Monday, March 16, 2009

Pro Day Rewind: Week Four

A very busy week has passed us and there was a tremendous amount of news and notes to sift through, so I’ve taken the liberty of boiling it down for your perusal once again. We’ll of course hit the louder points (Andre Smith, Pat White) but there was also a lot of noise made by players in a more positive light.
Let’s take a look at the week that was.

Alabama: While the press has mostly been talking about Andre Smith’s divisive Pro Day, he wasn’t the only one working out who made an impression. For example, take safety Rashad Johnson. The 5'11, 200-pound former walk-on continued to generate heat after his solid Scouting Combine workout with some excellent positional drills. Johnson kept his general workout numbers from the Combine but that didn’t stop scouts from leaving with his name on their tongues.

Also making their mark were quarterback John Parker Wilson and center Antoine Caldwell, both of whom stayed with their Combine numbers while running positional drills. Wilson showed some good touch and strength in his throws while Caldwell really shined in his drills. Two tight ends of note also worked out, doing both workout and positional drills. Travis McCall was slower in his 40 and shorter in his vert than Nick Walker, but was faster in both the shuttle and three-cone drills by about three-tenths of a second in both, and lifted 20 bench press reps to Walker’s 14.

Smith continues to add to the concern in some corners that he lacks the attitude and work ethic necessary to excel in the NFL. On one hand, he had lackluster numbers in many of the workout drills—slow 40 times, an unimpressive 19 lifts in the bench press, and mediocre shuttle and cone times. He took his shirt off and looked physically overweight, not cut at all, and flabby. On the other hand, reports are he did very well in positional drills and some teams–most notably the San Francisco 49rs who pick tenth–reportedly came away impressed.

Smith will likely need to prove himself yet again in individual workouts over the next few weeks.

Boston College:
The Boston College Eagles welcomed representatives from 15 NFL teams to Alumni Field last week, and the folks who showed up got another look at why B. J. Raji is the top defensive tackle in the 2009 Draft and one of the marquee defensive linemen overall. Raji stood on his Combine numbers but looked agile and deadly in his positional drills, gliding across the turf with a smoothness which belied his 6’ 2”, 337-pound frame.

Fellow defensive tackle Ron Brace also had a good workout, running the 40 again and improving his time from the 5.4 he ran in Indy to something in the 5.0 to 5.2 range. While not as athletic and nimble as Raji, Brace also did well in positional drills and should fetch a spot somewhere in the second round. Both tackles looked very good and shouldn’t last past the first day of the Draft.

Thirty-six other players attended the Pro Day, including linebacker Brian Toal. Toal had missed his whole senior year of play due to a broken leg and was happy to be able to show off for scouts, since the lack of playing time limits their ability to watch him on film. He did everything scouts asked of him, including offensive and special teams work, along with defensive drills. Toal’s biggest question marks may come from teams who are worried about his injury-plagued career at BC, but Toal functioned at 100 percent and certainly made it known that he was willing to do whatever it takes.

Ohio State: Multiple players from the Ohio State Buckeyes were looking to set their draft status right. Chris Wells, James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins all had questions post-Combine, while wide receiver Brian Robiskie was looking to prove that his Combine performance was no fluke. Twenty-nine teams came by to watch the workout, so the pressure was certainly on for all involved.

OSU’s track is known for being very fast, so much so that scouts have said that one needs to add anywhere from .07 to .1 of a second to times. Still, Wells’ 4.34 and 4.46 were an improvement over his combine times. Of course, one of the biggest knocks against Wells has been durability, but he looked in fine shape and has clearly been working very hard to not only shave off seconds of his 40 time, but make sure he is sharp in all aspects of his game.

Unfortunately, the same improvements were not evident in some of the other Buckeye athletes. Jenkins ran a 4.46 and a 4.53, which left both observers and Jenkins feeling as if he is likely to convert to safety at the pro level. On a positive note, Jenkins seemed to accept this and appears to be willing to make the switch in order to make a team.

Laurinaitis also lacked a vast improvement in his 40 time, running a 4.68 and a 4.78. Laurinaitis has battled questions this off-season about whether he had topped out during his early college career, with people pointing to his mediocre senior year. There seem to be some splits amongst analysts as to whether the former Buckeye linebacker can achieve what was originally expected of him at the pro level. Unfortunately, he was unable to answer those questions on this day.

Robiskie ran a 4.47 in his 40 and performed well enough throughout the day to continue intriguing scouts, solidifying his position as a potential second round pick.

Oregon: Almost two dozen teams (as well as six coaches) were represented at and around Autzen Stadium as former Duck players turned out for their chance to make an impression.

Several players stood out from the crowd. Safety Patrick Chung was impressive in position drills, though he let his Combine numbers stand for everything else. DE/LB prospect Nick Reed, who was not invited to the Combine, gave people second thoughts about that omission. His workout drills stacked up very favorably next to some of the numbers others at his position put up at the Scouting Combine. His 40 times (one with the wind, one against) would have ranked him fourth among the defensive linemen and sixth among linebackers. His 4.28 short shuttle would have been second best and his 6.96 three cone would have placed him third in the defensive line group (Stats thanks to While workout numbers aren’t everything, these were certainly worth noting and scouts came away impressed. Reed is open to a transition to linebacker, and other college defensive linemen have made the change successfully.

Other players who stood out were running back Jeremiah Johnson—who improved on his Combine 40 times with a 4.57 and a 4.61—and wide receiver Jaison Williams, who blew his Combine numbers away with a 4.47 in the 40 (4.63 at the Combine), a 6.94 three cone (7.37 at the Combine), and improved his vertical by an inch, bringing it to 36.5. Williams’ problem, however, has been his inconsistency and while he looked fine in drills, he will need to prove he can be relied upon if he is to make it in the NFL.

Maryland: Along with 50 scouts at Maryland’s Pro Day were quite a few receiver coaches, all there to see what former Terrapin wide out Darrius Heyward-Bey could do in position drills. Heyward-Bey performed admirably, looking smooth and confident running his drills. Heyward-Bey chose to let his outstanding Combine numbers stand.

Auburn: Every NFL team was present for Auburn’s Pro Day, and while there was a big barbecue afterwards, I’m pretty sure they were there for the players. Cornerback Jerraud Powers looked very good in positional drills and ran 4.43 and 4.45 40s, which vastly improved his time from the Combine. Defensive lineman Sen’Derrick Marks did well in his position drills and added several drills he didn’t do in the Combine, such as the bench press (16 reps) shuttle and three cone.

West Virginia: The biggest draw here was, of course, Pat White, whose coach announced he would not be running wide receiver drills prior to the workout. White had said he would be doing pass routes early, then wide out drills upon request. However, many scouts left after he threw and there appears to be confusion as to whether he was really available, but nobody asked if he was really interested in those drills. White once again looked sharp throwing the ball and stood on his results from the Scouting Combine for his running and weight drills.

Some other Pro Days worth noting:

Fresno State:
As reported early last week, quarterback prospect Tom Brandstater did not work out for scouts due to a torn lat muscle. He has set up a private workout on April 11th. Meanwhile, tight end Bear Pascoe improved on all his Scouting Combine numbers and continued to look good to scouts.

Oklahoma State: Tight end Brandon Pettigrew had to tell everyone he couldn’t work out, but also let the scouts know his agent would set up a time in a few weeks to make up for it. Aside from that, high winds made it nearly impossible for players to do positional drills and all other drills were done indoors on a rubber track. Defensive back Jacob Lacey was the standout of those who did drills, his highlights included a 4.50 and 4.45 in the 40 and a 41-inch vertical jump.

The marquee player here was of course Eben Britton, who drew eight offensive line coaches among the crowd of 50 scouts. Britton continued to look good in position drills and looks to be a first day–maybe a first round–selection. Also standing out was quarterback Willie Tuitama. Tuitama, who was not invited to the Combine, reportedly threw the ball very well in positional drills and could be an intriguing late-round pick or street free agent. A Wildcat who really opened new eyes to his ability was safety Nate Ness, who ran a 4.46 and a 4.49 in the 40, had a 36-inch vertical jump and certainly made scouts take a look at him after being somewhat unknown outside of Tucson prior to this Pro Day.

Kansas State:
Quarterback Josh Freeman attracted a bunch of quarterback coaches to the March 14th Pro Day, including ones from Tampa Bay, Detroit, Minnesota, St. Louis and Seattle. Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will be on hand Monday with a board to diagram plays and new Head Coach Rex Ryan and GM Mike Tannenbaum will be on hand for a private workout Tuesday, while Jacksonville QB Coach Mike Shula will come by on March 23. Freeman looked accurate and on point during positional drills and it’s clear he is drawing interest from many teams.

Oregon State: Cornerback Keenan Lewis came to Corvalis 17 pounds lighter than he weighed in Indianapolis. Apparently, prior to the Combine, Lewis was taking Creatine to increase his weight. While his 40 time remained the same, Lewis improved his vertical by five inches (to 38.5), his broad jump by seven inches (to 10'10"), ran a 4.42 in the short shuttle and a 6.89 in the three cone, both of which he chose not to do in Indianapolis.

Purdue: Twenty-three teams were represented, including Seahawks D-line coach Dan Quinn. Quinn was definitely here to get another look at defensive tackle Alex Magee, who kept his bench press numbers from Indy, but re-ran everything else, dropping his 40 time to 4.82 and 4.85, his shuttle to 4.42 and performing well in positional drills. Quarterback Curtis Painter showed off his arm in positional drills, but still looks to be a project at the next level.

Northwestern: While there were several players to watch here, most intriguing was the presence of linebacker coaches from the Eagles and Bucs who came to see Western Illinois' Jason Williams, who had worked out at W. Illinois’ Pro Day on a wooden gym floor. On a decent surface, Williams turned in sharp 40 times of 4.49 and 4.44. Of the Northwestern players there, wide receiver and special teams player Eric Peterman stood out with his 4.48 and 4.50 40 times and a nice 31 inch vertical.

Abilene Christian:
The story here continues to be wide receiver Johnny Knox, who drew a trio of receivers coaches. In all, 15 teams showed up and were not disappointed. Knox not only has incredible speed, but can catch the ball and looked rock solid in his position drills.

Texas Tech: Michael Crabtree
was, of course, sidelined because of his recent foot surgery. Quarterback Graham Harrell, once a Heisman hopeful, continues to slide on draft boards. While he did run a 4.95 in the 40, Harrell had some issues in his position drill and struggled with some of his throws. On a sad note, offensive tackle Rylan Reed was having a great Pro Day (41 bench reps!) when he injured his knee on his first 40 run. Reed had to be taken to a hospital and the NFL Draft Bible join many others in wishing him a speedy recovery.

Nebraska-Omaha: Twenty teams came to the Pro Day and were treated to an outstanding effort by tight end Zach Miller. Miller ran a 4.53 and a 4.54 in the 40, had a 37.0 vertical, a 10 foot 4 inch broad jump and just crushed his positional drills despite a torn tendon in his hand. He certainly left scouts talking.
Last week's Pro Days could fill 50 pages, and the same is true of this week's. Here are just a few of the Pro Days and athletes worth noting in the coming week.

LSU kicks things off on Monday as several players will vie for the scouts’ attention. Tyson Jackson is one of the top defensive ends in the draft and could lock a first round slot up with a solid performance. Meanwhile, wide receiver Demetrius Byrd will try to move up draft boards and show that his hands and route running are not the problems some think they are.

On Tuesday, Cal-Poly puts on its Pro Day and of course Ramses Barden, the big Division II stud, will attempt to keep his status heating up and show he knows how to use that towering height.

Pittsburgh has their Pro Day and everyone wants to see if LeSean McCoy can respond to Chris Wells’ performance last week and hold off UConn’s Donald Brown for the third running back spot. Linebacker Scott McKillop has told the NFL Draft Bible that he will likely stand on most of his Combine numbers and do only the positional drills.

In North Carolina, Hakeem Nicks is a guy to watch, but fellow wide receivers Brooks Foster and Brandon Tate can also make a move on scouts’ note sheets with good position drill workouts.

On Wednesday, I’m hoping to see Zack Follett and Alex Mack with my own eyes at California’s Pro Day in Berkley. Follett plays like a beast and I am really looking forward to watching his position drills to see if he can match the aggressiveness he plays with on the field. Mack has shown me pretty much all he has to on film as well, but I’m anxious to see what he does in person. Position drills are very telling as are scout reactions just after a player participates.

Meanwhile, Florida Gator wide receiver Percy Harvin will work out in the hopes that he could overtake guys like Jeremy Maclin and Darrius Heyward-Bey for the number two receiver slot. It’s possible that whomever ends up number two could go first as there is a chance Michael Crabtree will fall a little to the Raiders, who are known to avoid receivers lacking in 40 times.

Penn State had several players run well at the Combine, but aside from Derrick Williams, none of them is sure to be drafted. So while Williams is likely to go late round two, guys like Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood will need to kill their drills to prove there is more to them than pure speed. Defensive end Aaron Maybin has something to prove and a faster timed speed would help and Maurice Evans has some work to do as well.

On Thursday, Georgia hosts its Pro Day and scouts will be there in full force to see several potential top draft picks. Matthew Stafford didn’t work out at the Combine so his position drill will make him the biggest person of interest for most team officials. Stafford won’t easily drop in most people’s estimations. Running back Knowshon Moreno has been going back and forth with Chris Wells in many analysts’ rankings and after Wells burned up a fast track, scouts will want to see how Moreno responds.

Missouri hosts its second Pro Day as well and will feature some offensive studs themselves. Quarterback Chase Daniel has to overcome questions about his height as well as concern about his working out of the spread so frequently. Receiver Jeremy Maclin has shot to the top ranks of the wide receivers and is another wide out who could jump ahead of Crabtree if the situation is right on draft day. A solid workout would bolster his case that with Crabtree hurt, it’s safer to go another way. Tight end Chase Coffman could help his cause with some speed and some solid positional drills.

Finally, on Friday, we have another Pro Day I hope to see with my own eyes—San Jose State. Players like defensive end Jarron Gilbert and cornerbacks Coye Francies and Christopher Owens aren’t as well known as their counterparts at the bigger schools, but they may make just as much of an impact. It will be intriguing to see which teams make the trip out to San Jose and who gets the most attention.

Of course, that’s not nearly everything...not even close. Each week will bring many more players to our attention and every Monday at the Pro Day Rewind, we’ll make sure you know who made the biggest impact during the previous week and what might be the next name on your lips by week’s end.

Photo Credit: Collegiate Images, SEC Sports Media, College Press Box (Boston College, Maryland, Oklahoma St., Kansas St., Texas Tech, Penn St.), WVU Sports Communication, Purdue University Sports Information, Mizzou Media Relations