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2013 Combine Wrap-up

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by Joe Dolan, Senior Writer

Published, 3/6/13 

From a fantasy perspective, it’s going to be a little difficult getting into the 2013 NFL Draft, at least in comparison to the fantastic one we just had last year. In terms of skill position players, the high-end talent just isn’t there. Heading into 2012, we knew that Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson, and Doug Martin were going to have the ability to take the league by storm. And they didn’t disappoint.
 
That doesn’t mean that there will be no rookies worth targeting in your own drafts come August. In fact, it’s just the opposite because there are plenty of guys discussed below – and possibly not discussed at all – who are going to pop onto your radar after they land in a favorable spot or impress with a strong training camp or preseason. But because there are no surefire studs here, it becomes all the more imperative to know the strengths and weaknesses of the prospects.
 
This article is not intended to be a robotic rundown of times and measurables from the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. If that’s what you’re looking for, any of the major draft sites out there will do a better job of listing and comparing them than we will here. There are many 40 times listed below because that’s what people are interested in, but the utility of those with regard to football skill can be debated endlessly. Instead, our purpose is to provide a brief analysis of some players who might be rising or falling, and those on whom it’s worth keeping an eye.
 
As with most articles on this site, the main focus will be on the skill positions. We’ll delve much deeper into them with our Pre-Draft Rookie Report in a few weeks, but the purpose here is to be a little bit transparent and show what we’re focusing on early in the process.
 
This is not exactly the year to draft high if your team is in need of a QB.
 
Don’t get us wrong; there are still plenty of talented passers in this draft who could have varying levels of success in certain NFL systems if their development progresses the right way. Look at the way 2011 second-round pick Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, and how 2012 third-rounder Russell Wilson had the Seahawks knocking on the door as a rookie. The recent injection of college offensive concepts into the NFL can help ease the transition for some of these talented but raw youngsters. But there are no Andrew Lucks or Robert Griffin IIIs in this year’s draft; in other words, there is unlikely to be a guy who will come into the league as a rookie and force his team to build its offense around him.
 
If you want proof of that, just take a look at what the Kansas City Chiefs, owners of the #1 overall pick in 2013, are poised to do with Alex Smith. Once the new league year starts on March 12, the Chiefs are expected to send the #34 overall pick in this year’s draft, plus a conditional 2014 third-round pick, to San Francisco for Smith’s services. If this isn’t a perfect way to read the QB class, I don’t know what is. Not only will the Chiefs certainly not pick a QB at #1, but they also didn’t feel one who could be available at the top of the second round would be worthwhile. New Chief coach Andy Reid was able to enjoy 14 mostly successful years in Philadelphia in large part because he drafted and developed Donovan McNabb with his first ever pick as the Eagles’ top dog. Bringing in a young franchise QB who can anchor an offense for a decade is still the best course of action for sustained success in the NFL. So how telling is it that Reid, who has ended up on the better end of veteran QB trades in the past with the Redskins, Dolphins, and Cardinals, is willing to offer a pretty hefty package for a solid and smart but ultimately limited passer who needs a lot to go right around him to win games? The trade for Smith opens the door for the Chiefs to pick an offensive tackle at #1, perhaps Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel or Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher, a plan Reid obviously believes is safer and will be more effective for the Chiefs in the long run.
 
That means the perceived top passers in this draft – West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib – are going to fall at least a little bit. Smith didn’t do much running in West Virginia’s pass-heavy spread offense last season, so his 40-yard time of 4.59 seconds (tying Cam Newton from two years ago) was certainly a pleasant surprise. In terms of pure straight-line speed, Smith can absolutely run the read-option concepts that are becoming more prevalent in the NFL. But his game tape from this season was inconsistent, and his performance at the NFL Combine reinforced that. Smith has the arm strength to make every throw, and he often displayed enough accuracy to show that he can develop into a true franchise player. But as our own Adam Caplan noted, Smith occasionally would throw too far ahead or behind receivers, a little bit troubling in a controlled environment like the Combine. Given how inconsistent his game tape proved to be, this was evidently enough to convince the Chiefs that Smith wasn’t the right guy at #1 overall, and he was unlikely to fall to the second round.
 
As for Nassib, he showcased a little bit more consistency than Smith as an intermediate passer, and he answered once of his biggest concerns by throwing a nice deep ball, but his other measured drills left a lot to be desired. His 40 time (5.06) and vertical jump (28.5”) were among the low-finishers at his position. If Nassib is going to plug into a West Coast-style or traditional pro offense, perhaps with his former college coach Doug Marrone in Buffalo, he looks like the most polished passer in this class, and on tape his pocket mobility is significantly better than his timed 40 would indicate. But he doesn’t have the dynamic athletic ability many teams are looking for these days.
 
Other QBs in Indianapolis had some impressive showings but still have major questions. Tennessee QB Tyler Bray might actually be the most gifted passer in the draft, but there are serious questions about his work ethic and desire to actually play football. Florida State QB E.J. Manuel is the best and most dynamic athlete at the position in the draft, but he’s raw and could need time to develop. Big-armed talents Mike Glennon of North Carolina State and Tyler Wilson of Arkansas were inconsistent. USC QB Matt Barkley, whom many assumed would be the #1 pick in this draft only a year ago, had a bad senior season and wasn’t able to work out because of a shoulder injury.
 
In short, it wouldn’t surprise us if multiple QBs from this class became effective NFL starters in the near future, but there could also be no QBs from this class who lock down a full-time job. For Reid and the Chiefs, the risk wasn’t worth it. That doesn’t mean the Jaguars, Raiders, Eagles, Bills, Cardinals, or others would agree. But it is an absolute confirmation of what we’ve known for some time: There is no Luck or Griffin in 2013, or the Chiefs would have taken him.
 
If the Combine is any indication, this year’s crop of rookie RBs won’t come close to 2012’s in terms of top-end talent
 
A position that is already perceived weak in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Combine was even weaker, given the absence of Alabama RB Eddie Lacy, probably the best overall back in the class, who couldn’t participate because of a hamstring injury. A powerful runner with a complete, if not dynamic, skillset, Lacy is a potential first-round pick, but he has had some nagging toe, ankle, and hamstring problems over the last year. He’d still be a great fit with a club like Pittsburgh, Atlanta, or Green Bay, but he’ll need to impress in his Pro Day to boost his stock.
 
Even with Lacy sidelined, it was hard to say that we saw a good, complete performance from any of the other backs in Indianapolis. In terms of workout alone, the most impressive back was probably Texas A&M’s Christine Michael. Measuring in at nearly 5’10” and just over 220 pounds, Michael is built like a truck, but he still managed to run an impressive 4.54, given his size. Michael can make defenders miss in traffic and has very good power, and his drills at the Combine showcased surprising change-of-direction ability for someone his size. But there are three major concerns with Michael. In college, his 2010 and 2011 seasons were ended with leg and ACL injuries, respectively. He had some fumbling woes. And at the Combine, he overslept and missed two team meetings and interviews. Some team will fall in love with Michael’s skillset, but at this point, it’d be a surprise to see him go before the late third round.

Wisconsin’s Montee Ball was one of the most prolific runners in college football the last two seasons, rushing for 1923 yards as a junior and 1830 yards as a senior, and he lost only two fumbles in nearly 1000 career offensive touches, really impressive for a guy with such a monstrous workload and physical style. Ball runs bigger than his 5’11”, 210-pound frame, generally a positive, but given that size, we would have liked to see him time better than 4.66 in the 40. Ball should be a solid rotational back in the NFL, and if he bulks up, he’s probably got a chance to be a three-down guy, as he’s deceptively elusive, but the lack of top-end speed is a concern.
 
UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin is considered one of the better prospects this year and he probably helped himself at the Combine, posting a very good 40 times of 4.49 seconds, which was top-5 for RBs in Indy. Franklin also impressed catching the ball out of the backfield and looks like the best back to come out of UCLA since Maurice Jones-Drew.
 
Without getting into specific details, LSU’s Michael Ford (5’9 ½”, 210) and North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard (5’8”, 202) helped their stocks by displaying well-rounded skillsets for guys who look the part physically. Both displayed the ability to catch the ball in positional drills, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see either back go in the second and third-round range to a team that believes it found a three-down back if all things break correctly. Another back in this category could be Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell, who is bigger than either guy (6’1”, 230) and a little bit slower, but who displayed impressive hands and an understanding of route running.
 
Two higher-end backs who didn’t exactly shine at the Combine were Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor and Clemson’s Andre Ellington. Taylor put up a disappointing 40-yard dash time (4.76 seconds) and was sluggish in the drills. Ellington’s 40 time of 4.61 seconds was also disappointing, especially for a guy who weighs less than 200 pounds.
 
Two wild cards, at least based on their 40 times, are Auburn’s Onterrio McCalebb and Arkansas’ Knile Davis. McCalebb ran the fastest 40-yard dash at the position with a 4.34, and Davis was right behind him at 4.37. McCalebb should be able to latch on somewhere as a rotational back and return man in the fifth or sixth round, but his 168-pound frame is going to raise significant durability concerns from scouts. Davis has a chance to make a team go gaga, however. That’s because that 4.37 came from a guy who measured in at nearly 6’0” and 227 pounds. But Davis missed all of 2011 with an ankle injury and then struggled in 2012, adding another black mark to the serious ball security issues both McCalebb and Davis displayed in college. As it stands now, Davis’ workout was far more impressive than his tape, but his elite athletic ability could cause a team to reach for him as high as the third round.
 
It’s going to be important to follow all of these guys and more in the coming months, because it’s not out of the question that several of them contribute in a way that’s significant for fantasy players. In fact, Alfred Morris finished second in the NFL in rushing as a sixth-round rookie is going to have us turning our heads twice at any back who goes in this draft and performs well in preseason. But it just wouldn’t be smart to anticipate three rookies finishing in the top eight in fantasy scoring, as they did in 2012. We just don’t see a Doug Martin or Trent Richardson in this class.
 
The WR class is going to be deep, with a variety of talents.
 
While there are no Calvin Johnsons or A.J. Greens in this draft class, much like there are no Andrew Lucks or Robert Griffin IIIs, there’s the potential for many of these WRs to make a huge impact in the NFL, some of them as rookies. In fact, we’d argue this class of WRs might look as good and as deep as the 2012 class, a contrast to the problem we find at QB and RB. That’s why we were paying extra attention to this group at the Combine. And with predicted early pick Keenan Allen of Cal sitting out of the Combine with a knee injury, several receivers were able to make the best of the extra eyes on them.
 
The best news out of the NFL Combine is that our personal favorite receiver in this class reinforced that notion with a strong performance across the board. Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson measured at nearly 6’2” and 220 pounds, while running a 4.42 40-yard dash. Patterson’s size and skill set has earned him favorable comparisons to Julio Jones, but with a major caveat: As a JUCO transfer, Patterson has only one year of major college football under his belt, and he’s exceptionally raw, much more than Jones was coming out of Alabama. Patterson needs to polish his routes and play the ball better when it’s in the air, but he’s a big, dynamic receiver who can contribute as a return man and is a willing blocker downfield. If it all comes together, he has the look of an NFL superstar. If Patterson makes it out of the top 15 in April, we’d be stunned.
 
As raw as Patterson is, teammate Justin Hunter is as polished. Hunter, a 6’4”, 196-pound deep threat, ran an impressive 4.44 40. He doesn’t project to be as physical off the snap as Patterson can be, and he had some drop issues in college, but Hunter could be a potentially dangerous threat as a rookie, especially if he’s able to showcase himself as an all-around pass catcher and not just a long strider with deep speed. Hunter could be an early round-two pick, but we wouldn’t be shocked if someone loves his height and speed combo and drafts him in the first.
 
Speaking of big-play ability vis-à-vissize, Baylor’s Terrance Williams is someone who must be watched. The 6’2”, 208-pound Williams ran a 4.52 40 and had a video-game stat line, catching 97 passes for 1832 yards (18.9 YPC) and 12 TDs with the Bears as a senior, even more impressive, considering that Robert Griffin III was gone. In fact, compare those stats to those of Kendall Wright, who had 108/1663/14 (15.4 YPC) with Griffin in 2011, and Wright was one of the most feared big-play threats in all of college football. Williams didn’t have to compete for targets with two other high-end WRs as much as Wright did with Williams and Tevin Reese in 2011, but those numbers are still unreal, considering the downgrade at QB (not that Nick Florence was a stiff, but still). Williams needs to work on his hands, but he’s considered a strong character guy and should be solidly in the second round, if not higher.
 
A couple of possession types reinforced their early-round projections, in Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins and USC’s Robert Woods. Neither player blew scouts away with their measurables, but when catching passes, they exhibited the traits teams look for from #2- and #3-type of receivers.
 
But even more so than Patterson and Hunter, the stars of the Combine were a couple of mighty mites, West Virginia’s Tavon Austin and Texas’ Marquise Goodwin. Austin (4.34) and Goodwin (4.27) each challenged Chris Johnson’s 4.24 40 time as the best in the modern Combine, but questions were raised about their size and the ability of their games to translate to the next level. The questions about Goodwin are totally valid. He’s going to get drafted because of his speed, but he’s 5’9” and barely pushes 180 pounds, and he had only 120 catches in four seasons at Texas. Goodwin should break into the league as a return specialist and package player.

But Austin is very interesting. He’s actually smaller than Goodwin (5’8½”, 174 pounds), but his collegiate production was off the charts, going for 101/1186/8 as a junior in 2011 and 114/1289/12 as Geno Smith’s favorite target as a senior in 2012. His polish as a receiver was obvious in positional drills, as he showed the skills of someone four inches taller and 25 pounds heavier, while also exhibiting the elite speed that has fans drooling. Most important, his 14 reps on the 225-pound bench press displayed above-average strength for someone his size. This is a guy who played in 52 games in four seasons at West Virginia, so he’s going to come into the league with a pretty damn clean injury history and a fantastic Combine performance to his name. Some still question his ability to be an “every-down” receiver, but his skills are so special that we wouldn’t be shocked at all to see some team fall in love with him in the first round, perhaps trading back into the end of the round to select him.
 
Other Observations
 
  • It’s hard for just any team to find a Jimmy Graham, as much as every team wants one. We don’t really see one in this class, either, but this is a good draft for TEs. First up, it’s going to be Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert, Stanford’s Zach Ertz, and then the rest. As we stand now, both look like second-rounders, and neither did anything to harm that perception at the Combine. Eifert is likely to be the “safer” pick, as his skill set is more well-rounded and he’s a better blocker, but Ertz is likely to appeal to teams as a better raw athlete. Rice’s Vance McDonald has emerged as a legit sleeper candidate, while San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar probably didn’t hurt himself.
  • Not-so-bold prediction: Three offensive linemen will go in the top 10 in this draft. We’ve already mentioned big-time LT prospects Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M and Eric Fisher of Central Michigan as possibilities for the Chiefs at #1 overall, but also look out for Alabama OG Chance Warmack. It’s rare to see an interior lineman generate as much buzz as Warmack, but he’s got the potential to be a dominant player, especially for a team that loves to run the ball.
  • Any team that wants a pass rusher or two is going to want to stock up on picks in this draft. What makes this incredibly deep class of DEs and OLBs even more appealing is the number of teams looking to diversify their defensive looks with hybrid fronts in 2013 (the Eagles, for example). BYU DE Ziggy Ansah, Oregon DE/OLB Dion Jordan, and LSU DE/OLB Barkevious Mingo all had very strong Combines and could go in the top half of the first round, if not higher. SMU DE Margus Hunt from Germany has little football experience but has the athleticism to sneak into the first round. That’s not even to mention the large number of mid-round prospects who could make an immediate impact in the NFL.
  • Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o measured unspectacularly in drills, which would have been evident to anyone who had seen him on tape. Even before Te’o’s bizarre fake girlfriend scandal broke, his best traits were determined to be his instincts at the position and his on-field leadership. Te’o reportedly interviewed well, enough so that ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted this week that he doesn’t expect Te’o to fall out of the first round of the draft. Any team willing to take Te’o probably wasn’t going to be swayed by his mediocre 40 time (4.82). Instead, it’s the interviews that are going to make or break his stock with teams, given that his leadership was such an important part of his game.
  • Alabama CB Dee Milliner impressed scouts with his 4.37 40-yard dash, and is a potential top-five pick. It’d be a stunner if he falls out of the top 10. You’ll find dissenting opinions on whether Milliner is a better prospect than former teammate Dre Kirkpatrick, who went in the first round to Cincinnati last year, but we were more impressed with Milliner’s skill set, in general.
Bad draft picks are down 3,479%. Must be the Guru!

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