The 2014 NFL draft is inching closer and closer. As more free agents sign, as more pro days are held and as more time allows for tape study, quite a bit is changing.
This is the time of year when media evaluators play catch-up—especially here. After covering the NFL season for all 17 weeks and the playoffs, the "offseason" is my time to dig into film and solidify my in-season thoughts on a player. I call them "re-checks," because it's all about rewatching the film and checking your initial grade.
Following a busy week of pro days and some significant free-agent signings, here's this week's Scouting Notebook.
Five Up, Five Down
5. WR Cody Latimer, Indiana
A foot injury kept Latimer from working out at the combine, and even though he wasn't completely healed in time for his pro day, he put on his cleats and stole the show. Running an official 4.38 in the 40-yard dash at 6'3", 215 pounds, answered many questions. I initially gave Latimer a third-round grade when he declared for the draft, but thanks to re-checks, he's moved to a second-round projection.
As long as his foot checks out for teams at individual workouts, he could surprise as a late first-round pick.
Current ranking: No. 41 overall
4. OL Joel Bitonio, Nevada
As one of the more versatile linemen in the draft class, Bitonio has potential as a tackle or guard. Teams I've spoken with like him best at right guard, and watching the film it's easy to agree. He's a power player with good movement skills who could struggle with space if left on the edge. Still, Bitonio looks like a future Pro Bowler at guard.
Current ranking: No. 62
3. DL Dominique Easley, Florida
Health is the key for Dominique Easley, and he is incredibly tough to assign a value to until he's given a clean bill of health. Based purely on talent and film study before his second ACL tear, Easley would be the top-ranked defensive tackle in this class. He's comparable to Aaron Donald in quickness and size, and Easley would likely give teams a hard time picking between the two.
That said, until we know when Easley will be cleared and ready to go, it's tough to give him a true ranking. He's moving up my board, though, given a "ranked if healthy" grade.
Current ranking: No. 53
2. QB Tom Savage, Pitt
Watching Tom Savage during the season, I wasn't blown away. But that's the trouble with TV broadcast viewing—you don't always get the full picture. On reevaluating him post-combine, you notice just how poor his pass protection was. That led to some of the bad habits seen in his footwork. All that said, his arm strength and pro-style background are very intriguing.
Current ranking: No. 132
1. QB Derek Carr, Fresno State
Carr has been a first-round talent on my board for months now, but the more I'm able to compare him to the other quarterback prospects, the more obvious it becomes that he belongs in the conversation with Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles.
Carr's arm strength, poise and field vision are all on par with his peers in this class, and he's an underrated mover too. He might not be the first quarterback of the board, but don't be surprised if he's the second.
Current ranking: No. 18
5. OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Lewan comes in ranked at No. 12 overall for the time being, but a recent arraignment on three assault charges could change things. The charges aren't the only issue, though, as teams are wary of Lewan's "dirty play" on the field. One team scout I spoke with this week told me to watch the coach's film and focus on Lewan after the play ended. I did, and he's a bit of a cheap-shot artist. That's something Team A may love and Team B may use as a reason to remove him from its board.
Current ranking: No. 18 overall
4. WR Paul Richardson, Colorado
The 2014 wide receiver crop is the deepest I can remember in my 10 years evaluating players. That will cause talented players like Paul Richardson to fall down the board.
Further causing him to slip on my board is a lack of readiness for the pros in terms of a full route tree and the physical ability to break press coverage. Richardson is a burner and should be a playmaker on underneath routes, but he looks like a No. 3 receiver and nothing more.
Current ranking: No. 74
3. FS Ed Reynolds, Stanford
When Ed Reynolds entered the draft, there were excited fans who saw him as a potential single-high free safety prospect. And that is where he could eventually fit, but Reynolds' struggles with changing directions and ball awareness are a concern for the modern safety prospect.
With talent at the top end of the safety class, Reynolds' lack of NFL readiness pushes him down the board.
Current ranking: No. 87
2. ILB Skayne Skov, Stanford
The offseason has been an interesting one for Skov. First, he bypassed an opportunity to play in the Senior Bowl, and then he held himself out of combine drills and runs. Now, Skov has opted not to run at the Stanford pro day, citing an injury as his reason, per Jon Wilner of Bay Area News Group.
Whatever the reason, going through the entire pre-draft process without working out is a bad decision. Whoever is advising Skov needs to realize he has missed on three opportunities to impress teams.
Current ranking: No. 115
1. CB Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida
Purifoy's decision to leave college early was a curious one, and after what amounts to a bad pro day, his stock is bottoming out.
A source at the pro day workout told me he timed Purifoy in the "low 4.6 range" on both runs. The same scout noted that Purifoy really struggled in his positional drills, failing to show balance and weight transfer when making cuts and adjusting to track the ball.
In a deep cornerback class, Purifoy's stock is moving in the wrong direction.
Current ranking: No. 107
The Scout’s Report
— Your weekly Sammy Watkins update: The Cleveland Browns are said to "love" the wide receiver prospect. With the No. 4 overall pick in this draft, it's unlikely the Clemson star will get past them.
— A Twitter follower brought up perceived "issues" with Odell Beckham Jr. to me this week. I've met Beckham and communicated with him often during the season and since his decision to leave LSU. My talks with him show a quiet, determined player and person. Is he capable of being a bit of a prima donna? Perhaps, but rare is the wide receiver that doesn't garner that label.
— Indiana wide receiver Cody Latimer (mentioned above) is generating solid interest from the NFL. Sources in Latimer's camp tell me he's scheduled to meet with the Raiders, Eagles, Bills, Lions and Panthers in the coming weeks.
— Another under-the-radar player, Storm Johnson, will meet with the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots for individual workouts.
— The Chicago Bears are rumored to have strong interest in the cornerback position. A source with a team picking after the Bears in Round 1 tells me he or she expects the team to draft the best corner available with pick No. 14.
— The Missouri pro day looked like a circus, and defensive end Kony Ealy put on a show for scouts. The junior defender ran a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, a major improvement over his 4.91 time at the combine. He also worked out as an outside linebacker in positional drills and impressed with his fluid movements and ability to change direction on the fly.
— Johnny Manziel stole the show at the Texas A&M pro day, completing 61-of-64 throws and showing improved footwork while working from under center. Manziel isn't a lock to go inside the top 10 picks, and his stock will vary dramatically from team to team, but he could be in play for the first overall spot.
— One more note on the A&M pro day, Mike Evans was dominant, according to a scout in attendance. Viewing from home, Evans was tough to see and track on the broadcast, but he wowed people on the sidelines.
— In talking to people around the league in preparation for this week's article, many questioned the direction of the Cleveland Browns in approaching this draft. They had a light representation at the Senior Bowl and were noticeably absent from Johnny Manziel's pro day after not sending head coach Mike Pettine or offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to Blake Bortles' workout. Perhaps the Browns are trying to fool everyone, but they must be careful to not be played a fool by "smoke screening" themselves out of quality evaluation time.
"Put on Skates"
This doesn't sound like a football term from the outside looking in, but it definitely is. Being "put on skates" refers to a defensive lineman being pushed off the ball by an offensive lineman, moving backward in a way that it looks like he has skates on his feet. It's a bit of a creative phrase, but hear it once and you can visualize exactly what the scout is referring to.
Every evaluator hopes to land that one quarterback prospect no one saw coming. That leads to many spending hours looking at the lower tier of quarterbacks to find a potential steal. Pitt's Tom Savage was one of those players for me, and on a re-check of his film after the combine, here are my thoughts.
QB Tom Savage, Pitt
The first thing you notice about Savage is his arm strength. He throws with good spin and velocity, and the ball really jumps out of his hand. He's able to generate heat on passes to thread the ball in tight windows, but he also shows good touch and an ability to lead receivers. You want arm strength, but there's value in a quarterback knowing when to throw fastballs and when to touch-pass the ball in. Savage has that.
Coming out of a pro-style system, he's able to play under center or in a shotgun setting. He fits the ideal mold of a quarterback (6'4", 228 lbs) and is an experienced thrower to every level of the field. Savage has good developmental potential, too, and doesn't come into the league maxed out as a prospect.
The biggest concerns with Savage are his footwork and pocket presence. When throwing he fails to transfer his weight and swing through his back foot—which means throwing with only his arm and not using his legs and core to power the pass. That affects accuracy and causes the ball to sail, especially on outside throws.
Savage tends to panic when the pocket breaks down, and at Pitt that happened often. He has to learn to get the ball out quicker rather than holding it and waiting for a break in the pocket. Savage isn't a runner, and while he does have good foot speed in his drop steps, he won't pick up yards on the ground.
Pro Player Comparison: Derek Anderson, Carolina Panthers
The Big Board
|1||QB Teddy Bridgewater||Louisville|
|2||DE Jadeveon Clowney||South Carolina|
|3||WR Sammy Watkins||Clemson|
|4||OT Greg Robinson||Auburn|
|5||OLB Khalil Mack||Buffalo|
|6||OT Jake Matthews||Texas A&M|
|7||WR Mike Evans||Texas A&M|
|8||CB Justin Gilbert||Oklahoma State|
|9||DE Kony Ealy||Missouri|
|10||OLB Anthony Barr||UCLA|
|11||QB Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M|
|12||DT Aaron Donald||Pitt|
|13||QB Blake Bortles||Central Florida|
|14||TE Eric Ebron||North Carolina|
|15||WR Odell Beckham Jr.||LSU|
|16||ILB C.J. Mosley||Alabama|
|17||QB Derek Carr||Fresno State|
|18||OT Taylor Lewan||Michigan|
|19||FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||Alabama|
|20||CB Darqueze Dennard||Michigan State|
|21||OT Zack Martin||Notre Dame|
|22||DE Dee Ford||Auburn|
|23||FS Calvin Pryor||Louisville|
|24||CB Jason Verrett||TCU|
|25||WR Brandin Cooks||Oregon State|
|26||DT Louis Nix III||Notre Dame|
|27||DT Timmy Jernigan||FSU|
|28||CB Kyle Fuller||Virginia Tech|
|29||WR Davante Adams||Fresno State|
|30||OLB Ryan Shazier||Ohio State|
|31||TE Jace Amaro||Texas Tech|
|32||CB Bradley Roby||Ohio State|
10. Prepare to be inundated with experts moving players up and down their boards following the pro day circuit. I'm all for making moves on your board if you truly believe in them. That said, saying a quarterback is a Day 3 player before his pro day and then anointing him a star after the fact isn't something you'll see me do.
9. People talk about the depth of this draft class, and I agree it's crazy. That said, don't confuse depth at a position for equal talent within that group. For example, the wide receiver class has 15 players in my top 100 right now. That doesn't mean player No. 15 is as good as player No. 1. The class is deep, but there are few elite talents.
8. I'm a staunch critic of pro days because too many people fall for the hype surrounding the event, but they are valuable. Seeing a player in his home environment is important—as much for the on-field as the off-field—but you also get a chance to meet with the player face to face. Remember, most private meetings with players happen around the pro day workout.
7. An important part of my "summer break" is getting started on evaluating the top seniors for the next year's draft class. With that in mind, a new database is being created with a top-100 list of seniors (and a few juniors like Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota) for an initial report over the post-draft months.
6. A difficult part of media evaluation is projecting across a wide spectrum. Team scouts focus on players who fit their individual schemes and often value players differently than another team may. That's important to keep in mind as big boards roll out between now and the draft. One team may love a player while the other 31 could see him as a mid-round prospect.
5. Looking at the depth of the running back position in this year's draft, it's easy to see a dozen starters or more in terms of raw talent. Of my top 100 players, eight are running backs. Extend that to my top 365 players and there are an insane 29 backs ranked. During last year's draft 26 running backs and fullbacks came off the board, so don't be surprised to see more drafted this year.
4. A lot of Manziel notes this week, but justifiably so. If your favorite team is wary of the "superstar" environment surrounding the Heisman Trophy winner, the pro day won't help. Having a former president (George H.W. Bush), current governor (Rick Perry) and a host of dignitaries showing up for a pro day workout isn't going to squash the belief that Manziel's star power invites attention that teams may not want.
3. Fans of the Houston Texans voted on the team's website and 61 percent want the team to draft Johnny Manziel. I'm not saying it won't happen, but count me among those that would be very surprised if the Texans kept Manziel in Texas with the first overall pick.
2. How important is a pro day? As a general answer, 95 percent of my grade on a player comes from film study. I like to watch five games (minimum) from the player's last two seasons before giving him a grade. The Senior Bowl, combine and pro day add up to the other 5 percent, but the pro day is definitely the least important of the three postseason events.
1. There will be many different takes on Johnny Manziel deciding to throw in shoulder pads and a helmet at his pro day, but I love it. Manziel and his team understand he needs to separate himself from the competition at quarterback, and coming out ready to throw with pads on definitely does that. It may not improve his draft stock at all, but Manziel showed he's ready to compete.
Twitter Must-Follow of the Week
@MarkdominikESPN, former NFL general manager Mark Dominik
After running the show for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2009-13, Dominik is now working for ESPN. His Twitter account is relatively new, but I always recommend following as many former NFL scouts and evaluators as possible. You might not always agree with their takes, but something can be learned from their thought processes and insights.
Working and Reading
Here's a quick look at what I'm working on and reading this week.
Grantland: Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles? (Bill Barnwell)
B/R: Inside the Life of a College Football Graduate Assistant Coach (Barrett Sallee)
B/R: Have the Seahawks Changed the Way Teams Are Scouting Cornerbacks, Safeties? (Matt Bowen)
NFL Network: Inside the Seattle Seahawks' War Room (Daniel Jeremiah, Curtis Conway)
Sporting News: Johnny Manziel Isn't Bill O'Brien's Kind of Player (Ross Tucker)
Tuesday, April 1: NFL1000 continues with top 50 defensive tackles
Thursday, April 3: NFL1000 series top 100 cornerbacks
Friday, April 4: Updated seven-round mock draft
Friday, April 4: Updated scouting notebook