The second day of on the field drills for the NFL Scouting Combine proved to be both interesting and somewhat disappointing in some aspects.
While the quarterback group flashed during the position drills and several highly regarded passers cemented their draft status, the receiver group proved to be the slowest group in years with only two sub-4.4 and another eight sub-4.5 40 yard dash times out of 37 total wide out participants (compared to 15 participants under 4.45 in 2015 and 15 participants under 4.47 in 2014).
The big story out of Indianapolis yesterday was the performance of North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz. After putting up above average numbers in the physical drills, Wentz flashed a very solid arm and both advanced route timing and accuracy throughout the position drills. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock also noted a further improvement on Wentz’s footwork on drop backs throughout the drills. Some teams may still be scared away from drafting a Division I FCS quarterback, but Wentz showed scouts he can at least hit the passes in practice and has a more than adequate arm for the NFL.
Among the other quarterbacks, Lousiana Tech’s Jeff Driskel turned in the fastest 40 yard time at a blazing 4.56 seconds, Memphis’ Paxton Lynch flashed the talent (albeit with some inconsistency) that has made some claim him to be a first round prospect and Bucky Brooks was so impressed with Dak Prescott’s day that he claimed Prescott may be the best passer outside of the trio of Wentz, Lynch and Jared Goff.
Notre Dame’s Will Fuller put in an impressive day of work, leading the receiver group with 4.32 second 40 yard dash and put some of the hands concerns to rest with a solid performance in team drills — although the comparisons to Ted Ginn Jr. will likely still stick. Fellow receiver Josh Doctson may have worked his way into a first round selection after managing a solid 4.50 40 yard dash and finishing among the best in both broad and vertical jumps. The TCU product then proceeded to flash quickness in and out of cuts while securing nearly every pass his way in position drills.
Todd McShay also came away impressed with the play of receivers Braxton Miller and Sterling Shepard after respectively putting up solid 4.50 and 4.48 40 yard dash times and flashing in the position drills.
Among the tight ends Ohio State’s Nick Vannett and Stanford’s Austin Hooper seemed to help themselves out quite a bit, as both displayed quick cuts in position drills and very capable hands for a receiving tight end — especially Vannett, who secured everything thrown his way with impeccable technique. Neither are considered the top TE in the draft (Arkansas’ Hunter Henry takes that claim) but both likely worked their way into an early to mid selection on Saturday.
The foremost prospect to secure his standing as a possible top five pick in the draft is undoubtedly California’s Jared Goff. A good as perfect performance on the field confirms why scouts consider Goff the most polished passer in the draft, even if he doesn’t have the arm of Wentz or Lynch — but the ease with which he flew through drills would impress the most stubborn of scouts. The big school versus small school matchup of Goff versus Wentz as to who is the top quarterback in the draft will continue to be a prime story until draft day.
Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell may not have run the 40 yard dash on Saturday, but his exceptional routes, adjustment to passes and lack of drops in the position drills left analysts and scouts impressed as to his chances of long term success at the professional level. Treadwell is entrenched as a first round pick in April, if not the top receiver off of the board.
Cardale Jones did himself no favors on Saturday. After running a mediocre 4.81 40 yard dash on his first attempt, Jones pulled up lame attempting the second run and was removed from drills. Scouts will have to wait until Ohio State’s pro day to see Jones in action once again, but in the meantime the likes of Prescott, Driskel and Stanford’s Kevin Hogan all got in solid reps in front of scouts.
Among the passers no player had a tougher day than Connor Cook, who struggled to hit receivers down the field in position drills and had lackluster accuracy on short to intermediate routes. The Michigan State quarterback has earned a reputation as an inconsistent and fairly inaccurate passer — and he did nothing to change scouts’ minds on Saturday.
Penn State product Christian Hackenberg also didn’t improve his draft chances with an erratic performance where he flashed some of the ability scouts see in his tape (for example a perfectly placed post corner route) only to follow it up with repeatedly off target passes in subsequent reps/drills.
Of the receivers and tight ends very few performed poorly enough to hurt their value, although TCU’s Trevone Boykin probably didn’t convince any scouts he can make the jump from quarterback to receiver after a 4.77 40 yard dash performance.
However, a major bombshell dropped in the form of reports stating standout Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith failed multiple medical exams with teams on Saturday with concerning reports about nerve damage in both his knee and ankle. Such a resounding failure of a combine physical based on the concerns of long term nerve damage stemming from a torn ACL and LCL last year could end up leaving Smith undrafted in April — and undoubtedly removes him from consideration as a first round (or even top ten) draft pick.
Saturday’s groups rounded out the offensive side of the ball. Today features the defensive line and linebackers, with many eyes on Ohio State pass rusher Joey Bosa in particular and a multitude of highly regarded defensive tackles.
Hundreds of high school football players made the trip to Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana for a special event this past weekend: the 18th annual Manning Passing Academy.
While the camp features players and coaches at several levels of the professional and collegiate levels as camp counselors, it’s the after hours activities that interest scouts and NFL coaches, when the collegiate participants get to show off their abilities in the offseason. Among the analysts in attendance were Mike Mayock and Bucky Brooks. Both NFL.com’s quarterbacks guru (Mayock) and the former player/scout (Brooks) made some interesting observations about the participating quarterbacks.
One of the biggest stories of the weekend was the departure of Johnny Manziel from the Mannings’ camp due to a reported illness, while others cited that Manziel had been sent home due to a bit too much partying. Labeled as “just the latest saga in the summer of Johnny Football” by ESPN anchor Rece Davis, Manziel’s publicity seems to be in full-blown media mania mode following many off-the-field stories stemming from his activities at Texas A&M and unprecedented reception of the Heisman Award as a freshman in December.
Regardless of the media’s coverage of Manziel’s off-the-field antics, the sophomore phenom still receives a good deal of attention due to his playmaking style of quarterbacking o”n the field. Brooks’ thoughts regarding Manziel revolve around the prediction that Manziel’s pre-draft evaluation by scouts and coaches — will the ‘sandlot’ quarterback draw reviews closer to Tim Tebow or Russell Wilson? Brooks tends to believe the Manziel’s mental approach is more suited to comparisons to the latter of the two — especially if he continues to develop as a proficient pocket passer.
While Johnny Football indeed favors improvisation and an ability to make plays via scrambling outside of the pocket, it became clear to Brooks during the interview process that Manziel understands the necessity of learning the pocket passer approach. The same approach is what has made perhaps the other most-discussed college quarterback famous at Alabama: A.J. McCarron.
Katherine Webb, McCarron’s girlfriend and celebrity personality, may have gotten more camera time in the past six months of the collegiate offseason, but McCarron is clearly in for a media-filled senior season as the ever-constant scrutiny of professional talent evaluators as his draft chances hang in the balance. Alabama’s pro-style offense has led scouts to label McCarron as one of the more pro-ready quarterbacks for the 2014 NFL Draft class.
McCarron can do it all — he has everything a scout looks for in a prospect — but the question is whether he can make the jump to an even more competitive level of play. Brooks came away impressed with McCarron’s “team-first” mentality and surprising aspirations to mirror Brett Favre’s “gunslinger’s mentality” as an expression of McCarron’s belief that he can be a playmaker at the professional level.
Each draft class features a player who receives the label of being the most physically talented quarterback of the group. Brooks believes that this label is most appropriately given to Miami junior Stephen Morris, whose impressive arm strength and pinpoint accuracy impressed scouts at the Manning camp. Other than passing abilities that include polished senses of touch and ball placement, Brooks came away with an impression that Morris’ anticipation and timing could make him a top quarterback in an impressive field of 2014 passers.
Brooks named several other passers in attendance as possible sleeper candidates for next May, including the likes of Devin Gardner (Michigan), Bryn Renner (North Carolina) and James Franklin (Missouri). Both Gardner and Franklin displayed impressive athleticism in combination with passing ability that could make either player appeal to professional scouts in the way Denard Robinson did this offseason. Renner’s claim to fame (according to Brooks) is an under-utilization of his passing talents in the Tar Heels “dink and dunk” offense that could lead to a late round ‘steal’ selection in May’s draft.
Mayock came away with similar impressions from the same collegiate passers as Brooks, with his most polished honors going to Renner and McCarron (although Mayock emphasized McCarron’s less-than excellent arm strength). Morris was mentioned in Mayock’s report as having been “developed well over the past couple years” due to notable mechanics, tight throws and impressive accuracy. In addition to Gardner, Mayock cited Florida passer Jeff Driskel as a raw quarterback prospect with passing ability and plus athleticism to keep an eye on as he starts his junior season.
The 2014 NFL Draft class of quarterbacks is shaping up to be a group to watch this season.