Pac-12 Football: 5 Former Players Who Need Huge Pro Days
After being run through the gauntlet at the NFL combine, Pac-12 players will now be put to the same tests at a pro day in the comfort of where they played their college ball.
For some guys, such as UCLA's Anthony Barr or Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, the event will be more or less a light workout as both players looked outstanding in front of NFL scouts in February, thus eliminating some of the pressure of needing to perform well in the second go-round.
Another group of players, which might include Oregon's Terrance Mitchell or Arizona State's Carl Bradford, the pro day may not offer a chance for much movement. Both guys will likely be taken in Day 3 of the 2014 NFL draft, and unless each can dramatically improve upon what he showed in Indianapolis, there won't be a lot of pressure here.
Who we're targeting are the players bursting with potential who may have seen their stock fall at the NFL combine. Not that Mitchell or Bradford don't have a chance to be great pros, but this particular group will be feeling the heat at the players' respective pro days because of the perception of how they should perform.
In other words, these five players have the most to gain with a big pro day, but they could also see their draft stocks fall with mediocre efforts.
Here are five former Pac-12 players who need monster pro days.
DT Will Sutton, Arizona State
Seeing a drop in production from your junior year to your senior year isn't always a bad thing. Seeing a significant decrease usually is, however, and the two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year must now prove that he's capable of dominating like he's been known to do.
As a junior, defensive tackle Will Sutton notched 63 tackles, which included a whopping 23.5 for loss to go along with 12 sacks. But in his senior year, he had just four sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and 48 total tackles. He also failed to force a fumble, which is strange compared to the three he forced in 2012.
We know Sutton is capable of wreaking havoc in the trenches, and the majority of his tape speaks to that. But at a relatively undersized height of 6'1", his game needs to be about speed at the snap and strength to keep up with bulky interior offensive linemen.
At the NFL combine, Sutton ran his 40-yard dash in 5.36 seconds, which ranked third-worst among all defensive linemen who participated in the drill. His playing weight was well above 300 pounds as a senior compared with the 280-ish pounds he carried around as a junior.
His NFL.com profile suggests "strength at the point of attack" as a weakness, and it also questions his competitiveness.
Knowing that information, Sutton now has a chance to put doubters in the dust by improving his 40-yard dash time and posting a solid 10-yard split, which can be more useful in evaluating defensive linemen, considering it's the initial burst that helps them win one-on-one matchups.
An all-out effort in front of scouts in the comfort of Tempe will give Sutton the opportunity to win over some teams that may be looking elsewhere at interior defensive linemen. However, if Sutton merely equals his combine efforts or worse, sees regression, it will only give credence to the opinions of the doubters.
WR Marqise Lee, USC
Heading into the 2013 college football season, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee was widely considered to be one of, if not the very best, pass-catcher in college football.
That's because as a sophomore, Lee had over 1,700 yards receiving to go along with 14 touchdowns. Other names in the conversation extended to Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M's Mike Evans, and that's it.
While Lee didn't necessarily hurt himself much at the NFL combine, he isn't getting the same adoration as Watkins or Evans. In fact, in the four most recent mock drafts posted by NFL.com, Lee is behind both players. On one of them, he's listed behind Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, and he's after LSU's Odell Beckham on another.
Yes, those are just four opinions that will likely have little to no impact on what NFL teams are currently thinking. That's why scouts are employed. But Lee has seen his stock drop dramatically over the last 12 months, thus making his pro day even more important.
The junior still had nearly 800 yards receiving in an injury-plagued 2013 season, but he only had four touchdowns. He wasn't as consistent in catching the ball, either.
Lee is a dynamic athlete who relies on great speed above all else. But his 4.52 40-yard dash at the NFL combine ranked 28th among receivers and was only .01 faster than Evans.
No matter what occurs at the USC pro day, Lee will likely be a first-round pick. You could even make the argument that getting chosen later in the round will be better because he'll be on a better team. But Lee needs to improve his 40 time and look good during receiving drills in order to work his way back into the conversation of elite wideout prospects.
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
There's no way around it: former Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey has to show off his speed at his pro day, or he'll risk dropping into the third or fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft.
In Indianapolis, Carey posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.7 seconds, which ranked behind notable power backs like Jeremy Hill, Carlos Hyde and Andre Williams.
We've seen Carey dominate opposing defenses for several years now, and 1,885 yards with 19 touchdowns in 2013 doesn't lie. The guy makes defenses look silly with his combination of power and elusiveness.
Unfortunately, the straight ahead speed didn't show up at the NFL combine, and with an ever-growing emphasis on the passing game, running backs have to do something extra special to turn scouts' heads.
Anyone who watched Carey during his career with the Wildcats knows what kind of talent he has. But if one of his primary assets is speed, and he's slower than multiple backs heavier and supposedly "slower" than him, what kind of message does that send to prospective NFL teams?
As with all results from the NFL combine or pro days, feel free to take them with a grain of salt, considering actual game tape often does most of the talking. But there's a reason this time of year puts so many prospects under the microscope, and despite the fact that Carey will rarely have the opportunity to take the football and run straight ahead for 40 yards, his timed speed on an empty field will still be judged.
If Carey can get back into the 4.5-4.6 range, it will show that perhaps his combine dash was a fluke. Flashing strong hands and quick shuttle times won't hurt either. But if he fails to step up and improve upon his Indy efforts, his stock as a running back could plummet.
LB Trent Murphy, Stanford
When participating in workouts that occur between the end of bowl season and the NFL draft, there are a couple ways players can impress NFL scouts.
The first is to improve upon what many perceive to be a weakness. That might mean a reportedly "slow" player posting a fast 40-time, or a "mediocre" athlete excelling in the three-cone drill and broad jump.
Another way to impress scouts is to show off an area of strength and perform even better than many were expecting. We knew wide receiver Brandin Cooks was fast. We didn't know he was 4.33 40-yard dash fast.
All of this contributes to why Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy needs a big pro day. As someone who plays that bulky, outside linebacker spot where lining up along the defensive line is occasionally required, Murphy has to show off his versatility.
That starts with improving his 4.86 40-yard dash time. Not only did that rank fifth-worst among linebackers, it was a full .2 seconds slower than Anthony Barr, who plays the same position.
If strength is one of Murphy's most important assets (and watching any regular-season game film should convince you of that), he would also be wise to put up more reps in the bench press drill, where he ranked sixth-worst among linebackers in Indianapolis.
Murphy is one of those players who will likely outperform all of his measurables once he gets on the field in a real game. But with his skill set, a big pro day could improve his draft stock because hybrid linebackers with the strength to take on tackles don't just grow on trees.
RB De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
One of the biggest surprises from the NFL combine was De'Anthony Thomas posting an official 40-yard dash time of 4.5 seconds.
After a three-year career as one of the most electric players in college football, to see Thomas post only a slightly above average 40 was bewildering, and it likely hurt his draft stock.
Why? Because Thomas was speed personified during his career as a Duck. He has more plays than you can possibly count in which he took the football either on a handoff or after a catch and dashed or darted his way past multiple defenders.
That's not something you can necessarily measure on an empty field, but 4.5 seconds is not the time people were expecting from him. At his best, Thomas is a game-changer capable of forcing defensive coordinators to come up with an entire game plan that revolves around his abilities.
He is an elite athlete with blinding speed who can beat defenders to the edge as well as make grabs as a receiver. But if teams begin to think that his athleticism was exaggerated because he was playing at the college level and that NFL athletes will expose his game, his stock will pay the price.
Thomas needs to run a faster 40-yard dash, of that there is no doubt whatsoever. Despite the fact that we've seen Thomas look faster than any player in recent memory with our very eyes, his 40-time is going to be critical.
But he'll also need to show off his versatility in the form of consistent hands and strength in his lower body. Despite the belief by the average fan that the experiment of using him as a running back failed, Thomas is extremely strong for his size.
Out of all the players in the Pac-12 who could use an impressive performance during their pro days, De'Anthony Thomas stands atop the list.
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