Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Teams Have Questions, Do They Have Answers?

1. Graham Harrell, Texas Tech – The Red Raiders’ signal caller is coming off back-to-back 5,000-yard/40 touchdown seasons…yet NFL scouts still have questions regarding his ability to throw the football. Is it fair? To answer a question with a question – how have Kliff Kingsbury (5,017 yards, 45 touchdowns in 2002), B.J. Symons (5,883 yards, 52 touchdowns in 2003), Sonny Cumbie (4,742 yards, 32 touchdowns in 2004) and Cody Hodges (4,197 yards, 31 touchdowns in 2005) fared in the NFL? While Harrell is a far better pro prospect than any of his predecessors, the fact they have done absolutely nothing in the league where they play for pay doesn’t help the Texas native. Most of Harrell’s passes travel 10 yards or less and he will have to adjust to playing under center after playing in the spread offense not only in his entire college career, but in high school as well.

2. Pat White, West Virginia – Pat White wishes he had Harrell’s problems…as he has to prove to NFL personnel people that he is in fact a quarterback, otherwise he is headed to wide receiver. While Harrell was reaching the 400-yard mark on a regular basis the past two seasons, the Mountaineers’ leader in the huddle didn’t turn in his first 300-yard performance until his career finale. White is a winner – he is the first quarterback ever with four bowl wins as a starter – but did as much damage with his legs as he did with his arm at the college level, if not more. White’s Meineke Car Care performance (26-of-32 passing, 332 yards, three touchdowns) opened some eyes and proved he deserves at least the opportunity to prove he is a quarterback. Thus far, White is sticking to his guns and playing exclusively at quarterback in Mobile. It says here that in all likelihood when White lines up in shut-gun on Sundays, it will be in some sort of “Wildcat” package, not as a traditional quarterback.

3. Nic Harris, Oklahoma –
While this Boomer Sooner got to keep his No. 5, Harris isn’t playing his customary safety position this week at the Senior Bowl. Instead, the First Team All-Big 12 defensive back is lining up at linebacker. At 6’3 and 230 pounds Harris is bigger than many college linebackers and even saw some time there when Oklahoma suffered a rash of injuries at the middle linebacker position. Harris is at his best playing in the box and moving towards the line of scrimmage with the speed to cover ground. His move to linebacker is clearly a sign scouts are not impressed with his cover skills. Now he must prove that he can play in the front seven or he could be in danger of being labeled a ‘tweener – not quick or rangy enough to play safety and not big or physical enough to be a linebacker.

4. Connor Barwin, Cincinnati –
Like Pat White, this Big East product has scouts arguing about where he should play. In fact, many teams differ as to which side of the ball best suits this Bearcat. So far he has played predominately at tight end, with a few reps sprinkled in at defensive end towards the end of day two. Tight end was where Barwin lined up during his first three seasons at Cincinnati and he recorded 31 receptions for 399 yards and two touchdowns in 2007. As a senior, he made the switch to defense and made a major impact despite being a neophyte at the position. Taking to his new position with relative ease, Barwin turned in 10 sacks this past season. At 6’4/255 pounds he has the build, as well as the athleticism, to either get after the quarterback or catch passes from one. Only the team that will call his name on the last weekend April will know where Barwin will ultimately play on Sundays.

5. Ramses Barden, Cal-Poly –
The only thing small about this wideout is the competition he played against in college. At over 6’5 and 225 pounds with mittens for hands, Barden is among the biggest and longest receivers in the class of 2009 and the Football Championship Subdivision stud is as productive as any wide receiver not named Michael Crabtree. He will pass the eye test for sure, but how will he fare on the field against big-school competition? This week of practice at the Senior Bowl and the game on Saturday is Barden’s best opportunity to show NFL scouts that he belongs with the big boys. With former FCS stars Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Arizona), Tim Hightower (Arizona) and Joe Flacco (Baltimore) helping their teams advance deep into the playoffs in the NFL, you can be sure Barden will be given every opportunity to prove just that.

Photo Credit: OU Athletics Department, College Press Box (Texas Tech), Matt Brown Photography