The NFL Combine workouts in Indianapolis ended Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean the work is finished in preparing for the NFL draft. Individual workouts, Pro Day workouts, individual visits by players and thousands of man hours by coaches and personnel staffs are ahead to prepare for the draft May 8-10.
As happens every year in the Combine, workouts may have elevated a player’s stock while others were disappointing. Some media interviews got attention – Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney and Michael Sam falling into that category for different reasons.
So what was the bottom line?
Mike: For me, the bottom line was the same as it is every year. It was another step in the player evaluation process, and really like the opening bell in the stock market. There’s a lot of noise and attention at the start, but there’s a long way to go.
In terms of performance, Jadeveon Clowney was one of the stars. His 40 time was exceptional. As a group, the wide receivers stood out. A lot of quality prospects ran fast times. Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard were the top cornerbacks going into the Combine and they came out that way. And the offensive line was as deep as projected.
Is your view any different?
Tim: Clowney was certainly impressive. He’s going to be a beast in this league.
I thought one performance that didn’t get a lot of press, but was very good, was Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who ran a 4.6 40-yard dash at 6-1, 285 pounds with 35 bench reps, 32-inch vertical and a 7.11-second three cone drill. He stole the show at the Senior Bowl, too.
The receiver group was impressive with 20 players running the 40 in the 4.4-seconds range or better.
One player who wasn’t in the 4.4 range was Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans (4.53) but he’s also 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds.
I know we have different opinions on Evans, Mike. He might not have the biggest route tree, but he catches the football. He catches it in crowds, over defenders and catches it back shoulder. This team needs more receivers who catch the football.
A good coach can expand a player’s route tree. Unfortunately, you can’t teach big and fast with soft hands.
Sammy Watkins is the best receiver in this class, and he’s my pick if he’s on the board, but Evans should get some serious consideration in Watkins is off the board, in my opinion.
Mike: Since you brought up Mike Evans, the readers can get in on the discussion we’ve had about him since we got to the Combine a week ago. Big, yes. Good hands, yes. Fast enough for his size, yes.
You’re right about all that. And you’re also right about the coaches teaching him to run more routes and betters. News flash: it’s not against the rules to coach players.
But my concern about Evans is that he might not be able to overpower physical cornerbacks in the pros, and if he can’t, there might be a long period of adjustment for him. The Lions need a ready-made starter at receiver to take some of the attention away from
Wide receiver should be the priority, but would you jump off the Ambassador Bridge if the Lions went for another position at No. 10? Like linebacker, cornerback or – gasp! – offensive line?
Tim: Offensive line?
Oh boy, Mike, you’re can ruffle some feathers if you’re referring to a tackle, which you must be.
The top three tackles in this draft – Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson and Taylor Lewan – are better than the three that went in the top 4 last year, but I don’t think that’s a route the Lions are looking to take.
The only way they would that is if the new coaching staff has a different view of the offensive line than others do. We have to remember this is a whole new coaching staff and maybe they view players’ abilities a little different in how they’ll fit in their scheme vs. how they were in the old regime’s scheme.
I’d still look to improve at receiver, safety, linebacker and corner, in that order of importance, at No. 10.
Mike: We see eye-to-eye – and I’ve got four eyes with my glasses – on the value of an offensive lineman. They are all good prospects, especially Matthews and Robinson, but taking a tackle would be stacking players at the same position.
Situations and needs can change according to which free agents are signed, but coming out of the draft, the biggest need is a receiver. It wouldn’t be a mistake – or a surprise – if the Lions drafted two receivers in the first three or four rounds.
However, it cannot be overlooked how the defense gave up fourth-quarter leads in all six games the Lions lost in their last seven games. Jim Schwartz had taken over play-calling, and he bears some responsibility for those collapses – particularly giving up big pass plays on crucial downs against the Ravens and Giants.
Obviously the Lions could not pass on Clowney, but he won’t get to No. 10. But if either of two linebackers is on the board – Khalil Mack and
Tim: It will be very interesting how the top 10 of this draft shapes out. Will the top three quarterbacks, top three tackles, Jadeveon Clowney, Mack and LB Anthony Barr push Watkins down to No. 10?
I don’t think it’ll happen, but if Watkins can get by Oakland at No. 5 and Buffalo at No. 9, I think he’s the one player who makes the most immediate impact for the Lions.
One player we haven’t talked about post Combine is former Missouri linebacker Michael Sam. He handles his interview well and was just okay working out. Where does he end up in the draft and where is the right fit?
Mike: Starting with the interview, you’re right. Sam handled it well, and so did the media. The questions were appropriate for the situation and the obvious historical element, and there were some moments of humor.
Ultimately, it comes down to how well Sam plays football. His workouts made him a third-day prospect – fourth round and later.
He had a good career at Missouri, but a lot of players with good college careers don’t translate to the pros. Last year, Denard Robinson of Michigan was Jacksonville’s fifth-round pick and barely played.
Greg Eslinger, who played center at Minnesota, won all the major awards for a college offensive lineman in 2005, never played in an NFL game while Nick Mangold of Ohio State turned pro the same year. He’s been a Pro Bowl center five times and All-Pro twice.
Sam will get a chance to play his way onto an NFL roster, but don’t be surprised if he’s a better story than he is a pro player. It’s happened many times before.
Tim: Just ask Tim Tebow.