Big Board: Pro days aren't so important? Think again

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

Andrew Luck aces his pro day test to solidify his position at No. 1. (US Presswire)  
Andrew Luck aces his pro day test to solidify his position at No. 1. (US Presswire)  

Ask any scout what impact pro day workouts have on a prospect's final draft grade and they will tell you it is minimal. Then, they'll go back to their team, report the findings and adjust their board 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 in than expected in the 40-yard dash, don't be fooled into thinking that NFL teams are spending tens of thousands of dollars criss-crossing the country to observe these workouts simply because they are itching to rack up airline points.

Reflecting the importance of pro day workouts, this week's edition of my Big Board is highlighted by the impressive workouts that took place at South Carolina (March 28), Alabama (March 29) and Texas A&M (March 29). With a combined seven of my top 32 prospects working out, the impact of their workouts was too significant to ignore.

* signifies underclassman

1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford*: With the composure and accuracy that he demonstrated during games throughout his illustrious career, Luck silenced whatever remaining doubters they were 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 workout that left even veteran talent evaluators grasping at ways to describe it. RGIII is unquestionably more athletic and possesses a greater 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. Any questions about his speed were put to rest when he was clocked between 4.46-4.52 at 227 pounds during his March 29 workout.

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 that came from the workout was that Claiborne had to undergo surgery on his 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 Biletnikof 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, alike. 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 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 so ...

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 workout 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 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 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 strength. Someone will gamble on him early based on his upside, but Poe remains precisely that -- a gamble.

14. 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 draft. He was clocked at an impressive 4.51 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his March 29 pro day and excelled in positional drills, according to scouts in attendance.

15. Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor: Scouts had compared Wright to Pro Bowlers DeSean Jackson and Steve Smith, but the Baylor playmaker's stock is slipping after he looked sluggish in drills and was clocked at a pedestrian 4.61 second 40-yard dash. Scouts say they aren't worried about Wright's poor workout due to his impressive tape, but unless Wright proves much faster at his March 21 pro day, they may be forced to alter that thinking.

16. 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 at the combine but that isn't what the team that drafts Upshaw will ask him to do. Upshaw showed better-than-expected straight-line speed by running between 4.73-4.78 at 279 pounds at his March 29 pro day and is highly regarded by 4-3 and 3-4 teams, alike.

17. 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 may be good enough, in fact, to make the transition to defensive end or even outside linebacker in the 3-4 in the NFL. That said, his short arms (31") will make him much easier to block at the NFL level and Ingram has struggled a bit with durability. Also, scouts would be wise to remember that Ingram started just 13 of the 51 games he played with the Gamecocks.

18. 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.

19. 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 inches) some believe his NFL future lies inside at guard. That said, some were concerned about Joe Thomas' relatively short arms (32 1/2) but that hasn't stopped the former No. 3 overall pick from emerging as arguably the game's elite left tackle for the Cleveland Browns.

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's had protecting Luck's blindside 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 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. 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.

24. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: In terms of physical talent, there is 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 and was clocked at 4.61 during his March 29 pro day. More importantly, he again dazzled scouts with his arm. With just 19 career starts at quarterback, however, Tannehill is understandably lacking in the finer techniques of the position and, as such, may 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's 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) 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. 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 since this time argue that he has more upside than I've previously given him credit for. 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.

28. 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.

29. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina: Gilmore has been able to rely on his size (6-0, 190) and athleticism throughout his career with the Gamecocks and was protected by arguably the most talented defensive line in the country. He remains a work in progress in terms of technique but having proven his straight-line speed at the combine (4.40) and possessing the physicality to intrigue teams as even a possible safety convert, it is hard not to fall in love with his upside.

30. Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson: At 6-4, 270 pounds Branch has the size and athleticism to intrigue 4-3 and 3-4 teams, alike. Like the aforementioned Gilmore, Branch's tape is a bit inconsistent but there is no denying the burst and flexibility he possesses and that these traits project very well as an NFL pass rusher.

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. 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.

Next in line:
Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut
Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Vinny Curry, DE/OLB, Marshall
Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State
Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska


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