Oregon Football: What Ducks' Offensive Stars Must Prove on Pro Day
Mark Asper, David Paulson, Darron Thomas and LaMichael James were all in Indianapolis this past weekend representing Eugene, Oregon, at the NFL Combine.
Each of these guys will need to follow up their combine performance with a solid pro day in order to establish themselves worthy of a pick come draft day.
While the combine serves as a prime-time stage to show off what they've got, the pro day is a more casual environment where players typically thrive under the tutelage of familiar coaches and the support of college teammates.
This slideshow will explain what these four Ducks must prove in order to improve their draft stock at the team's pro day on March 15th.
Mark Asper, OL
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Mark Asper's goal heading into this weekend was to prove himself worthy of a selection in the draft. Prior to the combine, CBSSports.com had him rated as the 24th-best guard and predicted that he would not be picked in the initial seven-round draft.
With that being said, it is not surprising that Asper's name was hardly mentioned during the combine. In fact, he hardly helped his cause by putting up a disappointing 23 reps on the bench press.
Asper rarely was required to maintain blocks for a long period of time on passing plays since Oregon rarely threw the ball down the field. Come March 15th, Asper must be able to show that he has the athleticism, technique and strength to compete with elite defensive linemen in the NFL.
The 6'6", 319-pound Asper will benefit from having played both guard and tackle with the Ducks. If he can improve his total on the bench press, a team that utilizes a zone-blocking run scheme may target Asper in the 6th or 7th round. However, there is a good chance that he will be on a practice squad come next fall.
Darron Thomas, QB
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Darron Thomas shocked Ducks fans when he announced he would forgo his senior year for the NFL.
Thomas was a streaky passer during his college career. But his athleticism, leadership and winning percentage are enough to earn him some attention.
Because Thomas played in the spread offense and threw a limited number of routes, he may not be picked in the draft.
He did help his draft stock at the combine, finishing in the top 5 of three different events among all quarterbacks. Unfortunately, the 40-yard dash was not one of them.
Similar to when Tim Tebow was preparing to enter the draft, Thomas must prove that he has improved his throwing motion and footwork. He also will need to be precise on all of his throws on his pro day since he struggled with his accuracy in college.
While some scouts predict that Thomas will be drafted as a wide receiver, I do not think he has the acceleration and strength necessary to beat cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage.
If Thomas can show that he has developed since the end of the 2011-2012 season, he may be able to sneak into the final round of the draft and become a "project" for a team interested in his potential.
David Paulson, TE
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This year's tight-end class features a lot of athletic, ex-wide receivers who are more versatile than the traditional tight end. David Paulson falls into that category.
As expected, Paulson did not stand out at the combine, but he completed all of his events with the surprising athleticism and quiet confidence he was known for at Oregon.
Paulson's best event was the 60-yard shuffle which he ran in 11.90 seconds (ranking him 5th among all tight ends). This shows that he has a decent initial burst off the line of scrimmage and above-average long distance speed for his position.
While at Oregon, Paulson exhibited the best hands on the team. He was largely overshadowed by speedsters such as LaMichael James, Kenyon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas, but his slow and steady style came up huge in Oregon's big games.
Come pro day, Paulson needs to reconfirm that he can catch anything thrown his way and that he can be an effective blocker. He can increase his value as a special-teamer if he can improve his 40-yard dash time (4.93 seconds).
Paulson has the potential to be a dependable tight end in the NFL. Initially, he will make an impression in training camp with his soft hands and could work his way into a second-string role early on. He will likely go in the 5th or 6th round to a team looking to add depth to its roster.
LaMichael James, RB
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LaMichael James may have cemented himself as a second-round pick after an incredible performance at the NFL Combine. While there is fear that he is too small to take hits in the NFL, he has the same upside as Darren Sproles when he was drafted in the 4th round of the 2005 draft.
The most important event for James was the 40-yard dash. He needed to prove that he has the speed to beat defenses to the outside. He did not disappoint, his official time was 4.45 second, which tied for second best among running backs (his unofficial time was 4.37).
James also was a top performer in the three-cone drill, broad jump and 20-yard shuffle, which supports his reputation as an explosive player with an elite initial burst.
James was the most comfortable running back catching balls during Sunday's drills. Regardless of the route, James consistently was fluid in his movements and extended his arms to make catches. This is significant because whoever drafts James will expect him to be a receiving threat.
All James needs to do now is stay healthy and improve his strength (he had a meager 15 reps on the bench press). Otherwise, if he is able run another solid 40-yard dash at his pro day, a team looking to add a Darren Sproles element to its offense will gladly reach for James in the second round.