2014 NFL Combine: Five takeaways from Friday
From Johnny Manziel's height to the Houston Texans' plans with the No. 1 overall pick, here are the top five observations from Friday at the NFL Combine
INDIANAPOLIS -- Day 2 of the NFL Combine provided a little more action than Day 1, highlighted by the quarterbacks stepping to the podium and addressing the media. Central Florida's Blake Bortles and others attracted mobs of reporters, but predictably it was Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel who drew the largest crowd Friday.
Understandably, Manziel was controlled and professional in his responses, not giving away too much, but not backing down from the tough questions.
"I tried to really hone in on some things this year, get better in the pocket and continue to develop as a passer," Manziel said in response to his growth as a player. "There was some scrutiny off the field, but I'm continuing to learn from my mistakes and continuing to grow up. I have an opportunity now moving into a professional phase. This is life now, this is a job for me. I'm taking it very seriously and I'm really excited about the future."
While Johnny Football was the headliner, he wasn't the only story from Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium. These were the five biggest takeaways of the day:
5. Arguably the most gifted running back in this draft class, Isaiah Crowell has NFL talent, but it's the extra baggage that will likely determine his landing spot in the draft. Two years ago at this time, Crowell was coming off a productive true freshman season at Georgia and was arguably the top running back in all of college football. But he often found himself in the coaches' doghouse throughout his freshman year and was eventually dismissed from the program in June 2012 after a weapons-related arrest.
Crowell resurfaced at Alabama State where he starred the past two seasons, leaving school after his junior year for the 2014 NFL Draft. The weapons charges were eventually dropped and he has stayed out of the police blotter since, but Crowell is still focused on damage control during the interview process.
"All the teams want to know about the past situation," Crowell said on Friday. "It was a mistake, childish mistake. I'm a different person now. More mature now, trying to put it behind me."
On the field, Crowell has the quickness and strength to be productive in the NFL and he pointed out his pass protection and hands out of the backfield as his strengths. He also added that it's "not all about him anymore" with a son at home, pointing out his desire to stay humble and keep his dreams in sight.
"I played against lower competition, so I feel like I still have a lot to prove."
The baggage from his past is there. But Crowell is definitely focused on the future. And if that's truly the case, the NFL team that takes a chance on him might find a gem in the middle rounds.
4. The underclassmen exodus to the 2014 NFL Draft class has added tremendous star power and depth to this draft class at several positions, but especially the wide receiver group. Of the 48 wide receivers invited to the combine, almost half (22) are underclassmen. And NFL executives have taken notice.
"Early last May when we started looking at what was coming, we had a gut feeling it was going to be a deep draft, it's turned out to be that," said Les Snead, general manager of the St. Louis Rams. "The receivers are very deep. The 15th receiver could be a starter in this league. There are a lot of different flavors."
Snead is exactly right. I'm not convinced there is a true No. 1 receiver prospect in this draft class, but there are well over a dozen receivers who project as dynamic, reliable No. 2 starters and players who will have long, productive careers. Snead's comments back up my opinion that I probably wouldn't draft Clemson's Sammy Watkins in the first seven picks because of the depth of this class and the ability to find a quality receiver in Rounds 2 or 3.
3. Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson (6-5, 332) arrived in Indianapolis as arguably the top tackle prospect for the 2014 class due to his aggressive mean streak in the run game to steer defenders wherever he wants. But he is somewhat unproven in pass protection. Robinson embraces the doubt and is determined to prove those doubters wrong.
"I excel at run blocking because I worked at it a lot," Robinson said on Friday. "But I've also worked the pass, it was limited, but I feel I'm decent enough and I'll prove myself if anyone is doubting me."
Robinson, who benched 225-pounds 32 times, said his limited experience as a starter is the reason he is behind Jake Matthews in some rankings, calling it a "personal goal" to be the first tackle drafted. Robinson has all the potential in the world and he seems to realize that, but he also knows he has a lot to learn. He also didn't shy away from the notion that he's a mean-spirited blocker.
"I wouldn't say angry, but I'm not trying to be nice."
2. With so many underclassmen in this class, the "official" heights, weights and other measureables become much more intriguing, especially at the quarterback position. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel didn't make the six-foot plateau at 5-11 3/4 and 207 pounds, but his hands size (9 7/8 inches) is the biggest among this quarterback group.
Manziel won't be able to fix his height, but he's worked hard to bulk up in the weight room, adding 35 pounds since arriving in College Station. During his media interview on Friday, he didn't have much to say about his size, but did say: "I feel like I'm 10-feet tall. A measurement to me is just a number."
Too much can be made of the heights and weights, but it's important to find exact measurements on each player to better paint the overall picture of who he is as a NFL prospect. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater came in at 6-2 1/8 and 210 pounds with 9 1/4 hands and Central Florida's Blake Bortles was 6-5 and 232 pounds with 9 3/8 hands -- the rare example of a prospect who is actually bigger than his listed measureables from school.
1. I took a lot of heat back in early January when I put Blake Bortles atop my first mock draft of the 2014 calendar year. But here we are in late February and I'm sticking with it. In fact, if the Texans keep the No. 1 overall pick I believe there are two clear-cut favorites: Bortles and Manziel. But Houston isn't revealing much of anything about their draft plans.
On Friday at the combine, Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien stepped to the podium and was coy on the direction they're leaning with the No. 1 pick.
"We're always going to do what's best for the organization," O'Brien said on what the team plans to do with the top pick. "And what people need to understand is it takes a long time. It's not something that you develop right away or overnight. These are a lot of discussion, meetings, communication between Rick (Smith) and myself, the coaching staff, Rick’s staff, the scouts and all those things that go into this decision and that's what we're in the process of doing."
The draft process is exactly that, a process. The Houston Texans don't know who they're drafting yet and no one else does, either. O'Brien brushed off the widespread thought that Bortles is his "type" of quarterback, but he did say he would talk with George O'Leary, Bortles' head coach at UCF and O'Brien's former mentor.
"Obviously I have a connection with George O'Leary and their coaching staff thinks very highly of him there," O'Brien said about Bortles. "He's athletic. He's a competitive guy. So it's been fun to watch him play on tape and it'll be good to watch him work out here."
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