayborn, Ryan Kerrigan, Sam Acho – the 2011 draft class produced an impressive number of guys who proved to be effective in getting to the quarterback. In fact, the 2011 class had more sacks in their rookie year than any draft class since sacks became an official stat in 1982. While the 2012 class doesn’t appear to be as strong, there are still a few guys who could make an impact as pass rushers in their rookie year.

Before we take a look at the 2012 prospects, let’s take a closer look at the historic class of 2011. Rookie draftees piled up 117 sacks in 521 cumulative games played. That’s the most sacks all time for a rookie draft class and 4th best sacks per game. 36 different players tallied at least half a sack in 2011, with an average of 3.25 sacks per draftee – 2nd best next to the 1990 class (which included Renaldo Turnbull, Aaron Wallace, James Francis and Jimmie Jones). Here are how all the draft classes since 1982 stack up:

Sackrookies_medium

It’s extremely unlikely that the 2012 crop will come close to 2011’s results, but there are a few guys who could make an impact early. Here are 7 prospects who could could have immediate success as pass rushers in 2012:

Nick Perry (USC) – He’s coming off a 9.5 sack junior season with the Trojans and could end up being the premier pass rush prospect on many draft boards by the time the draft rolls around in April. He has an explosive first step, perhaps the best of any prospect in this class and can close on the QB as well as any of the top NFL pass rushers. There are some questions about his strength and ability to take on the bigger, more powerful NFL linemen, however he did perform well against some of the best OT’s in college football (including likely 2012 first rounder Jonathan Martin). Perry best fits in a 3-4 scheme as an OLB, although he probably could succeed at RE in a 4-3 scheme as well.

Vinny Curry (Marshall)– Perhaps the most accomplished pass rusher in the 2012 draft, Curry leaves school with 26.5 sacks under his belt. He’s not as quick off the ball as Perry, although possesses a stronger repertoire of pass rush moves. It looks as if Curry has bulked up a bit in the last year, which should bode well for him in the NFL. He has a terrific motor and could succeed in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 scheme. The biggest question about Curry is the level of competition he faced in school. Racking up sacks in Conference USA isn’t as impressive as doing it against elite college OL. In the Beef ‘O’ Brady Bowl, Curry was handled pretty well by the mediocre (at best) FIU offensive line. Had Curry played against better competition, he’d probably be a top 20 consideration. As it stands now, he is probably a 2nd rounder who could sneak into the very late 1st to a team like the Patriots.

Courtney Upshaw (Alabama) – The versatile Upshaw has been steadily rising up the 2012 draft board, partly due to the lack of premium pass rushing talent available. While some might project Upshaw to 3-4 ILB or 4-3 DE, his best role is probably at 3-4 OLB. He’s not a dynamic athlete like some rush linebackers, but makes up for it with excellent strength and an impressive bull-rush. He doesn’t project to a double-digit sack guy, but could be a steady 6-8 sack per year kind of guy in the right situation.

Whitney Mercilus (Illinois) – He led the country in sacks in 2011 with an impressive 16. However, it remains to be seen whether Mercilus can translate his success to the NFL. While he is pretty good at getting leverage off the snap, he tends to break down a bit through contact and can get driven out of plays by stronger offensive linemen. A lot of his sacks came when he was able to pin his ears back and get after the QB without having to worry about playing the run. That could be partly due to his inexperience, but he looks like a guy who will start his career as a situational pass rusher while he develops his run-stopping. There are also some questions about his best position, as he seems to look lost and stiff when he is playing in space. Teams who run a 3-4 would probably best look elsewhere, unless he shows well in linebacker drills at the Combine.

Brandon Jenkins (Florida State)– A good athlete with an excellent motor, Jenkins is perhaps the most natural 3-4 OLB pass rusher in this class (as far as DE conversion projects go). The big question about Jenkins is his strength, as he probably won’t be able to rely solely on his athleticism in the pros. He might not be strong enough initially to succeed against quality LT’s. He has a decent array of pass rush moves and despite having a somewhat disappointing 2011 season, should still end up in the top 40 picks in 2012 (if he declares).

Melvin Ingram (South Carolina) – The toughest part about projecting Ingram’s pass-rush ability is figuring out where he’ll play in the pros. At approximately 6’1 275, he doesn’t really fit the prototypical size of NFL position. He might end up as an OLB in a 3-4, although he might lack the length that a lot of teams prefer. He could potentially move inside (a la Karl Klug who had success as a “tweener” rookie with the Titans) although he’d probably would need to bulk up a bit. His ability to play DE in a 4-3 is questionable, as he’s a bit short and might lack the athleticism to play RE. Despite these concerns, he has a great motor and a knack for making big plays at big moments. He should come off the board somewhere between picks 25-50 although the lack of a true position might cause him to slide.

Quinton Coples (UNC) – He definitely has the power and first step to be a successful pass rusher in the NFL. The big questions surrounding Coples are: where does he best fit and can he be consistently motivated? He could potentially fit inside in a 4-3 or at LE. He probably doesn’t have the athleticism and explosiveness to have great success at RE in the pros – although he might be able to do it in the right scheme. He could also potentially fit as a 3-4 5-technique (DE). In that sense, he has the versatility of guys like Calais Campbell or Richard Seymour – especially if Coples can bulk up a little.

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