|Baylor's Kendall Wright made up for a mediocre combine with a solid pro day. (US Presswire)|
Scouts resoundingly claim pro day workouts have only a minimal impact on the prospects' draft stock. Then they go back to their teams, report their findings and adjust their boards anyway.
The harsh reality is that when slotting closely ranked prospects, an impressive or disappointing pro day performance can force teams to adjust their rankings. While a player with first-round tape is not suddenly going to drop to the third round because he ran slower than expected in the 40-yard dash, don't be fooled into thinking that NFL teams are spending tens of thousands of dollars crisscrossing the country to observe these workouts simply because they are itching to rack up frequent flier points.
Reflecting the importance of pro day workouts, I pushed back this week's Big Board by a day. With a combined seven of my top 32 rated prospects working out Thursday on the Stanford (four) and LSU (three) campuses, the impact of their workouts was simply too significant to overlook.
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford*: With the composure and accuracy that he demonstrated throughout his illustrious career, Luck silenced any remaining doubters with a strong throwing session despite gusty winds at his March 22 pro day. The workout only confirmed what many of us have been saying for two years now -- Luck is the safest quarterback prospect the NFL has seen since Peyton Manning, and is a virtual lock to be selected No. 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts.
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2. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor*: Working out for scouts one day before Luck, Griffin made a strong argument that he is the top prospect in the 2012 draft with a dazzling pro day that left even veteran talent evaluators grasping for ways to describe it. RG3 is unquestionably more athletic and possesses a stronger arm than Luck, which gives him an even higher upside. He does carry some risk, however, due to his average size and the transition he'll have to make from a spread offense. The reality is, he'd be the No. 1 pick in most drafts -- just not this one.
3. Matt Kalil, OT, Southern Cal*: Any doubts as to which of the top three junior offensive tackles would rise above the rest ended with an impressive all-around combine effort from Kalil. He isn't an elite OT prospect in the mold of Joe Thomas or Jake Long but isn't far off.
4. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama*: Considering how the running back position has been de-valued in today's NFL it would be easy to rank Richardson lower. The reality is, however, Richardson's elite talent transcends trends. He is an elite talent blessed with size, burst and incredible power who will make an immediate impact.
5. Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU*: As if a dominating 2011 season in which he was recognized as the nation's top defensive back with the Jim Thorpe Award didn't demonstrate his athleticism clearly enough, Claiborne erased any concerns about his straight-line speed by clocking in at 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash during his March 22 pro day. The bigger news was that Claiborne was scheduled to undergo surgery on his left wrist to repair a torn ligament. The injury won't keep him from playing next season and shouldn't impact his draft stock.
6. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford*: In terms of consistent dominance, there hasn't been an offensive or defensive lineman I've graded higher thus far this season than DeCastro. Only the fact that he plays guard may keep him out of the top half of the first round.
7. Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College*: Like Luck, it is easy to get caught up in the intangibles that Kuechly brings to the position, but at the combine he proved much faster and more explosive than most scouts had given him credit for. He may have locked up a spot in the top 20 in doing so.
8. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State*: Blackmon answered questions about his straight-line speed by running in the low 4.4s as part of an impressive showing at his March 9 pro day. Scouts had some reservations about his speed but certainly can't knock the two-time defending Biletnikoff Award winner's production with the Cowboys.
9. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina: Let's be clear. Coples is not only the most physically gifted defensive lineman in the 2012 draft, he's also the most talented senior prospect, regardless of position. At a shade under 6-6 and 281 pounds, physically speaking he'll earn first-round grades from scouts working for 3-4 and 4-3 clubs. Coples has developed a me-first reputation, however, and doesn't play with enough snap-to-snap consistency to earn the top-five grade from me that his talent obviously warrants, despite the fact that he enjoyed a dominating week in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl.
10. Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State*: Cox didn't earn nearly the media attention for his spectacular combine workout as Memphis' Dontari Poe but unlike the Tigers' star, the strength (30 repetitions of 225 pounds) and athleticism (4.79 seconds in the 40-yard dash) Cox showed in Indianapolis consistently shows up on tape. Cox isn't viewed by all scouts as a top-15 prospect but considering his scheme versatility, it may only be a matter of time before he is.
11. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU*: Like his LSU teammates Claiborne and wide receiver Rueben Randle, Brockers significantly improved his workout results at his March 22 pro day after a combine that frankly was disappointing. Brockers will likely be drafted within the top-20 picks not because of his current ability but because of the significant upside his frame, strength and versatility indicate he has.
12. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame: In registering a 4.47 second 40-yard dash at 6-3, 220 pounds Floyd provided an emphatic answer to concerns about his size/speed combination. Floyd wasn't the consistent big play threat that Blackmon or Kendall Wright were in college but his game may project best to the NFL.
13. Dontari Poe, DT/NG, Memphis*: Producing a workout that has earned comparisons to that of Baltimore Ravens star Haloti Ngata's when he left the University of Oregon, Poe's scheme versatility and unbelievable upside have scouts excited. Poe isn't as explosive on tape as his eye-popping athleticism might lead you to believe, however, as he too often raises his pads on contact, negating his own strength. This may have been measureable at the combine, too, where Poe's marks were better than Ngata's in everything except two that measure explosion -- the vertical jump, where Ngata bested Poe, 31.5 to 29.5 (inches), and the broad jump, where Ngata was better, 9' 02" to 8' 09". Someone will gamble on him early based on his upside, but Poe remains precisely that -- a gamble.
14. Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama: Other than linebacker drills, Upshaw only participated in one athletic event at the combine and posted a solid 22 reps on the bench press. He looked stiff and slow dropping back during pass coverage drills but that isn't what the team that drafts Upshaw will ask him to do. He's arguably the most physically aggressive prospect in the draft and made himself into an All-American at Alabama by beating SEC talent as a power rusher. Whether at defensive end or outside linebacker, I believe he's actually the safest of this year's pass rushers.
15. Mark Barron, SS, Alabama: Instinctive, physical and a significantly more reliable open-field tackler than he was earlier in his career, Barron has established himself as the unquestioned top safety of the 2012 draft.
16. Melvin Ingram, DE/LB, South Carolina: Blessed with extraordinarily light feet for a 6-2, 276 pound man, Ingram's impressive agility made him a star at defensive tackle for the Gamecocks in 2011. As he proved at the combine, his athleticism could be good enough, in fact, to make the transition to defensive end or even outside linebacker in the 3-4 at the next level. That said, his short arms (31") will make him much easier to block in the NFL level and Ingram has struggled a bit with durability. Also, scouts would be wise to remember that Ingram started only 13 of the 51 games he played with the Gamecocks.
17. Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia: Measuring in at 6-5 and 346 pounds at the Senior Bowl, Glenn nonetheless demonstrated surprising agility in Mobile, boosting his chances at remaining at left tackle. While good outside, he was even better at left guard as a junior and may be best served moving back inside in the NFL. If he played with greater intensity Glenn could rank among the elite offensive line prospects in the 2012 draft.
18. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: Wright erased many doubts about his speed at his March 21 pro day. Running in the 4.4s, he restored the level of confidence scouts had about his potential as a first-round pick before a pedestrian 4.61 timing at the scouting combine created doubt about his ability to stretch the field and separate against NFL defensive backs.
19. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama*: Kirkpatrick answered concerns about his speed at the combine (4.51) but the greater test came in the interview rooms with scouts. Some NFL decision-makers were less than impressed with Kirkpatrick's answers, which could cause the lanky cornerback to slip a bit on draft day.
20. Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford: Despite the fact that he was still limited by the high right ankle sprain that kept him from participating in the Senior Bowl and the combine, Fleener distanced himself from the other tight ends in the 2012 draft in approximately 4.45-4.50 seconds. Those are the times scouts had for the 6-6, 247-pound All-American at his March 22 pro day. Better yet, Fleener demonstrated quick feet, impressive body control and soft hands in pass catching drills. For NFL teams searching for the next Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, Fleener's the guy from this draft class.
21. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford*: While each of the rest of Stanford's "Fantastic Four" prospects met or exceeded expectations at their March 22 pro day, Martin frankly was a disappointment. It is hard to argue with the success he has had protecting Luck's blind side over the past three seasons, but demonstrating less athleticism than expected during drills, some have concerns that he doesn't possess the feet to remain at left tackle in the NFL. Worse, with just 20 repetitions at 225 pounds in the bench press, some worry that Martin might struggle at right tackle. I'm moving him down my board but do still believe that he'll ultimately hear his name called in the first round.
22. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State*: Worthy measured in a bit smaller (6-2, 308) than expected at the combine and wasn't particularly impressive there in drills. He was much better at his pro day, however, and was the primary reason why the Spartans led the Big Ten in both run and total defense. I have some reservations about his snap-to-snap consistency, but Worthy is a tough run-stuffing presence on the inside with uncommon burst to penetrate gaps and make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
23. Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa*: Reiff was a standout left tackle for Iowa but after appearing at the combine to be a bit less athletic (5.23 seconds in the 40) and weaker (22 reps at 225 pounds) with relatively short arms (33 1/4"), some believe his NFL future lies inside at guard.
24. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: In terms of physical talent, there is no denying that Tannehill has the tools to warrant a first-round pick. The 6-4, 225 pound quarterback has a strong arm, good touch and obviously rare athleticism for the position considering that he earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors as a receiver in 2009. With just 19 career starts at quarterback, however, Tannehill is understandably lacking in the finer techniques of the position and, as such, could struggle if thrown into the fire as a rookie.
25. Rueben Randle, WR, LSU: Despite earning All-SEC accolades in 2011, Randle didn't post eye-popping numbers as a junior (53 catches for 973 yards and eight touchdowns). He has been a standout in the conference since signing as an extremely highly touted prep prospect, and has made significant gains each year. Those who questioned his downfield speed after showing just ho-hum speed (4.55 at the combine) were silenced when Randle was clocked in the low 4.4s on two attempts at the 40-yard dash at his March 22 pro day.
26. Devon Still, DT, Penn State: Still's talent has been obvious throughout his career but until a breakout senior season in which he earned recognition as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year it simmered below the surface. Still's inability to play in the Senior Bowl (sprained toe) was disappointing and for some will re-energize concerns about his consistency and intrinsic motivation.
27. Nick Perry, DE, Southern Cal*: As had been anticipated, Perry enjoyed one of the combine's most impressive all-around performances showing speed (4.64), strength (35 reps) and explosiveness (38.5"). He led the Pac-12 with 9.5 sacks in 2011 and may just be scratching the surface of his potential.
28. Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut: I thought Kendall Reyes was the most impressive defensive tackle at the Senior Bowl and after going back and reviewing his tape since returning from Mobile, I believe Reyes is arguably the draft's most underrated defensive lineman. His power, burst and size (6-4, 300) makes him a candidate for 4-3 and 3-4 teams, and as such a legitimate first-round candidate.
29. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson: At 6-2, 314 pounds, Thompson lacks the length and versatility of some of the other top-rated defensive linemen, but his squatty build and excellent power (35 reps) make him a quality run defender.
30. Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska: Crick missed the final eight games of the Huskers' season, the Capitol One Bowl and Senior Bowl with a torn pectoral muscle, but that won't keep scouts from grading the 2010 All-American as a possible first-round prospect, especially after the 2010 All-American proved his strength has returned by posting 26 reps at his pro day. Big and physical, Crick can play inside in the 4-3 but I like him best as a 3-4 defensive end.
31. Doug Martin, RB, Boise State: Due to their greater straight-line speed, some will point to Miami's Lamar Miller or Virginia Tech's David Wilson as the back likely to follow Richardson. Martin, however, is a more natural runner, demonstrating the vision, lateral agility, balance and burst to be a feature back in the NFL.
32. Whitney Mercilus, DE/OLB, Illinois: Mercilus' staggering production (16 sacks, nine forced fumbles) at Illinois in 2011 was a function not only of his own talents but also an aggressive scheme that often gave him favorable matchups. While his statistics were inflated, the athleticism Mercilus demonstrated in workouts indicates he has more upside than I previously thought. As one of several pass rushers capable of lining up at defensive end in the 4-3 or outside linebacker in the 3-4, I fully expect him to be drafted higher than my ranking indicates.
Just missed the cut Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina Vinny Curry, DE/OLB, Marshall Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State