Welcome back. It's been a while.
The craziness of the Super Bowl, and the many attempts to fly home after the Super Bowl, meant no Scouting Notebook for one week. But the draft season rolls on, and so we're back with a ton of news, notes and thoughts heading into next week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
With two weeks between writings, a lot went down both on and off the field. While Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito dominated my world, there will be none of that posted here, as this is your place to get NFL draft information.
What are NFL teams and prospects doing to get ready for the combine? That and much more is packed into this week's Notebook.
Five Up, Five Down
5. DE Josh Mauro, Stanford
The 2014 draft class isn't dominated by 4-3 defensive ends, but look at the players suited for a 3-4 and it's easy to be impressed. Josh Mauro is up there as one of the best 5-technique ends in the group.
A rotational player to start the year, Mauro eventually stepped into a starting role after injuries hit the Stanford defensive line. From there he took over, showing the strength to lock out his arms and keep blockers off his body while shedding to get to the ball when needed. He's not been used as a pass-rusher, but the athleticism is there.
Current ranking: No. 88 overall
4. DE Will Clarke, West Virginia
Another player tailor-made for a 3-4 defense, Will Clarke was late to come onto my radar. His rise up the Big Board is mostly due to my late start on his game film, but what he shows on the field is worth getting excited about if you run a 30 front.
Clarke is a good athlete for 6'6" and 271 pounds, but he shows the frame to add weight to play in a 5-technique role. What's unique about Clarke is that he is a good enough athlete to stay at 270 pounds and play in a 4-3 on the edge. He's similar to Margus Hunt in that way, and while not quite the physical freak Hunt is, Clarke is intriguing in his own right.
Current ranking: No. 148
3. RB Terrance West, Towson
The highest-ranked small-school offensive player on my board, Terrance West has the skill set to be a day one starter at running back in the NFL. Coming out of Towson that may surprise you, but his talent is much bigger than the level of competition he faced.
When scouting West you have to throw away his production and look at his abilities and traits. He's powerful enough to break tackles and do so consistently. He gets the body lean you want in a hard-charging back and has the speed to accelerate away from defenders. Numbers are impressive, but West's athleticism is most eye-opening.
Current ranking: No. 102
2. TE Richard Rodgers, California
If the athletic tight end is here to stay, players like Richard Rodgers figure to benefit most.
Rodgers, one of many Cal Bears to leave school early this year, has the movement skills to play in any type of passing offense. While he's not the big, classic in-line tight end, Rodgers brings versatility and can attack a defense by going in motion, flexing out to a slot position or lining up on the line of scrimmage. He's a bit raw as a route-runner, but his potential and athleticism are notable.
Current ranking: No. 138
1. WR Odell Beckham, LSU
With so many talented prospects leaving the LSU program this season, considerable time is spent reviewing those players. And every time I turn on the game film, I'm drawn to No. 3 all over again. Instead of ranting in my notes about how good Beckham is, it's time to simply move him up the board.
Beckham has the speed to be a threat after the catch or in his route stem and shows the toughness you want in a receiver asked to go over the middle. He doesn't have elite size, but his ability in space is ideal.
Current ranking: No. 24 overall
5. QB Brett Smith, Wyoming
Several people I respect greatly encouraged me to rewatch Brett Smith's game film after my negative takes on him in the past. I did. My thoughts haven't changed.
The Wyoming coaches tried to use Smith like Johnny Manziel, but that's not who he is. He's an undersized (6'2", 206 pounds) passer with good mobility but very poor existing skills in defensive recognition, ball placement and touch. It's easy to like his running skills and gunslinger mentality, but those are his only good traits. Unlike Manziel, you don't see the quick-trigger instincts or field vision that are needed to be a pro-level quarterback.
Current ranking: No. 171 overall
4. TE Troy Niklas, Notre Dame
Troy Niklas has the size, the bloodlines (he's a cousin of the famed football family, the Matthews) and produced at a virtual tight end factory at Notre Dame.
So why is he moving down?
Niklas is a player I do like, and I see him as a starter early in his NFL career, but he's very slow. That lack of burst and stiffness in space can be an issue. Sure, he can block and box out defenders, and there's a ton of value in that. But most teams prefer tight ends with the speed to make plays after the catch. Niklas is the kind of guy you would have drafted late first round 10 years ago but is more of a third-rounder in today's league.
Current Ranking: No. 72
3. WR Marqise Lee, USC
A potential top-10 player heading into the 2013 college football season, Marqise Lee struggled to get on the field and hold onto the ball this year. That, coupled with a disappointing number of drops in 2012, is a big reason why he's moving down the board.
Lee could be much like former teammate Robert Woods in that his late drop in production and impact is a non-factor once in the NFL. But the more time spent watching his film, the bigger the concerns become.
Current ranking: No. 35
2. ILB Max Bullough, Michigan State
Many Michigan State fans asked on Twitter this week why Max Bullough didn't make my Top 300 Big Board. The answer? He's killing his draft stock.
Bullough ended his senior season with a suspension that cost him the Rose Bowl game. He wasn't on the field for the biggest game of his career. He followed that up by showing up to the Shrine Game at 265 pounds, 20 more than his listed weight of 245. While there, Bullough refused to talk to the media and struggled on the field.
All those red flags add up, and there are many inside linebackers with similar talent and none of the issues.
Current ranking: Unranked
1. DT Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
A player with true first-round potential, Stephon Tuitt looked like a top-15 pick during Notre Dame's 2012 season that culminated with a loss in the BCS title game. Then the 2013 season began.
Tuitt struggled to generate any burst off the ball this year, and that heavy-footed play was a consistent issue. He did have problems with a knee injury that likely limited his push off and mobility, but Tuitt was a shadow of his former self in 2013.
Current ranking: No. 39
The Scout’s Report
— Sources close to the St. Louis Rams tell me they've sent scouts to Clemson to interview coaches about wide receiver Sammy Watkins. With the No. 2 overall pick and no clear-cut go-to wide receiver, the Rams should be very interested in Watkins.
— Speaking of Watkins, he told me this week that he does plan to do every drill and run the 40-yard-dash at the combine next week. Said Watkins, "I'm just enjoying the grind and trying to maximize every opportunity." When asked for a prediction on his 40 time, Watkins told me he planned to "shock the world."
— Missouri's Kony Ealy has the body type and athleticism to play many positions, but one team I spoke with likes him as a 5-technique because it feels it can add 10 pounds to his frame. The same team mentioned he would be able to play down in a 3-technique in a four-man front. Other teams see him as a classic 6-technique defensive end in a 4-3 scheme.
— Texas A&M left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, my top ranked tackle for the 2015 draft, told me on Twitter that he's studying Dallas Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith to improve his game this summer.
— A team source close to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers told me the team is still evaluating Mike Glennon at quarterback and will do so through Organized Team Activities (OTAs). Don't be surprised if the new regime drafts a quarterback or signs a veteran to seriously push the second-year signal-caller.
— A majority of the teams I spoke to this week told me Virginia's Morgan Moses is on their board as a late-first or "worst-case" early-second round pick.
— Anwar Richardson of Yahoo! Sports talked to Jadeveon Clowney this week, and the South Carolina defensive end told him he plans to run the 40-yard dash at the combine and hopes to get in the 4.4 range. That would be the story of the event if a 6'5", 275-pound defensive end runs faster than most running backs.
— I asked many NFL players this week how they would feel about having Michael Sam as a teammate after he made his announcement that he was gay. Said one, "98 percent of the NFL won't be a problem. It's the 2 percent that make us look stupid."
A Day in the Life of an NFL Scout
Each week you’ll get a glimpse inside the life of everyone’s dream job—being an NFL scout.
One week before the NFL Scouting Combine. What are team scouts doing? "Locked in a f-----g room for 10 hours a day."
It's been mentioned here before, but this stretch of time between the Senior Bowl and scouting combine is incredibly important for NFL teams because they're introducing the entire scouting staff to players. Team meetings are happening all across the league, and area scouts are presenting players to the general manager and the rest of the department is picking these players apart.
The attention to detail is huge. One team told me it spent two hours on Kony Ealy vs. Vanderbilt, for example. The combine cannot get here soon enough, if only so these team scouts can get out of the office and back on the road.
"Joker Tight End"
I used this term on Twitter and assumed that most people knew what I was talking about. And then the questions came in. So, what is a joker tight end?
In today's NFL it's not as easy to categorize players within one position, so you start looking at hybrids. Guys like Jimmy Graham, Aaron Hernandez (before prison) and Vernon Davis are the new model of a movable tight end. Some call them as much, giving the label "move tight end", but when I was taught to evaluate players we called them jokers.
The term comes from poker, where the joker card can be used as a wild card. The joker tight end, as you may have guessed, is the offense's wild card in that he can be moved around to find the best possible matchup.
DE Michael Sam, Missouri
The NFL and the rest of the world was informed Sunday night that Missouri's Michael Sam is gay. He made the announcement through a joint effort by ESPN and The New York Times, confirming a rumor I had heard as far back as September 2013.
Many people want to know Sam the person, but how about Sam the player?
The most productive pass-rusher in the SEC last season, Michael Sam toyed with right tackles on his way to 11.5 sacks in the nation's best conference. He was part of a defensive rejuvenation that led to an 11-2 record for Mizzou, and that caught the attention of many.
Sam plays with exceptional leverage, and while short, he has the long arms you want at the position. He comes off the ball cleanly and uses a nice stutter-step or shoulder dip to get underneath the hands of blockers and find his way to the quarterback.
As mentioned in the last Scouting Notebook article, Sam is a man without a position. Too small to play defensive end in a classic sense, he's too stiff to be used in space as an outside linebacker. Ideally, at least in my eyes, you play him as a stand-up edge-rusher in a 3-4 defense.
Sam needs to learn countermoves and accept that he can't simply beat NFL tackles with a shoulder dip and a little burst. Using his hands to disengage from blockers and getting stronger will be huge for his NFL success. Those things are coachable/developable, which is good news for Sam.
Overall, he has to work to become a better technician with his hands and more athletically explosive in his lower body.
Pro Player Comparison: Trent Cole, Philadelphia Eagles
The Big Board
|1. Texans||QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville||33. Texans||OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU|
|2. Rams (f/ WAS)||WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson||34. Washington||OT Morgan Moses, Virginia|
|3. Jaguars||DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina||35. Browns||CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska|
|4. Browns||QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M||36. Raiders||DE Trent Murphy, Stanford|
|5. Raiders||QB Blake Bortles, UCF||37. Falcons||DE Scott Crichton, Oregon St.|
|6. Falcons||OT Greg Robinson, Auburn||38. Buccaneers||WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon St.|
|7. Buccaneers||DE Anthony Barr, UCLA||39. Jaguars||QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU|
|8. Vikings||OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo||40. Vikings||QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois|
|9. Bills||OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M||41. Bills||OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State|
|10. Lions||WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M||42. Titans||RB Tre Mason, Auburn|
|11. Titans||CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma St.||43. Giants||RB Carlos Hyde, Ohio State|
|12. Giants||DE Dee Ford, Auburn||44. Rams||OG David Yankey, Stanford|
|13. Rams||OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan||45. Lions||SS Deone Bucannon, Washington St.|
|14. Bears||DE Kony Ealy, Missouri||46. Steelers||WR Marqise Lee, USC|
|15. Steelers||CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan St.||47. Cowboys||DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas|
|16. Ravens||WR Odell Beckham, LSU||48. Ravens||DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame|
|17. Cowboys||DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota||49. Jets||WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt|
|18. Jets||TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina||50. Dolphins||TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington|
|19. Dolphins||OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama||51. Bears||SS Ahmad Dixon, Baylor|
|20. Cardinals||QB Derek Carr, Fresno State||52. Cardinals||OT Jack Mewhort, Ohio State|
|21. Packers||ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama||53. Packers||DT Will Sutton, Arizona State|
|22. Eagles||FS Calvin Pryor, Louisville||54. Eagles||WR Davante Adams, Fresno State|
|23. Chiefs||WR Allen Robinson, Penn State||55. 49ers||WR Kelvin Benjamin, FSU|
|24. Bengals||CB Jason Verrett, TCU||56. Bengals||C Weston Richburg, Colorado St.|
|25. Chargers||CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State||57. Chargers||OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA|
|26. Browns||WR Jarvis Landry, LSU||58. Colts||DE Dominique Easley, Florida|
|27. Saints||OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame||59. Saints||OLB Chris Smith, Arkansas|
|28. Panthers||FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama||60. Panthers||WR Paul Richardson, Colorado|
|29. Patriots||DT Aaron Donald, Pitt||61. Patriots||WR Martavis Bryant, Clemson|
|30. 49ers||DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame||62. 49ers||CB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood|
|31. Broncos||DT Timmy Jernigan, FSU||63. Broncos||OT Antonio Richardson, Tenn.|
|32. Seahawks||TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech||64. Seahawks||CB Marcus Roberson, Florida|
An updated mock draft will be available following the combine.
10. The draft process is a long one, and this time of year many of us in the media are in fact trying to play catch up with NFL teams that have a full staff of scouts. I always like to remind people of this, as us one-man shows are trying to see 500 or more players and opinions may change late on a player purely because on extra time to evaluate.
9. The idea of media scouts isn't a new one, but as the industry grows it's important for readers to know if the analyst is posting grades and rankings based on projection or prediction. Is your board a reflection of your own evaluations, or a reflection of how you expect the draft order to flow? For my rankings, they will always be a prediction of how successful players will be and not a prediction of draft order.
8. There was a lot of talk this week about play charting vs. scouting film, and while both have their merits, put me firmly in the film-room camp. Charting plays is important to give the evaluator an idea of what the player has done, but film scouting is what allows you to tell what a player can do and where he can develop.
7. One complaint a colleague and I discussed at length this week was that Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins ran too many screens in college. It's important to remember that NFL teams are not drafting Watkins in Clemson's offense, and that the Tigers were scheming to beat college defenses that can't tackle a player of his caliber. Watkins did run a lot of screens, but he also shows speed, body control and agility to be a very diverse route-runner. Oh, and his game film over the last two years is pretty wide open in terms of routes.
6. With the NFL Scouting Combine here, I'm always asked what percent of my final grade comes from the event. It's honestly less than 5 percent. I was taught to use the combine to separate similarly graded players. For example, Odell Beckham and Mike Evans have a grade that's very close. The combine could help me separate the two and formulate a final opinion on the wide receiver order.
5. Sammy Watkins and Jadeveon Clowney will make the combine watchable. Here's to hoping the other top players at each position take the field and put on a show.
4. The rumor that many of the top quarterbacks won't throw at the combine is crazy. Andrew Luck threw. Cam Newton threw. Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr need to throw. It's not about showing something that wasn't on film; it's about competing.
3. Just my two cents, but it seems like we're going to see a record number of players cut for cap reasons. And there could be big names with a lot of life left put on the chopping block. DeMarcus Ware, Julius Peppers and Terrell Suggs are but three of the players who have to rework their deals to avoid being released.
2. I think, no matter what your personal feelings are, you have to applaud the courage of Missouri's Michael Sam in announcing he's gay. To do so two weeks before he's asked to stand in front of 300-plus media members at the combine is incredibly brave.
1. For those of you in or around Indianapolis next Friday (Feb. 21), I will be sitting in on a panel for the second straight year during Peter King's tweet-up. I'll be there to talk a lot about the NFL draft and prospects. Come by at 7 p.m. Emmis HQ, 40 Monument Circle.
Twitter Must-Follow of the Week
@GeoffSchwartz, Geoff Schwartz
Too many NFL players try too hard on Twitter. Every morning they tweet about "rising and grinding," and every night they talk about their celebrity lifestyles. Kansas City Chiefs guard Geoff Schwartz keeps it real. And informative.
Schwartz, who is a free agent this year, balances the line between athlete and real person well. He's engaging, answers questions with real answers and keeps it light with a lot of photos of his pets. You can't beat that.
Working & Reading
Here's a quick look at what I'm working on and reading this week.
MMQB: An exceptional take on why Jimmy Haslam continues to shake up the Cleveland Browns, including quotes from Ken Whisenhunt on his interviews there. (Peter King)
B/R: Former NFL safety Matt Bowen breaks down current NFL safety prospect Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in a must-read article. (Matt Bowen)
PFF: Free Agent Duel: Veldheer or Houston. A look at the Oakland Raiders upcoming free-agency decision.
MMQB: The All-Emerge Team: Offense. A look at the offensive players poised to breakout in 2014. (Andy Benoit)
B/R: The great Aaron Nagler and I have started a little podcast called #Football. You can listen here if you're into that kind of thing. And we hope you are.
Monday, Feb. 17: NFL 1,000 series kicks off by ranking the top 65 quarterbacks.
Wednesday, Feb. 19: NFL 1,000 top 35 left tackles
Friday, Feb. 21: NFL Scouting Notebook (live from the combine)