Welcome to the silly season.
The time between the NFL Scouting Combine and the actual NFL draft is crazy. For everyone involved. Players are shuttled around the country on formal interviews and medical checks. Scouts, coaches and general managers are busy evaluating players, rewatching game film and lying to the media.
Yes. Lying to the media is now an important aspect of the draft season. And that's why I call it the "silly season."
Teams want misinformation in the pipeline, which makes the job of the media reporter and/or analyst that much harder. You're now equal parts evaluator and private detective. And with the draft pushed back until May 8, expect more craziness than ever before.
This week's Scouting Notebook gives in to some of the insanity, but also looks at the film to discern which players should be moving up or down draft boards, and which players might be a great fit in one team's plans and maybe not another.
Are you ready for it?
5. WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Texas A&M's Mike Evans is a unique prospect, and one who has taken me several sit-downs to fully understand and appreciate. But I think I've got him now. And what I've seen, and where I believe he can go, is very encouraging.
Evans is built like a tight end and runs like a wide receiver, which at first gave me pause as to where he would find himself playing in multiple NFL schemes.
Forget all that. Evans is an outside receiver with the tools to be a true No. 1 for an NFL team. The A&M scheme isn't diverse for wide receivers, especially when most of their work is done breaking back to the ball or adjusting their routes to account for Johnny Manziel's scrambling.
Evans, once in a pro scheme, will be even more dangerous.
Current ranking: No. 10 overall
4. DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame
Nix could move up my board if only because of his Twitter account (more on that later), but his play is something I wanted to re-evaluate after talking to scouts at the combine.
Nix looked slow, stiff and not as explosive in 2013 when I first went through his snaps. "Look again and remember teams are scheming for him and that he's hurt" is what I was told by one team official. So I did. And he's right.
Nix was asked too often to be a two-gapping anchor, when he's capable of more. It's always tough to differentiate between what a player does in college vs. what a player can potentially do in the NFL, but Nix's athleticism wasn't fully utilized this season. He may never be Dontari Poe, but he can be a very good one-gapping (or two-gapping) defensive tackle in the NFL.
Current ranking: No. 27
3. QB Zach Mettenberger, LSU
A late-season ACL tear put Zach Mettenberger way behind other quarterback prospects in terms of workouts and readiness, but it also kept him from improving his stock at the Senior Bowl, combine and pro day workouts. So why is he moving up instead of down?
Every person I've spoken with concerning Mettenberger's knee tells me he's way ahead of schedule on his recovery. If true, the LSU quarterback may actually go through a passing workout before the May 8 draft. If he can, expect Mettenberger's big arm and prototypical size to wow at least a few vertical passing teams.
Current ranking: No. 33
2. WR Davante Adams, Fresno State
It's easy to love what you see on film from Davante Adams, but until after the combine I never gave him the credit he deserved.
How much of Adams' production and impact was due to having a top-tier quarterback in Derek Carr?
Adams is able to separate and create on his own, though. You see great body control and concentration from a redshirt sophomore on film, and like a young Michael Crabtree, he knows how to position his body to make the easy or tough grab all the same.
Current ranking: No. 38
1. CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
The only thing keeping Kyle Fuller out of my top 32 prospects is his injury history. If healthy, I expect Fuller will be a first-round pick come May. The key is getting him healthy and proving to teams that he can stay that way.
Fuller fits the mold of today's cornerback. He's big enough at nearly 6'0" and 190 pounds and can play up on the line of scrimmage or in space. Fuller, more so than more well-known players like Lamarcus Joyner or Bradley Roby, is moving up my board.
Current ranking: No. 39
5. QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Why the fall for Blake Bortles after he was the only top-tier quarterback to participate in workouts at the combine? It has nothing to do with how he or anyone else performed in Indianapolis but has everything to do with a question posed to me by an NFL scouting director.
"What do you have if Bortles never gets better?" was the question asked when I mentioned how his raw tools made him an exciting player. So, what if Bortles' footwork doesn't improve? The answer is scary. He's a low-level NFL quarterback.
As much as any one player in this draft, the UCF junior has loads of potential but is equally scary in that if he doesn't improve at the next level, he won't live up to his draft stock.
Current ranking: No. 12 overall
4. DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
From an athletic standpoint, Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman is a very exciting prospect. From a performance standpoint, he's terrifying.
So many people want to talk about Jadeveon Clowney and his penchant for taking plays off, but Hageman is in the same boat—and perhaps even more so because he didn't have the stellar 2012 season to point to as proof of his impact. Hageman, as can be the case for defensive tackles, too often gives up ground and struggles to fight through blocks.
The potential is all there, but the drive to be great doesn't always pop on film.
Current ranking: No. 30
3. DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
As one Notre Dame defender moves up, another moves down. Stephon Tuitt played, at times, like a top-15 player in 2012. The 2013 season, though, showed too little of the explosiveness we saw from him in years past.
Fans may blame injuries, but Tuitt struggled more with how the team schemed for him this year. The lack of burst shown on film is enough of a concern for me to bump Tuitt down a few spots in the rankings. His versatility along the defensive line is still intriguing to me, but his value has taken a small hit.
Current ranking: No. 43
2. WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Why would a player like Jordan Matthews find himself falling down the board? This is a very deep wide receiver class, and as more time allows for evaluation, I'm preferring the younger players over the top senior at the position.
Matthews, when compared to the others, lacks the dynamic ability to make big plays. He's a good athlete with impressive long speed, but his quickness and separation aren't ideal. You could call him the safer pick, but that's as damning as it is a compliment.
Current ranking: No. 55
1. OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor
At points throughout the season it seemed like Cyril Richardson might be worth a first-round pick. That said, once you got him isolated on film the perception changed. Once you got him isolated away from the Baylor offense, it really changed.
Richardson is a big, powerful man, but he struggled with his lateral movement. That was hidden at Baylor thanks to athletic tackle play and the team's offensive scheme. You might be able to cover up Richardson in the NFL, but his best fit is in a power system. That fact limits the number of teams that will be looking his way.
Current ranking: No. 77
—It was reported by Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer that the Cleveland Browns did not interview quarterback Johnny Manziel at the combine. I can also report they didn't formally interview Teddy Bridgewater.
What does this mean? Nothing. The team has 30 formal visits they can request that allows them to bring a player to their facility for testing, interviews and workouts. Not spending time with a player in Indianapolis can mean you like them—just as much as interviewing them might suggest interest.
Remember, it's all about misinformation right now.
—A source very close to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tells me the team is leaning toward a pass-rusher with the No. 7 overall pick in the draft. While Jadeveon Clowney would be preferred, Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr must be considered too, but neither is a traditional fit in Lovie Smith's defense—unless the scouts see Mack or Barr in a Von Miller-type role.
—Where will the Bucs go in Round 2? Cornerback is the area I'm told they're leaning toward most heavily. A few names to consider are Bradley Roby (Ohio State), Bashaud Breeland (Clemson) or Lamarcus Joyner (FSU).
—TCU cornerback Jason Verrett will undergo shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. This was the plan for Verrett throughout the offseason, but doctors at the combine cleared him. The senior cornerback, and potential first-round pick, sought a second opinion and will have his shoulder fixed this spring. Verrett posted 19 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press even with his clipped wing.
—Blake Bortles' stock has taken as wild of a swing as I've ever seen in a three-week span. Heading into the combine, Bortles was largely touted as a potential No. 1 overall pick.
Now? Team scouts aren't as in love with him after seeing him in person. Bortles could still go first overall, but that is based more on need than talent.
—When free agency starts on March 11, expect the money to fly freely. One connection I've heard about as early as the Senior Bowl was former Georgia Tech defensive end (and current Bengal) Michael Johnson to the Falcons. Johnson would love to get back to his home state, and the Falcons have a need at right defensive end.
—The league-wide reaction to Khalil Mack's pro day was expected, but still impressive. One team scout I spoke with following Mack's 4.55-second 40-yard dash said he doesn't expect the attacking University of Buffalo edge-defender to make it out of the top five picks.
—Everyone loves sleeper quarterbacks, and one name to keep in mind is Tom Savage from Pitt. With 30 NFL teams represented at the team's pro day (many to see defensive tackle Aaron Donald), Savage wowed teams with his big arm and footwork. A late-to-middle-round project at the position, Savage's stock is on the rise.
—Liberty cornerback Walt Aikens was a notable snub from the combine but put on a solid pro day, running the 40 at 4.46 and 4.47 seconds. The almost 6'1" cornerback was ignored by defenses at the FCS level and had a very good showing at the Reese's Senior Bowl.
—Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported on Wednesday what many of us have heard previously: that Cyrus Kouandjio's knee isn't the problem it was reported to be at the combine. This reminds of last year when Star Lotulelei reportedly failed physicals with a heart issue and was completely cleared later.
Each week you’ll get a glimpse inside the life of everyone’s dream job—being an NFL scout.
What is an area scout doing during the cross-country madness that is the pro day schedule? Hitting the road.
Area scouts will go to the pro days of their schools and write reports on the top players from each workout. So if your area is the southeast and you're at the Auburn pro day, you spend the night writing about Greg Robinson and Dee Ford.
But that's not all.
Each scout is also responsible for interviewing players the team might be interested in...or interviewing players the team doesn't have interest in but wants other teams to think they do. The best part of a pro day workout, according to former NFL scout John Middlekauff, is being able to dive further into a player's character and background.
The work for an area scout never ends, at least not until after May 10.
What the heck is a one-gapper? This refers to a defensive lineman, usually a defensive tackle, who is responsible for one gap along the offensive line.
Think of an offensive line with all five players lined up shoulder to shoulder in their splits. The space between each man is a gap. So, a one-gaping defensive tackle is responsible for defending one of those gaps. On the other hand, a two-gaping defensive tackle is asked to read the blockers and hold down both spaces.
Generally, a one-gap defender is quicker and able to split those gaps to penetrate the offensive line, whereas a two-gap player is stronger, thicker and more of an anchor against blockers.
DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
Explosive athletes with Ealy's metrics come along rarely. He's incredibly long-armed for 6'4" with a 34 1/4" reach, and he uses that well to lock out defenders. As well as his arm-lock is now, there's room to improve. His frame could carry more weight or bulk if needed, and adding weight wouldn't mean bad weight as he's already packed on muscle at Missouri and could gain more without sacrificing speed.
On film Ealy is a dynamic edge player. Missouri used him often as a spy off the edge, especially against mobile quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel and Nick Marshall. When unleashed to attack the passer, he shows an ability to transfer his speed to power and vice versa. He's also scheme versatile enough to play in a 3-, 5- or 6-technique once he arrives in the NFL.
That's something NFL teams will value.
Ealy doesn't have Jadeveon Clowney's burst or top-end speed, but his work ethic, current ability and future potential all add up to him being a top-10 player on my board.
Ealy must learn to be more violent on the field, but this is something he can adjust at the next level. In terms of technique you would like to see his hands be a little more active, especially at the point of attack. In the run game he can be inconsistent if you look at early-season play (where he struggled some) vs. his late-season play where he was more assertive in that area.
The biggest key for Ealy's NFL success is learning to put it all together—taking his length, natural strength and explosiveness and putting it into one package that tackles can't predict or plan for.
Pro Player Comparison: Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers
|Updated First Round Mock Draft|
|1||Houston||DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina|
|2||St. Louis||WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson|
|3||Jacksonville||QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville|
|4||Cleveland||OT Greg Robinson, Auburn|
|5||Oakland||QB Blake Bortles, UCF|
|6||Atlanta||OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M|
|7||Tampa Bay||OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo|
|8||Minnesota||QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M|
|9||Buffalo||OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA|
|10||Detroit||WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M|
|11||Tennessee||CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State|
|12||N.Y. Giants||ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama|
|13||St. Louis||OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan|
|14||Chicago||DT Aaron Donald, Pitt|
|15||Pittsburgh||WR Odell Beckham, LSU|
|16||Dallas||DE Kony Ealy, Missouri|
|17||Baltimore||FS Calvin Pryor, Louisville|
|18||N.Y. Jets||TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina|
|19||Miami||DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame|
|20||Arizona||OLB Dee Ford, Auburn|
|21||Green Bay||FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama|
|22||Philadelphia||CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State|
|23||Kansas City||DE Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota|
|24||Cincinnati||CB Jason Verrett, TCU|
|25||San Diego||CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State|
|26||Cleveland||QB Derek Carr, Fresno State|
|27||New Orleans||OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State|
|28||Carolina||OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame|
|29||New England||TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech|
|30||San Francisco||WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State|
|31||Denver||DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State|
|32||Seattle||OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama|
10. I generally don't like to make changes to my top 10 players once I feel good about that group. This year is unique in that after the combine I was forced to rewatch and rethink a few players. That led to a move up and down the board for some guys.
|Updated Top 10 Players|
|1||QB Teddy Bridgewater||Louisville||6'2 1/8"||214|
|2||DE Jadeveon Clowney||South Carolina||6'5 1/4"||266|
|3||WR Sammy Watkins||Clemson||6'0 3/4"||211|
|4||OT Greg Robinson||Auburn||6'5"||332|
|5||OT Jake Matthews||Texas A&M||6'5 1/2"||308|
|6||OLB Khalil Mack||Buffalo||6'2 5/8"||251|
|7||OLB Anthony Barr||UCLA||6'4 7/8"||255|
|8||CB Justin Gilbert||Oklahoma State||6'0 1/8"||202|
|9||DE Kony Ealy||Missouri||6'4"||273|
|10||WR Mike Evans||Texas A&M||6'4 3/4"||231|
This is my current Top 10, but with over 100 underclassmen entering the draft this year, more than ever we could see late changes due to more time to evaluate players.
9. The 2014 class is very unique in that there are legitimately six or seven players who might be ranked No. 1 overall in a normal year. The quarterbacks (Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles) could all push for the top spot. Add in Greg Robinson, Sammy Watkins, Jadeveon Clowney and maybe even Khalil Mack and you have the makings of an elite top tier in the 2014 class.
8. I seem to write about this a lot, but for any talent evaluators (young, old or aspiring), my lesson would be to never forget that the NFL draft is as much about projection as it is about production. Maybe more projection, even. That 6'4", 230-pound wide receiver who dropped a few big passes for your favorite college team may be someone the NFL loves because they feel coaches can refine his technique and make him a star.
7. Expanding on that thought: It's so important to have a good understanding of schemes and assignments when grading a player. You might have knocked Barkevious Mingo in the 2013 draft for not having great production vs. Texas A&M, but if you understand that his job was to contain the running quarterback and not pin his ears back, your grade and total evaluation changes.
6. And one more note coming off of that last one: Stats are overrated. Talent does equal production in most cases, but production in college doesn't equal NFL talent or NFL production. The most important factor in an evaluation is talent, not production. Just ask Timmy Chang (the former Hawaii quarterback) if you don't believe me.
5. You might not expect a huge free-agent market for Matt Cassel or Mark Sanchez, but with limited starting-caliber passers on the market and teams lukewarm on the incoming rookies, both could get a chance to start in 2014.
4. The danger in big free-agent spending? Take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Miami Dolphins, for example. One year later a new general manager in each front office may have little use for big signings like Dashon Goldson (Tampa) or Mike Wallace (Miami).
3. I'm not great at free-agent predictions, but I'll put these down before the madness starts: Geoff Schwartz to the Giants and Michael Johnson to the Falcons.
2. If you need a left tackle, and a lot of teams do, this is a good year for you. The bad news? You may have to overpay. With free agents like Eugene Monroe, Branden Albert and Anthony Collins available to fill three teams' needs, they'll set the market high. Add in rookies Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan and you have six starting left tackles available this offseason.
1. I'm a big reader in my free time, and Twitter followers are always asking for good reads concerning the NFL draft or football scouting. Two new ones added to my list: Boys Will be Boys by Jeff Pearlman and The Packer Way by Ron Wolf.
@1IrishChocolate, Louis Nix III
If you find that athletes are boring and predictable on Twitter, Louis Nix is a refreshing follow for you.
The former Notre Dame defensive tackle and 2014 draft hopeful, Nix will take shots at ESPN, anonymous scouts and anyone whom he finds deserves his attention.
But it's not all Nix vs. the world. He's also hilarious in his dealings with fans (and foes) and with his open and honest takes on life.
Here's a quick look at what I'm working on and reading this week.
B/R: "Read Option: How Valuable is Free-Agent Safety Jairus Byrd?" (Dan Pompei)
SB Nation: "Not Just Throwing Darts" - a behind-the-scenes look at the NFL scouting process (Danny Kelly)
B/R: "The Dark Side of NFL Free Agency" (Matt Bowen)
MMQB: "Going Long: Measuring Beyond Girth" - an evaluation of NFL offensive line grades (Ross Tucker)
Monday, March 10: NFL 1000 series continues with the top 50 tight ends.
Wednesday, March 12: NFL 1000 top 90 running backs.
Friday, March 14: NFL Scouting Notebook.
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