NFL Draft 2011: 15 Burning Questions Going Into Pro Days for Prospects

Robert HoffmanCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2011

NFL Draft 2011: 15 Burning Questions Going Into Pro Days for Prospects

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    Well, the combine is an ancient, albeit positive, memory for some players, while a painful-and-fresh one for some others. Regardless, we move on to the next aspect of the NFL Draft process which are pro days (scheduled workouts for draft-able individuals from select colleges) and private workouts.

    Players typically use their pro days for one of the following reasons:

    1. If a player was unable to participate in or not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, this is his one shot to impress scouts beyond what tape is available of his play on the football field.

    2. If a player had a poor combine, this is the rough equivalent of taking a mulligan in golf and getting another shot to impress.

    3. Occasionally a player will use his pro day to even improve on a very good performance in Indianapolis. This is usually done to show consistency, not for the mere purpose of shaving another few tenths of a second off a 40-yard dash time.

    Regardless of the reason for having a pro day or a private workout, there is little doubt of the importance of this process as we are at the point where teams become completely enamored with certain prospects while taking others off their boards completely.

    The next 15 slides contain the most burning questions that I have going into the pro days.

1. How Will Friday's Deadline for Reaching a New CBA Affect Pro Days

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    Let's consider several possibilities.

    If a new deal is reached, then the NFL will likely turn its attention to a rushed free-agency period. What that likely means is that general managers and coaches will have to split their time between wining and dining free agents and attending pro days.

    It should make for some interesting time management. The decision makers for organizations will have to really trust their scouts.

    If a deal is not reached or a further extension to the collective bargaining agreement is given, then there will be plenty of time to attend pro days.

    Of course, there has been talk that scouts or coaches could be laid off during a work stoppage. That likely wouldn't occur until after the draft, though, because teams will want to use every resource available to them in order to get better while they still can.  

2. Will Patrick Peterson's Representation Dare Let Him Work Out Again?

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The better question might be why would Peterson's representation dare let him work out?

    Seriously, after the 220-pounder ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, what is left for the former LSU Tiger to prove? Peterson could run even faster but another two-tenths of second probably won't make the difference between him being the first, second or third pick overall. What likely will make the difference in where Peterson is selected is whether a team can justify taking a cornerback so high in the draft.

    That's the dilemma facing Carolina, Denver and Buffalo right now. But if I was a betting man I'd suggest that Peterson can just sit back at this point and he won't have to wait very long to hear his name called on April 28. 

3. Will Da'Quan Bowers' Stock Take a Major Hit on April 1?

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Bowers was not able to work out at the NFL Scouting Combine due to having a knee scoped recently.

    Teams were curious to see what Bowers could do at Clemson's scheduled pro day on March 10. But Bowers won't workout there either and will now hold a private workout on Clemson's campus on April 1.

    While the extra time certainly gives Bowers a better chance to heal, there is also added pressure on him to work out well.

    If he does not run in the early 4.6 range or better, produce an impressive 10-yard split time and show no residuals of this knee problem, the best-case scenario for Bowers would be a slip into the bottom half of the top 10 selections in the draft.

    While Bowers led the NCAA in sacks (15.5) and tackles for a loss (25), no team is going to risk a selection that should be for a cornerstone player on a guy with a bad wheel.

    On the flip side, if Bowers performs off the charts, which I privately doubt, he could push himself up at least ahead of the two highly-rated defensive tackles (Nick Fairley and Marcell Dareus) in this draft.

4. Can Tyron Smith Establish Himself as a Legitimate First-Round Pick?

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    The USC right tackle is one of the bigger enigmas in this draft. His playing size of 6'5" and probably around 285 pounds sure doesn't suggest a seamless transition into an NFL Pro Bowl left tackle.

    We keep hearing how Smith will grow into his frame and he is incredibly gifted athletically.

    Smith weighed in at the combine at 307 pounds and bench-pressed 225 pounds an impressive 29 times. Then he reportedly removed himself from the combine on the advice of trainers until a previously torn meniscus had adequate time to heal.

    He is set to workout at USC's pro day on March 30.

    If he is able to run well and show strength and agility in drills while maintaining the same weight he measured in at the combine, he could be the first offensive linemen taken. If he underperforms he could fall out of the first round.

5. Will Ironhead's Son Continue His Free Fall?

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    Last offseason, there were whispers that Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward could be a top-five pick overall.

    After a so-so 2010 in which he only had 3.5 sacks but did record 13 tackles for a loss, some critics are questioning whether he has enough speed to play on the outside and whether he will hold up on the inside of the defensive line.

    Then came the revelation that Heyward had undergone reconstructive surgery on his elbow on Jan. 12 after suffering the injury against Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.

    As a result, Heyward, whose best quality is supposed to be his strength, could not lift at the combine and will not even be able to lift at his own workout on March 30 (Ohio State's pro day is on March 11).

    Furthermore, Heyward was only able to run a 4.92 at the combine, which certainly does not solve any concerns about his speed and explosion.

    Right now, Heyward's stock is somewhere in the late-first to early-second round. Don't be surprised if he falls another round by the time the draft rolls around.

6. Will Cam Newton Regain His Spot as the Draft's Top Quarterback?

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    Kent Horner/Getty Images

    Prior to the NFL Scouting Combine, Newton seemingly had passed Missouri's Blaine Gabbert as the draft's top quarterback.

    However, after a shaky throwing session in Indy, some reports of having less-than-stellar interviews with teams and public comments about being an icon and entertainer, the former Auburn Tiger seems to have settled in behind Gabbert and potentially may not be selected in the top 10 picks overall.

    Auburn's pro day is tomorrow, so we won't have to wait long to see how Newton works out in more familiar surroundings.

    The problem for Newton is that, athletically he did just fine at the combine, so a fast 40, high vertical or impressive broad jump doesn't help him anymore. What it really comes down to for the Heisman Trophy winner is whether scouts see an improvement in accuracy during drills.

    One interesting coincidence is that Arkansas' pro day is also tomorrow, so Newton's performance probably will be compared to Razorbacks' lightning-rod Ryan Mallett.

7. Will Foregoing Surgery Be the Right Move for Casey Matthews?

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    When Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews was in the middle of his 14th repetition during the bench press at the combine, his shoulder "subluxed" (courtesy of I had to look up the term "subluxed" because I had never heard it before. According to, subluxation occurs when "it (the shoulder) slips out of joint but spontaneously moves back in place".

    See, you can learn all kinds of information here. Back to Matthews, his subluxation forced him to stop lifting obviously and prevented him from doing positional drills in Indy.

    He won't lift on March 10, the Ducks pro day, but he will reportedly do everything else because he passed on surgery and rehabilitation went well.

    Whether he favors the shoulder during any drills should prove to be quite interesting, although not lifting will certainly help.

    Matthews may need a strong showing to keep his draft stock in the fourth-or-fifth round range because the this year's inside linebacker class is considered weak.

9. Can Wisconsin's John Clay Get Himself Drafted?

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    There is little doubt that Wisconsin's John Clay had an extremely productive college career for the Badgers. The redshirt junior ran for 3,413 yards, averaged 5.4 yards per carry and carried the ball across the goal line 41 times.

    At 6'1" and 250 pounds, Clay went to the combine and ran a slow 40 between 4.92 and 4.96 seconds and had a vertical leap of just 29 inches.

    For a running back who needed to take the pre-draft process seriously just to get drafted, last week's results are not going to get it done. Clay must take advantage of Wisconsin's pro day or individual workouts, as do many other Badgers including offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, offensive guard John Moffitt and tight end Lance Kendricks. 

10. Was Jerrel Jernigan's Low 4.3 Enough to Put Him into Rounds 1 or 2?

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    Just to switch it up, let's discuss a pro day that has already happened. That would be Troy and Jerrel Jernigan's pro day.

    Typically 5'9" receivers don't get drafted early, but the Philadelphia Eagles' DeSean Jackson may have changed all of that.

    Jernigan ran a 4.46 40 in Indianapolis, which was fast but hardly fast enough to warrant a selection in the draft's top two rounds.

    On Friday, Jernigan blazed a low 4.3 with 17 teams reportedly in attendance (

    That performance might remind scouts enough of Jackson for Jernigan to get his name selected earlier than expected on draft day.

10. Is Nick Fairley a JUCO Kid to the Core? Can the Next Month Change That?

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    According to draft expert Rob Rang in a blog post for "Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley was described as a "JUCO kid to the core" by one long-time personnel man, speaking on the condition of anonymity."

    JUCO, for those who don't know, is a junior college player, which is exactly what Fairley was prior to coming to Auburn.

    Rang's source elaborated on why being labeled a JUCO kid is a slight.

    "The stereotype is that JUCO players aren't as smart, hard-working and well coached," he said. They are also viewed by many clubs as players most likely to have had off-field troubles in the past and potentially more in the future. "Everyone is coming down hard on the quarterback, but [Fairley] is the one to worry about."

    So what would Auburn's pro day tomorrow do to change this notion? Probably not much. Although Rang's blog mentioned him "looking soft" at 6'4", 291 pounds and having a "limited understanding" of defensive schemes during interviews.  

    So Fairley needs to polish up those interviewing skills and go full bore at his pro day. Otherwise, as Tom Petty would probably croon, he will be "Free Fallin!"

11. Can Jimmy Smith Regain His Draft Momentum?

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    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    The Colorado cornerback ran a more-than-respectable 4.46 40 at the combine and had been rising up draft boards, so what's the problem?

    Well, according to "teams were so turned off (during interviews) that Smith could fall out of round one." 

    Smith, along with several other cornerbacks, did not look good in position drills at Indy. also reports that they have heard from people who were at the Carson, California facility where Smith was training that the cornerback skipped workouts the two weeks prior to the combine.

    Smith must have a rebound performance at Colorado's pro day or at a private workout.

12. Who's Draft Standing Will Fluctuate More Than Villanova's Ben Ijalana?

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    Offensive tackle/guard Ben Ijalana missed the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine due to sports hernia surgery. He hopes to work out on April 6 and he will have to put on an impressive show to convince scouts to go to bat for him in the draft.

    His absence from the Senior Bowl really hurt him the most because Villanova is an FCS football school, and teams would have loved to see him match up against a higher level of competition.

    There is also a question of where Ijalana is best suited to line up on the offensive line. Is it at tackle or guard? He is reportedly under 6'4" which could be a concern for a team that wants ideal size out of tackle.

    From what I hear, Ijalana's technique is raw and this may be a case of scouts needing a good look at him in positional drills. Depending on his workout, I think Ijalana's stock could range from the end of the first round to the fourth round. So yes, April 6 will be one important day for this prospect.

13. Does A.J. Green Need His Pro Day to Hold off Julio Jones?

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    If there was an undeniable star of the NFL Scouting Combine, then it was Julio Jones. He blazed the 40 in 4.39 seconds, he had a standing broad jump of 11'3" and he was generally outstanding in receiver drills, all at about 220 pounds with a broken bone in his foot.

    Green was no slouch, but he was about a tenth of a second slower in the 40, several inches shorter in the broad jump and stumbled a little bit in drills.

    Now, before you Georgia Bulldogs fans jump all over me, the difference between the two receivers might not have been as great before the combine as you might have thought.

    Jones will recover from surgery and that's not a worry. Now the pressure is on Green at Georgia's pro day.  

14. How High Can Brooks Reed Rise?

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    After the NFL Scouting Combine, where Reed posted the fastest 10-yard split of any pass rusher (1.54), there is talk that Reed could enter the discussion for a late first-round selection. An initial 10-yard split is used to gauge a player's explosion off the snap of the ball, hence Reed's ascent.

    Arizona's pro day is March 12 and if Reed can duplicate his performance, the 6'2", 260 pounder could be one of the highest risers on draft day.

15. Which NFL Draft Prospect Will Shock Scouts with His Pro Day?

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    You just know that someone is going to figuratively, and maybe literally, run out of their shoes or sparkle in another manner at their pro day.

    Miami cornerback Demarcus Van Dyke bench pressed 225 pounds just five times, but he also ran the fastest 40 time at the combine with an unbelievable 4.28. 

    Van Dyke’s time is the third-fastest 40 at the combine since 2000, behind running back Chris Johnson‘s record of 4.24 in 2008 and cornerback Stanford Routt‘s 4.27 in 2005.

    Even though Van Dyke wasn't even on many draft preview lists, I bet you his speed alone gets him selected in April.

    Abilene Christian's Edmond Gates has his chance at a pro day on March 21. He ran a 4.37 40 at the combine and, unlike Van Dyke, Gates already projects as one of the top 15 or 20 players at his position. As weird as it sounds, I think he can go even faster and shoot up draft boards if he runs on the right surface.

    It appears that every year someone comes out of literally nowhere in just the last month before the draft to rocket up teams' boards, so my advice is just to sit back, take it all in and come back to for those pro day and private workout results. Maybe we'll identify that lucky player long before late April.