Now that the combine festivities have come to an end and Free Agency is on the verge of starting, there will be a cluster of Pro Days mixed in to huge contract splashes on the first two days of Free Agency, beginning on the 12th of March. A couple of guys currently not under a contract like Mike Wallace, Steven Jackson and Dashon Goldson will make an immediate splash wherever they land, assuming they are not re-signed by the team they played for in 2012. Those impact guys provide security for a team with a lot of needs to be addressed, and they can draft someone at a different position instead. But leading up to the draft, there will be some Pro Days prior to Free Agency starting, and a bunch that will take place after it begins. Here are a look at a couple of schools that plenty of NFL scouts will pay a visit to their Pro Day, en route to the NFL Draft which will take place in April.
-Oregon has four players who will entice team, as they have been since practices at the Senior Bowl have taken place. Guard Kyle Long, who was probably born with a football in his hands, given that his dad [Howie] is an NFL Hall of Famer, impressed a lot of scouts at the Senior Bowl. He did not slow down as he came away rather impressive at the combine as well. Running Back Kenjon Barner still gets little recognition, despite proving that he not only can run on the outside, but that he can be a 3-down running back, who can also be effective downhill. As for SS John Boyett, he was somewhat of a forgotten man, given his injury history. But despite no hitting being involved at the Scouting Combine, Boyett showed that he has retained that Safety strength, throwing 225 up 27 times on the bench press. LB Kiko Alonso has finally gotten the public’s attention, as well. He can play any of the 3 LB positions and be effective. Don’t sleep on him. The person who everyone wants to see is OLB Dion Jordan. However, Jordan is reported to undergo surgery to repair a labrum injury. Word was he’s getting it taken care of after the combine, so no certainty if he will still perform at Pro Day, as if he needs to after a stellar performance at the Combine.
9. Florida: March 12
-The focus at the Gators’ Pro Day will be defense, defense and defense. Three LBs, Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Lerentee McCray plan to participate at the Pro Day. Of the three, Bostic might be the most intriguing of the bunch, given his 6-1, 246 frame, and that he ran a 4.6 40 at the Combine. FS Josh Evans will also perform, but it will be the SS who will draw more attention. Matt Elam is one of the best open-field tacklers in this class; and the fact that he can cover WRs in the slot just ads value to his game. The biggest guy (literally and figuratively) who teams want to see, however is DT Sharrif Floyd. Floyd can play right away in any 4-3 or 3-4 defense, and can be picked as early as #2 this year. Oh yeah, keep an eye out for RB Mike Gillislee as well.
8. Tennessee: March 20
-QB Tyler Bray and all of his targets are heading to the 2013 NFL draft to take their talents to the next level. Bray arguably has the biggest arm in this class, and his 6’6” frame and ability to stand firm in the pocket are added dimensions teams might want. In 2011, he had the ability to throw to WR Da’Rick Rogers, who unfortunately had to play ball in 2012 at Tennessee Tech. But Rogers can easily be one of, if not the biggest steal in this draft. Should be off the board by middle of the 3rd round at the latest. Bray’s two favorite targets in 2012 were WRs Justin Hunter and JC transfer Cordarrelle Patterson. Hunter’s lanky frame might remind some people of Randy Moss. That is where the comparisons stop, but don’t be surprised if he goes in the 1st round. Patterson, on the other hand, is regarded to some as the best WR in this class. He adds the elements of being able to return kicks and punts, as well as great game in the open-field that could possibly land him in the top 10. Also keep an eye out for TE Mychal Rivera.
7. USC: March 27
-The main thing most teams want to see is has Matt Barkley’s arm returned after the injury it sustained in 2012 against UCLA. Barkley did not throw at the Combine, but he has stated that he is on pace to participate at USC’s Pro Day. In most eyes, Geno Smith is the clear cut best QB in this class. But depending on how Barkley does at his Pro Day, he could go anywhere from #7 to Arizona to Houston at #27. Another guy participating at that Pro Day who is a potential 1st rounder is WR Robert Woods. Woods, to me is a #2 WR on a team, who can also make noise at Slot WR. Stay tuned for S T.J. McDonald’s performance as well. Once a projected 1st rounder and preseason All American, McDonald’s stock has fallen at a rapid pace. Some say it was his slow adjustment to Monte Kiffin’s Tampa-2 defense. Others say he was just overrated. McDonald should move forward with a chip on his shoulder throughout the NFL Draft and his professional career. Prove the nation wrong.
6. Alabama: March 13
-The National Champs will always have a Pro Day that will draw a large crowd of NFL scouts. This year should be no different, as they have two players who could possibly go in the first 5 picks of this years’ draft. Chance Warmack is arguably the most complete project among any other individual in this class. He too had an impressive showing at the Combine, so his Pro Day performance will only be for him to attempt to out-perform himself. CB Dee Milliner is to some the best Corner in this class. People had a lot of questions about his game, one being his speed. He silenced those critics at the Combine by running the 40 in 4.31 seconds. There is still uncertainty to Milliners game, however. As there is a lot of film on him, we don’t quite know how his backpedal game is. BAMA plays press-man coverage significantly; when they aren’t in that, they are either in cover 2 or 3-both coverages where Milliner did not have to backpedal. If a team runs a lot of zone or press, he is perfect for them. But if a team mixes up coverages and schemes for their corners, Milliner might go later in the draft than everyone projected. The 49ers are a team who might take DT Jesse Williams in the 1st round, but don’t be surprised if other BAMA project Barrett Jones goes in the 1st. They also have one of the best RBs in Eddie Lacy, who is probably a 1st rounder in everyone’s draft. He did not participate at the Combine, but will in fact do so at the Pro Day. Will be a site to see. Also keep an eye on RT D.J. Fluker, FS Robert Lester and LB Nico Johnson.
5. Texas A&M: March 8
-Sure everyone is wondering what happened to Damontre Moore at the Scouting Combine. His performance may come to a shocker to most, but whispers around the league and on tape was that he lacked speed and strength at the point of attack. That being said, his 4.95 40 and 12 reps on the bench press was not as surprising to most. Moore could have went as high as #2 overall; that seems inevitable now. He can still go in the 1st if he shows more speed at his Pro Day, but I think the strength issue is clear cut and won’t show much improvement. LT Luke Joeckel is probably gonna go #1 overall this year, given the Chiefs trade for Alex Smith, taking Geno Smith out of the equation. RB Christine Michael and WR Ryan Swope are day 3 picks to my understanding. But given that this draft is deep at those two positions at the later rounds, some teams might see something in one of those two that they do not in others, which could make them anywhere from a 2nd rounder to a 5th.
4. West Virginia: March 14
-What else does QB Geno Smith have to do to prove to spectators that he is worthy of a 1st round pick? Everyone saw what he can do on tape, and at the Combine, he showed off and was unanimously [to most] the best QB there as well. Smith shows no forms of capitulation when people ask him questions about his game. He does not back down in the media, nor on the field. Trust and believe he still goes in the 1st. Smith’s #1 target Tavon “Awesome” Austin is a top 3 WR in this class, and he will be off the board by pick 25 at the latest. Granted, he is a short guy, but what can he not do for a team? The only Mountaineer with something to prove is fellow WR Stedman Bailey. Bailey is also a talented guy who should be gone by the middle of the 2nd to the beginning of the 3rd round. The only thing he needs to do better is run a faster 40. For a guy who is 5’10’, one would have probably assumed he can run as fast as Tavon Austin, who ran a 4.25 at the Combine. Bailey clocked in at 4.52. If he can get in the low 4.4s or ever 4.3 range, he will rise his stock even higher than it already is. We saw Joe Haden and Kendall Wright run far better at their Pro Day than at the Combine. I expect the same from Bailey.
3. Florida State: March 19
-Almost each of the 14 FSU participants can possibly be drafted this year. Three of them have the possibility of going in the 1st round, but arguably the most fascinating player teams look forward to seeing participate is DE “Tank” Cornelius Carradine. Carradine tore his ACL last season, and he might have been a top 20 pick had he not gotten injured. Two Seminoles who are penciled in as guaranteed 1st round selections are DE Bjoern Werner and CB Xavier Rhodes. I think I am alone here, but it would not be much of a shocker if QB EJ Manuel slipped in the 1st to the Texans, granted he has a 2nd-3rd round grade on almost everyone else’s board. Matt Schaub has taken the Texans as far as he will take them, and it is about the time for the Texans to look towards the future. Manuel has a huge arm, he is mobile outside the pocket and he has great size. He can plug in their zone offense right away if needed. WR Rodney Smith and OT Menelik Watson are two other middle round guys who can add depth for teams and be potential starters one day, especially Watson.
2. Georgia: March 21
-Everyone wanted to see OLB Jarvis Jones participate at the Combine. Unfortunately, we did not, so some will see what the hype is about on the 21st of March. Jones is another guy who can be a top five draft choice, as long as he is medically cleared. Jones was born with spinal stenosis. But after seeing how great WR Michael Irvin was, who also was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, which should be an obstacle Jones skips over as long as he is medically cleared. His teammates LB Cornelius Washington and S Bacarri Rambo moved up a lot of charts at the Senior Bowl with hard work ethic during the practices and above average performances in the game. CB Sanders Commings should also get a lot of looks. LB Alec Ogletree stood out at the combine and was already a projected 1st rounder. He too will draw a lot of attention from scouts, but Jones should be the main attraction on the 21st.
1. LSU: March 27
-While DE Barkevious Mingo and S Eric Reid seem to be moving up on boards, DE Sam Montgomery seems to be falling down some. Montgomery isn’t the best DE in this class, but he is a good one who could have, and might still be a 1st rounder. However, the vernacular and word choice of his when addressing the media at the combine, to go with his lack of effort in some games [which he admitted to], Montgomery might have worked his way out of the 1st round. He can try to perform better at the Pro Day, but evaluators might not change their mind on what they already think of Montgomery. RBs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware, along with LB Kevin Minter will obviously draw a crowd, but even thought Mingo is the one who is a top 10 pick, the main focus might be CB Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu was dismissed from LSU after the 2011 season, but will still participate with them at the Pro Day [similar to Rogers with Tennessee]. He measured in close to 5’10 and ran a faster 40 [4.50] than I believe anyone expected of him. He seems to be resurrected after being dismissed from school and the media putting shame to his name. Mathieu seems to have a 4th round grade, but after his performance at the Combine and the way he handled the media, a team might gamble and take the risk of drafting him in the 2nd or 3rd, as he will bring huge reward if he stays productive. Mathieu can return both kicks and punts, as well as play corner on the outside and at nickel.
Kansas State: March 12
-Everyone loves Chris Harper’s hands, and we all wish that Arthur Brown is healthy enough to show his talents at the Pro Day.
Notre Dame: March 26
-Is the media done denigrating Manti Te’o and making a fool out of themselves, not him, by asking him queasy questions?
-Can Johnthan Banks run a 40 better than 4.59? And what round will Darius Slay go in?