Monday, February 23, 2009

Pro Day Rewind


As we head toward the end of the 2009 NFL Combine, we do so knowing that many of these players will be getting another chance to shock and awe the scouts at their individual school’s Pro Days. An athlete might have struggled in Indianapolis but could recover his momentum with a second look. On the other hand, a guy can just as easily fritter away all the buzz he gathered at the Combine by not being ready at his Pro Day.

Over the course of the next six weeks, this column will follow the ups, downs, and occasional sideways movement of the NFL Draft Class of 2009.

Now you may be asking yourself is it time for a Pro Day Rewind Column when the Combine isn’t even finished?

Well, not every future NFL star is working out in Indianapolis. Every year, athletes who weren’t present at the Combine end up in the NFL anyway, some to eventual fantastic effect. For examples, please see Welker, Wes and Parker, Willie from 2004.

And of course, there are some players every year who choose not to compete in Indy. Whether it's because of an injury or a concern about losing momentum, these players leave scouts wanting and needing more.

Today’s column is focused on the players who are not performing during the Combine, for whatever reason. For these athletes, their Pro Days are even more vital.

1. WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (INJURED): During his medical examination, the seventh ranked player on the NFLDB Big Board was diagnosed with a small stress fracture in his foot. The news put the kibosh on any plans Crabtree had to work out in some capacity at the Combine and sent scouts scrambling for their notebooks as they tried to determine what, if any, impact this might have on his value.

Crabtree has announced he will delay the surgery until after his Pro Day, which is scheduled for March 26th, and work out on that day. Opinions range widely on whether this could cause more injury and whether he needs to run at all. Clearly he feels the need to perform and that the benefits outweigh the risk. March 26th will be a huge day for the Texas Tech receiver and worth watching. Some teams will downgrade him over the injury and a poor showing, or further injury, could really hurt his draft stock.

2. OT Andre Smith, Alabama (PERSONAL CHOICE):
Nobody hurt themselves more this weekend than the big tackle from the Crimson Tide. First, Smith stood up and explained to the assembled media and scouts that he would not be participating in the Combine because he was not in proper shape. That candor might have actually won him points had he not gone missing Saturday morning. While there seems to be some confusion about the complete chain of events, he ended up heading to Atlanta to train and nobody seemed to know about it.

Smith, sixth on the NFLDB Big Board heading into Indianapolis, already had some red flags prior to this weekend. He was suspended for Alabama’s Bowl game for reasons he wouldn’t quite clarify and there had been some reports that he was out of shape, confirmed perhaps by his decision not to work out in Indianapolis. Leaving the Combine, even if it was to work out, was a poor choice and Smith may have been given some very bad advice.

He will need to be on point for Alabama’s Pro Day which is just two and a half weeks away, on March 11th. He won’t easily slide from the first round, but another bad day from Smith will certainly push him down the draft ladder and cost him a lot of money. Teams who have already begun to be concerned by his choices may write him off entirely.

3. QB Matthew Stafford, Georgia (PERSONAL CHOICE):
As the top ranked quarterback on most analyst’s boards, Stafford didn’t have much to gain by doing much more than cheerleading on Sunday. However, as one of the knocks against him by some evaluators is occasional sloppiness and lazy fundamental execution, not working out isn’t really putting that doubt to rest.

Still, if you’re the top Bulldog, why not do your work on March 19th in the most comfortable setting possible with familiar receivers and your teammates and coaches looking on? Stafford may lose some of the lead he has now before then, but if he has a sharp day, he will solidify his standing.

4. TE Ryan Purvis, Boston College (NOT INVITED): Purvis, the tenth ranked tight end on NFLDB’s tight end rankings, may have suffered from a down senior year but in 2007, he was a safety net for 2008 Offensive Rookie of the Year, Matt Ryan (not to be confused with Overall Rookie of the Year, Joe Flacco.).

While Purvis is a sure-handed receiver and made strides as a blocker this past season, there are questions about his speed, ability to get separation and upside. Purvis may not be a finished product and he’ll need to show the scouts some shine on Boston College’s Pro Days, March 12th and 13th.

5. LB Frantz Joseph, Florida Atlantic (NOT INVITED): This physical linebacker will actually get an early chance to impress as his Pro Day falls on February 26th. Joseph had a productive career and can make plays, but lacks top end speed and ideal size. He’ll need to come out hard on Thursday and prove that he can hang with the big boys. Joseph has to make a lasting impression on scouts, since it will have to serve him until April and hopefully convince teams to bring him in for a private workout between now and then.

We’ll be back next Monday with a look at the few Pro Days taking place this week and a preview of what to watch for in the coming month.