INDIANAPOLIS – School’s out, so never mind the three R’s.
For NFL teams and the cream of the next rookie class, it’s all about the three G’s.
Greetin’, grillin’ and gradin’.
That’s what the league’s GMs, coaches and other talent evaluators will be doing with those 332 ex-college players from dawn till well past dusk over the next six days at the annual scouting combine.
They’ll be meeting players, grilling them with both psychological tests and whiteboard X’s-and-O’s sessions, and then grading them after watching them perform on the field in athleticism drills and position-specific football drills.
Of course, all eyes are focused most intently on the quarterbacks. Are this year’s as heralded as the past two years? No such Luck. Or RG3. Or Cam Newton.
Indeed, the 2013 QBs have so many exposed warts, the combine could double as a witches convention.
But an important thing to remember: It’s still early in the process. The draft is still two months away.
Don’t forget that Newton, the Carolina Panthers’ No. 1 overall pick in 2011, was rated by most as the No. 3 quarterback exactly two years ago this week. Then he blew people’s minds – and blew up everybody’s draft boards – with a scintillating performance at the combine.
A repeat is exactly what the Class of ’13 QBs have in mind.
So, with the meat-market assembly line at Lucas Oil Field ready to roll, let’s break down the eight quarterbacks to this point who’ve received the most buzz.
We interviewed six of them last month at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. – and asked each to name what he thinks is his best attribute, and what he needs to work on most.
Geno Smith and Matt Barkley are everybody’s top two at this point, and neither attended the Senior Bowl. So we hit up two of the most respected talent assessors in the biz – Greg Cosell of NFL Films and Rob Rang of CBSSports.com – to size them up.
GENO SMITH, 6-3, 220 pounds, West Virginia
Cosell has just begun his in-depth analysis of draft prospects’ college game tape, and he said Smith has impressed him the most so far.
“I really like the way he throws it,” Cosell said. “It comes out really well. He has an NFL arm. His issue is footwork, which can be coached.”
Through mid-October last season, Smith was skyrocketing up everybody’s draft boards – seemingly destined for No. 1 overall.
He was posting sick numbers every game for the Mountaineers, such as against Baylor, when he completed 45-of-51 for 656 yards and eight TDs. Yes, he threw more touchdown passes than incompletions in a single game.
Then both he and the Mountaineers hit a wall. As the team lost six of its final eight, Smith looked ordinary.
“Teams started playing a little bit more press (coverage on defence),” said Rang, the senior NFL draft analyst for CBSSports.com. “Texas Tech was pretty effective with the press, and that was West Virginia’s first loss. Everybody else just copied their system and West Virginia struggled the rest of the year.
“Smith seems to lack anticipation; he was waiting for his receivers to actually be open (before throwing). And of course in the NFL, they’re so rarely open that if you’re waiting for that moment, they’re not going to still be open by the time you actually get the ball there – even if you have very impressive velocity, as Geno Smith has.”
MATT BARKLEY, 6-2, 230 pounds, Southern Cal
“To me, that kind of quarterback has to be incredibly precise in all the subtle details of the position in order to be a quality NFL starter. And I don’t see that on tape right now. I’ve learned my lessons over the years. I would never sit here and tell you that it could never happen. But he does not have the kind of arm talent that leads me to think of him as a first-round pick.”
Rang said he realizes he is in the minority among draftniks, but thinks Barkley might be almost as good a prospect as Smith – weak arm and all.
“He does have very good touch,” Rang said. “He does have very good accuracy while on the move. So if you put him in a traditional west-coast offence, I believe he can be successful. I believe he has all the traits that you’re looking for, in terms of leadership and poise under pressure, to be successful in the right kind of system.”
WHAT HE THINKS HE DOES BEST: “I can throw the ball pretty well … I’m spinning it pretty well. That’s probably it. Other than the fact that I have a lot of drive. I want to be really good at this game, and I’m willing to put in the work.”
WHAT HE HAS TO PROVE TO DOUBTERS: “Probably just being more consistent and continue to develop my athletic ability at the next level. Guys are extremely fast and I have to make some plays some time to escape a little bit, and step up in the pocket.”
WHAT HE THINKS HE DOES BEST: “I think I do a good job of getting the ball out quick, going through my progressions, and not really forcing the ball.”
WHAT HE HAS TO PROVE TO DOUBTERS: “That I’m an NFL-ready quarterback. That I can play at the next level, mentally and physically.”
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TYLER WILSON, 6-2, 218 pounds, Arkansas
WHAT HE THINKS HE DOES BEST: “I think it’s my ability to comprehend a pro-style offence, and what I’ve done at Arkansas. There was a lot on my shoulders as far as protection responsibility, run-game checks – and because of that I think I’ll be able to digest a lot early, and come in and play.”
WHAT HE HAS TO PROVE TO DOUBTERS: “I think it’s learning another system. You get to a point where everybody can throw it, and everybody can catch it. I’ve been working on my footwork, but I think it’s digesting the system of the team that drafts me. To come in and learn that and grasp it early – that’s the key to success, in my opinion.
WHAT HE THINKS HE DOES BEST: “I think mainly just a winning mindset. Obviously, my physical skills kind of speak for themselves. I have the size, and I can throw, I can run. But I think mainly it’s the pedigree in my mind. When I was in college, coach (Jimbo) Fisher really put that mindset into me to go out and win games. I finished 26-6 as a starter at Florida State, so I think I can do the same thing in the NFL.”
WHAT HE HAS TO PROVE TO DOUBTERS: “The main thing is technique and just being technically sound, and just being consistent. Because I think if you’re technically sound, then that brings on even more accuracy, and more strength on the ball.”
WHAT HE THINKS HE DOES BEST: “I’m able to throw the ball on time. If you can’t do that, you can’t be a quarterback in the NFL. That’s always going to be the deal … I’m able to move around too, so I think those are the things I need to show (NFL talent evaluators).”
WHAT HE HAS TO PROVE TO DOUBTERS: “Just being in a different scheme, and being under centre. (I didn’t play) as much under centre. So I think those things are kind of a big deal for me.”
WHAT HE THINKS HE DOES BEST: “I would say my ability to extend a play, to make a play with my feet … staying behind the line, keeping my eyes downfield and trying to find an open receiver.”
WHAT HE HAS TO PROVE TO DOUBTERS: “My footwork. In the beginning it was more about the throw – being accurate, that kind of thing. But the older I get, and the more I’ve been coached, it’s all about your feet. If your feet are in the right position, then the ball is going to be in the right place.”
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THE SWEET SIXTEEN:
The 16 quarterbacks participating in the NFL scouting combine:
Name College Combine #
Barkley, Matt Southern Cal QB01
Bray, Tyler Tennessee QB02
Cameron, Colby Louisiana Tech QB03
Dysert, Zac Miami of Ohio QB04
Glennon, Mike North Carolina State QB05
Gray, MarQueis Minnesota QB06
Jones, Landry Oklahoma QB07
Klein, Collin Kansas State QB08
Manuel, E.J. Florida State QB09
Nassib, Ryan Syracuse QB10
Renfree, Sean Duke QB11
Scott, Matt Arizona QB12
Smith, Geno West Virginia QB13
Sorensen, Brad Southern Utah QB14
Vandenberg, James Iowa QB15
Wilson, Tyler Arkansas QB16
COMBINE SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:
NFL scouting combine events schedule at Lucas Oil Field for the 332 invited draft-eligible players, excluding hospital pre-exams & X-rays, medicals, measurements, psychological testing and team interviews:
* Offensive linemen, kickers, punters, long snappers and tight ends meet the media.
* Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers meet the media.
* Offensive linemen, kickers, punters, long snappers and tight ends on the field, for athleticism and positional drills.
* Defensive linemen and linebackers meet the media.
* Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers on the field, for athleticism and positional drills.
* Defensive backs meet the media.
* Defensive linemen and linebackers on the field, for athleticism and positional drills.
* Defensive backs on the field, for athleticism and positional drills.
THE 7 COMBINE ATHLETICISM DRILLS, EXPLAINED:
INDIANAPOLIS – All players at the NFL scouting combine (or at least those healthy enough to do so) partake in these seven measurable athleticism drills, apart from position-specific drills:
40-YARD DASH: Scouts are not only look at the time, but explosiveness from the start. Players are time at the 10- and 20-yard intervals as well. Record (since 2006) held by RB Chris Johnson, East Carolina, 2004 (4.24 seconds).
BENCH PRESS: It’s not how much they can press, but rather how many reps of 225 pounds they can do. A lineman who can do only 20, give or take, will see his stock plummet. Record held by DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State, 2011 (49 reps).
VERTICAL JUMP: The player stands flat-footed and his vertical reach is measured. Then he jumps as high as he can, and the difference is his ‘vertical’ measurement. Record held by CB Donald Washington, Ohio State, 2009 (45.0 inches).
BROAD JUMP: Long jump without the run-up, just like in grade school. Record held by WR Jerome Simpson, Coastal Carolina, 2008 (11 feet, 4 inches).
3-CONE DRILL: A player weaves around cones set up in an L-shape. Gauges agility, especially a player’s ability to change directions at high speeds. Record held by WR Jeffrey Maehl, Oregon, 2001 (6.42 seconds).
SHUTTLE RUN, 20 YARDS: Another cone drill, this one all lateral. Also known as the 5-10-5, or short shuttle. A player starts in a three-point stance, runs five yards to his right, touches the ground, runs 10 yards to the left, touches the ground, pivots, then runs five yards back to the starting point. Tests lateral quickness in short areas. Record set by CB Jason Allen, Tennessee, 2006 (3.81 seconds).
SHUTTLE RUN, 60 YARDS: Just a longer version – 15-30-15 yards. WR Jamell Fleming of Oklahoma set the record last year (10.75 seconds).