2014 NFL Draft: Questions That Must Be Answered During Remaining Pro Days
Some of the 2014 NFL draft’s top prospects have already participated in their pro days, with one week of school-hosted workouts already in the books, but there are still plenty of players to watch during important pro days for the rest of March and extending into April.
While pro-day workouts don’t carry as much weight as the NFL Scouting Combine, they can be very important for players who were unable to workout at the combine or had poor performances in Indianapolis.
Though it can certainly be argued that “the tape speaks for itself,” that won’t stop NFL coaches, general managers and scouts from paying attention to the measurables and skills that pro day participants put on display.
The most attention to pro days will be placed where players have lingering questions to answer about their speed, strength, skill sets and/or health. All of the players in the following slides have intriguing potential as NFL prospects, yet their draft stocks could be affected significantly by how well they can answer those questions during their upcoming workouts.
All combine stats and measurements courtesy of NFL.com.
Where Do High-Upside Pass-Rushers Stack Up Athletically?
South Florida’s Aaron Lynch and Georgia Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu are among the most intriguing pass-rushing prospects in this year’s NFL draft, but each missed out on a chance to prove his athleticism by being unable to participate in this year’s NFL Scouting Combine.
Attaochu, whose agent told Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his client sat out the combine with a partially torn hamstring, is among the draft’s top rush linebacker prospects. A 6’3”, 252-pound edge defender with 33” arms, Attaochu showed explosiveness and agility throughout his Georgia Tech career, and he will be expected to prove his athletic traits at the Yellow Jackets’ pro day on March 28.
At least Attaochu, who had 43.5 tackles for loss in four seasons at Georgia Tech, has a background of productivity on his side.
Lynch might have an even more intriguing combination of size and athleticism, but he really needs to prove it at USF’s pro day. While he showed explosiveness off the edge throughout his collegiate career, he had unspectacular productivity in just two playing seasons between two different schools.
At 6’5” with 34” arms, Lynch has ideal length for an NFL defensive end. However, teams considering drafting him as an incomplete football player will want to see him, after he sat out the combine, put his athleticism on display in both measurable and positional drills.
Lynch, a likely mid-round draft pick if he can prove himself as a dynamic athlete, has a chance to do so at USF’s pro day on Monday, where he does plan to work out, according to Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times.
How Athletic is C.J. Mosley?
A two-time consensus All-American at the University of Alabama, C.J. Mosley has already proven how special he can be as a football player on the field. A complete player who is a great tackler, fluid in coverage and an effective blitzer, Mosley is a projected top-20 draft selection as one of the most well-rounded prospects in this year’s class.
To hold his place as one of the top prospects in the draft, however, he needs to showcase his athleticism at Alabama’s pro day on Tuesday. With a strong showing, he can prove that he has the physical traits to continue making plays all over the field, just like he did for the Crimson Tide.
With a 35” vertical jump, 9’10” broad jump, 7.30-second three-cone drill and 4.40-second 20-yard shuttle, Mosley put up decent but unspectacular numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine. Most noticeably, however, he did not participate in the 40-yard dash, leaving his pro day as his prime opportunity to showcase his speed.
There is little reason to doubt that Mosley can be a productive player in the NFL, but his game doesn’t come with the wow factor that many of the draft’s other top defensive prospects possess. With an impressive pro day, however, he can show why his range and all-around athleticism could make him a consistent playmaker on a professional defense.
Can Andre Williams Catch the Ball?
Despite leading the FBS with a whopping 2,177 rushing yards in his senior season at Boston College, Andre Williams might not be among the top running backs selected in this year’s draft. One of the biggest reasons why Williams might be no more than a mid-round pick is his lack of proven receiving ability.
Williams’ 2013 productivity was certainly impressive, and he also put up very impressive measurables at the NFL Scouting Combine. Williams measured in at 5’11” and 230 pounds, ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash, recorded a 38” vertical jump and was among the top running back performers in the broad jump (10’9”), 20-yard shuttle (4.06 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (11.62 seconds).
However, it doesn’t look as though Williams will bring much value to an NFL offense on passing downs. He did not catch a single pass in his senior season, had only 10 career receptions and struggled to catch the ball in his hands during on-field combine drills.
At Boston College’s pro day Wednesday, scouts will certainly look for Williams to continue running through receiving drills. If he is going to convince teams that he has the skill set to be a three-down back at the next level, he needs to show that he can catch the ball naturally, in his hands and away from his body.
Williams will likely stand on his combine measurables at the pro day, considering all of them were impressive, but he should be putting extra attention into his preparation for catching passes during his Chestnut Hill workout.
Should Marcus Martin Emerge as Draft’s Top Center?
There might not be any centers among the top-100 prospects in this year’s draft, but USC’s Marcus Martin has moved his way to the top of the position on many media draft rankings, including those of B/R’s Matt Miller and NFLDraftScout.com.
At the least, Martin might be the draft’s most physically gifted center. He measured in at 6’3” and 320 pounds with 34” arms at the NFL Scouting Combine, while his collegiate game tape shows lower-body explosiveness and impressive all-around foot skills.
If he is the draft’s most athletic center, he has to prove it at USC’s pro day on Wednesday, as he sat out all on-field drills at the combine. According to Justin Rogers of MLive Media Group, rehabilitation from knee and ankle injuries kept Martin from competing.
Specifically, scouts will want to measure how Martin’s measurables stack up with Arkansas’ Travis Swanson and Colorado State’s Weston Richburg, the other top competitors to be the draft’s first center selected. Swanson ran a 5.28-second 40-yard dash and 7.73-second three-cone drill at 6’5” and 312 pounds at the combine, while the 6’3”, 298-pound Richburg ran a 5.10-second 40 and 7.93 three-cone drill in Indianapolis.
Martin is more technically raw and less experienced than Swanson and Richburg, but if he can stand out by comparison with his physical attributes, he has a legitimate shot to be the first center off the board in this year’s draft.
Is De’Anthony Thomas Fast?
Listed prior to this year’s combine as one of the players with most to gain in Indianapolis, De’Anthony Thomas’ performance at the Underwear Olympics was instead one of the event’s most disappointing showings.
Projected to be among the fastest runners at the combine, Thomas’ official 4.50-second 40-yard dash time wasn’t even among the top 50. For a player whose speed was considered to be his only particularly impressive trait, Thomas’ disappointing time is enough to move him sharply down draft boards.
Was De’Anthony Thomas’ supposed blazing speed a myth, or was the poor combine performance merely a fluke for the former Oregon big-play offensive weapon and track sprinter? While his game tape might display the speed to run away from defenders in the open field, it is imperative for him to show that speed at the Ducks’ pro day on Thursday.
For most running backs and wide receivers, a 4.50-second 40 would be a solid time, but it’s not good enough when you’re 5’9”, 174 pounds and have a reputation built upon your sprinting ability.
Thomas didn’t do much of anything impressively in Indianapolis, including during his on-field drills, but the pro day gives him a second chance to improve upon his performance. There might not be any combine participant who needs to take advantage of that second chances more than the “Black Momba.”
Will Brett Smith Prove He Was a Combine Snub?
The Wyoming pro day might not be typically be a top destination for NFL scouts, but it should draw a crowd to Laramie this year. The reason for that would be quarterback Brett Smith, who was considered by many, including CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler, to be the biggest snub from this year’s combine.
Smith’s non-invitation to the combine is an indication that NFL teams might not rate him as highly as some media draft prognosticators do. Nonetheless, his pro day on Friday will give him a chance to prove that he should have been in Indianapolis.
He might not be a household name, but Smith has the talent to end up being a mid-round draft pick. A good athlete who can make plays on the run and throw the ball downfield with zip to his targets, Smith has promising developmental potential.
The key to making himself a name in NFL circles might lie in putting his physical tools on full display at his pro day. His measurables are likely to be among the most impressive for quarterbacks in this year’s class, and he will have a chance to impress during throwing drills due to his rapport with wide receiver Robert Herron, who is also a projected to be a mid-round draft pick.
The stage will not be as big at Wyoming as it would have been at the combine, but Smith is used to standing out in front of smaller audiences.
In this case, it might not be the size of the audience that matters; teams who are interested in him will almost certainly have representation at the workout. It is important, on the other hand, that he takes advantage of his opportunity after being deprived of a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium.
How Does Troy Niklas’ Speed Stack Up?
Considering how underwhelming the combine was for the tight end group as a whole, just about every player at the position should be looking for improvement at their pro days. One prospect whose pro-day performance might specifically garner attention is Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas.
The 6’6”, 270-pound tight end had a decent overall showing at the combine, which included 27 bench press repetitions and a 12.19-second 60-yard shuttle, but he did not run the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. According to Andrew Owens of Blue and Gold Illustrated, a strain in Niklas’ core led him to opt out of the combine’s marquee event.
When he runs the 40 at Notre Dame’s pro day on March 20, scouts will be looking to see how his straight-line speed stacks up with that of the draft’s other top tight ends.
North Carolina’s Eric Ebron is in a class of his own in this draft’s crop of tight ends, and Niklas is unlikely to come close to matching Ebron’s 4.60 40 from Indianapolis.
The more important comparison might come with Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro, who ran a 4.74 40 at the combine and is in competition with Niklas and Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins (who missed the combine and could miss the Huskies’ April 2 pro day after foot surgery), to be the second tight end drafted this year.
Niklas is not as dynamic of a receiver as Ebron, Amaro or Seferian-Jenkins, but he has terrific size for the position and is a skilled blocker. If he can show impressive speed at his pro day, he could solidify himself as a second-round pick.
Will Zach Mettenberger Be Healthy?
Despite tearing his ACL and spraining his MCL in LSU’s regular-season finale against Arkansas on Nov. 29, quarterback Zack Mettenberger reportedly plans to throw at LSU’s pro day on April 9.
Mettenberger told ESPN’s SportsCenter (h/t Jim Kleinpeter of the Times-Picayune), that he plans to throw at the event, which would be a remarkably quick turnaround less than six months after suffering the injury.
A projected early-round pick before suffering the injury, Mettenberger can likely re-solidify himself as at least a Day 2 draft selection should he prove he is healthy during the throwing session.
While he does not plan to run the 40-yard dash and was already considered to be athletically limited before his injury, he is a strong-armed quarterback who should show—as long as he has made an adequate recovery—that he can rifle the ball downfield with accuracy.
As Dan Kadar of SBNation’s Mocking The Draft tweeted on Saturday, his workout might be the “most important pro day of the year.”
Mettenberger isn’t the only SEC quarterback whose pro day could mark an impressive and important recovery from a torn ACL. Georgia’s Aaron Murray, a projected Day 3 draft pick, told Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer that he expects to be “90-100 percent” in time for the Bulldogs’ April 16 pro day, despite suffering a torn ACL on Nov. 23 versus Kentucky.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.