The overwhelming hype placed into pro-day workouts by NFL draft punditry is perhaps the most inane quality of the whole process. We're all well-educated enough to realize the Underwear Olympics known as the scouting combine; enough war stories have been passed around league circles that even most common fans hold out on hyperbole.
Pro days typically don't get the same treatment, specifically because they're so fractured. There isn't the all-encompassing need to pay attention to each individual pro day as there is at the combine, where a majority of prospects worth the price of admission gather to work out. The combine is inclusive. Pro days are exclusive.
And, for the most part, they should stay that way. For all of the snickering and elbow-nudging that goes on about combine overreactions, similar pro-day evaluations are more insane. In fact, divide the actual football knowledge you get about the prospect into fourths—and that's about what you're getting at a pro day.
Players are not only competing without pads (for the most part), but they're doing so as part of a scripted workout and in the comfort of their own environment. Perhaps the only notable evaluation worth taking from pro days is when guys struggle—simply because so many factors are going in their favor.
Wait a second. Sorry. Got lost in rationality there for a minute. This is the NFL draft we're talking about—of course people are reading everything into everything about everyone. It's only natural. Not like the most thrilling postseason tournament in sports falls around the same time or anything.
Whatever. Our football-obsessed culture has given these workouts the utmost cache on the national level, so it's only right to follow along with the often-hilarious-but-still-noteworthy storylines. Here are a few of the most notable catching on at the moment.
Has Teddy Bridgewater Fallen to No. 3 on the QB Hierarchy?
The narrative, at the moment, seems to be pushing that way. After coming into the 2013 season as the prohibitive favorite to go No. 1 overall and then filing a stellar junior season, it was inconceivable in January that folks would be discussing Bridgewater falling out of the top 10.
Johnny Manziel is the most tantalizing prospect in the entire class but a huge risk, and while Blake Bortles had all the physical tools you'd ever want in a quarterback, scouts barely knew who the dude was a year ago.
Bridgwater was Bridgewater. He was arguably the biggest recruit in Louisville history when he landed there, and has cobbled together a resume that makes him (to me) the most pro-ready signal-caller in the draft.
The last few months haven't been kind to that status. Bridgewater participated minimally at the scouting combine, and measured relatively small at 214 pounds. His hands (9.25") were also the cause of concern because that's one measure—albeit a flawed and somewhat arbitrary one—of how a quarterback handles cold weather.
Things didn't go much better at Bridgwater's pro day, as the Louisville product struggled at times both with accuracy and zip on his deep passes. Working without a glove on a somewhat chilly afternoon—Bridgewater had worn a glove going back to high school—his passes floated and he didn't look like the prototypical make-all-the-throws quarterback most thought he was.
Pro days are inherently silly, but Bridgewater did tell NFL Network (h/t Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com) he thinks the glove played a factor in his miscues:
From this day forward, I’m going to do what got me here, and that’s wearing a glove. I was able to learn that from the Pro Day, to continue to do what you’re comfortable doing, continue to do what got you in this situation in the first place. I’ve been wearing gloves the past three years, so I’ll get back into the glove business.
Glove or not, Bridgewater's workout paled in comparison to Manziel and Bortles. Taking the field two days after Bridgewater struggled, Bortles looked every bit like the top overall selection. He flashed the ability to make every throw on the field, had vastly improved footwork and there are certainly no questions about his stature.
“I was very impressed,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien told reporters. “He made every throw I wanted to see, and he showed good footwork.”
And, of course, Thursday's workout for Manziel answered a ton of questions. Coming out in a helmet and shoulder pads, Manziel had a scintillating workout that left most applauding his effort. Everything from his demeanor to his accuracy to his arm strength was on point, and the nits being picked by folks afterward were minimal.
For those who loved Manziel coming in, it was everything they needed to justify their adoration. We'll just have to see if it was enough to bump him over Bridgewater come May 8.
Michael Sam Improves Across the Board
If there was any prospect in need of a comforting environment, it was Michael Sam. The Missouri defensive end arrived in Indianapolis not long after his historic announcement that he is openly gay, and the whirlwind of pressure, press and emotion seemed to take a toll on his on-field output.
Sam struggled mightily in the athleticism drills, ranking at or near the bottom of his position in the 40-yard dash, bench press and everything else. While most agreed that Sam killed the interview portion—both with the media and with teams—questions about his translation on the field were legitimate. Gil Brandt of the NFL Network was one of many to show concern:
Going into the conbine I thought Michael Sam was a man w/out a position in NFL. His 4.91 today might have confirmed it. #NFLCombine— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) February 24, 2014
Last week's pro day in Columbia helped assuage at least some of the unease. Sam still isn't the biggest, strongest or fastest defensive end in his class, but he showed marked improvements in key areas. His 4.73 unofficial 40-yard dash was nearly two-tenths better than his combine numbers, and his 30-inch vertical was a five-inch improvement.
He was unable to make much discernable improvement on the bench, but lopping that much time off his 40 in a month—especially given he almost fell on his first attempt—speaks to the kid's work ethic.
Russ Lande, a former scout with the St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns, told Fox Sports' Nate Latsch that Sam is no longer in danger of falling out of the draft altogether.
"Scouts said he's going to be drafted, that he's too good of a football player not to be drafted," Lande said. "Is he a premier prospect? No. But I'd be very surprised if he wasn't picked."
Given what Sam's presence could mean for acceptance of gay culture for future athletes, I'd be lying if I said I weren't rooting for him. He's gone about the process the right way, with an open mind and hoping that NFL teams see him as a football player and not a symbol of something larger. Obviously, that's unavoidable.
But the attention drawn has taken attention off an unalienable fact: dude can play some football. They don't give SEC Defensive Player of the Year trophies and first-team All-American selections to slouches. He deserves to be drafted on merit alone, and Sam's pro day helped clinch that status.
Derek Carr Says,'Wait, What About Me?'
First thing's first: Derek Carr needs to change his name immediately. The over/under on the amount of Freudian-slip David Carr posts by sportswriters over the course of the younger Carr brother's career is 1,000. Dudes even went to the same school. Don't let anyone ever tell you sportswriting is easy, kids.
We bring up new Carr because, for all of the aforementioned gushing about Manziel and hand-wringing about Bridgewater, perhaps no one has done more to boost his stock in this process than the former Fresno State product. Carr, fighting illness, completed 56 of his 63 throws and blew teams away with his better-than-expected arm strength.
"Every ball except one hit exactly where we wanted to," Carr told reporters, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN), after the workout. "The fact that one of them was a foot off, that's a pretty good day."
The workout seemed to solidify Carr as a first-round talent. Viewed as a a fringe prospect whose draft stock would depend almost entirely on what the quarterback-needy teams did in the top 10, Carr has been so good that he may have talked some of those teams out of taking a signal-caller.
David White of The Fresno Bee reported the Raiders have a "massive crush" on Carr, though they couldn't justify taking him at No. 5. It will be interesting to see what types of rumors pop up about Oakland trading back in the coming weeks, but it's not like the Raiders are exactly shy about taking the guys they want.
Going No. 5 is a stretch of a stretch of the imagination, and I wouldn't dare project Carr landing anywhere near the top 10. But given the hype surrounding his name of late and the fact that it only takes one team to fall in love, Carr could wind up being the third or possibly even second quarterback off the board in May.
There's a long time and a ton of private workouts between now and then. Carr's stock is just one of the many things to monitor in a wildly fluctuating quarterback position in 2014.
All combine measurements are via NFL.com.
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