BIGPLAY Football Mock Draft v1.0

Unlike many draft prognosticators who seem to just make their picks out of thin air, I like to wait until after the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, and the majority of Free Agency have been completed before making my picks.  In my opinion you cannot do a true “mock” until after these events, because only then you can get a good sense of how NFL talent evaluators are viewing prospects and have accurate team needs

1. Oakland (2-14): JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU – The Raiders have so many needs, but this is the most glaring one.  They seem to now be committed to finding a leader at the quarterback position after stopgap types like Aaron Brooks, Kerry Collins, and Jeff George have not fit the bill over the years.  It would also seem with their extensive history of getting “vertical” that the big armed Russell would fit right into a gapping hole in their lineup.  He has the aforementioned arm strength (80 yards plus with a great fastball) and better mobility than most give him credit for.  He was 25-4 as a starter and he led eight 4th quarter comeback victories. He was the nation’s No. 3-ranked quarterback in passing efficiency in 2006 while setting a school record for completion percentage at 67.8 percent and for completions with 232 out of 342 attempts and tying the record for touchdown passes at 28. He became only the second quarterback in LSU history to throw for 3,000 yards with 3,129 and finished with 6,525 yards and 52 touchdowns in three seasons (two as a starter). In terms of his leadership potential and ability, he reminds me of Super Bowl XXII MVP and former Redskins quarterback Doug Williams.
Primary Needs: QB, OT, OLB
 
2.  Detroit (3-13): Joe Thomas, OT, Wisconsin – I know everyone thinks that the Lions may trade down a slot and let the Browns grab Quinn or Peterson or grab Quinn themselves, but Thomas seems like the pick.  Their line needs another bookend to go with Jeff Backus.  They have some pieces in place on offense, but their O-Line let up too many sacks and is a little soft.  Thomas reminds me of former Redskins Pro Bowl lineman Jim Lachey.  He will be a 10+ years starter and provide the run blocking that Jones, Duckett, and Bell need plus he will keep John Kitna upright one more year so he can get the ball to Roy Williams, Furrey and the other speed guys in Martz’s offense.
Primary Needs: DE, OG, SS, CB

3.  Cleveland (4-12): QB. Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame – With hometown boy Brady Quinn on the board and several question marks still on Charlie Frye (17 Int’s) and Derek Anderson, the Browns will go with Quinn.  The pick really is a no-brainer because Frye has not gotten it done and Romeo Crennel is on the hot seat.  Crennel will trust his friend and former Quinn coach Charlie Weiss.  Quinn also has the credentials with 46 collegiate starts, 95 touchdown passes and over 11,000 yards.  Adrian Peterson may have been a good fit, but the Browns have signed Jamal Lewis and they need someone to get the ball consistently to Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards.
Primary Needs: QB, C, DE,

4. Tampa Bay (4-12): Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech – I am already hearing that Jon Gruden is enamored with Johnson’s size and big play ability. With his stable of quarterbacks (Simms, Garcia, Plummer, Gradkowski, and others) another receiver is needed.  Johnson is a true difference maker with the size of T.O, but possessing better speed (4.35 in the forty at the Combine) and less attitude.  With Joey Galloway getting older and Michael Clayton underachieving this is a natural pick. Johnson caught 76 passes for 1,202 yards and 15 touchdowns this past season and had his best game in the Gator Bowl versus West Virginia narrowly losing 38-35.  In the game he caught nine passes for a career-high 186 yards and two touchdowns.
Primary Needs: OT, C, OLB, CB

5. Arizona (5-11): Gaines Adams, DE, Clemson – Like the Raiders they need a lot .  New coach Ken Whisenhunt is in the door and he will want to put a new stamp on an underachieving team.  The offense looks good with Leinart and crew, but the O-Line is a problem area. They may trade up to get Joe Thomas or move back and look to grab Levi Brown. I however think that Adams will be the pick.  The Atlantic Coast Conference’s defensive player of the year will be a double digit sack guy for years to come.  His 28 career sacks tied the school record held by Michael Dean Perry.  The Cards need help because no names Okeafor and Smtih are not getting it done at DE and they need a pass rusher to provide pressure to help playmaking corner Antrel Rolle and LB Karlos Dansby..
Primary Needs: OT, S, DE

6. Washington (5-11): Jamaal Anderson, DE Arkansas – After the player they want Adams is off the board I see the ‘Skins going for the next best DE.  Their pass rushing tandem of Carter and Daniels is long in the tooth and provided little pressure in 2006 (Only 19 Sacks, team record for lowest). Anderson at 6-foot-5, 288 pounds is a long fast player who will get after the passer and cause turnovers.  He notched 13½ sacks last year as a junior. With Anderson and Pro Bowl Safety Sean Taylor in the mix, the ‘Skins will be hard to game plan against.
Primary Needs: DE, OT, LB, DT

7. Minnesota (6-10): LaRon Landry, S, LSU – Minnesota head coach Brad Childress knows first-hand the value of a quarterback on defense from his days with  Eagles  All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins and Landry is that guy.  Landry is a difference maker, who is my number one prospect on defense.  He is a four-year starter in arguably the best conference in college football (SEC) and he should be ready to start immediately in the NFL. A tremendous athlete who I have been following since he was a high school quarterback.  He was impressive at the combine clocking  two 4.4 forty’s and looking very good in the the cone and positional drills.
Primary Needs: S,DE, QB

8. Atlanta (7-9) (Swapped with Houston – Schaub trade): Alan Branch, DT, Michigan – I still believe that a receiver to elevate an underachieving unit or a young safety to replace the aging Lawyer Milloy may be in order.  However Branch would be a good fit at #8. With the loss of Patrick Kerney, Branch a two-way DE/DT should contribute right away.  At 6-foot-5, 323 pounds, he can play all of the positions along the DL and fit into a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.  A player that impressed me by showing discipline and commit to getting better after slimming down from close to 400 pounds.
Primary Needs: DE, FS, WR

9. Miami (6-10): Amobi Okoye, DT, Louisville – Okoye is a young (19) maturing player that has a great upside.  A naturally quick DT, he is a penetrater, who will play on the other side of the ball on passing downs and will be stout against the run as he can put on more weight from his current weight of 287 lbs.  He is a very bright young man who will definitely step in and help aging Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor and Joey Porter.  Will be able to penetrate and push the pocket.  Should be able to contribute in several packages as a rookie including pass rushing.
Primary Needs: DT, WR, OT

10. Houston (6-10) (Swapped with Atlanta – Schaub trade): Levi Brown, OT, Penn State – The main reason that they will be looking for Brown to come in is that their QB’s have been sacked at a record pace.  Brown and last year’s draftee Eric Winston will provide the line with a great foundation.  Brown will lead the way for their stable of backs: the newly signed Ahman Green, Wali Lundy, and the reborn Ron Dayne.  He should plug the gapping hole at LT that has dogged this franchise since their inception when Tony Boselli fell apart.  Other than Thomas, Brown is the only other O-Lineman that carries a 1st round grade in my book.  Primary Needs: OT, OLB, FS

11. San Francisco (7-9): Adam Carriker, DE, Nebraska – Carriker is another Nebraska high-motor  player in the mold of Van den Bosch and Grant Wistrom.  Had 20½ sacks and 41 tackles for losses in his career at Nebraska.  He would be a great fit in Mike Nolan’s speed oriented attacking defense.  Carriker would be another DE/LB in the mold of last year’s number one pick Manny Lawson and former 49er Julian Peterson.  Carriker also is a high-character leadership type player and at 296 pounds he has the size, strength, quickness and technique to develop into a starter at the next level.
Primary Needs: OT, OLB, DT

12. Buffalo (7-9): Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma – The Bills are rumored to be interested in signing Chris Brown to compliment the recently re-signed Anthony Thomas, but Peterson would be a much better value. 
The Bills need a feature back now that Willis McGahee has been traded to the Ravens. Peterson who left school as a junior is an injury risk (Missed seven games this season with a broken collarbone), but he is productive when healthy.  He had 1,012 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns in about 6 games. He ran for 77 yards and two touchdowns, including a 25-yarder on the first play of overtime, in Oklahoma’s 43-42 overtime loss to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.  Peterson ran for 4,045 yards in three seasons, ranking behind only 1978 Heisman winner Billy Sims (4,118) and Joe Washington (4,071) on Oklahoma’s career rushing list. His 1,925 yards in 2004 were a school rushing record and the most by a freshman in NCAA history.
Primary Needs: RB, OLB, CB

13. St. Louis (8-8): Leon Hall, CB, Michigan – The Rams have not had a playmaker in the secondary since Dre Bly left for the Lions and Todd Lyght got older.  Hall will team with 2006 draftee Ty Hill to form a lethal combination in pass coverage. Hall’s stock has fluctuated over the past few months during the draft process, but it’s back up after he posted a 4.39 forty time at the combine. Though he isn’t a “cover” corner with blazing speed, he makes up for it with instincts, size and athleticism.  School record holder in career pass breakups with 43 and added 12 interceptions.  He is not flashy, but he gets the job done like All-Pro Bucs corner Ronde Barber and former Michigan Heisman winner Charles Woodson.
Primary Needs: CB, DT, OT

14. Carolina (8-8): Patrick Willis, LB, Mississippi – I love this guy, because he plugs holes.  With Dan Morgan iffy with his concussion problems, the Panthers need a playmaker behind Jenkins and Peppers.  Willis is a rare player with size (240 pounds) and speed (4.51). Some people may view this as a bit high for an ILB, but I disagree. Willis has the best instincts of any LB in the 2007 class and 49ers Coach Mike Singletary raved about him at the Senior Bowl.  A 100 tackle guy who averaged 11.42 per game in ’06. He will need to learn to not be fooled by misdirection and take on guards and centers, but was a dependable three-year starter in the SEC and should be ready right away to contribute. He reminds me of Browns young LB D’Qwell Jackson.
Primary Needs: ILB, QB, TE

15. Pittsburgh (8-8): Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn State – A tough high character Steelers type of player (2 time captain at Penn State).  Has good size (6-1 ¼, 236), great football instincts, and intelligence.  He always is around the ball as shown by his stats as PSU’s all-time leading tackler (116 in ’06).  The Steelers should not worry about what system they are playing for new coach Tomlin 3-4 or 4-3, because Posluszny has played both inside and outside linebacker effectively at Penn State. Recently wowed scouts from all 32 teams as he showed no ill affects from his junior year knee injury running  his 40s in 4.58 and 4.62. Has the ability to cover running backs and tight ends one-on-one.  Reminds me of Chad Greenway.
Primary Needs: ILB, FS, C

16. Green Bay (8-8): Marshawn Lynch, RB, California – With Ahmad Green leaving in Free Agency and Samkon Gaddo being traded, the Packers need a RB.  With his ability to catch the football and get to the outside Lynch has a lot of Green’s characteristics. With quarterback Brett Favre sticking around who knows how long this offense needs weapons.  The Packers were on the cusp of making the playoffs and Lynch could definitely help.  Lynch was an over 1,000 yard rusher the last two seasons and have the versatility needed for the Pack’s West Coast offense.
Primary Needs: RB, CB, WR

17. Jacksonville (8-8): Reggie Nelson, S, Florida –  With Deon Grant leaving in free agency and Donovan Darius getting older, the Jags need a player of the future at the safety position.  Nelson has recently been rising on draft boards due to his blazing 4.35 time in the forty at Florida’s Pro Day.  Nelson was the defensive quarterback of the National Champion Gators defense.  He helped to hold Ohio State to less than 100 yards passing in the Fiesta Bowl.  He needs to work on his run support, but he will provide great over the top coverage and help Pro Bowler Rashaun Mathis.
 Primary Needs: S, WR, OT

18. Cincinnati (8-8): Darrelle Revis, CB, Pittsburgh – The Bengals need help in their secondary.  They lost their two safeties and they need a player to team with last year’s draftee Jonathan Joseph.  The combination of Revis and Joseph will allow the Bengals to continue their attacking ways while having confidence in man to man coverage.  Revis, who is an underclassman is a gambler, but he is a playmaker, who will take turnovers to the house.  He also is a versatile player with the size and athleticism to contribute right away in the nickel and in the return game.
Primary Needs: S, TE, DT

19. Tennessee (8-8): Dwayne Jarrett, WR, USC – With top receiver Drew Bennett leaving for St. Louis and David Givens so far not living up to expectations a young receiver needed to help in Vince Young’s development.  Jarrett will not light up anyone’s stopwatch (4.55 range), but he is a schooled route runner that uses his size to his advantage.  With offensive coordinator Norm Chow having known Jarrett and his abilities, he should put him in good spots.  Should team with Givens and Brandon Jones to form a nice three-receiver set.  Jarrett’s greatest value will be around the goal line on jump ball type passes.   He will need a good Pro Day in a couple of weeks to convince everyone that he is not Lions flameout Mike Williams.  Reminds me of Cris Carter in that he will need to figure out “how” to get open and be physical against press coverage.
Primary Needs: TE, WR, CB

20. N.Y. Giants (8-8): Greg Olsen, TE, Miami –  With Jeremy Shockey wearing out his welcome with the Giants this pick makes sense.  Olsen also from the “U” brings a lot of the same qualities (hands, speed, and leadership) without Shockey’s attitude.  Olsen runs extremely well in the 4.5 range and is a willing blocker that should get better.  He is a hand catcher and rivaled many WR’s in catching ability at the combine.  Olsen will need to definitely give the high-strung Tom Coughlin more than 1 TD though.
Primary Needs: OG, WR, CB, SS

21. Denver (9-7) : Jarvis Moss, DE, Florida – With the Broncos failing in their attempt to sign Patrick Kerney and the Courtney Brown experiment failing miserably, Moss is a solid choice.  Came out early, but Moss is another great athlete from a deep DE class that should contribute Day 1. He is a bit raw, but is a fluid athlete, who could also play some 3-4 outside linebacker.  Moss knows how to get after the passer, just ask Troy Smith who was harassed all day by Moss and his mates in the National Championship game throwing for under 50 yards.
Primary Needs: OT, LB, DE
 
22. Dallas (9-7): Michael Griffin, S, Texas – Even though they recently signed Ken Hamlin from the Seahawks to a free agent contract, Griffin still makes sense.  Hamlin and Roy Williams are both “down hill” in the box physical safeties and the Cowboys will need a coverage safety.  Griffin is fast enough to play nickel corner and safety.  He teamed with Michael Huff and Cedric Griffin as interchangeable parts in Texas’ championship secondary.  With more teams using multiple receiver sets a player of Griffin’s ability is a must.  The thing I like about Griffin is he is not afraid to also take on a ball carrier as shown by his 370 tackles in college.
Primary Needs: FS, OT, WR

23. Kansas City (9-7): Justin Blalock , OT, Texas – Maybe a reach at this pick, but with the expected retirement of Kyle Turley, losing Willie Roaf in 2006, and an aging Will Shields the Kansas City O-Line needs an overhaul.  Blalock can play either guard or tackle and has the size (6’4, 329), strength, and movement (4.9 at Combine) to keep Larry Johnson. Blalock is a “Road Grader”, who anchored the 2006 National Champions line.   Herman Edwards will need to make sure that Blalock is focused, but I don’t see him as being the next “Mike Williams”.
Primary Needs: OT, OG, DT

24. New England (12-4) (Pick from Seattle – Branch trade): Anthony Spencer, OLB/DE, Purdue – Remember the Patriots have 3 first round picks, so they may be on the move or choose to stockpile players.  I think Pioli and Belichek will choose to grab solid “football” player types.  With Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi nearing the end of their brilliant careers, the Pats can never have enough interchangeable LB’s.  Spencer is an explosive edge player, who led the nation with 26.5 tackles for loss and also had 10 1/2 sacks.  He should team with the recently signed Adalius Thomas to bring the heat from the edge and provide help protect the Pats protect against their recent problem of big plays in the secondary.
Primary Needs: CB, S, OG
 
25. N.Y. Jets (10-6): Chris Houston, CB, Arkansas – The Jets secondary was not stellar in the playoffs trying to shut down the Patriots.  With average receivers Caldwell and Gaffney putting up numbers changes needed to be made.  Houston is a player that has been moving up boards steadily since the combine and should provide some of the man-to-man skills that Eric Mangini covets.  Houston is another aggressive playmaking corner.  Held Dwayne Jarrett to 5 catches for 35 yards in their ’06 battle.  He should help out in the nickel and dime while getting acclimated to the NFL.
Primary Needs: CB, S, DE

26. Philadelphia (10-6): Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Ohio State – With the recent trade for Takeo Spikes the Eagles filled their most glaring need of OLB.  They now can turn their attention to the “best player” on the board.  Ginn who is a world-class speedster has not been working out and seems to be falling in the draft due to a lingering foot injury.  The Eagles looking for a pure speed receiver and return man would be lucky to grab Ginn at this spot.  I believe Ginn is this year’s Devon Hester (Raw, but Explosive Homerun Threat).  Look for the 6 foot, 190 lbs junior to challenge Jeremy Bloom and Bethel Johnson immediately while learning the WR position.  This past season he caught 59 passes for 781 yards and nine touchdowns and as a returner averaged 11.1 per punt return, with one touchdown.  Would be a great fit on reverses and other trick plays.
Primary Needs: DT, SS, WR/KR

27. New Orleans (10-6): Robert Meacham, WR, Tennessee – Remember Sean Payton is an offensive minded coach.  With Joe Horn being released and signing with the Falcons there is a need at receiver.  Meacham would give the Saints a homerun threat on the outside to compliment Marques Colston underneath and Reggie Bush out of the backfield.  Meacham looked fast and smooth at the combine catching the ball fluidly and running in the high 4.3 range.  Meacham is still learning the receiver position and should transition well working with Colston and Devrey Henderson.
Needs: LB, WR, S
 
28. New England (12-4): Aaron Ross, CB/S, Texas – Like Randall Gay, Ross has the potential to play safety, slot coverage, or a corner. Ross is a tall, fast and athletic defensive back with playmaking instincts when the ball is in the air.  Also is a playmaker on returns.  The Patriots defensive secondary has recently needed help to stop down the field plays and Ross should help there. He and pick at #24 should be defensive picks to help add depth and help the defense get younger. Primary Needs: CB, S, OT

29. Baltimore (13-3): Ryan Kalil, C, USC – With Mike Flynn getting older and last years pick Chris Chester’s ability to multiple O-line positions, Kalil would be a great choice. The Ravens may want to replace Adalius Thomas, but getting protection for the aging Steve McNair and new back Willis McGahee is must.  Kalil is a smart battler, who is this year’s version of Nick Mangold, who started for the Jets as a rookie.  Kalil should be a fixture on the line for years to come. At the Senior Bowl, Kalil looked great in one on one drills while displaying a solid anchor in blocking. He is able to hold his own against bigger opponents by playing with great leverage.
Primary Needs: OLB, OL, QB

30. San Diego (14-2): Dwayne Bowe, WR, LSU – Bowe should get the call as the Chargers are in drastic need of a playmaking outside receiver to team with Tomlinson, Gates, and Rivers. At 6-foot-2, 222 pounds, Bowe impressed with his toughness and athleticism at the Senior Bowl. He will be the down the field player that Eric Parker has failed to be after averaging 15.2 yards per catch with 12 TDs in 2006.
Primary Needs: WR, OG, FS

31. Chicago (13-3): Jon Beason, OLB Miami:  With the trade of disgruntled OLB Lance Briggs imminent the selection of Beason would be a good choice late in the first round.  Beason is an athletic aggressive player who always seems to be around the ball.  He is able to work through the “trash” and make plays.  With Brian Urlacher staying at home, Beason will be able to rush the passer and play in coverage.  He should be able to contribute on special teams while learning Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 defense.  Primary Needs: DT, OLB, CB

32. Indianapolis (14-2): Justin Harrell, DT, Tennessee – When you’re the champions you have many options.  I believe the Colts with the status of Cory Simon up in the air and Montae Reagor leaving will be looking for another quick penetrating D.  At 6’4 and 305 pounds Harrell should add value against the run and pass.  This high character player started 25 of his 35 games in college, finishing with 14 tackles for losses and four sacks.  The Colts also could be looking for an OLB to replace Cato June at this spot.
Primary Needs: DT, OLB, C

Sleepers

Legedu Naanee (Boise State). Naanee (6’2, 225) was a little used backup quarterback at Boise State, who knew he wanted to go to the next level. He only had 4 catches in 2006, but he volunteered to be the blocking WR and “Ace” on special teams for the Fiesta Bowl champs. With his strong showing at the combine (40 inch vertical and 4.41 in the forty) and his “can do attitude” I am sure there will be a place in the NFL for him.

Zak DeOssie LB, Brown –  DeOssie (6-4 3/8, 249 pounds) is not your average “Ivy League” player.  He is a transfer from Boston College, who has the pedigree (Father Steve played 12 years in NFL) and speed  (4.03  short shuttle at Pro Day) to make an impact.  I believe his greatest value will be on special teams where his speed and instinct will help covering kicks.  He also is a Long Snapper which is a plus when looking at roster spots.

Jermon Bushrod OT, Towson St – Bushrod (6-4½, 315) is a big tough developmental type of Tackle coming from a small school.  He may be this years Jhari Evans, who also came from a small college Bloomsburg and made a huge contribution as a starting guard on the Saints O-Line. Bushrod could be moved to guard because of his arm length (34½ inches) and his great speed and footwork.  Had a great Pro Day running his forty yard runs in 4.92 and 4.97 seconds, jumping 30½ inches in the vertical jump, 8-foot-6 broad jump and banging out  22 reps of 225.

Syracuse CB Tanard Jackson (6-0, 195 lbs) is a good nickel and special teams candidate.  He has good speed (4.49) and is smart in coverage.   Jackson may not have top level “cover” corner speed but he is physical corner and should fit in with cover 2 or zone coverage schemes.

New Hampshire WR David Ball – He will not wow anyone with his speed (4.73), but the man knows how to get open.  He broke many of Jerry Rice’s 1AA records and shows routes and savvy that will get him in a camp somewhere.  He catches well and should be able to fit in on special teams and in the slot.  Reminds me of former 1-AA players Sean Morey and Brian Finneran.
 
UCLA K Justin Medlock (5-11 7/8, 201 pounds) – Everyone who knows me knows I am not a kicker guy, but Medlock impresses me.  He is a left footed kicker who made 24 of 28 field goals (he had a string of 14 straight halted at Notre Dame) with an 85.7 percentage.  Was ranked first nationally in field goals (2.18 per game) and 10th in the NCAA and first in the Pac-10 in scoring (8.82). Impressed me when he won the All Star Challenge making all 9 of his kicks including booming one from 55 yards easily.

Utah CB/S Eric Weddle (6′ 200)  – Jack of all trades, who maybe the best athlete in the draft. 2-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Mountain West Conference. Weddle played quarterback, running back, safety, corner, and special teams. Primarily a corner in 2006, but will probably be more suited to safety in the NFL. Has good speed and can hit. Very smart player who understands the game and where to be. Had 6 INTs this year on defense, 147 rush yards, 47 pass yards, and 7 total touchdowns.

Former Texas RB Ramonce Taylor (5-10 1/8, 195 pounds)  – Made a strong contribution helping the Longhorns win the 2006 Rose Bowl against USC, but had to sit out last season due to academic reason.  He is a raw athlete that could play on either side of the ball and on special teams. He didn’t work out with his former teammates, but did show up well in his workouts running the 40-yard dash in 4.46 and having a solid 9-foot-11 long jump.

Pitt LB H.B. Blades – He is the son of University of Miami star DB Bennie Blades.  Blades is a plugger type LB, who excelled as a tackler at Pitt.  He routinely put up over 100 tackles and should be a good fit as a 3-4 inside player.  He also should be a special teams captain type.  He looked  good at Pitt’s Pro Day clocking a 4.69 in his forty and had a  32-inch vertical.

Maine S Daren Stone – Another big (6-3 ¼, 220) safety who can run.  With the NFL going toward speedier guys in the secondary, Stone should fit in.  Had a great Pro Day clocking a 4.47 in the forty, a 39 ½-inch vertical and 11-foot-5 long jump. He should be a late-round steal and a maven on special teams.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

—Hampton has always had talent go to the next level with KR Jerome Mathis of the Texans making the Pro Bowl in 2005. this year the Pirates have the chance of up to 5 players entering the NFL including:  ILB Justin Durant, CB Travarous Bain (Projected 4th Rounder), CB Calvin Bannister and WR’s Onrea Jones and Marquay McDaniel

—Don’t count our Louisville RB Michael Bush yet.  Bush did have another surgery to insert a metal rod into his injured right leg, which  he broke in the season opener against Kentucky, but I believe he has the character and ability to comeback from the injury.  A legitimate Heisman candidate, who ran for over 1,500 yards and 20 TD’s before the injury.  If fully healed the hard running 6’2, 248 pound “big” back should be a Day 2 steal for someone.  Bush reminded me of Eddie George when he was healthy.

—I love players that played quarterback in high school or college, because they usually are smart and are leadership type players.  This year’s draft class features some players who played quarterback at one time in college and may need to think about playing another position to make it in the NFL. They include Reggie Ball (Georgia Tech), Paul Thompson (Oklahoma), Syvelle Newton (South Carolina), CJ Gaddis (Clemson), Isiah Stanback (Washington), Chansi Stuckey (Clemson), Omarr Conner (Mississippi State), and my number 1 conversion candidate Legedu Naanee (Boise State).

—Another player who teams need to take a flier on is Notre Dame WR Jeff Samardzija.  Samardzija had 78 catches, 1017 yards with a 13.0 avg and 12 TD’s in 2006 and reminds me of Joe Jurevicius.  Though he signed with the Cubs to play baseball, including a clause not to play football, I believe he will be back at some time.  Remember how well Chad Hutchinson and Drew Henson played in the minors.  Henson was taken by the Texans in the 6th round in 2003 just to trade his rights, which they did to Dallas for a 3rd round pick in 2005. 

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NFL Great Marshall Faulk Announces his Retirement

I wanted to take a moment to pay homage to one of the greatest running backs in my opinion, Marshall Faulk. Faulk decided yesterday to walk away from the game, because all the years of knee and ankle twisting, swerving, and darting on indoor surfaces caught up with his degenerative knee. The ride for the New Orleans native, who came of age at San Diego State and became a household name for the St. Louis Rams during their Super Bowl runs in 2001 and 2003 is over. His career which spanned 12 NFL seasons, 176 games, 2836 carries for 12,279 yards rushing w/ 100 TD’s and 767 catches for 6875 yards w/36 TD’s defied many experts who thought he was a flash in the pan as a spectacular freshman in 1992 (finished 2nd in the Heisman Balloting, tell Ty to mail the award, which you deserved). Faulk electrified NFL and college crowds with moves not seen since the great Gale Sayers. My greatest compliment that I can pay Faulk is that he was a “complete back” who redefined the running back position in the NFL. To me he is the forefather of current NFL superstars LaDanian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook and Reggie Bush. He could beat a defense lining up in the slot as a receiver, taking handoffs using his cut back ability and speed or getting to the edge on tosses and screens. An underrated but also quality part of his game was picking up blitzes in protection of quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner.

Known as one of the smartest players in the game starting from his work with his former running back coach at San Diego State current Saints Head Coach Sean Peyton, Faulk understood the X’s and O’s of the game. Many people will talk about Super Bowl XXXIV where Faulk only had 17 yards rushing on 10 carries, but proved valuable blocking and catching 5 balls for 90 yards as the Rams proved their toughness overcoming the hard charging Titans. But the game the epitomized his smarts, toughness, and ability to carry a team was the NFC Championship game in 200l unfortunately against my beloved Philadelphia Eagles. In the game which the Rams ending up winning 29-24, they went in at halftime with a slim lead and it was Faulk that took over from there. He convinced Ram’s Head Coach Dick Vermeil and Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz to abandon their “Greatest Show on Turf” passing attack and go with a “Body Blow” ground oriented attack at the Eagles smallish defensive line. The Rams responded by holding the ball for over 10 minutes starting the 3rd quarter and scoring a deflating touchdown on the ground. Faulk finished with 31 rushes for 159 yards and 2 touchdowns and the Rams had over 200 yards rushing with a substantial edge in time of possession. That is why to me he is up there with the great Walter Payton as one of the most complete backs in NFL history. Faulk will continue his work on the NFL Network and we wish him all the best in the future.

Goodell to Get Tough at Next Week’s League Meetings

With next week’s NFL league meetings approaching in Phoenix, Arizona, I wanted to take a moment to salute NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The Commish, who has established a tough hands-on approach in less than a year in office, is agitated about the NFL’s recent off the field image due to player misconduct and he is now taking steps to make significant changes in the leagues personal conduct policies next week. He and NFLPA head player rep Troy Vincent are stepping up their efforts to make these changes, because they and everyone else know that the league is the number #1 sports entity in existence today in terms of popularity and television and they want to keep it that way. Remember the NFL is not the NBA for goodness sakes and we want to keep it that way. I definitely believe Goodell, Vincent, and the overwhelming group of “good” players will take the necessary steps needed to teach violators like Titans Corner Adam “Pacman” Jones, the “jailblazing” Cincinnati Bengals (9 offenses in 2006) and other players that have run amuck that enough is enough. Forget the hard to document and rule on “3 Strikes and your out” proposal, let the Commissioner, NFLPA, and the active players decide collectively on how to curb these “black-eye” episodes.

It was reported on SI.com that the “Big Man” is even considering slapping Jones with a yearlong suspension after his latest run-in with the law at a Las Vegas strip club during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend (I bet you are listening now PACMAN). Rich Mc-Kay, Falcons GM and co-chairman of the league’s competition committee offered his views when he said “The players we met with in Indianapolis were very interested, as was the union, in pursuing a modification to our current policy”. He added, “We’re all concerned with the things that go on off the field and how the actions of a few may affect many (players)”.

Along with toughening the Personal Conduct Policy, owners and league executives will also being addressing some others league issues and rules at the meetings.

  • Revenue Sharing – This issue stems from the CBA signing last year. The owners agreed to expanded revenue sharing with the NFL’s richest franchises feeding a pool funds to help out the poorest ones. A committee of eight owners and league executives was formed to come up with qualifiers to help determine who deserves revenue help and how much they should get.
  • Competition Rulings – The competition committee will present several rule-change proposals to the ownership for a vote.
    • Moving overtime kickoffs from the 30- to the 35-yard line (Since 1998 the team that has won the coin toss in overtime has won nearly 63 percent of the games)
    • Allowing a defensive player to wear a radio helmet identical to the one quarterbacks use.
    • A 5-yard penalty for spiking or throwing the ball on the field of play. With end-zone spikes after touchdowns still allowed
    • The permanent adoption of instant replay. The league approved it for 5 years in 2004. By adopting it permanently, the league could invest money to buy and refurbish all of its instant-replay equipment including going high-definition.
    • A revision of the injury-reporting system – The “ Patriot Rule”: They have been the worst offenders among teams turning in current injury reports, often listing as many as 30 players as “questionable” on their weekly injury list. The proposal would have teams just give a practice status for injured players on Wednesday and Thursday and not list them as probable, questionable, doubtful or out until Friday.
    • The competition committee also will propose a second interview window for coaches during the playoffs. Today, a team with a head-coaching vacancy can interview a playoff assistant only before its first postseason game, then not again until the candidate’s team is out of the playoffs. The new proposal would permit a second interview after the conference championship games and before the Super Bowl.

    Lloyd’s Leftovers

    • Vote of Confidence for Upshaw – Gene Upshaw was unanimously reelected for his ninth consecutive three-year term as executive director of the NFL Players Association by a 62-member board of player representatives, meeting in Wailea, Hawaii. Upshaw, 61, was first elected to the position in 1982 after his playing career ended. Now please get to work on keeping the retirees happy. The piece I saw on HBO Real Sports broke my heart, because these guys paved the way for today’s players and some have serious medical issues that they are fighting.
    • Welcome Back Big Red – Eagles head coach Andy Reid will resume his duties on March 23rd after taking an NFL coaching first non-medical leave of absence last month to deal with the aftermath of his sons’ arrests. Reid did the right thing in getting his “family business” straight and dealing with his son’s issues stemming from separate traffic incidents on January 30th.  Reid missed the NFL scouting combine which was no big deal, because he met or spoke on the phone with his staff regularly during his hiatus. I just ask that the big guy address the linebacking position when he gets a chance.
    • Falcons Cash in their Chip – The Falcons are finally shipping backup quarterback Matt Schaub to the Houston Texans. Atlanta and Houston will flip-flop first-round picks in the 2007 NFL Draft with Atlanta moving from # 10 to #8. They also will receive the Texans’ second-round picks in 2007 and 2008. I love this deal because everyone knew that the Falcons and their owner were not getting rid of mercurial, but enigmatic starting quarterback Michael Vick. Kudos to GM Rich McKay for finding a willing partner to “fleece” into taking a spare part player. They were going to lose Schaub after the 2007 season anyway, because he currently was signed to a 1 year restricted free agent deal and they would had have to “franchise” him in order to keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent after the season. The Texans then signed Schaub to a six-year, $48 million deal thus basically ending their relationship with former #1 draft pick David Carr.  The Texans say they will try to trade Carr, but I doubt teams will give more than a 6th or 7th round pick due to his large contract.  The Texans can thank former GM Charlie Casserly for re-signing Carr to such a large deal last year which included an 8 Million Dollar signing bonus.

To Convert or Not Convert

As the NFL Draft approaches many recognizable and successful college quarterbacks are confronted with the decision to stick with the quarterback position or convert to another position to have a chance to play in the NFL. “Are you willing to play another position to make our team?” is the question evaluators ask conversion candidates at the combine and Senior Bowl. For many quarterbacks this is a hard decision, because many have played the position since Pop Warner and they are used to being under center.

The quarterback position in my opinion is the most scrutinized position in sports in terms of measurables (fairly and unfairly). NFL personnel staffs tend to believe quarterbacks must be over 6’2, weigh at least 200 Pounds to take the constant pounding, be able to throw a minimum of 70 yards, score high on the Wonderlic test, run a 4.8 or better to avoid the rush and be a 60% accurate passer. That is a lot for an individual to have in one package, especially for a quarterback making the jump from college to the “fast” NFL game. The quarterbacks that do not fall into the classic categories tend to be called non-traditional quarterbacks, running quarterbacks, and “athletes”. I call it the “Antwaan Randle El” effect. Randle El was considered too small and lacking the arm strength needed to be an every down quarterback at the NFL level coming out of Indiana in 2002. Scouts said of him and other past non-traditional quarterbacks “He tends to float deep passes and lacks the pinpoint accuracy needed for the NFL game”. He however possessed tremendous speed and agility that equated to electrifying moves. As displayed at the combine and in Senior Bowl practices his ability to run the forty in 4.5 seconds and maneuver the cone drills with ease caused everyone to want to find a place for him on their roster as a 3rd down receiver, return man, and emergency quarterback. The Steelers picked him in the 2nd round as a wide receiver and his quarterback experience allowed the Steelers to use him as a passer in a variety of trick plays, most notably a game-clinching 43-yard fake reverse touchdown pass to Hines Ward in Super Bowl XL.

The conversion question has been asked of draft prospects for a long time. It does not matter if you are a Heisman Trophy winner (Eric Crouch) or an undrafted free agent type (Woodrow Dantzler) if your measurables are not deemed NFL caliber, decisions must be made. There are three approaches college quarterbacks tend to take when asked to convert positions in the NFL Draft:

(Quarterback Only) – “I am a quarterback and that is the only position that I have ever played and I am not converting”. These individuals want to show the NFL evaluators that they are wrong about their abilities. Each quarterback in this category has their own reasons why they believe they can play quarterback in the NFL and scouts will not change their mind. Sometimes this mentality works to a quarterback’s advantage (Rich Gannon – Developed into a MVP QB) or backfires (Major Harris – Drafted in 11th Round in 1989 and went to CFL for a short stint). This quarterback typically will go late in the draft (5th Rd or later) or go undrafted. If they are undrafted a long road awaits proving themselves in an NFL training camp, NFL Europe or in another league (CFL or AFL). 

(Give me a chance) – “Give me a chance to try quarterback first and if it doesn’t workout then I will try to help the team in other ways”. This is the route that I believe coaches love, because they see that the player wants to compete, but has the “Team First” attitude if quarterback does not work out. Brad Smith was my #1 dual threat quarterback from the 2006 NFL Draft with over 3,000 yards rushing and passing in his career at Missouri. Selected by the New York Jets in the 4th round, head coach Eric Mangini dreamed up a variety of ways to use Smith including quarterback. In preseason Smith led the third stringers as quarterback, but he also took turns on special teams and as a backup WR. He became the ultimate “wildcard” for the Jets during the 2006 season showing up on trick plays, kickoffs, and WR where he showed good hands and a penchant for blocking. Currently listed as the Jets 3rd string quarterback, Smith will continue to help his team where asked, but still will receive the opportunity to try quarterback  

(I know my “Role” and it is not at QB) – Quarterbacks who know immediately that they will not be a NFL quarterback and prepare to move to another position as soon as their college career ends or during their senior year. Usually these are quarterbacks, who are runners first and passers a distant second (Scott Frost). They may come from an option-oriented attack that did not emphasis the pass. With more pro-style offenses in college you are seeing less of these “3rd Running Back” type quarterbacks. In Frost’s case he was a rare 1,000-yard passing and rushing quarterback in the same season. He however completed only about 40% of his passes and was more effective as a bruising runner than as a passer. By the scouting combine, Frost swallowed his pride as a National Champion quarterback and worked out exclusively at defensive back and running back. He showed at the combine that he understood his role and his athleticism was right with the rest of the competitors at those positions. When the Jets drafted him late in draft, he and the team knew he would be a solid defensive back due to his physical nature, positive mental outlook, and speed/agility that he showed at the combine.

This year’s draft class features some players who played quarterback at one time in college and may need to think about playing another position to make it in the NFL. They include Reggie Ball (Georgia Tech), Paul Thompson (Oklahoma), Syvelle Newton (South Carolina), CJ Gaddis (Clemson), Isiah Stanback (Washington), Chansi Stuckey (Clemson), Omarr Conner (Mississippi State), and my number 1 conversion candidate Legedu Naanee (Boise State). Naanee (6’2, 225) was a little used backup quarterback at Boise State, who knew he wanted to go to the next level. He volunteered in 2006 to be the blocking WR and “Ace” on special teams for the Fiesta Bowl champs. With his strong showing at the combine (40 inch vertical and 4.41 in the forty) and his “can do attitude” I am sure there will be a place in the NFL for him.

Historical Note: Many former outstanding African American college quarterbacks were not given an opportunity to play the quarterback position in the NFL. Unfortunately there was a time when black quarterbacks were automatically converted to another position based solely on stereotypes regarding the leadership and intelligence capabilities of black quarterbacks (Definitely read the book “3rd and Mile” for more). I hope that in today’s NFL this is a “non-issue” and that a quarterback is asked to convert based only on their ability. Michael Vick is a prime example he could easily play wide receiver or defensive back with his speed, however he is now given the opportunity to develop at quarterback position. He and others like Donovan McNabb and Vince Young have proven that their abilities equate to wins on the field.

Russell Shines in Workout

Potential first overall pick of the upcoming 2007 NFL Draft, LSU Quarterback JaMarcus Russell put on a quality workout session that by all indications solidified his draft position.  A multitude of over 100 NFL coaches, executives, personnel evaluators, and others jammed the LSU indoor practice facility to get a first hand look at the NFL’s latest version of the “modern qb”.  The workout (dissection) definitely felt like last year’s “show me something” intrigue of Vince Young at Texas’ Pro Day.  Russell, who left LSU early as a redshirt junior looked like he has been doing some quality preparation in Arizona working out at the Athletic Performance facility with guys like USC WR Dwayne Jarrett.  His weight always a sticking point with evaluators was good as he measured in at 6’6 and 256 pounds, which was down 9 pounds from his combine weight of 265.   His weight has been maintained by working with a nutritionist as well in Arizona, who has him dining on fish and vegetables.

Russell’s activities consisted of throwing about 50 passes to his familiar LSU targets of Dwayne “Baby T.O” Bowe and Craig Davis, who both have a chance of being Day 1 picks.  Russell’s extraordinary arm was on display as he hit all of his throws to the sidelines and dropped several deep throws of 70 yards or more easily into receiver’s hands.  Russell’s arm strength was never really in question, as some have compared his arm to Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway.  I literally think he can throw a ball through a “brick wall”!  The crowd however wanted to see his footwork and agility and Russell came to impress clocking a 4.8 second forty time and looking very good in his 3, 5, and 7 step drops.  Russell as any competitive person thought he could have done better and said “On some of the routes, I could’ve been better balanced when I was throwing,” he said. “I could’ve thrown over the top a lot more.”

One very interested bystander was new Oakland Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin.  Kiffin’s intrigue was not big news, because the Raiders own the first overall pick after winning only 2 games including losing their last nine in 2006.  They seem to be now committed to finding a leader at the quarterback position after stopgap types like Aaron Brooks, Kerry Collins, and Jeff George have not fit the bill over the years.  It would also seem with their extensive history of getting “vertical” that the big armed Russell would fit right into a gapping hole in their lineup.  Kiffin tried to be coy, but he was obviously impressed with Russell’s athleticism and leadership potential.  He went on to say, “Obviously, I’m very impressed, We were very impressed. He had a great day. He seems very first class.”  He also added “There’s a chance we’ll take him”, which seems like a no-brainer but there is slight chance for a trade.  Several NFL sources have indicated that the Browns upper management wants a franchise quarterback and it is no secret that Browns GM Phil Savage is a fan of Russell and may want to move up from his current 3rd overall position.  The Raiders did get an early start on the competition as it was reported that their contingent was spotted having dinner with Russell and his representatives after the workout.  It is a good thing that they started talking, as Russell is expected to get a contract above 2005 NFL first overall pick 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, who signed for $49.5 million over six years, including $24 million of guaranteed.
 
To me all of the fanfare around Russell is warranted, because he has the on the field credentials at LSU that matter in player evaluation.  He has the aforementioned arm strength (80 yards plus with a great fastball) and better mobility than most give him credit for.  He was 25-4 as a starter and he led eight 4th quarter comeback victories. He was the nation’s No. 3-ranked quarterback in passing efficiency in 2006 while setting a school record for completion percentage at 67.8 percent and for completions with 232 out of 342 attempts and tying the record for touchdown passes at 28. He became only the second quarterback in LSU history to throw for 3,000 yards with 3,129 and finished with 6,525 yards and 52 touchdowns in three seasons (two as a starter). To me he solidified his place at the top of the draft board by clearly out playing Notre Dame “golden boy” QB Brady Quinn in the 2007 Sugar Bowl, throwing for an amazing 332 yards and two touchdowns in the Tigers’ 41-14 rout.  In terms of his leadership potential and ability, he reminds me of Super Bowl XXII MVP and former Redskins quarterback Doug Williams.

Free Agency 101

Remember “Edgerrin James”, all you fans out there with dreams of signing a player and moving onto the Super Bowl.  James last year’s “big” free agent left Indianapolis and signed with the presumed “ascending” Arizona Cardinals.  The signing was supposed to be a big blow to the Colts and a huge signing for the Cardinals.  Well Edge struggled in Arizona behind an awful line and the Cardinals only won 5 games and Head Coach Dennis Green was fired at the end of the season.  Meanwhile the Colts behind a strong running tandem of rookie Joseph Addai and Domminick Rhodes churned their way to a Super Bowl title.  I always like to tell fans, “Good teams fill weaknesses on their roster with solid veteran players and draft picks and bad ones (Redskins) try to make a splash with free agents and usually fall apart”.

Timeframe: Began at 12:01 a.m. EST on Friday, March 2 and runs to April 20 4 PM EST for unrestricted free agents

Salary Cap Information: The salary cap this year has been set for $109 million per club, which 27% higher than it was two years ago.  Remember TV and the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) have dictated the large pot of money that is out there.  Most of the teams are in good shape going into the free agency signing period due to good cap management.   Solid teams usually make good cap decisions (Cutting of high priced veterans, extending young ascending players, and signing value veterans at the league minimum: $750,000), because of the CBA’s uncertainty before the 2006 season.  Teams with plenty of cap room (signing dollars) include: 49ers ($42 million), Titans ($36 million), Jaguars ($31 million), and Browns ($30 Million).

Number of Free Agents: The National Football League announced that 448 players are free agents of some kind and they can now negotiate with all 32 clubs. That number included 6 free agents that were designated as “franchise” players.

Key Terms:

Restricted Free Agent – A player that has accrued three seasons of playing time and their contract has expired.  The player’s club must submit a “qualifying” offer (a salary level predetermined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players). The player can negotiate with any club through April 20. If the restricted free agent accepts an offer sheet from a new club, his old club can match the offer and retain him because it has the “right of first refusal.” If the old club does not match the offer, it can possibly receive draft-choice compensation depending on the amount of its qualifying offer. If an offer sheet is not executed, the player’s rights revert to his old club after April 20.  These are guys that usually have trade value and their team will only let them go at their price (ex. The Eagles trading restricted free agent quarterback AJ Feeley to the Miami Dolphins for a 2nd Round pick in 2005)

Atlanta QB Matt Schaub, Tendered w/ 1st & 3rd Round Compensation
Dallas LB Ryan Fowler, Tendered w/ Right to Match
Kansas City K Lawrence Tynes, Tendered w/ Right to Match
Miami WR Wes Welker, Tendered w/ 2nd Round Compensation 
New England DB Randall Gay, Tendered w/ 2nd Round Compensation 
Pittsburgh T Max Starks, Tendered w/ 1st Round Compensation
San Diego Michael Turner, Tendered w/ 1st & 3rd Round Compensation
Seattle DB Jordan Babineaux, Tendered w/ 2nd Round Compensation
Seattle T Sean Locklear, Tendered w/ 1st Round Compensation

Unrestricted Free Agent – A player with four or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired. He is free to sign with any club, with no compensation owed to his old club, through July 22.  These are the guys that should be thanking Reggie White, a key marquee player who took advantage of free agency and was a huge signee in 1993 signing with the Green Bay Packers. Over 300 players have this designation.  Some of the bigger names are listed below:

Baltimore LB Addalius Thomas
Buffalo CB Nate Clements
Philadelphia WR Donte Stallworth
Philadelphia QB Jeff Garcia
Indianapolis RB Domminick Rhodes
Tennessee WR Drew Bennett
St. Louis WR Kevin Curtis

Transition Player – A club can designate one transition player (or one franchise player) in any given year. The player’s club must offer a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of last season at the player’s position or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. A transition player designation gives the club a first-refusal right to match within seven days an offer sheet given to the player by another club after his contract expires. If the club matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no compensation. 

  • No transition players were named this year.

Non-Exclusive Franchise Player – A club can designate one franchise player in any given year as a “Non-Exclusive Franchise” player. The salary level offered by the designating club determines whether the player is an Exclusive or Non-Exclusive franchise player. A “Non-Exclusive” franchise player is free to sign with other clubs, but his team has the right to match the offer after 7 days.  These type of players are offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of April.  The deadline for making these designations for 2007 was Feb. 22.

  • No Non-exclusive Franchise Players were named this year.

Exclusive Franchise Player – A club can designate one franchise player in any given year as an “Exclusive Franchise” player. The salary level offered by the designating club determines whether the player is an Exclusive or Non-Exclusive franchise player. An “exclusive” franchise player is not free to sign with another club.  These type of players are offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position as of April.  Some clubs use the tag as a way to initiate talks for a long-term contract, but usually players and their agents that are designated as exclusive franchise players are extremely unhappy and can cause distractions.  Their angst is due to the loss of an “upfront” signing bonus (guaranteed $$$).  Though they will be paid at the highest level of their position, players typically want the big payday that comes with being a free agent.  In the past we have seen franchised players miss all non-mandatory off season training activities and report late or holdout of training camp (ex. Seattle Seahawks Offensive Tackle Walter Jones in 2004 & 2005). The deadline for making these designations for 2007 was Feb. 22. 

2007 “Exclusive” Franchise Designated Players

Chicago LB Lance Briggs
Seattle K Josh Brown
Indianapolis DE Dwight Freeney
New Orleans DE Charles Grant
Detroit DT Cory Redding
New England CB Asante Samuel
Cincinnati DE Justin Smith

2007 Combine Review

Now that the weighing, timing, questioning, reviewing of injuries and backgrounds is over for the NFL Combine, we have some observations, news, and notes from the 2007 Event.

High Participation – The 2007 Combine again marked an upswing in highly valued players participating.  Agents must have had players’ ears to come and work out, because in the past players considered already Top 10 picks in the past did not work out.  This season’s edition had high profile players that came to Indianapolis and wanted to compete including: Laron Landry, Calvin Johnson, Gaines Adams, Adrian Peterson, Greg Olsen, and others.  Of course there were exceptions like Brady Quinn, JaMarcus Russell, Ted Ginn Jr, and others that chose to do interviews only and wait for their Pro Days to show off their exploits.  Remember though the main thing is to be invited and go to the combine, because 85% of the players of the drafted in 2006 were combine players.

Event Risers – These were players that we believe increased their value in the Combine.

  • WR Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech: The absolute star the combine, he looked very chiseled at 239 pounds and turned in a forty time of 4.35 seconds.  The amazing thing was he had to borrow someone else’s shoes because at first he was going to skip working out.  Also was very charismatic and showed good leadership qualities in interviews.
  • S LaRon Landry, LSU: My number 1 prospect again separated himself from the rest of the pack.  Landry is a tremendous athlete who I have been following since he was a high school quarterback.  He clocked in with two 4.4 forty’s and weighed in at a robust 220 pounds.  In the cone and position drills he also displayed the fluid hips and feet that coaches are looking for in DB’s.
  • ILB Patrick Willis, Mississippi: After an up and down showing at the Senior Bowl, my number one inside LB impressed.  Willis ran faster than expected clocking a 4.5 in the forty.  He also looked the part weighing at 242 pounds and producing 22 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench.
  • CB Leon Hall, Michigan: After flaming out at the Senior Bowl all eyes were on Hall.  He knew the pressure was on and he didn’t disappoint.  Hall ran two 4.4 forties and showed the footwork in the shuttle and position drills that we all knew he had before his hiccup in Mobile.  Hall now is back in Top 20 and maybe the next Wolverine CB drafted in the 1st round following in the footsteps of Ty Law and Charles Woodson.
  • WR Anthony Gonzalez, Ohio State: With everyone speculating whether QB Troy Smith could make it in the NFL the forgot about his “go to guy” Gonzalez.  He ran well, clocking a 4.39 in the forty and showed the best hands and routes of the WR bunch.  He wanted it and it showed with him diving for balls and making sure to run through all the drills into the end zone.  He now looks like a possible Day 1 player and a steal for a team looking for a guy to move the chains.
  • TE Greg Olsen, Miami: My number one TE and he showed in Indy why everyone wants this “Todd Heap” clone.  He made a definitive statement running an incredible 4.5 in the forty.  He may not have Vernon Davis’ 4.38 speed at this point, but he impressed me with the most fluid hands I’ve seen on a TE draft prospect since Tony Gonzalez.

Event Maintainers – These were players that we believe were solid and did not hurt their value at the Combine.

  • WR Dwayne Bowe, LSU: Continuing on his impressive showing from the Senior Bowl, “baby T.O” had a fine showing.  He ran a solid forty 4.5 range and showed great hands in the pass catching drills and was very fluid in the cone drills.  May have done enough to get in the 1st round.
  • LB Paul Posluzny, Penn State: The Two Time Butkus Award winner needed to have a good showing after a solid Senior Season.  Posluzny who came back from a bad knee injury in the 2006 Orange Bowl passed all of his physicals with flying colors.  He was a great interview in his sessions and showed on the field that he is back clocking in at 4.5 in the forty and looking good in the re-direction drills.
  • FB/RB Brian Leonard, Rutgers:  Trying to show everyone that he can be an effective combo or “big” back in the NFL, Leonard again impressed.  He showed that he can play at the next level by clocking a solid 4.4 to 4.5 in the Forty and catching the ball very fluidly with his hands.  Also showed great footwork and effort in his positional drills.
  • DE Gaines Adams, Clemson: We knew he was a player from the tape, but Adams wanted everyone to know it by not shying away from the combine like other past defensive linemen candidates.  He stole the show, running the forty in 4.7 second range and standing out in all of the defensive line drills.  He was so explosive that some scouts wanted to see him in linebacker drills and he looked good there too. A definite Top 10 player.

Event Crashers – These were players that we believe hurt their value at the Combine and will need to make up ground going into the draft.

  • CB Daymeion Hughes, Cal: Going into the combine everyone wanted to see if Hughes had the speed to play at the next level.  Unfortunately for Hughes he ran a pedestrian 4.7 in the forty. His time will now make scouts and evaluators look at him as a “zone” corner at best and may have pushed him into Day 2 status.
  • QB/WR Reggie Ball, Georgia Tech: The next “Slash” showed that he is not athletic enough to make the transition from college quarterback to pro receiver.  His drills showed that he lacks ideal foot speed (4.8) to be a true conversion candidate.  He did try to redeem himself from some early drops, but his best bet maybe in the AFL or CFL as a developmental type.
  • OLB KaMichael Hall, Georgia Tech: Looking to play as an undersized OLB (230 pounds), Hall needed to show he had the speed to be a coverage player.  Unfortunately for Hall he looked stiff in drills and clocked a slow time of 4.8 seconds in the forty.
  • DE Quentin Moses, Georgia: After being “manhandled” in drills at the Senior Bowl, Moses wanted to impress.  He arrived at Indy 12 pounds heavier than in Mobile tipping the scales at 261 pounds. Unfortunately the weight change didn’t do much as he ran a 4.9 forty and showed awful hands in pass catching drills.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

  • Speed again shines on Indy’s “fast” track.  Yamon Figurs a little known WR from Kansas State was officially listed as the fastest player at the 2007 combine. He clocked in under 4.3 seconds in his forty. Other speedy players were Calvin Johnson (4.35), Arizona RB Chris Henry (4.33), Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson (4.38) and Chris Houston (4.32).  Can we please setup these guys to compete with Falcons CB DeAngelo Hall and Texan KR Jerome Mathis in the NFL Fastest Man competition.
  • How Awesome is NFL Network !! – Again NFL Network brought the combine to the masses by providing 26 Hours of original programming of the event and all 300 hopefuls.  I could listen to Coach Vermeil and the crew for hours and I appreciated their insight/perspective of the event and players past and present.  And who knows more than their guru Mike Mayock, the answer is no one, not even yours truly (Sorry Mel). 
  • WR’s are Deep – The deepest position in the 2007 draft class seems to be the WRs.  I expect several of these young men to be gone on Day 1.  The combine group was led by Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith (USC), Jason Hill (Washington State), Steve Breaston (Michigan), Johnnie Lee Higgins of UTEP, and Chris Davis of Florida State.
  • A QB no more – Every year there are several former college qb’s who know they need to find another position to make it in the NFL.  This year’s class features the aforementioned Reggie Ball, Syvelle Newton (Mississippi State), Chansi Stuckey (Clemson) and my number 1 conversion candidate Legedu Naanee (Boise State).  Naanee (6’2, 225) was a little used backup quarterback at Boise State, who knew he wanted to go to the next level.  He volunteered in 2006 to be the blocking WR and “Ace” on special teams for the Fiesta Bowl champs.  With his strong showing in Indy (40 inch vertical and 4.41 in the forty) and his “can do attitude” I am sure there will be place in the NFL for him.
  • I would love to see a 225 bench press lifting contest head to head of this year’s champ the aptly named Tank Tyler of NC State (42 Reps), 2006 Champ and Steelers LB Mike Kudla (45 Reps) and current Pro Bowl champ Larry Allen.  Of course we would need loud mouth Arizona Cardinals Strength and Conditioning Coach John Lott as the moderator – “Come on Meat, HUP, HUP!!”.

That is a wrap and BIGPLAY will definitely be there next year to cover the Combine, which is now a major happening as seen by the over 300 credentials handed out this year.