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NFL Quick-Hits: 2013 Scouting Combine News & Notes

Te’o holds his own.
Manti Te’o handled the media horde at the combine with maturity and grace. He answered every question, was concise and direct with most of his answers, and took the moment seriously. He no doubt was coached on what to say and he’ll continued to be grilled leading up to April’s draft, but he past his first test with flying colors. Now, is he a top 10 pick? I don’t know if he ever was. Teams will be attracted to his lateral movements, his ability to quickly attack down hill, and his good change of direction skills. He can also cover, is comfortable in space, and is fairly component when it comes to play recognition. But linebackers that aren’t elite pass rushers don’t hold the same value in the NFL as they did 10 years ago. Some of the best inside or strong-side linebackers (which is where Te’o projects to play at the next level) weren’t first-round picks. Patrick Willis was, but Bobby Wagner was a second-rounder, as was Daryl Washington. NaVorro Bowman was a third-round pick and Dannell Ellerbe of the Super Bowl-winning Ravens wasn’t even drafted. Is Te’o a first-rounder? No question. Is he a top-10 pick like many have wondered? I highly doubt it. The more likely projection for him is picks 15 through 25.

What was Montgomery thinking?
LSU DE Sam Montgomery wins the award at this year’s combine for what not to tell the media. In his combine interview, the pass rusher admitted to betting in college and taking games (not just plays, but entire games) off when the Tigers faced lesser opponents. “Some weeks when we didn’t have to play the harder teams, there were some times when effort was not needed. But when he had the big boys come in, the ‘Bamas or the South Carolinas, I grabbed close to those guys and went all out.” Montgomery also admitted to betting with teammate Barkevious Mingo, including one for $5,000 on which LSU defender would be drafted higher. Based on his talent, Montgomery is a late first, early-second round prospect. He’s strong at the point of attack, can be a power or finesse player, and is very good in pursuit. He also played with a lot of energy, although I only watched him against the likes of Alabama, South Carolina, Washington and Auburn. I guess I should have flipped on the film of him playing against the Little Sister’s of the Poor because apparently I would have seen a different player.

Deep year for defensive linemen.
This is an impressive crop of defensive linemen, both at end and tackle. Despite a poor effort on the bench press, Texas A&M DE/OLB Damontre Moore really stands out on film. He’s difficult to block one-on-one, displays good lateral quickness and does a pretty good job bending the arc when pass rushing. He doesn’t always use his hands well and doesn’t have a full compliment of pass-rushing moves, but he should attract teams that use hybrid fronts in the NFL. The same can be said for Oregon’s Dion Jordan, who ran a blazing 4.53 and a 4.63 forty at the combine. The former Duck will have surgery to repair a torn labrum but that should deter teams from taking him in the first round. He played drop end at Oregon, flashing a combination of speed, athleticism and length. He plays well in space, is violent on contact and is also scheme versatile. He’s not as polished as top-10 prospect Bjoern Werner from a pass-rushing standpoint, but he can play with his hand in the dirt or standing up. Former track star Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah also ran well at the combine (he’s a former track star, after all) and is likely to be selected in the first 11 picks. He’s powerful, holds up well at the point of attack and doesn’t have a lot of wasted movement. He’s not as explosive off the line as Moore or Jordan, but he’s scheme versatile after playing in 43 and 34 fronts at BYU. At defensive tackle, Star Lotulelei is drawing comparisons to Haloti Ngata (although recent reports about his heart condition is concerning), while Florida’s Sharrif Floyd is receiving top-1o attention as well. Floyd is built like an ox but is quick, agile and strong. He isn’t as explosive as fellow top prospect Sheldon Richardson of Missouri, but he’s the perfect fit for a 3-technique in a 4-3 and could wind up being a double-digit sack guy down the road. (The same could be said for Richardson, really.)

Jones a top 5 pick?
SI.com’s Peter King believes that Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones could be a top-five pick, although that’s hard to envision. Jones suffers from spinal stenosis, which is why he transferred from USC to Georgia in 2010. And while Chris Mortensen reports that Jones got a “favorable review” of his neck at the combine, his medical history could cause him to drop a la Clemson defensive end DaQuan Bowers in 2011. Bowers was widely regarded as a top 5 pick before the draft but offseason knee surgery caused him to drop into the second round. Granted, we’re not exactly comparing apples to apples, but the main takeaway is that Jones is a potential red flag for NFL teams. That said, he’s one of the better pass-rushers in this year’s class thanks to his athleticism and has decent cover skills. He’s seemingly a perfect fit as an OLB in a 3-4 but again, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he’s a top 5 selection.

Barkley a fit for the WCO?
One of the more polarizing prospects in this year’s draft class is USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who was once considered to be a candidate to be taken first overall. Scouts are reportedly worried about his arm strength and his ability to stretch a defense vertically. But he’s not without skill. He gets the ball out of his hand quickly, displays good touch and is a tough kid. He also throws the ball better outside the numbers and between defenders than people give him credit for but again, he won’t survive in a vertical-based offense. Considering he worked the short-to-intermediate game while at USC, he would be a good fit for a team running the West Coast Offense. But because of his arm, teams will have to figure out whether or not he’s worth taking before the third round.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Pre-NFL Scouting Combine Observations

As the 2013 NFL scouting combine quickly approaches (it’ll kick off this Wednesday and run through the following Tuesday), here are some thoughts and observations on this year’s class.

1. Good luck if you’re a quarterback-desperate team.
It’s a bad year to be a team desperate for a franchise signal caller. Geno Smith is a good athlete but he progressively got worse as the 2012 college season wore on. Matt Barkley is closer to being a third-round prospect than the first overall selection, which is where some pundits had him slated at the start of the college season. Mike Glennon has NFL-caliber arm but was mistake prone at NC State. Ryan Nassib, Tyler Wilson and Zac Dysert are “sleepers,” although none project as first-year starters. One year after Andrew Luck, RGIII and Russell Wilson burst onto the NFL scene, we might not see a quarterback drafted in the first round this year.

2. It’s a deep OT class but who’s at the top?
Thanks to his combination of height, weight and agility, Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel might be the safest pick in this year’s draft. But is he unquestionably the best offensive tackle prospect in this year’s class? How concerned were defensive ends about losing contain on quarterback Johnny Manziel that they didn’t challenge Joeckel from a pass-rushing standpoint? Considering the Aggies’ offense was predicated on getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand as quickly as possible, did Joeckel benefit from A&M’s system? Now, it’s not like Central Michigan ran a pro-style offense in the MAC. But Eric Fisher has the size (6’7″, 305 pounds), frame (he might be able to add 20 pounds), and arm length (34 inches) to start at left tackle as a rookie. That’s not to suggest that Joeckel can’t, because the steady prospect does project as a first-year starter. But coming off a dominating season and an impressive week at the Senior Bowl, Fisher at least deserves mention as being the top tackle in this year’s draft.

3. Vaccaro is worth a top 10 selection.
The safety position is deep this year but Texas product Kenny Vaccaro is a stud and it would be a crime if he fell past the first 12 teams. He’s a ball-hawking centerfielder that is athletic enough to defend receivers in the slot and also come up in run support. He hits like a 218-pound MAC truck and is clearly the best all-around safety in this year’s class. Eric Reid, Matt Elam and T.J. McDonald are no less intriguing, but Vaccaro is the best of the bunch.

4. Dion Jordan is maddening.
Watch Oregon’s Dion Jordan for 20 minutes and you’ll spend half the time being mesmerized and the other half feeling unsatisfied. He’s far from being a polished product and someone will need to teach him how to bend the arc when rushing the passer. (Too often he’ll burst upfield only to be forced to work his way back to the quarterback, which creates clear passing windows and running lanes for the opposition.) But his length, burst and athleticism make him attractive to teams with creative defensive coordinators. After spending time as a drop end and as an outside linebacker while at Oregon, he has the versatility to play with his hand in the dirt or standing up in a 3-4. He’s raw, but he also might be a perfect fit for the Patriots, Jets, Cowboys, Saints or Falcons, teams that run hybrid looks.

5. Have we seen the best that Banks has to offer?
While at Mississippi State, cornerback Jonathan Banks spent a lot of time playing in a cover 3 zone. That allowed him to break on underneath passes and keep plays in front of him. But at 6’1″ and 185 pounds he’s cut from the same mold as players like Antonio Cromartie and Richard Sherman, who excel playing up at the line of scrimmage and using their length to disrupt routes. Behind only Dee Milliner of Alabama, Banks is widely considered one of the top cornerbacks in this year’s draft. But considering he has the ability to play in multiple coverages despite not being asked to in college, we may not have seen the best that he has to offer. He would appear to be a complete corner, one that can play in either a zone or in press man.

6. The best prospect in the draft that won’t go No. 1.
Alabama guard Chance Warmack is arguably the best prospect in this year’s draft but he won’t be selected with the top overall pick. In fact, he might slide out of the top 10 altogether. Guards usually aren’t selected within the first 10 picks because they’re simply not valued that high. Warmack might wind up being the exception, although the odds suggest otherwise. Teams know that they can find starting guards in rounds three through four and despite Warmack being an exceptional prospect, he’s still likely to fall into the teens.

7. How quickly things can change.
Heading into the 2012 college season, Ohio State’s Jonathan Hawkins was hands down the best defensive tackle prospect in the nation. Now he might not even be the third-best prospect at his position. He has the athleticism and power to consistently control the line of scrimmage but he often disappeared during games and his motor ran hot and cold. In September he was chasing down mobile quarterback Zach Maynard (Cal) from the backside, but by November he was merely average on a week-to-week basis. Star Lotulelei, Sharrif Floyd and Sheldon Richardson are more intriguing defensive tackle prospects at this point and speaking of Floyd, it wouldn’t be an upset if he were selected in the top 10. He’s the perfect fit as a three-technique in a 4-3, but he also has experience playing outside in a five-technique. He was one of the more disruptive defensive tackles in the nation last year and is built like a tank.

8. As usual, teams will be playing Russian Roulette when it comes to pass rushers.
Due to his combination of length and burst of the edge, Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore gave offensive tackles fits last year. But he’ll need to improve his technique and learn how to use his hands more while rushing the passer at the next level. Meanwhile, Bjoern Werner of Florida State isn’t as scheme versatile as Moore, but he’s quick off the line and uses his hands well to create separation. He’s drawn comparisons to Chris Long, although his motor also ran hot and cold at Florida State. BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah might be the most polarizing prospect in this year’s draft, as some pundits believe he has the potential to be the best player in this year’s class while others think he’s overrated. The former track athlete has only played football for three years but his technique has improved nearly every season. If a team shows patience with him, he might become a key starter in three years. But considering teams now expect a quick return on their investment, it’ll be interesting to see if Ansah can develop under pressure. This is a deep class for pass rushers but as usual, finding the right fit will be a risky proposition.

9. Teams might want to wait on a linebacker.
The linebackers projected to go in the first round have some serious baggage. Jarvis Jones is a hell of a pass rusher but is he destined to be a situational player? (He also has durability issues.) LSU’s Barkevious Mingo is a freak athletically but wasn’t a productive player despite his intriguing skill set. One could make the argument that Alabama exposed Manti Te’o in the national championship game and, well, nobody has forgotten about his relationship “issues.” His speed and athleticism not withstanding, Alec Ogletree was suspended in 2012 for violating Georgia’s substance abuse policy and he recently was arrested for DUI. In terms of risk, teams in need of linebacker help might want to wait until the middle rounds where Khaseem Greene, Zaviar Gooden and Nico Johnson could be had.

10. Cordarrelle Patterson is dynamic.
It’s hard not to be a fan of Tennessee wideout Cordarrelle Patterson. For being 6’3″ and 205 pounds he moves like a 5-10 scatback. Tennessee lined him up as a receiver as well as a kick returner, and also gave him the ball on end-arounds. With all due respect to Cal’s Keenan Allen, Patterson is the best receiving prospect in this year’s draft and it’s not even close. It’s not often that you see a receiver that is as dynamic outside the numbers as he is between the hashes, but Patterson has that sort of talent.

Reality smacks Matt Barkley and USC

I’ve never been a Lane Kiffin fan, and I’m hardly alone. Kiffin comes across as an arrogant punk, and frankly he’s done little as a head coach to inspire much confidence. He’s been a good recruiter at USC, but I wasn’t surprised to see USC lay another egg against Stanford last night.

Yeah, it’s over.

The idea of a perfect Trojans season. The idea of an easy Matt Barkley Heisman. The lovely notion that a college football team can come off two years of probation and dominate the football world as if it never left.

Oh, it’s ugly.

Just three games into what was supposed to be a dream season, the Trojans were slapped awake and senseless Saturday by Stanford in a 21-14 loss that felt like a 12th-round knockout.

Lying flat today is Barkley, tossed around in a backfield that became a dangerous place without injured center Khaled Holmes, leveled by poor communication with receivers that resulted in consecutive interceptions, the golden boy all bronzed.

Lying next to him is Coach Lane Kiffin, who began the week by causing a silly distraction with the media and ended it overseeing a team that followed his lead by playing undisciplined and, well, distracted.

Also, for all those fans expecting Matt Barkley to be a savior for an NFL franchise, this game has to throw some cold water on that notion as well.

Matt Barkley returns to USC for senior season

USC Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley passes under pressure by Oregon Ducks linebacker Boseko Lokombo (25) during the first half of their NCAA football game in Los Angeles, California, October 30, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

USC quarterback Matt Barkley just announced at a 1 PM PST news conference that he will be returning to play for the Trojans in 2012 and will not enter the 2012 NFL Draft. Barkley felt that he was ready for the NFL but stated that he had “unfinished business” at USC. The USC marching band was on hand at the announcement so that took away some of the suspense leading up to his announcement.

This is great news for a top-flight program that has had to endure a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 30 scholarships over three years. But even with that USC finished with only two losses in 2011 under Lane Kiffin and destroyed UCLA 50-0 in its last game of the season, leading to the resignation of Rick Neuheisel and the hiring of Jim Mora.

Barkley posted some huge numbers this season and had NFL scouts drooling in what was shaping up to be an epic year for quarterbacks in the NFL Draft. He completed 308 of 446 passes for 3,528 yards, 39 touchdowns vs 7 interceptions and with a completion percentage of 69%. Barkley worked in a pro-style offense at USC which made him even more attractive to many scouts.

Without Barkley in the draft, Robert Griffin III will get even more buzz as the likely #2 quarterback taken after Andrew Luck. Many teams like the Miami Dolphins, the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Browns might be looking hard at a quarterback in the first round so it will be interesting to see how Griffin does at the combine and how tall he measures out at (he’s listed at 6′ 2″). There are other prospects as well like Landry Jones, but with Barkley there seemed to be real debate developing over whether teams would prefer him or Griffin after Luck.

Barkley enters to 2012 season at USC as one of the clear favorites for the Heisman Trophy, so this golden boy will be all the rage next year. USC has 17 starters coming back for next season so the Trojans will be in the mix for the Pac-12 championship. Also, Barkley can purchase up to $5 million in insurance under the NCAA’s Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability program.

College football needed some good news in an otherwise lame 2011 calendar year of bad news, so this is an early holiday gift for fans.

Peter King in Colt McCoy’s corner

Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy shows his frustration after being sacked against the Houston Texans in the first half at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas on November 6, 2011. The Texans defeated the Browns 30-12. UPI/Aaron M. Sprecher

Colt McCoy’s concussion is the hot topic right now, but the bigger question involves whether the Browns should stick with McCoy next season or draft one of the many quarterback prospects in the 2012 NFL draft. Peter King makes the case that the Browns should stick with Colt McCoy.

The Browns should build around Colt McCoy, not draft a quarterback in 2012 to replace him. I’d seen snippets of McCoy flailing around this year, but hadn’t watched every throw of a game. And so I watched Thursday night to get some sense of the near- and long-term prospects of the former University of Texas quarterback. And I came away thinking the Browns should stick with him and use a rich 2012 draft to finally build the kind of offense around McCoy that any quarterback would need to succeed.

Mike Holmgren is a disciple of Bill Walsh. I remember when Walsh was shown a few plays of Charles Haley rushing the passer at James Madison; he told his scouts he really wanted him. “If we see him make a few plays like this, we can coach him to do it all the time,” Walsh said, and he was proved a prophet — Haley became a top NFL pass-rusher for San Francisco and Dallas.

Well, on Thursday night, I saw McCoy, with limited help from grade-D skill players, make enough plays to convince me he’s not the problem. Now, I realize he made two or three idiotic throws in the second half — and you’re not going to win doing that consistently. But one of the bad throws came after he was concussed and should never have been put back in the game. And those throws have to be addressed.

But he did enough good things that I came away thinking: Use the three picks in the top 40 next April (Cleveland has its own first- and-second-round picks, plus Atlanta’s first-rounder from the Julio Jones deal last April) to help McCoy, not replace him. Three plays showed a mature quarterback making good decisions:

1. On the first series of the game, using play-action, McCoy set up, looked over his options and found tight end Evan Moore down the left side on a crossing route with a step on linebacker Lawrence Timmons. The high-arcing pass settled into Moore’s arms. Gain of 33.

2. Also on the first series, Josh Cribbs found a gap downfield in the left seam and McCoy made a great touch pass over cornerback Ike Taylor. Gain of 25.

3. In the third quarter, on third-and-eight, down 7-3, McCoy faced a five-man rush and moved up in the pocket. Feeling pressure, he threw the ball about five feet to the right of tight end Alex Smith, because that was the only window open to make the throw — Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and William Gay converged on Smith and seemed ready to pancake him. But the throw was zipped in perfectly, Smith made a diving catch, and the Browns had a first down. Good judgment, great throw.

Of course, we wouldn’t be talking about any of this if McCoy didn’t make some brain-fart throws. But I believe he can be coached out of those — it’s what Bill Walsh would believe, watching him — and I believe some of that stems from the fact that the Browns are a poor offensive team as a whole.

McCoy has holes. He also has a coach, Pat Shurmur, who can correct those, and is in an offense he’s so well-suited to run. He’s well-liked and respected in the locker room. If I’m Browns GM Tom Heckert, I’m looking for an offseason upgrade at wide receiver (the Browns need two), guard, running back and tight end … before I even think about replacing the quarterback.

King makes some solid point. McCoy is a smart quarterback and he’s a gamer. The Browns have been focusing on defense in recent drafts and Tom Heckert has found some good players with Joe Haden, T.J. Ward, Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard. The defense is heading in the right direction.

The offense, however, has been a mess, and Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert will need to sift through the wreckage and figure out a strategy going forward. It’s obvious that there are personnel issues around McCoy. The receivers are mediocre, and while rookie Greg Little has shown some promise, he’s raw and he’s been dropping passes. The running back situation has been marred by the Peyton Hillis soap opera and numerous injuries starting with Brandon Jackson in training camp. Then you have the injury to left guard Eric Steinbach disrupted the offensive line. Throw in a new offense and no offseason to get ready, and it’s no wonder that McCoy and the Browns have struggled.

That said, it has to be tempting to consider Matt Barkley, Robert Griffin III or Landry Jones in the draft next year. This is where Mr. Holmgren needs to earn his huge salary. Heckert will do all the work on the draft, but Holmgren needs to make the big decision on McCoy. If they stick with McCoy, they will easily load up on receivers and other playmakers with all their picks next year. But they also might have a shot at a real franchise quarterback. It’s a tough decision.

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