The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine is over, and with it the predraft process rolls on. With just over two months left until the May 8 draft gets started, much is changing in the NFL.
The goal of the Scouting Notebook is to update you on what you may have missed over the last week, but to also look ahead. Free agency begins March 11, and that will be the first big step in determining team needs as we head into draft season.
After free agency, pro days begin. That is one final chance for a player to impress teams before individual workouts and the actual draft.
What's changed since our last installment? Plenty, as players move up and down the board, and as teams get one step closer to making their draft-day decision.
Five Up, Five Down
5. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson
There isn't much room for Sammy Watkins to keep climbing up my board, but he is.
He is a truly elite wide receiver prospect, and that statement was backed up with his athletic numbers from the combine. Teams or scouts who were on the fence about his explosive play are looking at the film again this morning and seeing that, yes, he is that fast.
Current ranking: No. 3 overall
4. WR Martavis Bryant, Clemson
The combine is great for making me go back to the film and recheck a player. That's the case with Martavis Bryant.
He was lost in the shadow of DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins during his time at Clemson, but the junior has a rare size/speed combination at 6'4", 211 pounds and a stunning 4.42 official 40 time.
Those numbers get you a second look, and when watching Bryant I saw an over-the-top threat with the speed and body control to pull away from coverage.
Current ranking: No. 61
3. DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Following a great senior season and an excellent Senior Bowl week, Aaron Donald was in the conversation to be my top-ranked defensive tackle. After the combine, he's pulling away from the competition.
Donald is too quick—and too smart about his leverage and hand use—to be overlooked due to his smaller (6'1", 285 lbs) frame. Give me the defensive tackle with the stunning first step over the mammoth tackle who can't move in space.
Current ranking: No. 21
2. WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
I've always been told that the combine is to be used as a way to separate players with a similar grade. Heading into the week, Odell Beckham Jr. and Marqise Lee carried a very close grade on my board.
After? Beckham comes out on top.
Watching Beckham play, you saw the speed and agility, but there's something about seeing that on the field compared to his peers. The LSU junior blew me away in Indianapolis. He's moving up the board.
Current ranking: No. 20
1. OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
Greg Robinson is a once-in-a-decade-type talent at the left tackle position, and that clearly showed at the combine. His speed, strength and overall athleticism were the talk of the day when offensive linemen and tight ends began working out.
Robinson, at this stage, has clearly separated himself from Jake Matthews as the top offensive lineman in the draft.
Current ranking: No. 4
5. DT Will Sutton, Arizona State
Will Sutton's ever-fluctuating weight has become a concern for me. Let's look at the numbers.
In 2012, he was listed at 288 pounds. He showed up at the Senior Bowl weighing in at 315 pounds. Then, at the combine, he was 303 pounds. Still heavy, but what's most shocking is that he's seen his weight skyrocket and then drop in one year. That's a concern for me and for NFL teams.
Sutton was at his best playing under 290 pounds as a pass-rusher. With his current size, he moves more like a nose tackle.
Current ranking: No. 64 overall
4. OLB Carl Bradford, Arizona State
There is not an anti-Arizona State theme to this article, I promise, but the team's two defenders have failed to impress in the offseason.
Bradford left school early to some fanfare, but after charting his games and truly evaluating his play, I'm surprised he left ASU when he did. Bradford is billed as an athletic edge-rusher, but that doesn't compute when looking at this ability and impact.
He has good strength, but for an outside linebacker I find his speed (on film and on the track) lacking.
Current ranking: No. 103
3. DE Dee Ford, Auburn
I have no issues with Dee Ford on the field, but the back injury that cost him most of the 2011 season kept him from competing at the combine. When we're dealing with back issues, it's always a concern until the player passes a medical check.
It could be nothing, in which case Ford's ranking will hold steady, but until his March 4 pro day, I'm holding my breath on his stock.
Current ranking: No. 14
2. RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
A loaded group of running backs in the 2014 class means someone has to fall. This year's most likely candidate seems to be Ka'Deem Carey.
When compared with the other top backs in the class, Carey's film showed a solid player with good vision, but he lacked elite traits. That, coupled with a 4.70 40 time, will have many teams wondering about his ability to pull away from defenders.
Current ranking: No. 69
1. OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
The report from Ian Rapoport of NFL.com that Cyrus Kouandjio failed club physicals was definitely an eye-opener at the combine.
Kouandjio had undergone surgery on his knee back in 2011 but was able to play in 2012 and 2013. The report that his knee is "arthritic" is scary, but his production was good enough that some teams may still take a shot on him early.
As is always the struggle for media analysts over team scouts, knowing which teams view the knee as serious versus which see it as fine will be difficult.
Current ranking: No. 38
The Scout’s Report
—Who will be the first pick in the draft? Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman is hearing it will be South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney. It wouldn't be a surprise, given Clowney's rare athletic ability and his connection with Houston strength coach Craig Fitzgerald. The two were together for Clowney's first season as a Gamecock, and they are reportedly close.
—That news comes one week after my report that the team would consider Blake Bortles "if the draft were today." It's very possible Clowney's stunning combine performance changed some minds in Houston.
—Sources close to Clemson's Sammy Watkins tell me his meetings with the St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders went "very well" and the chemistry between them was exceptional.
—Ready for a curveball? Derek Carr to the Vikings. Mike Zimmer is rumored to want a big-armed quarterback, and Carr has the best velocity of any passer in the class. He's also a mature, no-nonsense leader at the position.
—The word coming out of Arizona is the Cardinals are hopeful they can address the left tackle position in free agency. If the team can sign Branden Albert or Anthony Collins and re-sign Eric Winston, both tackle spots will be filled without using a draft choice.
—Speaking of offensive linemen, the word around the league is that former Chiefs guard Geoff Schwartz is the best interior lineman on the free-agent market. Schwartz has shown the ability to start at right guard or right tackle, but when playing inside, he is one of the better guards in the game.
—With D'Qwell Jackson being released by the Cleveland Browns, I've heard possible landing spots include Indianapolis, Denver and Oakland.
—With left tackle Jordan Gross retiring, expect the Carolina Panthers to make the position a priority. They're up against the salary cap, though, so this may be a draft-day need and not a free-agency pickup.
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.
A Twitter follower asked me to touch on official and unofficial 40-yard-dash times this week, and this seems like the place to do it.
The unofficial 40 times seen on NFL Network during the broadcast come from a spotter in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium. This year it was former NFL general manager Charley Casserly manning the stopwatch. The unofficial times are recorded by Casserly, reported to a producer and flashed on screen as an "unofficial" time.
The official time comes from an electronic recording of the player's first movement and the moment he passes the finish line.
Why the difference?
Many NFL teams don't use the official time, as they sit scouts in the stands at the 10-, 20- and 40-yard mark to record the final time and splits. You might think the official time would be good enough for teams, but many don't trust the clock over the time-tested fingers of their scouts. The common belief is that the electronic time is slow to record a player's first movement, so the times are slower.
And for those timing at home, use your index finger to start and stop the watch, not your thumb.
When talking about defensive linemen, especially the difference between a 3-4 and a 4-3 defense, it's easy for analysts to cite the technique that each person plays. That may be confusing to newer football fans, since we talk about a player's technique on the field and the technique in which he lines up.
Confused? This may help.
A "3-technique" means the defender is lined up between the guard and tackle. Similarly, a "5-technique" means the outside shoulder of the tackle (although in some schemes the 5-tech would be right in front of the tackle).
It can be confusing, especially with so many different schemes and terminologies out there, but here's an article covering the most commonly used techniques.
RB/WR Dri Archer, Kent State
Tiny Dri Archer from Kent State blew away the combine with an official 4.26 in the 40-yard dash and a very good 6.86 three-cone drill. He also added 20 reps of 225 pounds on the bench. So who is this player, and how does his athleticism project to the NFL?
Archer is a burner on the field. His acceleration, vision and long speed allow for big plays any time he has the ball in his hands.
He's also versatile enough to move around pre-snap to find the best matchups. Used primarily as a running back and as a receiver out of the backfield, Archer has the skills to be a moving piece on offense in the NFL.
The best use of his abilities would come in the return game or as a receiver out of the backfield. Speed is the key to his game, so getting him touches in space is ideal.
At 5'8" and 173 pounds, you automatically worry about Archer staying healthy in the NFL. That was a problem for him in 2013 as he played in 10 games and was banged up for much of the year.
He is likely too small to be considered an every-down running back, and he may in fact be best used as a return man only. That severely limits his value to NFL teams, especially in a draft class loaded at running back.
Archer won't break tackles and doesn't offer much as a between-the-tackles runner, but teams willing to scheme his touches (returns, screens, etc.) could find an exciting playmaker. Many would call him a third-down back, but his small stature would limit his ability to be a blitz-protector in that scenario.
For that value, I see Archer as a late-round pick or priority free agent.
Pro Player Comparison: Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs
The Big Board
|Updated Top 32 Players|
|1||QB Teddy Bridgewater||Louisville|
|2||DE Jadeveon Clowney||South Carolina|
|3||WR Sammy Watkins||Clemson|
|4||OT Greg Robinson||Auburn|
|5||OT Jake Matthews||Texas A&M|
|6||OLB Khalil Mack||Buffalo|
|7||OLB Anthony Barr||UCLA|
|8||QB Blake Bortles||Central Florida|
|9||DE Kony Ealy||Missouri|
|10||CB Justin Gilbert||Oklahoma State|
|11||QB Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M|
|12||WR Mike Evans||Texas A&M|
|13||QB Derek Carr||Fresno State|
|14||DE Dee Ford||Auburn|
|15||OT Taylor Lewan||Michigan|
|16||TE Eric Ebron||North Carolina|
|17||ILB C.J. Mosley||Alabama|
|18||FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||Alabama|
|19||FS Calvin Pryor||Louisville|
|20||WR Odell Beckham Jr.||LSU|
|21||DT Aaron Donald||Pittsburgh|
|22||CB Jason Verrett||TCU|
|23||OT Zack Martin||Notre Dame|
|24||CB Darqueze Dennard||Michigan State|
|25||TE Jace Amaro||Texas Tech|
|26||WR Brandin Cooks||Oregon State|
|27||DT Timmy Jernigan||Florida State|
|28||WR Allen Robinson||Penn State|
|29||DT Ra'Shede Hageman||Minnesota|
|30||OLB Ryan Shazier||Ohio State|
|31||OLB Kyle Van Noy||BYU|
|32||DT Louis Nix||Notre Dame|
|Matt Miller's Updated Big Board|
An updated Top 300 is now available.
10. NFL scouts, coaches and general managers are human. That seems obvious, but too many people forget that when telling you to not pay attention to combine workout numbers. NFL personnel, like the rest of us, get excited and can fall in love with a player due to workouts.
9. I hear too many people say the scouting combine doesn't matter. If it didn't, the NFL wouldn't shell out millions of dollars in travel fees, food, hotel rooms, space and loss of time to put it on. The NFL cares only about the NFL, so if they're still putting on the combine, it matters.
8. If you love trades in the NFL draft, you might be bored this year. With the talent available throughout the first round, teams will be more hesitant than ever to give away draft picks.
7. The pre-combine training industry is huge right now as players spend six weeks preparing to run for scouts in Indianapolis and at their pro day. I toured the EXOS facility at the Omni Severin Hotel a few blocks from Lucas Oil Stadium and was blown away.
They took over a basement ballroom and set up acupuncture tables, massage tables, 40-yard-dash starting blocks, a bench-press station and even an Xbox and leather couches for the players to relax. Upstairs, in a suite, they also had pre-packaged meals and snacks for the players so they didn't have to rely on the folks running the combine to feed them food that might not mesh well with their training.
6. If you haven't been following our NFL 1000 series, you can see the hub page and keep track of each position at bleacherreport.com/NFL1000.
5. One thing you learn when you undertake a project like our NFL 1000 series is that the turnover in the league is huge. The bottom of an NFL roster is always churning, and with 300-ish rookies entering the league every year, 300-ish veterans must leave the game. It's a tough business, this NFL.
4. The 2014 draft class is so unique to me in that guys whom I would normally grade as a fifth-round prospect may actually go undrafted. The addition of 102 underclassmen on top of an already strong senior class has led to this being the deepest class I've seen in my 10 years covering the draft.
3. Best wishes to former Boston College wide receiver Alex Amidon. He has decided to not pursue an NFL career, and will instead attempt to become a Navy SEAL. Hooyah, Alex.
2. It definitely sounds like the NFL will soon expand the playoffs to include one more team per conference. Good. The Arizona Cardinals in 2013 and the Chicago Bears in 2012 are great examples of why letting another team in is a good idea. Now if we could only talk about reseeding the playoff teams by best record instead of division rankings.
1. Indianapolis never disappoints, and this year's combine is yet another example of why the Circle City should be in talks to land another Super Bowl very soon. You guys have my vote.
Twitter Must-Follow of the Week
@KennyVaccaro4, Kenny Vaccaro
What does the New Orleans Saints rookie want to do after his NFL career? My job.
Vaccaro is a film-room junkie and loves the NFL draft. He's a great resource for seeing what life is like for a young player in the NFL, but also looking at things like safety play and what it's like to rehab from a season-ending injury.
Vaccaro serves as an unofficial leader of the defensive back community on Twitter, so he's sure to lead you to other exceptional follows from the NFL.
Working & Reading
Here's a quick look at what I'm working on and reading this week.
B/R: "Why the Quarterbacks Could Fall in 2014 Draft" (Greg Gabriel)
PFF: "2014 Projected Lineups" (PFF Analysis Team)
Chicago Tribune (subscription required): "Here are 5 players who fit the Bears' needs" (Matt Bowen)
Sports on Earth: "GM for a Day: Green Bay Packers (Dan Pompei)
Monday, March 3: NFL 1000 series continues with the Top 70 offensive guards.
Wednesday, March 5: NFL 1000 Top 50 tight ends.
Friday, March 7: NFL Scouting Notebook.