Biggest Questions Still Remaining for 2014 NFL Draft Class After Pro Days
We’re finally done with pro days, and while many things were answered in some ways, there are still many questions that weren’t.
I always say that pro days get overrated by the media—especially those of us for whom draft analysis isn’t a full-time job due to other jobs, writing assignments, family. It’s a trap I find even hardworking people falling into, because it’s easy to read about them and get excited one way or the other.
Normally, more prominent draftniks don’t do this—that is, didn’t do this until this year when we had NFL Network’s Mike Mayock come away from a lackluster pro day for Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and a fantastic one for Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and swap their places in his rankings.
Now, I respect what Mayock does and listen when he speaks, but a bad pro day (or a great one) doesn’t eliminate years' worth of games, does it? It might drive you back to look at a player again, but most of the time it doesn’t do much.
What we do notice throughout the draft is that players "rise" and "fall," but that is mostly true for the media. Scouts and teams have their boards and they don’t change radically like ours can in the media. What you see in the media is course correction—where we catch up with teams.
Ultimately, pro days don’t answer all that many questions we can have—and in some cases only prove to fog things up more.
So here are some things we’re still wondering even after the pro days are done.
Is Teddy Bridgewater Worth a Top 1st-Round Pick?
As mentioned in the opening, Bridgewater had a "poor" pro day. Now, normally pro days for quarterbacks should be taken with a grain of salt because they’re the opposite of what the NFL is about. Pro days are all about a quarterback being comfortable—the NFL and NFL Sundays are all about how they function when things aren't comfortable at all.
So normally, when they do well, you sort of write them off a little because they should do well. When they do poorly—or in Bridgewater’s case, average, according to Mayock (via Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk)—it does drive you to look at a player’s games again.
That said, is what they saw enough for NFL scouts to wipe out all the tape they watched? Or were they already far more down than the draftnik industrial complex?
But is that an accurate assessment of what the NFL is thinking? We really don’t know.
I believe Bridgewater is the best quarterback prospect in the class. But he’s not Andrew Luck or Cam Newton. He’s not on that “lock it down” level. But what I believe and what the NFL believes could be wildly different.
There didn’t seem to be any clarity from his pro day, and we really won’t know anything more until things kick off in May.
Is Johnny Manziel Still Too Much Johnny Football?
As with Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel’s pro day was memorable.
In his case, it was memorable for how incredibly well-executed it was.
However, does the pro day really tell us what we need to know? In other words, is Johnny Manziel really ready to dump "Johnny Football"?
Not everyone came away sure.
Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer told Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press that he sees some “red flags” with Manziel.
Meanwhile, former quarterback and current Yahoo Sports writer Shaun King had him drop out of his first-round mock, writing:
I found the majority of decision makers there were uncomfortable with the language of the music that played during the workout and with Manziel going against the grain by wearing a helmet and shoulder pads.
He also said:
Team front offices want to know if Manziel can conform and be just one of the guys. His pro day outfit wasn't Texas A&M gear – it was Johnny Manziel gear. Teams have a concern on whether the pursuit of perfecting his QB skills will ever be first on Manziel's mind.
I don’t know how much I buy that. On the one hand, the music played at his pro day was what was played during Texas A&M practices. Music at a pro day is somewhat unusual but not unheard of, nor was the type of music.
And that type of music is not unheard of at the pro level, either.
On the other hand, GMs and owners don’t hang around college practices much, and that music isn’t quite their cup of tea. It’d be a dumb reason to write Manziel off, but would it shock you?
Because the real question they have is whether Manziel can focus on football and whether he will fit in on their team. And his pro day didn’t answer that. Frankly, no pro day would.
Manziel has worked hard since his first day at the combine to put forth that his “Johnny Football” persona is done, but he has to sell that to the NFL decision-makers.
That happens where you and I can’t see it, so how convinced they are nobody really knows.
His pro day didn’t clear that up one way or another.
Will the Real Derek Carr Please Stand Up?
While I’m on the Bridewater Bandwagon and the Manziel Motorway, I’m not clapping for Derek Carr.
Or at least I’m not sold he should be in the conversation with the first two and Blake Bortles.
That aside, reports from writers like CBS Sports' Rob Rang said that he did very well at his pro day.
Even better? There was the added storyline that, according to Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk, he was sick going into the day, so it was (to the media) even more extraordinary.
Did it show us something new though?
Here is a selection of some of the questions analysts have about Carr.
Played primarily out of the shotgun, and must show the ability to take snaps from under center and read defenses while dropping back. Struggled against better competition, including a poor career finale as USC constantly harassed Carr, who was unable to move the ball consistently in the face of pressure. Will rush passes when blitzed, frequently starting down and overthrowing targets. Stats inflated by Fresno State's pass-happy offense. Accuracy was inconsistent on critical plays in several of Fresno State's biggest games in 2013.
He's very accurate on short and intermediate passes but his deep ball accuracy is spotty. Also, he has a bad habit of falling off throws when facing pressure, which drastically affects his accuracy. He doesn't have great pocket awareness but when he does escape pressure, he has the speed to pick up chunk yardage.
At times tries to do too much and forces some throws. Occasionally throws off balance unnecessarily and sails some throws. Operated out of the shotgun and pistol and made a lot short/lateral throws and half-field reads. Production is inflated by spread offense and porous Mountain West Conference defenses—nine 2013 opponents (excluding an FCS opponent) ranked between 81st and 125th nationally in scoring defense and/or passing defense. Had his worst game in the Las Vegas Bowl against USC.
Sixty percent of his throws within five yards of the line of scrimmage, struggles against pressure and that tape I watched against USC, that is not a quarterback that looks to me, like a potential starter in the league.
What do all the concerns have in common? How he reacts to pressure.
That’s not something you see at a pro day. It’s only something you can see in game film.
No matter how good Carr did during his pro day, no scout, GM, coach or analyst should walk away thinking that question was answered.
So which Carr is the real Carr? The guy we saw throwing the heck out of the ball at his pro day, or the guy struggling under pressure against a team like USC?
The answer probably lies somewhere in between, as the USC game wasn’t all on Carr while a pro day doesn’t present any chance to see a quarterback under duress.
So, in reality, whatever you believed before should probably be what you believed after. Because ultimately, the most important question isn’t something that can be answered at a pro day.
What Did Jadeveon Clowney’s Pro Day Tell Us About His Work Ethic?
By all accounts, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney had a fantastic pro day.
I’m not sure how surprised (or impressed) I should be that he jumped seven bags and picked up tennis balls—not because it’s not impressive on its own or not relevant (former NFL player Stephen White of SB Nation and 98.7 The Fan broke down why it is). Just because I already knew he’s an athletic freak.
We saw it at the combine. We saw it during games. We’ve seen it.
Did we actually learn something new?
The only thing we might have learned is that his former coach, Steve Spurrier, thinks his work ethic is “fine,” according to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle.
Spurrier also mentioned that some of the flap around earlier comments he made about Clowney’s work ethic came about because Spurrier compared him to running back Marcus Lattimore, who he says was “exceptional.”
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, and you could argue that it’s not like he could say something else, but it might put teams a bit more at ease. Certainly what he tells the media and what he might tell someone connected to a team could be very different. But it’s food for thought.
Other than that, though, I don’t think we saw much new—just the same stuff in new forms.
It’s still fun to watch though.
Is Khalil Mack Better Than Jadeveon Clowney?
People were duly impressed with Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack’s speed and drills at his pro day, as reported by FoxSports.com.
Mack is an exceptional athlete, but is he good enough to go No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans, as mocked this past month by ESPN’s Mel Kiper (subscription required)?
There has been some discussion this draft season about whether Mack could—in some cases, should—be selected ahead of South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.
Certainly he’s in the conversation for the No. 1 pick, according to NFL.com’s Gil Brandt (via Mike Huguenin, also of NFL.com). The question is has he done enough to overtake Clowney? And did the pro day make a difference for teams?
Certainly he’s a fantastic talent and he had a great pro day. However, it seems clear both in a pro day vacuum as well as watching games that Clowney is a more naturally talented player.
Where it gets interesting could be when you get off the field. Mack has no work ethic or off-field questions about him, while Clowney has been dogged by them at times.
If a team left both pro days with any doubts about Clowney, Mack is the next likeliest choice.
As we said on the previous slide, after his pro day we really still don’t know what to make of what teams think about Clowney.
Mack had a great pro day himself, but it was early (so it might have less impact) and it wasn’t so good that taking him over Clowney is a no-brainer.
Again, that’s something we’d need to be further inside the process to know for sure.
Are Taylor Lewan’s Off-Field Issues a Sign of Things to Come?
A few weeks back I wrote about Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan’s stock being down because of several incidents that have come to light over the last year. The question we need to ask is whether he managed to convince teams that his off-field issues were mere blips, not trends.
Lewan stood on his numbers from the combine and only did position drills, where he performed well. Both of which were things we expected.
However, as with many of the previous slides, we don’t have a ton of insight into whether any interviews with teams allayed any concerns they may have had.
We know Lewan can play tackle, and the NFL knows it too. We know that some teams have concerns about him.
What we don’t know is whether they heard enough from him to alleviate all of those concerns.
Who Is the Next Receiver After Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans?
There’s no mystery who the first two receivers off the board will likely be. Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans are head and shoulders above the rest of the group.
But who will go off the board after they do?
We’ve got multiple directions to go in. Odell Beckham Jr., Marqise Lee, Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin have all seen some buzz. And in a draft class as deep as this one, everyone is bound to have favorites.
Nobody has distanced themselves though, and while there were some decent performances, nobody’s pro day knocked our socks off.
So who will be the third receiver? Or fourth? Or even fifth?
Nothing we saw at pro days gave us a clue.
Where Does Michael Sam Fit in an NFL Scheme?
While the fact that he is the first openly gay draft prospect is what gets the most attention when you mention Missouri defensive end Michael Sam’s name, the thing analysts and teams are really focusing on is where he fits.
Sam, a little small for an NFL defensive end and not quite explosive enough to move to linebacker, has teams not only wondering if he will fit into their locker room cultures, but in their defensive schemes as well.
Sam improved on his 40-yard dash time from the combine—dropping almost two-tenths of a second to 4.72 from his 4.91 time in Indianapolis, according to T.J. Fenske of KRCG 13. However, he pulled a hamstring, as reported by Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports 1, on the first attempt and couldn’t make a second.
The tight hammy may also have hampered his positional drills, but he bettered his combine vertical numbers by five inches, according to Rivals.com’s Gabe DeArmond. He looked good in drills as well, as evidenced by videos of his "swimming drills" and footwork drills shot by Erik Hall of News Hall Online.
Still, we are no closer to knowing where he will fit. The better vertical and 40-yard dash times point to the ability to explode and show speed, and we know he wasn’t co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year by accident.
But we don’t know how well that will translate in an NFL defense.
And we won’t until he gets onto an NFL field.
Which is really the case with any player.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him @andrew_garda on Twitter.