2012 NFL Draft: 5 Pro Days to Look Forward to
There are no long breaks at this time of year.
Though the results of the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine are still in the digestive process, team pro days have already begun.
As discussed by our own Sigmund Bloom here on Bleacher Report, teams like Cincinnati, Missouri and Miami (OH) have already had pro day workouts where underrated combine non-invitees such as offensive lineman Brandon Brooks and wide receiver D.J. Woods were able to showcase their athletic prowess for NFL scouts.
That's just the beginning. The list of combine snubs and non-workouts seemed unusually expansive this year, which makes the upcoming pro day schedule as well as the NFL's brand new Super Regional Combine on March 30-31 all the more intriguing.
Here, we will take a look at five of the upcoming pro days that I find the most intriguing.
Baylor Pro Day: March 21
When Robert Griffin III chose not to throw at the NFL Scouting Combine, he increased the pressure to throw well at his upcoming Baylor pro day.
A year ago, I felt Cam Newton did a really good job getting out in front of the various footwork and mechanical criticisms that were inevitable given his background. Though he was chided for it endlessly by the media, his media workout prior to the combine was a good idea. He also threw at the NFL Scouting Combine, and subsequently worked out for the scouts at his pro day.
What Newton was able to do by working out so often was show his learning process. Teams were able to see and plot the improvement in his footwork and mechanics. Ultimately, he went No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers.
Griffin chose a different path. Scouts have not seen him throw the football since the Alamo Bowl. Instead of seeing the active improvement in his mechanics and footwork, the scouts will have one snapshot look at how far he has come.
There is still a lot at stake here. Though everyone considers him a lock for the No. 2 overall pick in a trade, that may or may not happen. The news that the NFL will open an investigation into whether the Washington Redskins engaged in the same kind of bounty program as the New Orleans Saints may affect their draft strategy in unforeseen ways.
It is important to note that the Baylor pro day will not just be all about Robert Griffin III. He will be featured prominently in the news cycle surrounding that day, but wide receiver Kendall Wright has some image clean-up to do after posting a 4.61-second "official" result in the 40-yard dash at the combine.
I have been reliably informed that no teams use the "official" times posted at the NFL Scouting Combine. Those times are used primarily by the media. NFL teams have different time results on Wright's 40-yard dash, and I do not believe those times are close to the 4.61 we saw in the "official" results.
Because of the controversy, I went back and re-timed a lot of 40-yard dashes. I used video software for more accurate results. The discrepancy between Wright's "official" time of 4.61 seconds and the unofficial 4.45-second result shown on the NFL Network broadcast immediately after the run was mostly due to idiosyncrasies in Wright's start technique. It really had nothing to do with his speed.
Using the method I am most comfortable provides accurate and consistent results, I timed him at about 4.43 seconds. I do not know what times the actual NFL scouts came away with, but I suspect they are much closer to my time than the "official" time. Nonetheless, Wright's image took a serious hit with the media because of the 4.61-second "official" time and he can start to rehabilitate his image by tearing up the track at his pro day.
Texas A&M Pro Day: March 29
I am a sucker for quarterbacks.
While training for the upcoming various pre-draft events (Senior Bowl, combine, pro day, private workouts, etc.) Ryan Tannehill fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. The surgery to fix the injury saw him sitting out the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine, and even saw him hobbling down the aisle of his own wedding on crutches. He is looking forward to showing off his recovery at his upcoming March 29 pro day.
I probably had a stress fracture there that was kind of a ticking time bomb and just waiting for the right moment to pop. It was very frustrating that it happened, but it was kind of a blessing in disguise, because I was able to get it fixed. ...When it comes down to it, we're preparing to play in the NFL, not just (throw in) the combine. So I'm excited about the rehab, and where I am right now.
Despite the injury, Tannehill probably has less to prove at his pro day than Griffin. The foot injury prevented Tannehill from taking part in the Senior Bowl or throwing at the combine, but Griffin could not take part in the Senior Bowl either and eschewed throwing at the combine.
Scouts can put on the tape of Tannehill and see him dropping back and throwing the football in a rhythm-based read-progression West Coast offense. They do not necessarily need to rely on a slick pro day in order to get a feel for what Tannehill brings to the table.
Nonetheless, Tannehill has a good opportunity to remind the teams why he is such a good quarterback prospect: accuracy.
When you get down to it, Tannehill is a highly accurate thrower of the football. His receivers dropped 64 passes this year. When you consider that he completed 327 of his 531 pass attempts, and figure the drops into the equation, Tannehill threw nearly 74 percent of his passes right into the hands of open receivers in a pro-style West Coast offense run by former and future NFL coaches.
I expect Tannehill to have one of those pro day outings where the media raves about how few of the 60 or so passes ended up not being caught.
Oklahoma State Pro Day: March 9
Despite the presence of yet another top-notch signal-caller, the Oklahoma State pro day does not hold my interest simply because of my love for quarterbacks. The player that will interest me most when the scouts travel to Stillwater is wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
Simply put, Blackmon needs this.
Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd threw the gauntlet down right at Blackmon's feet by participating in the athletic testing portion of combine drills and absolutely killing them.
At 6'3" and 220 lbs. (approximately two inches and 13 lbs. bigger than Blackmon), Floyd ran an "official" 4.47-second 40-yard dash. However, as I discussed earlier, those "official" results are flawed. The NFL Network broadcast had Floyd running a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, and when I re-timed him myself using video software, I actually had him breaking the 4.4 barrier at 4.39 seconds.
The rookie wage scale has made top 15 picks in the NFL draft a lot cheaper from a salary cap standpoint. It changes the risk profile of draft picks considerably. It should push up the draft stock of prospects that are viewed to be high-risk, high-reward players. Why? Because the "high risk" element of that ratio just got smaller.
Michael Floyd's athletic prowess, history of production at Notre Dame and alcohol-related issues make him the very image of the kind of high-risk, high-reward player that should benefit from the rookie wage scale's effect on risk profiles of top 15 selections.
That means Blackmon needs to nail this pro day if he wants to maintain his position as the top wide receiver in this draft class.
As for quarterback Brandon Weeden, this pro day is not essential to his draft stock. His own unique profile necessitates that he showcase his pure throwing ability at every available opportunity, but he already participated in a week's worth of Senior Bowl practices, and he already threw at the NFL Scouting Combine. Scouts are getting used to seeing Brandon Weeden throw and look good next to this class of quarterbacks.
Alabama Pro Day: March 7
You get the feeling after watching the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine that Alabama pass-rusher Courtney Upshaw is being left behind by the media news cycle.
Is that fair? No. However, he can't blame anyone but himself as it was his decision not to participate in the athletic testing portions of the combine.
And so, while Mike Mayock of the NFL Network leads a chorus constantly singing the praises of South Carolina pass-rusher Melvin Ingram, Upshaw is forced to wait until he can re-gain control of the conversation at his upcoming Alabama pro day.
Watching Upshaw participate in linebacker coverage drills at the combine, you could not avoid a sense that these drills were a little unfamiliar to him. Any issues on display looked to me a little more technical than athletic. In attempting to show his hip turn ability, he neglected to show off the natural balance and lateral movement ability that filled his tape.
These linebacker coverage drills are the kind of drills that tend to be overrated relative to the kind of player Courtney Upshaw is expected to be at the next level. Upshaw is a ball of butcher knives. He is a pass-rusher and run-defender at a perimeter-line position. Whether you play him up or down will depend on the defense you run. In the NFL, if he is an up player, he will probably only find himself out in coverage on about 15 to 20 percent of passing downs, or about 8 to 12 percent of his total snaps.
You don't need a guy to look like Deion Sanders when coverage is only 8 to 12 percent of his job description. You would do better to worry about the core skills needed to perform the other 88 to 92 percent of the job. For that, you don't refer to guys in their underwear trying to show off their backpedal while Jim Leavitt yells at them. You look at the tape.
In the meantime, Courtney needs to show people that he possesses explosiveness. I do not particularly care about his 40-yard dash result, as long as it is within reason. What you need to see are explosive metrics like the vertical and broad jump. His short shuttle should also look pretty good, as it shows some of your lateral movement ability.
This is one of the few players I saw in college football this year that could be a force player and chase down the option from inside-out. On a football field, he is explosive, strong and possesses a lot of lateral ability. I expect that ability to translate in some of the measurements at 6'2" and 272 lbs.
North Carolina Pro Day: March 20
There is not necessarily one marquee player set to participate in North Carolina's upcoming pro day. Quinton Coples certainly qualifies as an elite-level player, but he will probably stand on his combine numbers and participate in field drills during the pro day.
It seems over recent years this team always hits the draft with an impressive sheer quantity of draftable players. This year is no exception. Even aside from Coples, you will want to keep an eye on linebacker Zach Brown, wide receiver Dwight Jones, defensive linemen Donte Paige-Moss and Tydreke Powell, as well as cornerback Charles Brown.
I was not happy with the coverage abilities of North Carolina's defense in 2011. The inability to cover, especially the quick pass, was a big part of why Coples lacked sack production. A perfect example is a pass play run by the Miami Hurricanes where Coples was blocked by three players. The Hurricanes went to a max protect and sent both a tight end and tailback to the left side of the formation to help tackle Brandon Washington deal with Coples. North Carolina only rushed three players, dropping eight in coverage. With eight men in coverage versus only three receivers running routes, Jacory Harris was still able to get the football out of his hands in 2.47 seconds and complete a deep pass to Travis Benjamin.
Zach Brown at linebacker was a big part of the disappointing coverage of the quick passing game. Despite incredible speed—which I re-timed at 4.42 seconds on his first and fastest combine run (the one where he stumbled a little)—he has no instincts for finding the passing lanes and does not diagnose plays quickly. That is why he had trouble covering fullback Bradie Ewing deep down the right sidelines on a wheel route at the Senior Bowl, despite Ewing's 4.7 speed.
Brown ran an "official" 4.50 at the combine, which was very disappointing relative to his goals of breaking into the 4.3's at 244 lbs. He has a chance at redemption, at least in the eyes of the media, who are the only ones that pay attention to the "official" times. However, nothing he does at his pro day is going to make him a better football player on game day, and that was my primary problem with him as a draft prospect.
On the other hand, Dwight Jones is another player that is fresh off a disappointing combine performance, yet is a guy that I liked a lot better on tape. Jones has the speed to get open deep in the NFL and he excelled running under the passes of a good deep ball thrower in T.J. Yates back in 2010. The biggest problem with him was inconsistency. He had trouble getting comfortable in the All-Star setting at the Senior Bowl.
At the combine, Jones ran an unofficial 4.57, which I felt was way off the mark. I had him re-timed at 4.50 seconds. Even the "official" number, which comes out higher than the unofficial number in 99.9 percent of cases, came in at 4.55 seconds. This highlights how a thumb error was probably more responsible for that initial 4.57 second reading than Dwight Jones.
Another player I really liked was corner Charles Brown. He is a guy that excels more in off coverage. He likes to close on the ball, and he's very physical. I saw him all week during the practices leading up to the East-West Shrine Game, and he showed off his physicality and ability to close. However, running a 4.63 "official" time at the combine (I have not yet had the time to re-time his 40-yard dash myself) does not help his draft stock in the eyes of the media. He may choose to re-run at this pro day and improve his standing with the public.