Questions That Must Be Answered at Pro Day Workouts
These 2013 NFL draft prospects come with questions that need answering, and each one of them will have the opportunity to do just that at his upcoming pro day.
One might think that professional talent evaluators—NFL scouts, GMs and executives—would have most everything figured out by now.
After all, scouts have spent the better part of a year grinding college film on these prospects. GMs have interviewed them at the combine, and many have been evaluated in real-practice action at the Senior Bowl.
This is not so.
Some prospects still have to make a case for themselves by answering key questions. Here we outline them.
9. Matt Barkley, QB USC
Question that must be answered: Is he better than the rest of these guys?
Talk about question marks. This 2013 QB crop is chalk full of them.
Geno Smith answered most of the questions surrounding his skill set at the NFL scouting combine where he threw the ball with a snap, power and ease of delivery that was apparent to all in attendance. A welcome change from the inconsistent play evaluators have gotten used to from the position during 2013's pre-draft player-evaluation process.
E.J. Manuel was the other QB who answered a lot of questions for himself through the process, and Manuel has seen his stock rise. Outside of these two players, all bets are off at quarterback. Each remaining prospect has more questions surrounding him than answers, regardless of how they perform at their pro day.
Besides Matt Barkley.
If the way he dealt with the media at the combine was any clue, Barkley most certainly killed his interviews with teams. Barkley is engaging, confident, funny and sharp. What Barkley didn't do was throw the ball or participate in any drills in Indy, as he is still recovering from a separated shoulder.
All eyes will be on Barkley's USC pro day, when he will—for the first time—finally throw and run drills for NFL scouts and team executives.
The NFL media is hungry for one QB outside of Geno Smith to step up and separate themselves from the pack. Matt Barkley, like Ryan Tannehill last season, is a little late to the party, but this is his chance.
8. Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina
Question that must be answered: Where was his speed at the NFL combine?
Ace Sanders is a small but feisty receiver who was known in college for his ability to return punts and make slick, effortless moves in the open field.
Alongside West Virginia standout Tavon Austin, Sanders was the most electric-looking receiver prospect at the NFL combine during route-running drills. Sanders would break in and out of cuts with authority, and he showed an innate ability to track the ball on the re-positioning and deep post-corner drills.
For a player who seems to operate with great speed and acceleration, the 4.58 40-yard-dash time he ran was a huge shock. We've seen that the 40 doesn't mean everything for a wide receiver at the NFL level, but really? 4.58?
Sanders' 40 time at his pro day will be a major focus of scouts and NFL draft fans alike. Only six receivers in the group of 39 at the combine ran slower times, and at 173 pounds, Sanders was the lightest prospect.
7. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Question that must be answered: Is he really "nothing special"?
In the Pro Football Talk article linked above, numerous "anonymous" scouts went off the record in saying that Bjoern Werner is basically just a guy.
Werner came into the NFL combine as a player who many thought would likely be the first defensive prospect off the board. Werner has a great motor, an explosive first step, a love for football and room to grow.
He can set the edge, and he told me at the combine that people of his homeland in Germany love American football because "it is a man sport."
Werner plays like it on the football field, but he left many (anonymous) scouts worried about his athleticism during combine practice drills, most specifically the conversion drill.
The first thing that needs to be mentioned is that reports from "anonymous sources" during draft season are to be taken with a grain of salt. Media members serve as outlets for all sorts of entities that want their side of the story out. It's just the way the business works.
Still, public perception is very important, as is leaving a lasting impression in your last meeting with a prospective future employer. Werner needs a good pro day to get back into the top five—a projection he nearly universally garnered prior to mid-February.
6. Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Question that must be answered: What does he look like in drills?
Eddie Lacy is the best running back in the NFL draft, but scouts have no idea how he looks in drills.
Lacy missed out on NFL combine workouts with a minor injury but should be 100 percent ready to perform at his pro day.
I asked Alabama OG Chance Warmack at the combine to compare Eddie Lacy to former Alabama running back Trent Richardson of the Cleveland Browns.
Warmack, likely the most NFL-ready player in the entire 2013 draft, said that Richardson will "run over you while Lacy will spin off you." Warmack said Lacy was his "favorite" running back, though. Lacy, according to Warmack, does not have the same natural gifts as Richardson but works so hard that he makes up for it.
Analysts and scouts wonder whether Lacy was the product of a system. He played behind four offensive linemen at Alabama in 2012 who will be likely NFL starters the minute they step on the field next September.
No matter how Chance Warmack sizes up Lacy's natural talent versus that of Trent Richardson, NFL scouts will want some numbers on paper in standard drills to finish off their portfolio of evaluative work.
5. Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
Question that must be answered: Is the better 40 time he talks about real or fake?
Manti Te'o won the interview process at the 2013 NFL scouting combine, but he lost the 40-yard dash.
Bad. 4.82 bad.
That hurts. The 40 in Indy is not the most important drill in an athlete's career, but a 4.82 for a player like Te'o, who many teams will hope to come in as a "steady" plug-and-play linebacking piece, is worrisome.
Te'o has put his ability to operate within his responsibility on film through his career. He's a smart player who does not get fooled by misdirection action and is a quarterback on defense. He showed marked improvement as a defender against the pass in 2012 and has faced scrutiny so harsh for his catfish scandal that one has to think maybe he was a bit shell-shocked at the combine.
Te'o says he'll "obviously" run better at his pro day.
4. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Question that must be answered: Was his slow 40 time in Indy a fluke?
It sure seems like it, but what a disappointment.
Johnthan Banks is a versatile weapon in the defensive backfield who can press, bail and trail in man. It is in the soft zone where Banks is most dangerous, though.
He'll bait opposing quarterbacks into throwing ill-advised balls as he lurks on the outside shell of his responsibility waiting to pounce.
A ball hawk.
Banks has terrific closing speed during in-game action and can knife in and set a hard outside edge against the run when walked up to the line of scrimmage.
Banks was known as a corner with "new" prototypical size as a big defender who also showed great closing speed and agility both downhill and in taking vertical stems. His 4.61 40 time at the combine was an eyebrow-raiser unlike many others in Indy.
Teams take a hard line with cornerback 40 times, and certain performances will get you off some teams' boards automatically.
A 4.61 is dangerously close to that area.
Banks needs to shave at least one-tenth of a second off that at his pro day in order to regain the mid-first-round consideration he was garnering pre-combine.
3. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
Question that must be answered: Is he healthy, and how will he measure?
Some say that Alex Okafor had a dominant week at the Senior Bowl before pulling out of practices and eventually missing the game itself.
Okafor was lined up in team drills versus Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher on many an occasion. Fisher was dominant, while Okafor simply showed occasional "flashes."
Okafor has seemingly chosen to rest on his laurels, having delivered the game of his life at just the right time as a Texas Longhorn. After a 4.5-sack monster performance against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl, he really hasn't done much else.
The same injury that kept Okafor out of Senior Bowl practices—a hip contusion suffered when landing on a teammate's cleat—also kept him out of combine drills. If Okafor blows his pro day out of the water, we will see a launch back into late-first round consideration.
He knows he can't turn in a performance like this next player had—a guy who plays just down the road...
2. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Question that must be answered: What on Earth happened at the NFL combine?
Damontre Moore bench-pressed 225 pounds 12 times at the NFL combine.
He was competing in a multimillion-dollar job interview, and he showed up unprepared and, as statistical metrics go, unqualified.
Moore is a defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker prospect who will be expected to not only rush the passer at the next level, but set a hard edge.
Only 14 of 39 wide receivers benched fewer reps than Moore. This performance, in the eyes of many, is simply inexcusable. Moore needs a big pro day to prove that he is capable of preparing for an important professional athletic event with any degree of sincerity and/or seriousness.
1. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Question that must be answered: What is the status of his heart condition?
The player many believe to be the best defensive prospect in the 2013 NFL draft received some concerning news at the NFL combine.
During the extensive medical testing that NFL teams put prospects through, Star Lotulelei was found to have a heart problem during an echocardiogram screening.
From all indications, the condition—diagnosed in Lotulelei as an underperforming left ventricle in his heart—likely resulted from mundane circumstances such as dehydration or higher-than-average sodium intake in preparation for combine workouts.
Now that Kansas City has slapped the franchise tag on OT Branden Albert and traded for QB Alex Smith, we could be talking about a set of test results forthcoming that have a huge effect on the first overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.