2017 NFL Draft: Takeaways from Top Prospects' Pro Days

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystApril 10, 2017

2017 NFL Draft: Takeaways from Top Prospects' Pro Days

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Pro days are oft-discussed, overrated and incomplete portraits of an NFL draft prospect's ability. Yet they do provide glimpses into an individual's competitiveness, overall athleticism, work ethic and attitude.

    In the NFL, everything is evaluated.

    What's important is not overvaluing a pro day compared to the other steps of the predraft process. These on-campus events should be used to confirm or deny everything scouts and teams had seen up to that point and then placed into context.

    Certain situations can make specific pro days more important than others. For example, a top prospect who decided not to run at the NFL combine or performed poorly in Indianapolis still has one chance to show off his natural ability in a more comfortable setting.

    Team pro days wrapped up Friday, and with only a handful of individual workouts still on the docket, 10 storylines dominated this year's circuit.

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson Provides Average Pro-Day Performance

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    Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    This year's quarterback class begged for one of its prospects to use pro days to establish himself as the clear-cut top option.

    One never materialized.

    Clemson's Deshaun Watson had the best chance to separate himself from his contemporaries and show how much he improved his mechanics (as is the case with any quarterback prospect who comes out of a spread system). His workout provided mixed results.

    "It was a B-minus/C-plus type workout," an anonymous scout told NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah (via NFL.com's Chase Goodbread).

    The national championship-winning quarterback displayed better footwork and a growing comfort level in his drops, although a few concerns lingered.

    "I shared opinions about Deshaun Watson with several people this afternoon, and the consensus remains the same: His accuracy and timing on the deep outs and out to the flanks will be an issue for teams," Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline reported. "A longtime friend affiliated with Clemson told me Watson struggles throwing to his left, and it showed today."

    These issues aren't an indictment of Watson. Like other developmental prospects in this year's class, deficiencies can be found within his skill set. Nothing changed in that regard.

    However, the quarterback class still lacks clarity. Watson remains in the same mix with North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky, Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes and Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer to be the first quarterback selected.

Cal QB Davis Webb Enters First-Round Conversation

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    Perception can be a tricky subject. Once a prospect is saddled with a certain value, it's hard to see it from another point of view.

    For example, Cal's Davis Webb is generally considered a fifth wheel when discussing this year's top quarterback prospects. Maybe those outside the league have been looking at it all wrong, as teams are interested in Webb as a potential first-round selection.

    "I've talked to a lot of NFL people," the quarterback said after his pro-day workout, per ESPN.com's David Lombardi. "And double-digit teams have told me I'm a first-round guy."

    There's plenty to like with the draft's top senior signal-caller. Webb is 6'5" and 229 pounds with one of the class' better arms. During his pro day, the Cal product operated in a downpour and still threw exceptionally well, per NFL Media's Gil Brandt.

    Of course, teams could be telling Webb what he wants to hear. However, other league insiders have pointed toward Webb as one of the class' top quarterback prospects. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah asked five executives how many quarterbacks will be selected in the first round.

    "Watson and Trubisky go in some order early with a team coming back up into the late 20s to take either Mahomes or Webb," the first told Jeremiah.

    Another replied: "Two. Watson and Webb. I am sticking to my Webb guns. He's the second-best QB in this class. I have read the Trubisky and Mahomes buzz. Not sure if I believe it."

    Momentum is building in Webb's favor since the coaches got involved in the scouting process.

    "The Davis Webb talk is legit as far as [first] round," former NFL general manager and Reese's Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage tweeted. "Have had several NFL people tell me that he is the guy they would want to coach."

Injury Clouds Future for Top Cornerback Sidney Jones

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Even in a controlled setting like a team's pro day, injuries can't be prevented.

    Unfortunately, one of the draft's top prospects, Washington's Sidney Jones, suffered a torn Achilles during the final defensive back drill of his pro day, per the Seattle Times' Adam Jude.

    Prior to the injury, Jones was considered a top cornerback prospect.

    "It drives me crazy when you get a guy that you really fall in love with out of school and maybe track for nine months and then he goes and gets hurt or has a surgery and might miss six weeks to start the season or 10 weeks to start the season, or gets hurt at his pro day," Baltimore Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said, per Ryan Mink of the team's official site.

    A possibility exists the talented defensive back will play at some point during the 2017 campaign. According to Jones, his surgeon said he'll return before the end of the year.

    Even if he doesn't, his draft status shouldn't take much of a hit. A second- or third-round selection seems likely at this point.

    "There have been players that have gone very high in the first round with injuries like that," DeCosta said. "Sometimes they fall a little bit, but [Jones] is a really good player, and I don't think it is going to affect him that much."

Florida CB Teez Tabor Plummets After Second Awful Workout

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    No prospect in this year's draft class suffered a fall from grace quite like Florida's Teez Tabor.

    Tabor was once considered the top cornerback prospect and a potential top-10 pick, but his workouts at the NFL combine and Florida's pro day forced evaluators to question what they saw in three years of high-level play against SEC competition.

    In Indianapolis, the 199-pound defender ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash. He posted a pair of 4.75-second times three weeks later in Gainesville, per NFL Media's Gil Brandt.

    "It is what it is. I mean, it's not going to be my loss if you pass on me," Tabor said after his pro day, per CBS Sports' Dane Brugler. "I'm going to be in this league for a long time. Somebody could lose their job if they pass on me, so I ain't mad at it."

    This is still the same defensive back who allowed a paltry 41.2 passer rating over the past three seasons, per PFF College Football.

    A potential injury may have been the reason behind the poor times.

    According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Tabor suffered a tweaked hamstring prior to the combine. It falls on teams to decide whether the cornerback should be applauded for competing despite the injury or if it's a convenient excuse.

    Either way, the Florida product appears more likely to become a second-round pick than a top-10 selection.

Clemson WR Mike Williams Finally Runs Heavily Anticipated 40-Yard Dash

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    Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    Mike Williams' 40-yard dash was the most anticipated event of the predraft process. The Clemson wide receiver is a massive target at 6'4" and 218 pounds with an unbelievable catch radius. He often made difficult receptions look easy.

    Yet his ability to separate from defensive backs at the next level remained in question.

    Williams isn't the most explosive vertical threat or the quickest in and out of his breaks. Thus, he needed to show at the Tigers pro day he had the baseline speed necessary to create separation against longer, faster and more talented cornerbacks.

    "People just wanted to see his long speed," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said, per the Charlotte Observer's Joseph Person. "He's run by a lot of fast dudes, so they had times on him. They just hadn't seen him run. I figured he'd be somewhere in the [4.5s]."

    Williams posted times perfectly in tune with his former coach's projection. The receiver's reported 40-yard dash ranged from 4.49 to 4.53 seconds, according to The MMQB's Emily Kaplan. For comparison, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Mike Evans ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at 6'5" and 231 pounds.

    A slower time may have pushed Williams down the board behind other talented receivers like Western Michigan's Corey Davis or Washington's John Ross. Instead, the Clemson product remains in the conversation to become the first wide receiver drafted in the 2017 class.

Florida State RB Dalvin Cook Improves on Woeful Combine Performance

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    STEVEN CANNON/Associated Press

    NFL scouts often lament the fact multiple prospects don't run or fully participate at the NFL combine. Why? Because those individuals only give themselves one chance to provide an impressive workout prior to the draft.

    Florida State's Dalvin Cook showed exactly why it's important to perform at both the combine and a team's pro day.

    Cook's combine workout was nothing short of awful. He didn't appear to be the same explosive back seen during his time with the Seminoles program.

    To understand how poorly the running back tested, Cook graded among the ninth percentile of NFL running backs, per 3sigmaathlete.com's Zach Whitman. Only three running backs in Indianapolis who qualified can be considered worse athletes based on those workouts.

    Cook improved in some areas during Florida State's pro day, but it was his position workout that blew scouts away. An anonymous scout told Bleacher Report's Matt Miller that the running back's drill work was "f--king special."

    Along with being Florida State's all-time leading rusher, Cook caught 79 career passes and showed a comfort level working out of the backfield.

    "Every time I step on the field, I feel like I'm the best player," he told reporters after his pro-day workout. "That's just my confidence. I just feel I put the work in and put the time in to feel and think that way."

    Some teams will still be scared away by Cook's initial workout and off-field history, but his pro-day performance eased concerns.

NFL Teams Still Torn over LSU Safety Jamal Adams

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    LSU safety Jamal Adams is either one of the most gifted prospects in this draft and a potential top-five selection or an overrated strong safety A divide exists despite his immense talent.

    At LSU's pro day, Adams ran an unofficial 4.33-second 40-yard dash, according to the Advocate's Ross Dellenger. The time was an amazing improvement over his 4.56-second combine effort.

    While the pro day report may be a tad generous, Adams did improve his overall time. NFL Media's Gil Brandt reported the safety ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash.

    Even with Adams' ability to work in the box and cover the slot and the necessary speed to play along the back end, some still aren't sold on his skill set.

    "I don't think Jamal Adams is going to go as early as I see people mocking him," an NFC executive told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein. "He's a good player, but I don't think he's a game-changer. If you are going to be a safety who goes inside the top five, you better make a ton of plays."

    On the flip side, an AFC secondary coach referred to the safety as a "culture-changer", per NFL.com's Bucky Brooks.

    Adams' talent is obvious. It falls on teams to decide whether positional value will overcome an individual's ability. This could prevent the LSU product from becoming the first safety selected in the top four overall since the Cleveland Browns spent the second pick in the 1991 draft on Eric Turner.

Leonard Fournette's Weight No Longer a Concern

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    When LSU running back Leonard Fournette weighed 240 pounds at the NFL combine, it became the event's most discussed number.

    LSU's official site listed Fournette at 235 pounds. The New Orleans native said he added "water weight" which led to the higher number, per NFL.com's Chase Goodbread. It didn't affect his workout, though; he still ran a 4.51-second 40. 

    Despite a strong all-around combine effort, Fournette's weight still bothered some teams. In order to quell any concerns, he showed up in spectacular shape at his pro day, weighing 228 pounds.

    "I think some of them wanted me to just see if I could get down to that size," Fournette said, per ESPN.com's Mike Triplett. "Some people had concerns about me at 240. ... So I just wanted to show them I could stay on course and be disciplined and do what I have to do."

    The weight fluctuation might develop into a red flag for some teams, especially since Fournette is considered a top-10 talent. However, we've reached the stage where things tend to be blown out of proportion.  

    Fournette is a rare talent. 

    "There's similar things to Bo [Jackson]: size, twitch, explosion, burst, power," an anonymous scout told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn. "... He's not normal. Last year he had some of the most dynamic two-yard gains you will ever see."

Stanford DE Solomon Thomas Enters Elite Status as No. 2 Prospect

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    The draft won't be defined by Texas A&M's Myles Garrett. The defensive end is certainly talented and the consensus top overall talent, yet others aren't far behind.

    Until the combine, Alabama's Jonathan Allen was generally considered the second-best prospect. Stanford's Solomon Thomas has since taken the title after exceptional workouts.

    "Some of the more recent [projections] having Thomas going to the [San Francisco] 49ers at No. 2, but I think this is a player I'd put in the conversation for the top overall pick," NFL.com's Gil Brandt wrote.

    At the combine, the 273-pounder posted a 4.69-second 40-yard dash, 35-inch vertical jump, 126-inch broad jump, 6.95-second three-cone drill and 4.28-second short shuttle. He also put up 30 reps on the bench press.

    He stood on those numbers during Stanford's pro day, yet his workout impressed when Thomas displayed great versatility during position workouts.  

    The defensive lineman can play outside, inside or even drop into space. Thomas described his scheme flexibility, per ESPN.com's David Lombardi

    It's an advantage to be versatile. It's an advantage that I can fit into any system. I can play in a 3-4, I can play in a 4-3. I can excel as a 3-tech, I can excel as a 5-tech. I can work anywhere from a 3-tech inside all the way to a 9 [edge rushing from the outside]. I can stand up or have my hand in the dirt.

    Thomas isn't just a workout warrior; he led the Cardinal defense in 2016 with 62 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks. His dominant performance during the Hyundai Sun Bowl against quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the North Carolina Tar Heels is counted among the draft's best single-game performances. 

    Allen is still a tremendous player, but Thomas brings a combination of production, athleticism and upside more in line with a second overall talent.

Myles Garrett's Competitiveness Answers Questions About Drive

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is a freak of nature. It's difficult to pick apart his game as the consensus No. 1 overall prospect, although some still try.

    His effort, or lack thereof, was the one area critics could point toward that needed improvement. Garrett acknowledged teams want to see more of a "relentless effort," per ESPN.com's Sam Khan Jr.

    "They said they didn't see it much last year, and that's understandable," Garrett said. "But that's who I am, and that's where I made a name for myself at first. So I'm going to go back to my roots."

    The slight often overlooks the fact Garrett played through a high ankle sprain for the majority of his junior campaign. Even so, a pass-rusher's motor is an important part of the evaluation.

    "But if you look at the tape when I was healthy, I got off the ball every single time," he said. "When I started recovering and I was doing well, I was getting after the ball, doing the best that I can, limping down the field or moving, trying to be a difference-maker. If you see me work, I'm trying to get to the ball every single time."

    Garrett's competitiveness came to the forefront when he decided to participate at Texas A&M's pro day instead of standing on his combine performance. There, he improved his 40-yard dash with a 4.57-second effort.

    "I wanted to do better," Garrett said, per NFL.com's Gil Brandt.

    The draft process is about picking apart young men who aren't perfect individuals. Too often, the negative aspects overlook a prospect's positives. Even the draft's top overall talent has an area or two where teams want to see improvement.

    Garrett's effort level won't prevent him from becoming the No. 1 overall pick, though.