INDIANAPOLIS - It was a notable, and noteworthy, five days at the NFL Combine.
Mining the notebook, this week’s Monday Countdown looks at what Brian Xanders’ addition to the Detroit Lions’ front office means to GM Martin Mayhew, a matchup of offensive tackle prospects Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher, whether Chance Warmack is really a champ guard prospect and a look at Denard Robinson, Jarvis Jones,
We close out with Manti Te’o, and start with Mayhew-Xanders:
1. X-Factor: The question of leadership in the Lions’ front office was left hanging for almost a month after Brian Xanders was hired as senior personnel executive late last month. The obvious question was what Xanders’ arrival meant to GM Martin Mayhew’s status, and whether any of Mayhew’s power and authority had been shifted to the new man.
Those were fair questions, given Xanders’ role as GM of the Denver Broncos from 2009 through May of 2012, and the fact that the Lions have had uninspiring impact from their last two drafts.
In his annual Combine meeting with the Detroit media, Mayhew made it clear that he had more than just a hand in hiring Xanders as his chief aide in the personnel department.
"It was my idea," he said.
As it turns out, Mayhew and Xanders have had a long association. Both played at Florida State, although Mayhew was gone to the NFL when Xanders arrived in 1989, and they kept in touch over the years as their respective careers developed in NFL management.
Xanders was out of football last season after Broncos vice president of football ops/icon John Elway decided he wanted to assume full authority over all personnel decisions.
Xanders was out of football after leaving the Broncos in May. Mayhew said Friday that unbeknownst to the local media, Xanders visited the Lions last season and watched practice. That could have been the start of the recruiting process that resulted in hiring Xanders.
A person with close insight into the Broncos’ operation gave Xanders high marks for his ability to collect and process information related to personnel. Another source close to the Packers said that the Packers once considered hiring Xanders as their salary-cap expert.
From his tenure with the Falcons (1994-2007) and Broncos, Xanders has a solid reputation for being on the cutting edge of developing a database specific to a team’s profile for making personnel decisions. The Lions are in the process of doing that.
Whether the decision to add another member to the front office grew out of post-season meetings with the Lions’ ownership - William Clay Ford and his son, Bill Jr. - is anybody’s guess.
But the fact that Xanders was Mayhew’s choice is important. Even the perception of divided leadership would weaken the front office.
The proof in adding Xanders will be in how the Lions fare in free agency and the draft.
2. The Fisher King?: Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M came to the Combine rated No. 1 among offensive tackles with Eric Fisher of Central Michigan No. 2.
They’re leaving with Joeckel probably still holding the top spot, with the emphasis on "probably."
Fisher outperformed Joeckel in nearly all the running and agility drills.
It wasn’t close in the 40. Fisher ran 5.05 to 5.3 for Joeckel.
In two drills that measure agility, Fisher was timed in 4.44 in the 20-yard short shuttle and 7.59 in the three-cone shuttle. Joeckel did 4.68 in the short shuttle and 7.5 in the three-cone drill.
Fisher leaped 9 feet, 8 inches in the standing long jump. Joeckel did 8-10. Both did 28.5 inches in the vertical jump.
The Combine performances don’t take away the fact that Joeckel was an outstanding college player, and the talent he faced was superior to what Fisher went against at CMU.
3. Slim (relatively) Chance: Teams weigh and measure prospects for a reason. They want their own info, not what’s listed on the school’s roster.
Alabama’s roster listed All-American guard Chance Warmack at 6-2, 325 pounds. His official Combine measurement was 6-2, but 317 pounds. It’s not a big difference, but a little lighter than might have been expected.
Warmack is still the best guard prospect in several years. There aren’t any flaws. He grew up in a good family in Atlanta, and teams have to love his attitude and production.
"I like being physical and explosive," he said in his media interview. "I like that word a lot - 'explosive.' I consider myself to be very explosive. In terms of where I want to be, I want to be the definition of that word."
Warmack was explosive in one drill. He led the guards in the standing long jump with a leap of 9 feet, 2 inches. That’s an important drill for measuring explosive leg strength.
Warmack was at the other end of the spectrum in the 40-yard dash. His time of 5.49 seconds was one of the slowest, as was 1.83 for 10 yards.
4. Slimmer Dion Sims: Since the end of the season, the Michigan State tight end said he has dropped more than 20 pounds. He’s down to 262 from his program weight of 285.
Of the three MSU underclassmen who left early for the draft - Le’Veon Bell, William Gholston and Sims - Sims could be the best pro prospect because of his size and natural ability. Speed will be an issue for Bell, and Gholston had a rep of taking off plays.
Sims said he changed his eating habits (is there another way to do it?) to lose weight.
"Just the proper tools, resources, money for food - stuff like that and training three times a day," he said. "I feel a lot better, a lot faster, lighter on my feet."
He was fast on his feet in the 40, running 4.75, but his 60-yard shuttle time of 12.1 was far down the list of tight ends. Sims was among the best in the vertical jump with a 35-inch leap.
The birth of his daughter, Onestee, two and a half months ago is a motivating factor, Sims said.
"She means everything to me," he said. "Best thing ever to happen to me. The whole experience of being a parent is great. I love it. It’s my responsibility to take care of her."
5. Tight end growth: According to research, Tony Hunter of Notre Dame was the biggest tight end prospect in 1983 at 237 pounds. This year, the average weight of tight ends was 247 pounds - 10 more than the heaviest 30 years ago.
Hunter was drafted 12th overall by the Bills and had an undistinguished career.
In the same draft, the Lions took fullback James Jones of Florida at No. 13. The next pick, also by Buffalo, was Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly.
Both teams made draft mistakes - the Bills for taking Hunter and leaving Kelly on the board, and the Lions for taking Jones over Kelly, thinking - mistakenly - that they were set at quarterback with Eric Hipple and Gary Danielson.
6. Cliff’s notes: I’m a little surprised at the reaction sparked in a previous column that included Cliff Avril in my choices for the nine Lions Mayhew said the Lions are focused on out of the 23 who are eligible for free-agency.
"Not worth the money," wrote one reader.
Let’s shift into neutral, folks. First, we don’t know whether Avril is worth the money because he doesn’t have a new contract.
Second, I put Avril in the top nine because Mayhew said the Lions were talking to his agent here during Combine week.
Whatever the doubters say about Avril’s impact, he is consistently in the range of 10 sacks a season. There is value in being able to count on a defensive end with that production.
7. Denard: What I liked most about him wasn’t his sizzling time in the 40.
It was his explanation of why he has chosen to do his training in Ann Arbor instead of heading to warm-weather climate.
The first reason, he explained, was that he has been working with Michigan’s strength coach the last two years.
The second reason is even more important.
"I’ll be the first in my family to graduate from a four-year school," he said. "I graduate May 4. I said I was going to stay there and graduate, so that’s what I stuck to."
8. Actions speak louder: Robinson didn’t say a word when asked if his shoelaces were untied.
Instead, he smiled and lifted the right leg of his workout pants to show his right show - with the lace untied.
9. Jarvis Jones: There was a report over the weekend that some teams have taken the Georgia pass-rusher off their boards because of concerns about his neck.
Jones is probably the best pass-rusher in the draft, and he has been projected to go to the Lions with the fifth pick in at least one mock draft.
The medical risk has to be weighed, and it’s a heavy weight.
Jones was forced to leave Southern Cal after his freshman year in 2009 because of spinal stenosis - a narrowing of the spinal canal.
Jones transferred to Georgia in 2010, red-shirted for a year and played the last two.
"I never had any symptoms after that," he said. "I’m healthy. The doctors felt that I was healthy today. So I’m excited."
His ability warrants being drafted high, but the medical risk is considerable. He might play 10 years without incident, or one play and never play again.
10. Titus Young - final word: The Rams made a calculated move when they claimed Young on waivers after the Lions released him. Even though the Rams released Young after four days, they made the right move in claiming him.
They had nothing to lose, and they invested no time or money in getting a line on him.
Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said they claimed him so they could spend time with him immediately, rather than compete with other teams to sign him.
"We got to spend time with him," Fisher said. "This, to me, was just a long, extensive interview, and at the end of the day, we felt we were better off without Titus."
11. Manti Te’o: He didn’t look the least bit uncomfortable when he answered questions for about 15 minutes Saturday afternoon. Veteran Combine goes said it was the biggest media throng ever for a player - bigger, even, than Tim Tebow faced in 2010.
Te’o was composed and seemed genuine in talking about the hoax involving the online girlfriend who never existed. In fact, it seemed like he enjoyed the buzz of being the center of attention.
How much the story will follow him remained to be seen. One man’s opinion: it will die out soon after he reports to his NFL team, unless new information surfaces.
12. Te’o status: My iPhone autocorrects the spelling of Te’o’s name. I guess that’s the ultimate status symbol in modern communications.