Georgia Bulldogs Take Their Reps at NFL Pro Day in Athens
Athens was all abuzz last season when Pro Day arrived at the University of Georgia campus. After all, the future No. 1 pick was putting his arm and his athleticism on display. The show ended up working out well for him and his teammates as both Knowshon Moreno and Mohamed Massaquoi ended up going in the Top 50.
Today, the spotlight is not nearly as bright and the names aren’t quite as large but the end result is hoped to be the same—an increase in draft stock for those with NFL aspirations.
Both Jeff Owens and Geno Atkins created a lot of buzz already during their combine and Senior Bowl performances. However, they will get the opportunity to add to that conversation as they get put under the microscope even further. In both cases, Owens' and Atkins', the knock is size. Both players are 6’1” and the ideal height for their position is in the 6’3” range.
They, along with a number of other former Dawgs who were not able to show their stuff at a combine or a postseason bowl, will be on hand at Pro Day today. Here are just a few thoughts on some of the participants.
Jeff Owens, DT
Owens still has some questions regarding his ability to consistently defend against the run. Many scouts wonder how well he will be able to free himself against the blocks of bigger, more athletic offensive linemen. Despite Owens’ NFL Combine performance, where he lifted 44 reps of 225 pounds, he doesn’t possess the solid body you want to see; he is a bit soft in some areas and needs to show up today looking a bit more toned.
In addition, his lack of speed is a concern, since he will be required to chase down the quarterback a bit more in the pros than he did in college. Does he have the stamina for backside pursuit?
He won’t be effective in all schemes but he does have playmaking ability and that should translate into solid production at the next level.
Today his goal should be to show up looking more solid and ready to display a more polished technique as a blocker. That would secure his status as an early-round pick.
Geno Atkins, DT
Atkins is in the same boat as Owens in the height department but that is the only place where the two share any comparisons. Atkins has sneaked up on scouts and blown them away. His initial draft projection (fourth or fifth round) has already significantly increased (projected second rounder) with his performance in the Senior Bowl and at the Combine.
His burst off the line and his skill at getting to the quarterback have already made him an attractive prospect for scouts. He’s good at shedding blocks and has the power in his legs to drive offensive lineman back behind the line of scrimmage—flattening them in some instances.
Even still, he has to show total awareness on the field. Atkins has a tendency to display tunnel vision when he’s attacking the play and that causes him to focus on the play in front of him and that play alone. Depending on the scheme he is worked into, he will be required to develop more peripheral vision and be more aware of the plays taking place on the left and right of him as well.
If he hopes to maintain his momentum up the draft board, his goal should be to show scouts that he is not a one-dimensional player and he is capable of playing smartly, not just instinctually.
Reshad Jones, DB
Jones is every bit as good as the safeties who will likely be picked ahead of him (Eric Berry, Taylor Mays, and Earl Thomas) but his problem is that he lacked the consistency over the course of his career to be productive on a game-by-game basis. He often showed flashes of brilliance but never sustained illumination.
His performance at the NFL Combine did much to increase his value but it didn’t take him out of the third-round grade that many figured him to fall into at the start of the season.
The goal for him this Pro Day needs to be showing the scouts that he can read and react to the play. Jones has a tough time coming out of his backpedal to turn and run with the receiver. A great deal of that has to do with the coaching he received at Georgia under the Willie Martinez regime.
Martinez’s defensive backs worked in a soft zone and most did not have to come out of a backpedal to turn and go with a receiver. And when they did, they often looked stiff and were not able to do so effectively. That is something that Jones can correct under the guidance of a more seasoned NFL coach at the next level.
His focus for today should be to show a willingness to learn. He tends to spend too much time believing his physical gifts will make up for his technical deficiencies.
Rennie Curran, LB
Of the four potential Pro Day performances that mean the most, Curran has the most to prove. The knocks on his size, specifically his height, are well-documented but his 40 time at the NFL Combine did nothing to assuage the doubts of the scouts who were willing to overlook that deficiency.
As it turns out, the lackluster 40 may have had more to do with a pulled hamstring than anything and today he will run again with hopefully better results.
Curran has the eye of most NFL GMs because his work ethic is phenomenal and he is as sure a tackler as you can find anywhere. Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff essentially said that size is not nearly as big a factor as it’s made out to be—plenty of pro players lack the height requirement for their positions, yet they do well.
Curran’s focus for today should just be to go out and do the best he can at everything. In the end, I don’t think his height will be as big a factor as most feel it will be come draft day, because he can flat out tackle and that means a lot more than him being an inch or two shorter than ideal.
Other Notable Players in the Mix
He was not invited to the NFL Combine and will use his pro day to put himself into the minds of pro scouts looking for a good receiver to fill out their ranks.
Moore was not nearly as pivotal to the Georgia offense as many expected him to be at the end of the 2008 season (ending 2009 with 265 yards receiving). However, that in no way diminishes his ability to be productive at the next level—particularly as a slot receiver.
He has decent speed and excellent pass-catching ability. He’s physical and is not afraid to go over the middle to make the catch. If he can run a good 40 and show his proficiency in both catching balls and running routes, he could sneak into the later rounds.
Despite the fact that Evans was a sore spot in the Georgia secondary last season, he does have value at the NFL level because of his versatility at playing multiple positions in the secondary.
Evans will likely look to run a better-than-average 40 to get himself into the mix and then see what can happen from there. As of now, he is projected to be a free agent.
His size already makes him an attractive option on the offensive line. He stands 6’6” and 328 lbs. He’s a bit of an injury risk but if he can display some athleticism and solid strength during his Pro Day, an NFL team will likely take a flier on him as a reserve.