by David Syvertsen
Five things that have become more clear since the combine:
1: These workouts don’t change much, but they have value
The NFL Scouting Combine holds value in my eyes for three reasons. Team interviews, medicals, and having all these prospects perform on an even playing field. The interviews allow the decision makers to analyze demeanor and personality. While anybody can put on a false front in a 15 minute conversation, these coaches and GMs are around these types of people all year every year. They have a specific ability to read in to these kids and it can give them a somewhat accurate read on how they will act once in the league. The medicals allow these teams to squash any question marks they may have had about the athlete’s body and injury potential. Reading/hearing opinions from other doctors can only give a decision maker so much confidence. And lastly, the scouting combine is the one and only opportunity to see all of these prospects on the same field at the same time. Not having to take outside factors such as playing surface, weather, schemes…etc is a nice luxury to have. With all of that said, a player’s grade won’t change much. They may improve specific speed/agility/athletic ability grades on my sheet, but no player is upgraded/downgraded more than 1 or 2 points on a scale of 100 from the workouts alone. The grade comes from tape.
2: Three horse race for the top defensive tackle
I still think we will see three DTs taken before the top three OTs but the order in which they are taken is still up in the air. Star Lotulelei remains the number one guy on my board. His heart issue puts an asterisk next to his name but it appears to be not as serious as we initially were led to believe. If his extended physical checks out, he is the power force teams will want in the trenches. Sharif Floyd and Sheldon Richardson are both very good players that have the quickness to disrupt opposing backfields. They have freakish agility. But my question with both of them is do they have the length/power combination to anchor against power blockers in run defense? They may hurt the defense as much as they help with their aggressive style of play. Both of them may be more scheme and/or role specific than initially thought. That doesn’t spell top tier prospect in my eyes.
3: Tavon Austin is a scary player
And I mean that in a good way. Put me on the short list of people that is not deterred by the 5’8/174 pound frame with short arms. Austin plays faster than his listed 4.34 forty. He plays quicker than his, wide receiver best, 4.01 second 20 yard shuttle. In a league where slot receivers are becoming just as dangerous as the outside guys, Austin enters the league as the prototype. He will be one of the toughest guys in the league to cover. He can plant and drive with Wes Welker. He can run downfield with Calvin Johnson. The ability to change direction and catch balls in traffic will get him on the field, with production, right away.
4: Patience at safety will pay dividends
There is no Mark Barron in this class. Nor do I see a Sean Taylor. There may only be one or two first round safeties in this class. Names like Matt Elam and Kenny Vaccaro will end up in the top 32 slots on my board. But when looking at the grades and where some scouts project these guys to go, it may be in teams’ best interest to wait until rounds 3-5 to grab a difference maker. A guy that rivals Elam across the entire grading sheet is Syracuse’s Shamarko Thomas. At 5’9/213 pounds, Thomas is arguably the most powerful defensive back in this class. He displayed the speed he showed on tape, running a 4.42 forty. He also cleared 11 feet on the broad jump and benched, a safety best, 28 reps at 225 pounds. Put the tape on and you’ll find a player reminiscent of Bob Sanders. If a team is looking for a more traditionally sized safety with mid round value, look at Josh Evans from Florida. He jumped out at me when watching Elam on tape all year. He showed tremendous agility for such a long legged athlete with explosive jumps. These guys are not far away from Elam And Vaccaro on my grade sheet, yet they could likely be had 2-3 rounds later.
5: Four Opinions = Four Very different QB rankings
From the early days of August, the 2013 NFL Draft quarterback class has been foggy at best. No signal caller took the leap up in front of the pack. It has been a steady ride for a group of 5-6 guys. I’ve spoken with a couple scouts that were at the senior all-star games prior the combine and discussed names like Matt Barkley, Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib, Matt Scott, and Mike Glennon. Smith and Barkley seem to be 1 and 1A, but the grades start bouncing around after that. One can make a credible case for anyone of 4-5 guys being next up on the board. Prior to the combine, I was high on Scott and Nassib. Both of them show the on-field toughness and leadership that I want. Both got the most out of the limited talent their respective offenses had. They lack the ideal size though. And looking across the league, you will not find many big time quarterbacks under 6’2 and under. What these gray areas ultimiately come down to though is information that I will never get my hands on, nor will most in the media. How well do they interview? How hard do they work when nobody is watching? Do they have the real passion for the game? That separates these players more than any workout or gametape in my opinion. For argument’s sake, Matt Scott is my number three guy. His blend of top tier athletic ability and underrated arm strength matched with the toughness and leadership capacity is something worth looking in to during the middle rounds.