Posted on: March 31, 2009 8:03 pm
 

Stafford Strengthens Hold on #1

 

 According to multiple sources throughout the league, the Detroit Lions staff are raving about the workout put forth Tuesday by Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford.

Lions' head coach Jim Schwartz spoke to media at the owners' meetings last week and characterized Stafford's performance in Tuesday's workout as another critical element in the Lions' assigning their final grade on him. The Lions' offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was expected to orchestrate the workout -- a key difference from Stafford's Pro Day workout earlier in the month, when some suggested that Georgia quarterback coach/offensive coordinator Mike Bobo scripted the passing drills to highlight Stafford's strengths.

Schwartz explained how the Lions expected to change the workout to see if Stafford was indeed worthy of #1 overall consideration.

"You can put him in some situations and all of a sudden sort of throw some curveball, so to speak, at him -- see how he reacts, see how he handles that, see how he interacts with the other guys," Schwartz said. "Those are all things that you're probably going to see in a workout that you really couldn't see anywhere else."

Due to the fact that Stafford did not throw at the Combine, his performance at Georgia's Pro Day was important. Scouts in attendance told me that his throwing there was better than Matt Ryan's last year at Boston College's Pro Day. If the reports circulating through the scouting community are accurate -- that Stafford was even more impressive Tuesday -- the race to be the first pick of the draft could be nearing an end.

 

Posted on: March 30, 2009 3:29 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2009 3:39 pm
 

Vols DE Ayers "Most Polarizing Defender..."

With the draft less than a month away most teams are settling their draft boards. One player whose stock remains very much in flux is Tennessee defensive end/outside linebacker Robert Ayers.

There appear to be two camps when it comes to Ayers. Some teams view him as a top ten prospect. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network, whose opinion I respect, recently ranked Ayers as the 5th best player in the entire 2009 draft. Other teams, however, view Ayers as a second round prospect -- and a marginal one at that.

I contacted four teams about Ayers -- two AFC teams and two NFC teams. Two of the clubs operate primarily out of the 4-3, two primarily out of the 3-4 defense. The reviews were stunningly mixed. One 3-4 team loves him. The other ranks him as the 8th best pass rushing OLB prospect of the draft. Similar results came from the 4-3 teams. Each viewed him strictly as a 4-3 defensive end in their scheme.

I respect the opinions of my contacts in the league, but ultimately, I trust my own eyes more than anyone else's. Therefore, I went back to the film. I own game-film of 6 Tennessee games (UCLA, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Wyoming, Kentucky), as well as the Senior Bowl. After two days of reviewing these tapes, I feel comfortable with my current grade of a late first round to early second round grade.

Ayers, 6-3 (3/8), 272 pounds, primarily lined up as the right defensive end out of the 4-3 alignment in the 6 UT games viewed. This is the position he lined up throughout the week of practice at the Senior Bowl, as well. I have detailed notes from those practices, as well as the Senior Bowl, itself, in which Ayers earned Defensive MVP honors with 3 tackles, including 1.5 sacks. I thought that Ayers was arguably the most impressive player early in the week of practice in Mobile and wrote as much in my Monday and Tuesday reviews of the South practices.

Monday: The surprise was vs. Oher was Ayers, whose quickness off the snap, strength to anchor and dizzying array of counter moves enabled him to beat Oher at times and consistently proved too much for lesser pass blockers. If he can build upon his initial showing with a strong week of practice, Ayers could be the latest example of players catapulting up draft boards with a strong performance in Mobile.

Tuesday: Perhaps due to the colossal battles waged between Oher and Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers on Monday, the two were rarely matched up against each other for this second practice. After an eye-opening initial practice, Ayers struggled with lesser blockers early Tuesday. He picked up his play as the one on ones heated up, however, and finished practice playing with the fervor he’d shown a day earlier. His final snaps of the scrimmage Tuesday, in fact, were spent bull-rushing Tulane tackle Troy Kropog onto his back during one play and using a beautiful swim move to cleanly get past the Green Wave blocker and into the backfield on the next.

 

The concern I and others have with Ayers is twofold. For one, he didn't establish himself as even a starting caliber player until his senior season despite signing with the Vols as one of the most highly touted preps in the country. Until this season, he was viewed by many as a bit of a bust. Secondly, even though he was as good as any defensive lineman in the SEC this season (and that is saying something) and absolutely deserved the 1st team conference honors he received this year (49 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss), he finished with only 3 sacks.

Based on the film, Ayers consistently plays to his level of competition. His most dominant game (statistically-speaking) was against Georgia, which unfortunately, I don't have film of. Against Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith, Ayers showed good burst, impressive strength to shed, good agility and vision when redirecting and hustle. These were the same attributes I saw against Oher in the Senior Bowl practices.

Against lesser talent in the Wyoming and UCLA losses, however, Ayers disappeared too long for my taste.

Ayers' fluidity improved so dramatically from his Combine performance and Pro Day, that I can understand why some are very excited about him. Those close to the Tennessee program rave about his emergence as a senior leader and there is no denying his athleticism. While he predominately lined up at right defensive end, he also moved inside to defensive tackle, at times, to the left defensive end and was a standup pass rusher from either side, as well. He is not truly explosive off the snap, but can bend under the tackle and has very good lateral quickness to "get skinny" and beat the offensive tackle back inside after a jab-step to the outside to tackle runners for loss.

He has the versatility that every team is looking for and the opinion that he could be an ascending talent will likely push him into the first round -- but there is significant boom or bust potential here.

For these reasons, Ayers was characterized to me by a high ranking official of one of the four teams as "the most polarizing defender who's gonna go in the top 50. Some love him. Some are only luke-warm on him. He's moving up though..."

 

Posted on: March 30, 2009 2:35 pm
Edited on: March 30, 2009 2:36 pm
 

OT Joel Bell, CB Brian McCain Flying up boards

Each year there are relative unknown players whose eye-popping workouts in February and March force scouts back into the film room. Many times scouts are quick to acknowledge the impressive athleticism of prospects to local media covering the event, but once they review the players on film, realize that the speed, agility and strength shown on the track or weight room doesn't translate onto the field. 

And then, sometimes, there are players whose workouts go well and scouts return to the film room to discover that perhaps they had simply overlooked or undervalued the prospects. Two such players moving up the charts this year are Furman offensive tackle Joel Bell and Utah cornerback Brian McCain.

Bell, a three-time all-conference selection at left tackle, was invited to the Combine and put forth one of the more impressive all-around workouts, earning top-ten marks in the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical, broad, 3-cone, and 20-yard shuttle at a shade under 6-7, 315 pounds. His workout was good enough that he didn't need to workout at Furman's Pro Day, though an eye-popping 25 teams still showed up to see him go through positional drills. 

Indianapolis Colts' scout Bob Guarini put Bell through a 20 minute workout while the other team scouts' watched. Besides the Colts, the teams represented were the Eagles, Titans, Saints, Jaguars, Browns, Steelers, Seahawks, Dolphins, Texans, Patriots, Lions, Chiefs, Falcons, Cowboys, Bears, 49ers, Rams, Raiders, Vikings, Bills, Giants, Panthers, Chargers, and the Packers.

Like Bell, Utah's McCain is hardly just a workout wonder, though the workout he put forth at the Ute's Pro Day could technically classify him as one. McCain was clocked in the low 4.3s and the buzz around scouting circles is that he's been timed even faster before. McCain's 20-yard shuttle (3.99) and 3-cone (6.74) drill times would have ranked among the best among the cornerbacks tested in Indianapolis. McCain, however, was not invited to the Combine, despite earning All-Mountain West accolades each of the past three seasons. While fellow defensive Sean Smith has the size scouts covet, McCain is the more athletic of the duo and has the rare speed and agility for man to man coverage. Among the estimated two dozen teams represented at McCain's workout were the Panthers, Lions, Dolphins and Seahawks. Considering the lack of speed shown by this year's cornerback class, some believe McCain could continue to rise as the draft approaches -- perhaps all the way to the 5th round.

 

 

 

Posted on: March 28, 2009 9:12 pm
 

Washington State WR Gibson Pro Day

 

 Washington State wide receiver Brandon Gibson, unable to work out at the Combine due to a right hamstring pull, worked out for scouts from at least 10 NFL teams in Seattle Saturday.

Gibson, who measured in at 6-0, 206 pounds (down four pounds from the Combine), was timed by scouts Saturday in the 4.55-4.63 seconds. He also posted a 34" vertical jump and a 9'5" broad jump. Gibson impressed me at the Senior Bowl with his precise footwork in route-running, but struggled with drops as the week went on. On Saturday, however, Gibson caught every pass thrown, despite windy conditions.

Gibson lacks the elite speed to warrant a first day selection, but his route-running, soft hands and experience make him an intriguing second day prospect -- especially for teams operating out of the West Coast Offense.

Among the teams represented at the workout were the Seahawks, Steelers, Ravens, Rams, Packers, Eagles, Lions, Chargers and Giants.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune recorded portions of Gibson's workout. It can be seen by copying and pasting the URL below.

http://blogs.thenewstribune.com/sea
hawks/

 

Posted on: March 27, 2009 8:49 pm
 

NIU's Larry English Steps it up at Pro Day

 

 Northern Illinois defensive end/outside linebacker didn't necessarily have to workout for scouts Friday. The two-time MAC defensive player of the year was impressive off the edge at the Senior Bowl and flashed athleticism in Combine workouts, as well.

However, considering that many teams wanted to see him shed some time off his 40-yard dash, the move was a good one. English's fastest time at the Combine was 4.82 seconds, but he was clocked in the high 4.6s to low 4.7s according to scouts in attendance Friday, and was better in both defensive line and linebacker drills, as well. 

The knock on English is that while he has good burst off the snap and reasonable straight-line speed, he doesn't necessarily change directions as fluidly as some teams operating the 3-4 defense would prefer out of their linebackers. In a 4-3 scheme, English, 6-2, 255 pounds, is probably best suited as an undersized defensive end, which is why many of the teams who had scouts on campus were from clubs operating out of the 3-4.

Among the teams represented were the 49ers, Ravens, Packers, Steelers, Texans, Colts, Jaguars, Broncos, Lions, Falcons, Bears, Saints, Bills and Buccaneers.

English has the tools to warrant consideration late in the first round, but this year's unique collection of outside linebackers and hybrid defensive ends likely to make the transition to the OLB position could push him into the mid second range. He is among a group of about a baker's dozen hybrid pass rushers (Brian Orakpo, Everette Brown, Brian Cushing, Aaron Maybin, Robert Ayers, Connor Barwin, Clay Matthews Jr, Clint Sintim, Paul Kruger, Michael Johnson, Lawrence Sidbury, Jr, Cody Brown, Zach Follett, etc.) scouts feel warrant first day consideration. 

Posted on: March 27, 2009 8:28 pm
 

Houston OT Vollmer Draws Scouts to Pro Day

A large contingent of NFL scouts descended upon the Houston campus Friday to workout 13 former Cougars and other local prospects; most significantly OT Sebastian Vollmer.

Vollmer, 6-7, 312 pounds, was a bit of a late bloomer in terms of his football ability, but has progressed each season and has the natural tools scouts are looking for in a developmental prospect. My fellow senior analyst Chad Reuter acknowledged Vollmer's impressive play when scouting the East-West Shrine Game practices and further noted Vollmer as one of the 15 Best Prospects not invited to the Combine.Vollmer, who started at left tackle for the Cougars, was moved to the right tackle position in the Shrine Game and took to the position quickly, showcasing rare athleticism and surprising physicality.

On Friday, Vollmer showed that Chad was correct to notice him, stunning scouts with his combination of size and raw athleticism. One scout in attendance clocked Vollmer at 5.12 in the 40-yard dash and watched the former Cougar tackle post a staggering 37.5" vertical jump -- significantly better than any vertical jump recorded by an offensive tackle at the Combine.

The headlining talent at offensive tackle this season is likely to drop Vollmer lower than he'd be in a typical draft. However, come the mid portion of the second day, teams would be wise to consider him. He certainly has the size/speed combination to intrigue scouts and one can't help but be impressed by his ability to step up his performance at the Shrine Game and his Pro Day.

Posted on: March 26, 2009 9:37 pm
 

Oher, Jerry Draw All 32 Teams to Ole Miss Pro Day

Michael Oher had been characterized as slipping down draft boards after only a so-so performance in drills and interviews while at the Combine.

His teammate, defensive tackle Peria Jerry, likewise was slipping after not being able workout in Indianapolis due to a pulled left hamstring.

Both boosted their stock with impressive showings Thursday at the Mississippi Pro Day. Oher and Jerry's rare foot quickness stood out to scouts on film and on the field at the Senior Bowl. It did on Thursday in front of an estimated 65 scouts -- representing every team in the league -- as well.

Oher, despite working out at the Combine, was characterized by one scout attending the workout as "the star of the show." Oher, 6-5, 306 pounds shaved nearly two-tenths of a second off of his 40-yard dash time from Indianapolis, going from a 5.32 to a 5.14, according to the watch of the scout. Oher also lifted the 225 bar 25 times, though two of the attempts were not allowed by scouts because he didn't lock-out. Still, the 23 repetitions was two more than he had lifted at the Combine.

Peria Jerry was still hampered a bit by the hamstring injury and only ran the 40-yard dash once Thursday, but the 4.94 time he recorded (according to the scout) was faster than any defensive tackle as heavy as Jerry (6-2, 290) at the Combine. Jerry was just as impressive in the short shuttle (4.64) and 3-cone drill (7.30), demonstrating the agility and burst that caused him to be one of the most talked-about prospects in Mobile. Jerry also recorded a 31-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot, 6-inch broad jump. His 28 bench press reps were also impressive.

Ole Miss has several other NFL prospects of note. Wide receiver Mike Wallace elected not to perform any timed drills Thursday, after proving his unique blend of size and speed at the Combine. The 6-0, 199 pounder was timed in the 4.3s in Indianapolis and had a 40" vertical there, but did help his cause Thursday by running surprisingly crisp routes, according to the scout, and catching every pass thrown to him in drills. One of the knocks on Wallace is that he remains a bit of a track guy in pads, so catching the ball cleanly is sure to boost his stock with scouts.

Safety Jamarca Sanford (5-10, 209) showcased better speed (4.45) Thursday than he had in Indianapolis (4.50) and again proved his rare strength, lifting the bar 26 times. Sanford finished behind only USC safety-linebacker hybrid Kevin Ellison at the Combine with 29 reps.

One more note on Oher... NFLDraftScout.com ranked Oher as the top senior prospect in the country for much of the 2008 season and despite other analysts questioning if he'll even make the first round, I've stuck with him. The lowest I've had him go in any mock draft is 13th overall. There is a possibility that the questions about his consistency will drop him lower, but Oher's size, athleticism and dominance against what I believe to be the most talented conference in the college football makes him an underrated talent in my book. I believe he is a potential Pro Bowl left tackle -- and those players deserve high early first round consideration.

 

 

Posted on: March 26, 2009 8:39 pm
 

Nevada LB Mauga one to watch

A torn left pectoral muscle kept Nevada linebacker Josh Mauga from participating in the drills at the Combine, but his performance Wednesday in front of an estimated 20 league representatives has his stock on the move.

Mauga, who has seen starting action at both inside and outside linebacker while with the Wolfpack, is being projected by scouts as an inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense and is one of the few second day linebackers with the combination of size and athleticism to do it. Mauga's 40-yard dash times (4.58, 4.60, 4.62), 20-yard shuttle (4.28), and three-cone drill times (7.16) would have ranked among the best at the Combine, especially considering his size (6013, 246 pounds). Mauga looked especially good in positional drills. There were an estimated 20 teams represented. 

Mauga is currently NFLDraftScout.com's 12th rated inside linebacker and viewed as a 7th round to undrafted free agent. Considering his workout and recovery from the pectoral injury, however, some teams are projecting him at least a round earlier.

Category: NFL
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com