2008 NFL Draft – Mock Draft v1.0

By Lloyd Vance, BIGPLAY Football Draft “Guru” / Senior NFL Writer

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Unlike many draft prognosticators who seem to just make their picks out of thin air, I like to wait until after attending the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, talking with key NFL talent evaluators and letting Free Agency play out 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. Miami Dolphins — Jake Long, OT, Michigan

Record: 1-15 | Needs: OL, QB, CB, DT, LB

No matter what anyone wants to sell you on, Parcels and his boys will make this pick — sure they will listen to offers but in the end they won’t get their asking price.  The last time we saw a move with the first overall pick it was four years ago as Eli Manning changed hands on draft day.  Luckily for the ‘Phins they have the solid triumphant of high character Senior leadership players to choose from in QB Matt Ryan, OT Jake Long, and DE Chris Long. I do believe that Dolphins like Ryan and Chris Long, but Parcels likes to have a franchise tackle to build around — in the past with the Giants the Tuna grabbed Jimbo Elliott from Michigan and now it will be Jake Long’s turn.  Long (6’7, 315) was a unanimous All-Big Ten Conference first-team pick while serving as team captain for the second consecutive season, starting all thirteen games at left offensive tackle, and producing 119 knockdowns. The Tuna and the Dolphins have been very active in free agency reshaping their unit, but there is still a big hole at the offensive tackle position.  With John Beck or Josh McCown filling the role of the veteran “Vinny” type quarterback, Jake Long will be their escort.  Remember this road-grader only allow two sacks his whole career at Michigan.

2. St. Louis Rams — Chris Long, DE, Virginia

Record: 3-13 | Needs: DE, OT, CB, OLB, WR

With the Rams trying to rebuild a defense that has had problems stopping other teams this pick makes sense.  Sure Glenn Dorsey, Sedrick Ellis, and Gholston could be tempting here, but the team has made too many mistakes in the past on the front four (See Jimmy Kennedy) not to go with a high-character player like Long. Howie’s son is an almost clone of last year’s pick Adam Carriker (smart, big, leadership ability).  In 2007, ranked 3rd in the nation with fourteen sacks for minus 122 yards in thirteen starts playing as his team’s captain at the right defensive end position.  By adding Chris Long (6’4, 275) to Carriker and speedy DE Leonard Little, the Rams defense will have the energy and versatility needed to help their secondary, especially 2006 first rounder Tye Hill make plays.

3. Atlanta Falcons — Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College

Record: 4-12 | Needs: QB, OT, LB, S, CB

This should be the biggest no-brainer of the first five picks as the Falcons have a glaring need at quarterback and Ryan is the obvious number one signal caller in this year’s class.  Though Ryan (6’5. 224) needs to cut down on his interceptions (19 in 2007), he is the leadership type player that new GM Tom Domitroff — former New England front office guy that saw many BC games — and new head coach Mike Smith need in the post Michael Vick era. The Philadelphia suburbs kid in ’07 at BC averaged 321.93 yards per game finishing with 4,507 yards passing while setting school season-records for completions 388-of-654 (59.3%) and touchdowns (31).  With Ryan’s high character and leadership abilities this is the safest pick for an organization that needs a new beginning.  In his private workout he completed 48 of 50 passes. 

4. Oakland Raiders — Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas

Record: 4-12 | Needs: OT, DT, TE, RB, WR

The affinity of the Raiders and Cowboys of McFadden (6’2, 210) has been this draft’s biggest non-secret.  Al Davis in looking for game-breaking skills will look to grab the former two-time heisman runner-up.  McFadden has all the makings of last year’s yard-churning Rookie of the Year Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  The former Arkansas star ran a blazing 4.33 seconds in the forty at the combine after leading the SEC in rushing with a 140.77 yards per game average while setting a school season-record with 1,830 yards and sixteen touchdowns.  McFadden is a home run threat and should team with the recently signed Justin Fargas and ’07 pick Michael Bush to form a formidable one-two-three punch.  Look for the Raiders to try and move current backs Dominic Rhodes and LaMont Jordan because they no longer will be in their plans. The only thing to watch for his a blockbuster trade where Cowboys owner and Arkansas alum Jerry Jones makes a move to grab McFadden by dealing his 22nd and 28th picks to his old friend Al Davis. 

5. Kansas City Chiefs — Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State

Record: 4-12 | Needs: LT, G, CB, DE, S

With the retirements of perennial Pro Bowlers Guard Will Shields and Tackle Willie Roaf in recent years, the Chiefs’ number one priority is solidifying their offensive line. Unfortunately for them Jake Long will be long gone by the fifth pick, so Herman Edwards and Carl Peterson will go with the next O-lineman on the board in Clady (6’6, 316).  The former Boise State road-grader is a boom or bust prospect as there have been questions about his attitude and competition.  Was named Boise State’s second All-American while only being charged with six penalties, producing 122 knockdowns, and only allowing 3.5 sacks.  I believe he has the size and smarts to

learn the Chiefs new ground attack.  Look for Larry Johnson to get back on track running behind Clady and Pro Bowl Guard Brian Waters after an injury plagued ’07 season.

6. New York Jets — Vernon Gholston, OLB/DE, Ohio State

Record: 4-12 | Needs: NT, WR, LB, G, RB

With a glaring need for a running back, there is a chance that the Jets try and move up to grab McFadden or reach for any of the other talented junior RB’s.  I believe that Mangini will look to add another pass rusher for their attacking 3-4 system.  They already have new free agent Calvin Pace and Gholston (6’4, 258) should help in not allowing the big plays downfield that plagued the Jets in ’07.  The former Buckeye wowed the scouts at the combine with numbers of 4.67 in the forty and posting the top bench press  (37 reps at 225 pounds).  Obtained the only sack the Jake Long allowed this year while being named to the All-Big Ten Conference first-team finishing with a school season-record of fourteen sacks for minus 111 yards.

7. N.E. Patriots (from 5-11 San Francisco) — Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU

Record: 18-1 | Needs: LB, CB, DS, OL, RB

The Patriots probably would go for Gholston if he is on the board to rebuild their aging linebacking core, but they will have to settle for Dorsey (6’2, 316).  Much like Warren Sapp during his draft process, Dorsey has experienced going from being the consensus number one pick to move down boards due to red flags (injuries and didn’t workout at the combine).  However I believe that if the cat-quick DT is there, the Patriots will jump all over him.  He may not be the classic 3-4 defensive tackle, but look for Belichick to use him as an end and to move him around.  Despite double teams and illegal blocks that caused some leg problems, Dorsey managed to record 69 tackles (39 solos) with a career-high seven sacks for minus 45 yards and 12.5 stops for losses of 53 yards.  He should team with Rich Seymour and Vince Wilfork to form a great rotation upfront allowing for more plays from their linebackers and secondary. 

8. Baltimore Ravens — Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt

Record: 5-11 | Needs: QB, CB, LOT, ILB, DE/OLB

The ideal pick would be Matt Ryan, but they will need to move up to grab him.  Look for the Ravens to wait to find the quarterback of the future until later in the draft as they address the big hole left by the impending retirement of future Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden at left tackle.  Williams (6’6, 320) is known as a finesse much like Ravens ’06 pick Chris Chester and he will need to tap into his nasty streak plus get stronger at the point of attack.  But the All SEC lineman had impressive senior numbers of 12 starts at left tackle, 102 knockdowns, and allowing only one quarterback sack.

9. Cincinnati Bengals — Keith Rivers, LB, USC

Record: 7-9 | Needs: DT, TE, LB, OT, DE

With their choice between USC teammates Rivers and DT Sedrick Ellis, head coach Marvin Lewis will choose “the shark”.  Ever since troubled linebacker Odell Thurman has not been able to stay out of trouble, the Bengals linebacking crew has been in disarray.  Rivers — nicknamed “Shark” from the character played by Lawrence Taylor in the film “Any Given Sunday” — is the most athletic and playmaking linebacker in this draft and should provide a boost along with free agent signee DE Antwaan Odom to a defense that has lacked teeth recently. Rivers (6’2, 236) finished his All-American 2007 campaign with 13 games played, 78 tackles (44 solos), five stops for losses, three fumbles recoveries, and one forced fumble.

10. New Orleans Saints — Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC

Record: 6-9 | Needs: CB, LB, TE, DT, C

With the Saints putting a lot of dollars into the cornerback (Randall Gay), defensive end (Bobby McCray), and linebacker (traded for Jonathan Vilma) positions look for them to grab the best front seven defensive guy on the board.  With Hollis Thomas slowing down and DE Will Smith underachieving the D-Line needs an infusion of talent.  Ellis (6’1, 308) has risen up draft boards recently after solid showings at the Senior Bowl.  He has excellent strength and quickness, which should help in Sean Payton’s off-season overall of his defensive unit.  As a senior in 2007, started thirteen games at DT helping the Trojans rank fourth in the nation against the run (84.15 ypg).  Recorded a career-high 58 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for losses, and had two fumble recoveries.

11. Buffalo Bills — Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy

Record: 7-9 | Needs: CB, DT, LB, WR, TE

With Nate Clements leaving in ’07 for big free agency dollars there has been a strong need for a top flight cover corner in Buffalo.  With a choice between McKelvin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Aquib Talib, I believe that McKelvin (5’11, 190) will be the pick.  The silky smooth cover corner will provide an immediate lift to the Bills back four helping in the nickel and dime.  The All-Sun Belt Conference first-team choice started twelve games at left cornerback producing 60 tackles w/ 2.5 stops for loss, causing three fumbles, and 2 interceptions.  Also his high marks as kick returner will not hurt (Ranked fourth in the nation with 436 yards and three touch-downs on 25 punt returns (17.44 avg) and had a 23 yard average on kick returns). 

12. Denver Broncos — Kentwan Balmer, DT, North Carolina

Record: 7-9 | Needs: DT, OT, MLB, S, WR

With Long and Ellis long gone, the Broncos reach a little to bring in a much needed defensive tackle.  The former Tar Heel is a fast-rising prospect with very good size, power, and quickness. Balmer (6’5, 310) in 2007, started twelve games, had 59 tackles including 3.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss.  He should help in taking heat off of sack man Elvis Dumervil and push troubled ’07 draftee Marcus Thomas.  I heard many evaluators at the combine comparing the All-ACC second teamer to Patriots versatile D-lineman Richard Seymour.

13. Carolina Panthers — Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida

Record: 7-9 | Needs: OT, DE, WR, DS, DT

With the Panthers’ career of Julius Peppers looking like it will end soon, look for an upgrade on the D-Line.  Harvey (6’5, 252) will provide some of the versatility and disruptive skills that Peppers brought early in his career.  The stout Florida Gators defensive end is a more complete player than Broncos ’07 first round selection Jarvis Moss and should quickly emerge as an impact every-down two-way end.  The junior eligible started thirteen games at left defensive end position recording 49 tackles (31 solos), 8.5 sacks (fifth in SEC), 17 tackles for loss, causing one fumble, and deflecting five passes.

14. Chicago Bears — Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois

Record: 7-9 | Needs: QB, RB, OL, DT, S

Don’t be surprised if GM Jerry Angelo takes advantage of this year’s talented crop of running backs by selecting Mendenhal (5’11, 210) with this pick. Mendenhall is a natural fit, because he plays in the Bears backyard and he can provide more explosiveness and versatility than current starter Cedric Benson.  The All-Big Ten Conference first-teamer ranked eighth in the nation in rushing (129.31 ypg).  Had amazing final numbers of 13 games started with 1,681 yards (6.4 avg) and 17 touchdowns rushing and 34 receptions for 318 yards (9.4 avg) and two touchdowns.

15. Detroit Lions — Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tenn. St.

Record: 7-9 | Needs: OT, G, CB, S, DE

The Lions’ secondary was a major reason why the Lions limped home at the end of the ’07 season and Rodgers-Cromartie (6’2, 183) will be welcomed with open arms. The former TSU star is one of the fastest-rising prospects in the 2008 class. After an amazing week at the Senior Bowl where he displayed his speed, versatility, and athleticism, he went from a small-school product to a top 15 pick.  Started eleven games at left cornerback as a senior recording 37 tackles with two tackles for loss, recovering two fumbles, deflecting 11 passes, and 2 interceptions.  Also set the school season-record by blocking four kicks, ran back 33 kickoff for 806 yards, and played some offense. He experience at free safety and cornerback, which should definitely help one of the NFL’s weakest secondaries — remember the 56 points the Eagles hung on them in week 3.

16. Arizona Cardinals — Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas

Record: 8-8 | Needs: CB, OLB, TE, RB, DE

With making moves to retain all of their offensive fire power including receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals should concentrate on defense especially cornerback.  With some thought out there that Antrelle Rolle might be a better safety, the Cards will need a physical young corner like Talib (6’2, 202).  The junior eligible played in 10 games in 2007 finishing with numbers of 42 tackles with two tackles for a loss, six interceptions, and 22 passes defensed. The former Kansas Jayhawk is a big and fast (ran 4.4 at the combine) corner that should help provide better coverage in the Cardinals back four that allowed too many big plays in 2007.  A red flag to watch is that Talib was suspended 2 games for violating team rules in ’07.

17. Minnesota Vikings — Quentin Groves, DE, Auburn

Record: 8-8 | Needs: DE, S, WR, QB, TE

Believe it or not, Minnesota still is in the market for help at defensive end, despite investing first picks in the past on DE’s Kenechi Udeze (2004) and Erasmus James (2005).  After coming back to school after an All SEC junior season, Groves (6’3, 250) had some difficulty as a senior.   In ’07, he finished with 38 tackles, three sacks, seven tackles for a loss, and a SEC best 23 quarterback pressures.  After a good showing at his March 10th Pro Day, Groves seems to be back on track weighing in 10 pounds less than at the combine producing a 35-inch vertical jump, which was 5½-inches better than he did at the combine.

18. Houston Texans — Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida

Record: 8-8 | Needs: CB, RB, S, LOT, DE

The Texans have been looking for a partner for former first round selection Dunta Robinson for some time and Jenkins (6’0, 200) looks like a good fit.  The South Florida star is a man to man corner with size, speed, and athleticism.  Started thirteen games at right cornerback producing a career-high 41 tackles with four tackles for loss, twelve passes break-ups, and three interceptions.  Jenkins can also help wideout Andre Davis on kickoffs as he averaged an amazing 30.4 yards per kickoff with one touchdown.

19. Philadelphia Eagles — Jeff Otah, OT, Pittsburgh

Record: 8-8 | Needs: WR, S, OT, G

I know you want a receiver here Birds fans, but given the Eagles track record and their need to get younger at Offensive Tackle, you will have to wait until the second round for a pass catcher.  Stalwart bookend tackles Jon Runyan and William Thomas have been stellar for years, but they aren’t getting any younger.  Otah (6’6, 340) reminds me a lot of Eagles Pro Bowl Guard Shawn Andrews and Colts ’07 rookie sensation Tony Ugoh coming out of college.  The New Castle, Delaware native was an All-Big East Conference first-team selection starting twelve games at left offensive tackle while helping the offense average 141.4 yards rushing. Produced 101 knockdowns and committed only two penalties.  He needs to work on his conditioning, but there is no doubt that he has the ability to be a solid pro.  With O-line guru Juan Castille pushing him look for this big athletic player to push disappointing ’06 pick Winston Justice and add depth to an area that Andy Reid always loves to build up.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Malcolm Kelly, WR, Oklahoma

Record: 9-7 | Needs: WR, CB, RB, QB, LB

With his stable of quarterbacks (Simms, Garcia, McCown, Griese, and Gradkowski) a difference making receiver is needed.  Kelly (6’4, 218) should fit in well in the Bucs west coast offense.  He is a true big play receiver with the size of T.O, but possessing better speed (4.35 in the forty at the Combine) and less attitude.  The All-Big Twelve second-teamer started fourteen games at split end producing numbers of 49 receptions for 821 yards (16.8 avg) and nine touchdowns.  Amazingly the junior eligible receiver on thirty-six of his catches produced first downs. With Joey Galloway getting older and Michael Clayton underachieving this is a natural pick. Kelly should thrive in Gruden’s system, which needs a  young receiver to emerge.

21. Washington Redskins — Kenny Phillips, S, Miami

Record: 9-7 | Needs: S, DE, OT, CB, WR

In 2007, the Redskins suffered a tragic blow with the death of Sean Taylor.  After making an improbable run into the playoffs, a replacement is needed in their back two and I think they go back to the “U” for the guy.  In Phillips (6’2, 208) the ‘Skins can select a player who may not be as physical as Taylor,  but does possess some of the same playmaking ball skills of past Hurricane safeties Ed Reed, Brandon Merriweather, and Taylor.  The junior eligible was an All-ACC first-teamer was a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award while starting twelve games at free safety, producing a career-high 82 tackles with six stops for loss, causing three fumbles, and intercepting two passes.

22. Dallas Cowboys (from 10-6 Cleveland) — Limas Sweed, WR, Texas

Record: 13-3 | Needs: CB, WR, OT, RB, FS

Assuming owner Jerry Jones doesn’t package picks to trade up, expect Dallas to use its two picks to address needs at corner and receiver in the first round. With Jones’ favorite Darren McFadden long gone off the board look for the Cowboys to settle for Texas product Sweed (6’4, 212).  Much like former Cowboys great Michael Irvin, Sweed is a big physical receiver that should help ease the transition from older players T.O and Terry Glenn.  After being picked on everyone’s preseason All-American team, Sweed struggled with a nagging wrist injury.  He played in the team’s first six games of the season before a October 16th surgery finishing with a career-low nineteen catches for 306 yards (16.1 avg) and three touchdowns.  Teams will try and lean on his ’06 numbers of 46 receptions for 801 yards and 12 touchdowns.  But is he this year’s Bobby Meachem — Saints ’07 first round draftee that never made it on the field due to injury.

23. Pittsburgh Steelers — Branden Albert, T/G, Virginia

Record: 10-6 | Needs: OT, G, DE, WR, RB

With Alan Faneca leaving for the Jets and other glaring needs along their front group, look for the Steelers to select at least three offensive linemen in the draft. Albert (6’7, 315) is a massive player that could play either guard or tackle in the Steelers power running system.  The junior eligible has good feet, rare quickness, and a good initial punch with a play to the whistle mentality. An All-ACC pick for the past three seasons, Albert started straight 36 games since his freshman year. 

24. Tennessee Titans — DeSean Jackson, WR/KR, California

Record: 10-6 | Needs: WR, DE, DT, CB, C

Though they made the playoffs, it was evident that the Titans need a weapon on offense.  Brandon Jones was their number one by default without much behind him.  A young receiver needs to be added to help in Vince Young’s development.  Jackson is not big (5’10, 180) however he is a big play guy who will open the field up for the Titans other receivers.  Also Jackson can help out in the return game, which has suffered since the suspension of the CB Adam Pacman Jones.  In 2007, the junior eligible was a semi-finalist for the Biletnikoff Award even though a sprained left thumb suffered in the season opener against Tennessee nagged him.  Catch a career-high 65 passes for 762 yards (11.7 avg) and six touchdowns plus in the return game had 132 yards with a touchdown on kickoffs and a 10.8 yard average on punts with one touchdown.

25. Seattle Seahawks — Sam Baker, OT, USC

Record: 10-6 | Needs: OT, DT, RB, TE, G

Mike Holmgren believes in having the horses upfront so that his runners have many holes to choose from.  Baker (6’5, 308) is a versatile player  that should be able to fit in at any of the positions on the O-line.  I can see him finally filling the void left by the ’06 departure of Guard Steve Hutchinson and he can also provide valuable insurance to Pro Bowl tackle Walter Jones slowing down.  The stout USC product helped his offense average 434.9 yards per game in 2007 while producing 88 knockdowns and allowing only two sacks on 460 pass plays.

26. Jacksonville Jaguars — Gosder Cherilus, ROT, Boston College

Record: 11-5 | Needs: S, CB, OT, LB

Finally after years of being picked to make some noise in the AFC, the Jags finally put a good “run”.  Behind upstart quarterback David Garrard and a power running game led by a rejuvenated Fred Taylor and Mighty Might Maurice Jones-Drew the Jags were a tough wild card team beating the Steelers on the road.  With several moves already made in free agency (Jerry Porter, Troy Williamson, trading Marcus Stroud, and other moves) they will now look to the draft to continue building. For years the Jags have tried to fill a void at the tackle position with players like Bills retread Mike Williams and Cherilus (6’6, 314) should be an upgrade.  The huge Boston College O-lineman should help in continuing the Jags ball control prowess.  At his recent Pro Day he ran the forty in just over 5.00 seconds and reportedly looked very good in position drills.

27. San Diego Chargers — Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas

Record: 11-5 | Needs: ROT, RB, S, CB, DT

After a year where everyone thought they would take a step back after the firing of Marty Schottenheimer along with the hiring of Norv Turner, the Chargers may have not lived up to their 14-2 in ’06 record.  But they did make it to the AFC Championship game and won the AFC West after a slow start. With Michael Turner taking his speed to Atlanta as a free agent, the Chargers should find their new homerun threat with Jones (6’0, 200).  Despite only starting three games in 2007, he ranked fifth in the SEC in 89.38 yards per game rushing.  Had an amazing 1,990 all purpose yards on only 171 touches while ranking 22nd in the nation in the category. Finished second to Darren McFadden on the team with 1,162 yards on only 133 carries (8.7 avg) and eleven touchdowns. The mercurial speedster should have an immediate impact in the kick return game and provide a complement to LT.

28. Dallas Cowboys — Reggie Smith, CB, Oklahoma

Record: 13-3 | Needs: CB, WR, OT, RB, FS

With a receiver in hand at #22 look for Jerry Jones to help out his beleaguered secondary with his second first rounder – barring of course the usual Dallas wheeling and dealing.  Sure the ‘Boys are hoping to land Pacman Jones, but that is not a done deal and Smith can definitely help situation immediately.  Smith (6’1, 198) is a smooth cover corner that will help Terrence Newman and the slower safety combination of Hamlin and Williams.  In 2007, the junior eligible had 78 tackles, one sack, seven tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, and three interceptions.  He also did not allow a touchdown against in ’07.

29. S.F. 49ers (from Indianapolis) — James Hardy, WR, Indiana

Record: 5-11 | Needs: WR, OT, OLB, DE, QB

Think they want to rethink their trade up to grab Offensive tackle Joe Staley last year??  Anyway armed with the Colts pick, the 49ers grab a much needed playmaker at the wide receiver position.  The junior eligible Hardy (6’6, 220) is a Plaxico Burress clone, who will provide size and speed to take attention away from TE Vernon Davis.  The All-Big Ten Conference first-teamer set school season-records with 79 catches for 1,125 yards (14.2 avg) and sixteen touchdowns.  Quickly look for Hardy to become QB Alex Smith’s security blanket.

30. Green Bay Packers — Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona

Record: 13-3 | Needs: CB, OT, S, TE, QB

With the retirement of Brett Favre looking at the offensive side is tempting, but aging corners Charles Woodson and Al Harris need a future replacement.  Cason (6’0, 190) is not a burner running in the 4.5 range in the forty, but he is a smart tough corner.  In 2007, he started twelve games producing a career-high 71 tackles (56 solos), one sack,  four tackles for a loss, causing two fumbles, intercepted five passes and a team-high fourteen deflected passes.

31. The NFL stripped the New England Patriots of their own first round pick (#31) for “spygate” activities this past September

32. New York Giants — Dan Connor, LB, Penn State

Record: 10-6 | Needs: LB, CB, S, Backup QB, OT

The Giants may also take a look at Connor’s PSU teammate CB Justin King at this spot.  But after the loss of linebacker Kawika Mitchell to the Bills, the instinctive and athletic Connor is the right pick for the Giants.  He should be able to contribute immediately on the inside or outside. A tough high character Giants type of player (2 time captain at Penn State).  Has good size (6’3, 233), great football instincts, and intelligence.  He always is around the ball as shown by his stats as PSU’s all-time leading tackler.  Has the ability to cover running backs and tight ends one-on-one.  Reminds me of former Lions LB Chris Spielman.

Teams not owning a first round pick

Cleveland Browns

Record: 10-6 | Needs: CB, G, LB, RB, S

Last year was a magical year for the Browns as they just missed the playoffs while posting a 10-6 record thus saving head coach Romeo Crennell’s job.  By not having a first round pick in ’08 — thanks to moving up in ’07 to pick Brady Quinn in the first round — the Dogs thought building through free agency and trades was the best way to go this off-season adding DT Shaun Rogers, DT Corey Williams, WR Donte Stallworth, and others.  They definitely need some help in the secondary with the trading of Leigh Bodden to Detroit.  However they now have painted themselves into a corner due to they will not be picking until the fourth round. 

Indianapolis Colts

Record: 13-3 | Needs: DT, LB, G, RB, CB

After a good season where the defending Super Bowl champs lost at home to the Chargers in playoffs, the Colts head into the draft looking to get back to the big game.  They seemed to have made a good move trading up in ’07 to grab promising offensive tackle Tony Ugoh, but not picking until the second round (#59) will hurt.  With head coach Tony Dungy coming back for one more season and the opening of Lucas Oil Stadium this season look for some key additions especially at defensive tackle where Booger McFarland left for Pittsburgh and Cory Simon was let go.

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2008 Combine Review

By Lloyd Vance, BIGPLAY Football “Draft Guru” / Sr. NFL Writer

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The 2008 NFL Combine is now in the books with 333 invitees, over 600 NFL talent evaluators, and over 500 credentialed members of the media heading home.  Sure the combine is just players working out in t-shirts and shorts and it is not the same as game footage, but the event can help or hinder a prospect.  The event truly accentuates the fact that the overall draft process is not an exact science. “It’s an inexact science, if you can call it a science” said Colts General Manager Bill Polian last week during a combine interview — roughly 50% of the first round picks in the last 27 drafts have not lived up to expectations according to the NFL Draft Scout website.  But the NFL combine is one of the major four steps of the post college football regular season process — Bowl Game, All-Star Games especially the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, and Pro Day/Private workout – that are all extremely important for building a powerful resume for the April NFL Draft.  The event has gotten so huge and popular that NFL Network carried 26 live hours of coverage that just didn’t seem enough. 

Prospects and their agents also seem to understand the importance of the event — in the 2006 Draft of the 330 players invited to the Scouting Combine, 222 were drafted — as more than half of the players attended “cheat-sheet” preparation camps in California, Arizona, Florida, and Texas.  Practice made perfect as several players were familiar enough with the drills to produce several noteworthy results from this year’s combine.  

Now that the weighing, timing, questioning, reviewing of injuries and backgrounds of the invitees is over and before we move onto Pro Days, here are some of my observations, news, and notes from the 2008 Event.

High Participation – With over 600 NFL talent evaluators traveling to Indianapolis, the combine is the one place where the entire set of NFL talent evaluators converge on one place for a week just to look exclusively at prospects.  Because of the high volume of evaluators, prospects knew that being on sidelines and waiting for their Pro Day would raise a red flag that could cost them millions — Top 10 picks are expected to receive $20 Million dollar signing bonuses.  With dollars fresh in their mind, prospects at the 2008 Combine continued the trend of high participation by invitees (top prospects and lower level players) that has grown with the past five drafts.  It was reported that close to 90% of the 333 invitees took part in the process (drills and interviewing).  Potential Top 10 picks Virginia DE Chris Long, Arkansas RB Darren McFadden, Michigan OT Jake Long, USC DT Sedrick Ellis, and others all showed their stuff at the RCA Dome to the liking of the NFL personnel evaluators.  However the event didn’t go by without some high profile guys like Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan (wanted to work with his own receivers), LSU defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey (Grandmother’s funeral and leg issues), Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson (hamstring), Penn State linebacker Dan Connor (flu), USC linebacker Keith “Shark” Rivers (ankle) and Oklahoma receiver Malcolm Kelly (quad) forgoing the drills and waiting for their on campus auditions.

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

RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas: The absolute star of the combine.  He understood that there were questions about is background (Possible dealings with an agent in school, bar fights, and paternity issues), but he showed that his performance on the field is all that mattered McFadden (6’2, 210) has drawing to comparisons to 2007 NFL Rookie of the year Adrian Peterson blistered through his forty in 4.33-seconds He also answered all of the “character” questioned posted to him in interviews and look for him to be a top 10 pick despite some people trying to find warts of this two-time Heisman runner-up — namely Mike Mayock who needs to forget about McFadden’s thin legs.

QB Josh Johnson, San Diego University: My number 1 “sleeper” prospect showed why he was the MVP of this year’s East-West Shrine game by leading all of the quarterbacks in running drills.  Johnson posted a great time 4.55 seconds which was faster than some receivers. But don’t think he is a conversion candidate as he hit on all of his throws and showed he had more than adequate enough arm strength. Look for the tall quarterback (6’3, 195) to come off the board around the 3rd round.

Defensive Back Justin King, Penn State University:  After leaving PSU as a junior, it seemed the former wideout didn’t have enough quality experience as a defensive back and many thought King left school too early.  The expected flop in Indy never happened as the 5’11, 192 pound corner showed that his disappointing 2007 was behind him by posting a 4.31 forty and looking smooth in his position drills.  By having such a good showing, King now looks more like a 2nd or 3rd round pick.

Defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer, North Carolina: This smooth defensive combo player (can play end and tackle) has been one of the biggest risers on draft boards.  Many evaluators have been comparing him to perennial Pro Bowler New England Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour due to his size and athleticism. Balmer (6’5, 308) was a second team All-ACC pick defensive tackle and has experience playing in 3-4 and 4-3 alignments for Butch Davis.  At Indy, Balmer came through looking explosive in all of the drills.

Wide Receiver James Hardy, Indiana: After coming to the combine with questions about his size, speed, and work ethic.  Hardy answered the bell showing he is not only big at 6-5, 217-pounds, but he is athletic as well.  Hardy put up a 4.48 in the forty and in drills changed direction well and snatched every ball thrown to him.

TE Dustin Keller, Purdue: Unlike USC top TE prospect Fred Davis (see Event Crashers), Keller (6’2, 245) was on the field and impressed.  The virtually unknown Boilermaker announced his presence by posting Vernon Davis type numbers of 4.53 in the forty, a 38-inch vertical, and banging out 26 reps at the bench.  He also impressed me with the fluid hands in the pass catching drills.

DE/OLB Marcus Howard, Georgia: With so many teams looking for the next DeMarcus Ware (a player that is fluid enough to cover at linebacker and fast enough to rush at defensive end) combo defensive end/linebackers are in vogue.  Howard (6’2, 245) to me was the number one combo showing fluid movement and hips while posting a sub 4.5 forty plus catching the ball well in drills.

Others deserving players mention:  Virginia DE and possible #1 pick Chris Long (Great footwork in drills and a 4.71 forty), Hawaii QB Colt Brennan (rebounded from the flu at the Senior Bowl and showed he was very accurate in drills), Michigan Offensive Tackle Jake Long, (Combine high 37 reps and good explosiveness in drills), Michigan State receiver Devin Thomas (Great speed at 4.4, size (6’2, 216) and great hands) and Cal receiver/return man DeShean Jackson (looked like Steve Smith at 5’9, 170 and running a 4.35)

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

DE Vernon Gholston, Ohio State: While everyone was drooling over Chris Long, Gholston showed why he was the only person to collect a sack versus Jake Long this year.  The athletic Ohio State star (6’4, 258) posted top 10 numbers 4.69 in the forty, a vertical of 35.5 inches and equally Jake Long in the bench press with 37 reps Also showed good change direction in the bag drills.  He still needs to work on his hands as he didn’t look natural in that aspect.

QB Joe Flacco, Delaware: After a stellar week at the Senior Bowl, Flacco came to work at Indy.  He was tall and big (6’6 3/8, 236) plus fast running a 4.78 in the forty.  In the passing drills I could here several scout talk about his obvious arm strength and accuracy.  The Pitt transfer can make all of the throws and he looks better than bigger school passer Michigan’s Chad Henne.  Will need to work more under center and on his drops to continue move up draft boards.  Right now he is a solid second rounder in my book.

DT Trevor Laws, Notre Dame:  The golden domers didn’t have much to smile at this year, but Laws was a pleasant surprise producing 112 tackles as a senior.  After a good week at the Senior Bowl, where he showed his quick twitch explosiveness, Laws (6’1, 300) came to work in Indy.  He showed that he had good up field movement in drills, good body control in the shuttle, posted a forty in the 5.05-5.10 range and did 35 reps.  I am going to nickname him “Baby Sapp”, because he reminds me of the former Bucs star.

WR Donnie Avery, Houston:  The small receiver (5’11, 186) expected to be the fastest player at the combine ran an amazing 4.4 forty despite having a pulled hamstring.  He also catch the ball well and we can’t wait to see him at full strength.

Others either maintaining or moving up boards from Indy include: Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski (4.52 in the forty, 24 reps, and showing better than expected moves in drills), Texas Tech receiver Danny Amendola (Looked like a Wes Welker clone with his size (5’11, 180), quickness, and hands), Troy State Leodis McKelvin (ran well and he catch the football), Miami Safety Kenny Phillips (looked like Ed Reed in drills), and Michigan running back Mike Hart (did not have top speed at 4.6 range, but reminded me of Packers back Ryan Grant with the way he attacked drills and was competitve at everything)

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.

TE John Carlson, Notre Dame: The big tight end (6’5, 256) looked more like a “blocking” only prospect as he ran a pedestrian 4.90 and 4.98 in the forty, which were some of the slowest for tight ends.  Carlson did rebound by catching the ball, but the scouts I talked to see him as a “Kyle Brady” blocker first tight end.  Definitely looks like a 4th rounder now after some thought he was a 2nd round pick in his junior year.

TE Fred Davis, USC: Came to the combine as the number one ranked tight end prospect, but he struggled in drills, especially catching the football.  Sulked and chose not to run the forty after his problems in the drills, which some raised an eyebrow to.  This year’s John Mackey Award winner as the nation’s top tight end, definitely has work to do at Pro Day to keep his high standing.  Davis (6’3, 250) did have an impressive 24 reps of 225 pounds.

Offensive Tackle Jeff Otah, Pittsburgh:  The huge O-lineman will not be winning any bathing suit contests as he measured in at a giggly (6’6, 358) with most linemen running around 5.00 to 5.20 range, Otah didn’t even come close as he ran a Clydesdale like 5.56 in the forty. Some scouts didn’t seem to mind, because when the pads go on the huge Pitt tackle has a nasty streak.

WR Mario Manningham, Michigan: After coming into the season as a can’t miss prospect, Manningham was up and down.  He would make a spectacular catch then drop several routine throws – pull the Ohio State game tape.  Manningham continued the trend at Indy running in the drills well and catching the ball fluidly, but a huge flag has to be raised by his forty times of 4.59 and 4.68 seconds.  With so many other receiver running well, the Big Blue receiver lost some ground.

Miscellaneous Notes

Speed again shines on Indy’s “fast” track – Once again the prospects showed that you don’t have to be Deion Sanders to produce an eye popping time.  Overall twenty-one players ran a sub 4.4 second forty with East Carolina running back Chris Johnson taking the title.   Johnson blazed to a time of 4.24 seconds tying former Eastern Kentucky receiver Rondel Melendez’s 1999 record.  Johnson’s time may have moved him into being the first senior running back picked in April.  The 5’11, 195 pound back has been compared to Eagles star running back Brian Westbrook.  Other players burning up the combine track included Troy CB Leodis McKelvin (4.38), Penn State DB Jimmy King (4.31), CB Tyvon Branch (4.31), Tennessee State CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, (4.33), Boise State DB Orland Scandrick (4.34) and Indiana DB Tracy Porter (4.37)

RB’s are Deep – If you even want to take away Darren McFadden’s performance this group is exceptional.  Underclassmen Rashard Mendenhall (Illinois), Jonathan Stewart (Oregon), Felix Jones (Arkansas), Jamaal Charles (Texas), Ray Rice (Rutgers), Steve Slaton (West Virginia) and Kevin Smith (Central Florida) all turned in 4.4 forties or better and show great hands and explosiveness in drills.  We may even see ten running backs taken in the first two rounds.

Podium time for the Coaches and GM’s – One of my favorite new wrinkles at the combine this year was the slate of GM’s and coaches holding their own press conferences at the event.  I could go from hearing Giants Super Bowl Champion GM Jerry Reese to Texans GM Rick Smith without missing a beat.  Though you know the evaluators are not going to tip their hand, it is always good to get some insight.  BTW:  Why weren’t the Eagles’ draft braintrust of Head Coach Andy Reid or GM Tom Heckert at the podium.

What You Benching?? – I would love to see a 225 bench press lifting contest head to head of this year’s champs Vernon Gholston and Jake Long (37 reps) and current NFL strongman free agent offensive guard 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!!”.

How Awesome is NFL Network !! – Again NFL Network brought the combine to the masses by providing the aforementioned 26 Hours of original programming of the event and all 333 hopefuls.  I could listen to draftniks Mike Mayock and Charles Davis all day breaking down all of the players (Sorry Mel, but these guys are the best). 

The official workout results of the top performers at the 2008 Scouting Combine times are now posted at http://www.nfl.com/combine/top-performers

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 500 credentials handed out this year.

The Atlanta Falcons Finally Get Some Good News as They Win the Coin Flip for the 3rd Overall Pick

By Lloyd Vance, BIGPLAY Football “Draft Guru” / Analyst and NFL Senior Writer

(Indianapolis, IN) — The Atlanta Falcons finally got some good news as they won the coin toss for 3rd overall draft position on Friday.  The Dirty Birds will try to rebuild under new GM Tom Domitroff and head coach Mike Smith with the third pick at the April 26th NFL draft.

Look for the Falcons to think quarterback with the pick (BC quarterback Matt Ryan ???) with the Oakland Raiders having the fourth and the Kansas City Chiefs the fifth pick.  All three teams finished at 4-12 and their opponents had an identical record (first tiebreaker)

With the coin flip settled there will be 31 picks in the first round of this year’s draft (New England forfeited its own pick from losing its choice, taken away as part of the penalty for its illegal taping of opponents’ signals).

The final 2008 NFL Draft first round order is listed below (Team listed with their 2007 regular season record and opponents winning percentage)

1      Miami          1-15,  .539

2      St. Louis      3-13, .512 

3      Atlanta        4-12,   .516 

4      Oakland       4-12,  .516 

5      Kansas City  4-12,   .516 

6      New York Jets  4-12,  .523 

7      New England (from San Francisco) 5-11,   .465 

8      Baltimore     5-11,      .516 

9      Cincinnati     7-9,        .461 

10     New Orleans 7-9,      .477 

11     Buffalo        7-9,       .516 

12     Denver        7-9,       .516 

13     Carolina       7-9,       .520 

14     Chicago        7-9,      .543 

15     Detroit         7-9,      .543 

16     Arizona         8-8,     .434 

17     Minnesota     8-8,     .504 

18     Houston       8-8,      .516 

19     Philadelphia  8-8,      .563 

20     Tampa Bay   9-7,      .469 

21     Washington   9-7,      .555 

22     Dallas (from Cleveland) 10-6,  .425 

23     Pittsburgh     10-6,     .453 

24     Tennessee     10-6,   .500 

25     Seattle          10-6,   .414 

26     Jacksonville   11-5,   .516 

27     San Diego     11-5,   .500 

28     Dallas           13-3,   .496 

29     San Francisco (from Indianapolis) 13-3,   .516 

30     Green Bay    13-3,   .469 

31     New England (pick forfeited) 16-0,     .469 

32     New York Giants 10-6,    .516

NFL Combine 101: The 2008 NFL Combine is here and you need to be ready

By Lloyd Vance, BIGPLAY Football “Draft Guru” / Radio Analyst

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The NFL’s biggest “workout session” called the NFL Combine takes center stage at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis from Thursday February 23rd to Tuesday February 28th as potential draftees dreams can be made in 4.29 seconds (a very good forty-time in case you didn’t know).  It is hard to believe that the zany idea of past Dallas Cowboys draft braintrusts Gil Brandt and Tex Schramm from over 25 years ago to gather all of the draft’s prospects in one place so every team could get a look together has come so far — you can thank former University of Kansas option quarterback Nolan Cromwell for the madness as he was traveling from team to team in 1977 with the same information giving the forward thinking Brandt the idea for the combine – has become off the chart “huge”. How large is this one-time anomaly event, well the NFL Network will broadcast 26 live hours of coverage — more than even the Senior Bowl’s 19 hours. There will also be a Super Bowl like “Radio Row” atmosphere at the Indianapolis Convention Center so fans can get instant results — no more “urban legend” results like Deion “Prime Time” Sanders running a “slow” as he called it 4.19 forty-yard dash in secrecy at the 1989 event.

The NFL Combine is part of the annual arduous four-month long “NFL job interview” process for college players to get to their dream of being drafted.  The process has four distinctive parts — Bowl Game, All-Star Games especially the Senior Bowl, the combine, and the private workout (Pro Day) – that are all extremely important for building a powerful resume for potential players and a successful draft board for NFL personnel departments.  The event is such a big deal that approximately 600 NFL Draft evaluators including head coaches, general managers and scouts plus their “favorite” tag-alongs the media — almost 400 credentialed members of the media including BIGPLAY Football — will pack into the RCA Dome to watch 335 college players do whatever is asked of them in shorts and tee shirts.   These poor kids will be stamped with their cattle number like “QB03” and then they will be poked and prodded every which way to Sunday as they will be interviewed, examined, x-rayed, measured, run all over, made to jump, twisted, bent, interrogated on their past… you name it all to enhance their spot in the 2008 NFL Draft.

With this year’s success of the “Little Giants” — rookies including Kevin Boss, Jay Alford, Ahmad Bradshaw, Aaron Ross, Zak DeOssie, and others making a huge impact on the 2007 Super Bowl champion Giants — plus a record 35 rookies starting on opening day in the 2006 NFL Season, the importance of the draft in building a competitive team is omnipotent throughout the NFL. The hoopla over the event to me is borderline insanity as most scouts I talk to put more credence in regular season game tape, All-Star game performances, talking with college staffs, bowl games, and almost anything else over seeing guys tested at the combine in shorts.  But statistics show players need to go and participate especially early entrants in the draft, because they don’t have the advantage of going to All-Star games — In the 2006 Draft of the 330 players invited to the Scouting Combine, 222 were drafted. 

The combine is also important, because of the “love” factor, every year some NFL personnel evaluators fall in love with a prospect based solely on the combine (see Eagles 1995 first round draft pick and 7th overall pick DE Mike Mamula – moved up the board from a 2nd or 3rd round pick to a top ten pick mostly based on his high marks at the combine).  Teams can get an “I gotta have him” attitude usually leading to draft day moves and players can enhance their draft value and drive up their rookie contract value based on their work in Indy.  The agents definitely know the value of the combine as in recent years players have been pulled off college campuses to prep for the event at combine specific facilities.  The players learn everything from interviewing skills, how to take the Wonderlic Test, explosive running techniques and pumping iron at pre-combine training camps in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Southern California (ex. Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida has 32 players training with coach Tom Shaw at high-end prices paid for by agents).

The Events

On the Field Drills

“The Forty” – This is the glamour event of the combine as guys want to show the world how fast they are.  The player starts from a three-point stance and runs 40 yards as fast as possible. The player is timed in 10, 20 and 40 yard increments, to gauge the player’s explosion and speed.  Now track speed is good, but “football speed” — ability to run fast while cutting or changing direction and catching the ball — is most important.  Too often guys go to speed camps and “manufacture speed” (see 2007 Draftee Washington State WR Jason Hill) causing scouts to take a harder look at their game film. 

225 Pound Bench Press – This is the second most talked about event of the combine as everyone the same as when I was in high school wants to know “What can you bench??”  At the combine everyone except quarterbacks and wide receivers are required to show how many reps they can do at two twenty-five.  Of course this event is led by famous loud mouth Arizona Cardinals Strength and Conditioning Coach John Lott — “Come on Meat, HUP, HUP!!”  Remember that players with longer arms have a tougher time pumping out reps and shorter squat guys usually can do some good damage in this event.  To show you the importance/non-importance of this event, the record holder former Ohio State DE/LB Mike Kudla (45 reps in 2006) wasn’t even drafted.

Standing Vertical Jump – This event shows the explosiveness of players from a still position.  With the NFL passing game based a lot of times on jump balls this event is of ought most importance to receivers and defensive backs.  From a flat-footed position the player jumps up and smacks at plastic flags on a pole.  When you watch this event think of explosive Niners TE Vernon Davis, who had a tight end record of 42 inches at the 2006 combine.

Broad Jump – Another explosion drill.  From a standing position a player’s lower body strength is tested as squat and jump forward as far as they can.  This event is usually led by the running backs. Jumps are measured from the starting point to the player’s back heel.

Three Cone Drill – This event is a test of a player’s speed, agility and cutting ability. Three cones are set up in an “L “shape (triangular format) with 5 yards between each of them. From a three-point stance at the first cone, on a coaches whistle the player has to sprint five yards ahead to the first cone then touch a white line — then sprint back to the starting cone touching a white line there — then running to the outside of the second cone – then cutting right to circle around the third cone – then finishing by running around the second cone and returning to the first cone.  This sounds exhausting just thinking about running this drill.

20-Yard Shuttle – This is the old fashioned test most of us did in the Presidential Physical Fitness challenge, remember how much fun that was in fifth grade.  This drill tests speed, agility, and coordination. From a three point stance on a whistle a player runs 5 yards to one side touches the yard line – then runs ten yards in the other direction touches the line there and runs back to the original line.

60-Yard Shuttle – Same as the twenty-yard shuttle, but longer.   This time the player has to go 10 yards to a line then 5 yards back then 10 yards the other way then 20 yards back and finishes this time 10 yards to the starting point. This is an endurance monster sorry big boys on the O-Line.

Position Drills – This is my favorite event at the combine, because position coaches know what specific practice drills that their position players need to know to succeed.  They design ball motion drills usually around blocking dummies.  I love watching the D-Lineman practicing their rip moves and running full force at a blocking dummy.  Also watch for receivers running routes, quarterbacks being asked to throw the infamous out-pattern to the far sideline, and college defensive ends trying to make the transition to linebacker in the NFL trying to catch the ball – at the 2007 event former NFL coach working for the NFL Network called several non-catchers “volleyball” players as passes bounced off their hands.

Off the Field Events

Measurements – Hey players do you want to feel like a piece of cattle.  As soon as players arrive in Indy they are give a cattle number (ex. QB03) and every player in attendance is measured head to foot with their height, weight, arm length, and hand size recorded.  And you thought that All-American lineman was really 6’7 and 325 from his college game day program thought wrong as he was only 6’4 ½ and weighed in at a sloppy 344.  Also the combine has a new piece of equip called the “Bod Pod” where players get in a space ship type machine and it measure s their body fat percentage.

NFL Team Interviews – Like any young person going from college to a job, players need to ace their interviews.  Teams know what this want to ask to get at player’s past and their future.  This used to be a mad scramble where teams would hoard players they liked.  But now teams get about fifteen minutes to get to know a player with a limit of 60 players for each team. This usually occurs at the convention center or player hotel with every team looking to see what makes a player tick.  Remember “character” is the number one item on most teams list along with toughness, interests on and off the field, and intelligence (the Giants and Patriots are notorious for measuring a players understanding of the “game of football”).  In 2006, young defensive tackle Amobi Okoye of Louisville showed coaching staffs that he was wise beyond his 19 years and parlayed it into being a top fifteen pick.

The Wonderlic Test – If there is one part of the NFL Combine experience I do not like or understand it is the Wonderlic test.  The test is designed to measure a player’s I.Q. through a 50 question test administered in 23 minutes.  Most players are tired/uninterested when taking the test, which leads to a majority of guys not completing the test.  Some agents have started to have their clients cram for the test like the SAT coming out of high school, but at least you can take that test multiple times.  This is one shot deal that many people put way too much emphasis on.  I can still hear all of the preposterous Vince Young test score reporting from 2006 – By the way did Vince’s score preclude him from winning the 2006 Rookie of the Year award.  And a did you know fact is that Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw both scored a 15 while colossal bust Akilli Smith scored a 37.  Here is a sample question: “Paper clips sell for 23 cents per box. What will 4 boxes cost” – take all the time you need, because all I care about is your FBI or Football Intelligence.

Injury Evaluations – All players walk around with their x-rays and injury history.  Teams and their doctors will poke and check any little thing that doesn’t sound or look right.  I know players like Jason White a former Oklahoma quarterback and past Heisman Trophy winner who had bad knees have to get tired of answering question after question about their condition.  You can’t blame teams for checking everything when they are investing so much, but most people knew former Louisville running back Michael Bush suffered a bad leg injury in his senior year before he even went to the combine.

The Cybex Machine Test – This machine will work the heck out of a player’s knee as they are strapped to basically a spring-loaded madman creation. The Cybex machine tests a player’s knee movement and flexibility. While this test seems like any other medical test, it can be the difference in being a Day 1 or 2 pick.

Drug Test – Everybody wants to make sure players are clean coming into the NFL.  So like any other new job a drug test is administered looking for illegal drugs including marijuana (allegedly Warren Sapp test positive for weed at the 1995 combine), cocaine, and performance-enhancing drugs (Luis Castillo of the Chargers test positive for ‘roids at the 2005 combine, but still went in the first round).

Schedule of Groups

Saturday February 23

Offensive Lineman

Tight Ends

Specialists (Kickers, Punters, and Long Snappers)

Sunday February 24

Quarterbacks

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Monday February 25

Defensive Lineman

Linebackers

Tuesday February 26

Cornerbacks

Safeties

The Players

There will be over 300 players throughout the four day event with every position represented from QB to DE to Long Snapper.  Not all invitees will participate in all events and some may pick and choose or wait for their Pro Day to show their stuff – Thanks Agents!!  Some players who I will be interested in seeing their efforts are Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan (Had a bad Senior Bowl, has a suspect arm and is he all hype), Arkansas running back Darren McFadden (Will he work out, is he the top player in the 2008 class, and how is he physically), Hampton defensive end Marcus Dixon (How is his character (off the field past), is he ready for the NFL, and does he deserve to be labeled a sleeper) and Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski (Is he all hype or is he a player, Is he finished with boxing, and is he fluid  enough to play safety in the NFL).  You can see a complete list of all the combine invited players at our friend site Great Blue North Draft Report.

Top Combine Event Metrics

Fastest 40 Yard Times  

4.19 – Deion Sanders (DB), Florida State – 1989 (Hand Timed)

4.28 – Jerome Mathis, (WR), Hampton – 2005 (electronic)

4.29 – Fabian Washington, (CB), Nebraska – 2005

4.30 – Darrent Williams, (CB), Oklahoma State – 2005

4.30 – Yamon Figurs, (WR), Kansas State – 2007

Most 225 Pound Reps 

45 – Leif Larsen, (DT), Texas-El Paso – 2000

45 – Mike Kudla, (DE), Ohio State – 2006

44 – Brodrick Bunkley, (DT), Florida State – 2006

43 – Scott Young, (OG), BYU – 2005

42 – Isaac Sopoaga, (DT), Hawaii – 2004

Best Vertical (Who are these guys???)

46 – Gerald Sensabaugh, (FS), North Carolina – 2005

45 1/2 – Derek Wake, (OLB), Penn State – 2005

45 – Chris McKenzie, (CB), Arizona State – 2005

45 – Chris Chambers, (WR), Wisconsin – 2001

43 1/2 – Dustin Fox, (FS), Ohio State – 2005

43 1/2 – Kevin Kasper, (WR), Iowa – 2001

Fastest 10 Yard Times

1.43 – Aundrae Allison, (WR), East Carolina – 2007

1.43 – Eric Weddle, (SS), Utah – 2007

1.43 – Marcus McCauley, (CB), Fresno State – 2007

1.45 – Leon Hall, (CB), Michigan – 2007

1.46 – Colin Branch, (FS), Stanford – 2003

Fastest 20-Yard Shuttle Times  

3.73 – Kevin Kasper, (WR), Iowa – 2001

3.76 – Deion Branch, (WR), Louisville – 2002

3.78 – Dunta Robinson, (CB), South Carolina – 2004

3.82 – Dante’ Hall, (RB), Texas A&M – 2000

3.83 – Kevin Bentley, (OLB), Northwestern – 2002

Fastest Three Cone Drill Times

6.45 – Sedrick Curry, (CB), Texas A&M – 2000

6.48 – Rogers Beckett, (FS), Marshall – 2000

6.49 – Carlos Rogers, (CB), Auburn – 2005

6.50 – Leon Hall, (CB), Michigan – 2007

6.51 – Jon McGraw, (SS), Kansas State – 2002

2008 Senior Bowl Review

By Lloyd Vance, BIGPLAY Football “Draft Guru”/Analyst and Senior NFL Writer

(Mobile, AL) — Every year the best place for Scouts and NFL Talent Evaluators to view players “in pads” is at the Senior Bowl (remember football is not played in t-shirts and shorts).  The weeklong event is the real first leg on the road to the NFL Draft for many prospects.  Many draft experts that I talk to put more credence in this All Star game, because usually top players choose to participate (sorry agents), there is “live” competitive in one on one drills, and NFL coaching staffs are in charge of the teams (Oakland Raiders had the North team and the San Francisco 49ers coached the South).   You can have the lesser All star games (East-West Shrine, Hula Bowl, “Flavor of the Year” All Star game) and the combine, because the Senior Bowl is the place where “football” players get to show their skills off in front of scouts, coaches, and general managers who can all be spotted in the stands.  

Overall this year’s group was talented, but with a large majority of this year’s top players being juniors (ex. Arkansas RB Darren McFadden) or seniors choosing not to participate (ex. Virginia defensive lineman Chris Long and Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long), there were some units that were not as good as in year’s past – Quarterback, Running back, or Defensive End to name a few.  Several scouts have indicated that this year’s senior group is a little lower in talent than last year’s solid group (Patrick Willis, Adam Carriker, Dwayne Bowe and others) or the 2006 can’t miss group that produced 14 first-round picks including Jets offensive tackle D’Brickshaw Ferguson, Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler, and others. Whatever talent that was at the event, the USC Trojans led the way sending an amazing 9 players including the unquestionable number one player in Mobile, stout defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis and athletic monster linebacker Keith “Shark” Rivers. 

As for the game, well 40,000 fans filled Ladd-Peebles Stadium and they saw a snoozer with the South winning 17-16.  But at least it ended dramatically as SEC rivals Florida receiver Andre Caldwell and Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge — a last second replacement for Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm (leg injury) had passing numbers of 13-21 for 159 yards passing all coming in the second half — led the way to the winning score for the South.  Caldwell scored on a 2-yard end around off a handoff from Ainge on the final play of the game to finish a 14-play, 86-yard final drive.  Caldwell, who had one of the better weeks at the Senior Bowl said of the game-winner, “I knew I was going to get hit, I just lowered my head to get in the end zone was a great feeling.”

The two had hooked up earlier too on a crucial play in the game-winning drive as Ainge completed an 18-yarder to Caldwell on fourth-and-10 from the South’s 14.  The tall Tennessee quarterback, who had an up and down career in college also found Houston speedster receiver Donnie Avery for a 22-yarder across the middle on the drive.  South coach Mike Nolan of the San Francisco 49ers said of the last play, “On that last play, you have a chance to call anything because it’s the last play”. He added “Whereas the ones prior, he just had to keep it alive and not use up all the clock. A play like that you call it the first or second play and we never get another play off. It was a great call and it worked.”

Ainge was named the South offensive MVP, but it was Tulane running back Matt Forte who ran for a game-high 59 yards and had 38 receiving that landed the overall MVP award.  Big Michigan quarterback Chad Henne (five of nine passes for 64 yards with two passing touchdowns) was the North offensive MVP.  North Defensive MVP Ellis didn’t disappoint when he sacked Andre’ Woodson of Kentucky to record a safety.

Now that the weighing, practicing, questioning, and playing is over for the Senior Bowl, we have some observations, news, and notes from the 2008 Event.

Event Risers – These were players that we believe increased their value in at the Senior Bowl.

  • USC DT Sedrick Ellis – By far the most dominant player in Mobile. Ellis (6-1, 295) came to the event rated below LSU’s Glenn Dorsey and Virginia’s Chris Long, but he vaulted to the top group with his showing this week. Though UF’s Derrick Harvey, Dorsey, and Long skipped the event, it was their loss as Ellis dominated in one on one drills against all of the O-Lineman — unblockable at times. Much like last year’s standout Adam Carriker, Ellis was difficult to block. Displayed a good combination of strength and intelligence and also came across well during interviews. He and teammate Keith Rivers showed at the Senior Bowl why USC was dominant defensively in 2007.
  • Tennessee State CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – One of my favorite stories from the week. He came to the Senior Bowl looking for an opportunity and he seized it. The rangy defensive back (6-1, 181) showed that HBCU schools still produce several diamonds in the rough as he shined in coverage drills against bigger school receivers. The unheralded defensive back actually worked out at FS most of the week, but his future seems to lie at corner. Was right with Leodis McKelvin as the top DB prospect at the event.
  • Florida WR Andre Caldwell – With a underwhelming overall group of receivers at the Senior Bowl, Caldwell and Cal’s Lavelle Hawkins (catch everything) enhanced their draft status. Caldwell is not huge at 6’0 and 207 pounds, but he showed the best hands and route running of all of the receivers at the event. Besides scoring the game-winning TD, Caldwell showed he is a natural hand catcher and his toughness showed in his ability to get off the line.
  • Troy CB Leodis McKelvin – Another small school corner that shined at the event. Had a great week of practice where he showed a good ability to locate passes and play physical. Receivers did not catch many passes on him in practice and he showed that he is a fluid athlete. Look for the former Troy State star (5-11 190) to continue moving up draft boards as he has the speed, coverage ability and instincts to be a top flight corner plus he showed in Mobile that he is a capable kick returner.
  • Delaware QB Joe Flacco – It looks like UD alum Rich Gannon will have company in NFL circles as Flacco impressed at the event. The Blue Hen signaler caller took advantage of BC quarterback Matt Ryan pulling out of the game. Though the big pocket passer (6-5, 230) threw for only 2-of-7 for 22 yards and an interception in the game, it was during the week in practice that he shined. The one-time Pitt recruit showed a very strong arm, an ability to make all the throws out performing some of his BCS counterparts and surprising mobility.

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

  • Arizona State Center Mike Pollak – Might have been the best O-Lineman in Mobile. Even though he is just under 300 pounds, Pollak is a battler that showed good feet and strength in practice and in the game. He truly was the North team’s anchor all week.
  • Notre Dame DT Trevor Laws – Trying to shake off one of the worst years in Notre Dame’s proud history will not be easy, but Laws (6-1, 297) impressed in Mobile. The dread-locked senior, who played mostly on the outside in college moved inside and dominated. Though not as athletic as Ellis, Laws showed a good burst, was always around the ball (recovered a fumble in the game), and good instincts in practice drills. Watch for him to be a sure first day pick.
  • Penn State LB Dan Connor – This PSU high-character player – led the Big Ten in tackles (145) as a senior — did not disappoint in Mobile winning the North team’s MVP award. Connor (6’3, 233) showed that he may not have the athleticism of USC’s Keith “Shark” Rivers, but he has the “football” instincts and intelligence that shined in practice. In the game, the two-time All American, who can play inside or outside, produced with by leading both teams in tackles (9) and intercepting a Colt Brennan pass.
  • Vanderbilt LT Chris Williams – Seems like another great left tackle prospect out of the SEC. Had a solid week of give and take with the D-Linemen, but probably did not elevate himself to the top 15 of the draft. Has the size (6’6, 320) and feet to be a top-flight left tackle, but will need to watch his tendency to play too high at times. Also needs to work more against the speed-rush.

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.

  • Texas A&M Center Cody Wallace – After coming into the event with a good resume, the Aggies pivot man really struggled. He had difficulty in individual line drills and defensive tackles were licking their chops for a shot at him. Wallace will need to rebound at the combine and on Texas A&M’s Pro Day to show he is worth a pick.
  • Oklahoma State WR Adarius Bowman – One of the bigger disappointments at the event. Bowman did well on underneath routes, but struggled with consistency (dropping passes and having difficulty with routes) as Caldwell, Hawkins, Houston’s Donnie Avery, and others had better practices. The big (6-3, 220) OSU receiver will need to do better at the combine to move up.
  • Hawaii QB Colt Brennan – After being destroyed by Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, the quarterback with all of the NCAA records needed to impress. Well he didn’t… first he magically was not his listed measurements (6-3, 190) instead coming in at 6-2, 185 pounds, then he showed an odd throwing motion in practice with difficulty on outs and deep balls. In the game he didn’t fair much better throwing for numbers 2-of-6 for 29 yards with an interception.
  •  USC O-Lineman Sam Baker – This maybe knit picky but we expected Baker to be the mammoth road grader as advertised. He weighed in smaller than expected at 6-4 1/2 and 308 pounds and one scout I talked to said he looked soft. Had good hand use and great arm extension, but did not look like a can’t miss left tackle.

Miscellaneous Notes

DB’s show why they are the best group – The scouts that I talked to could not have been more impressed with this group.  One guy I talked to said that at least eight to ten DB’s should go in the first round.  We already touched on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Leodis McKelvin, but other players shined as well in the back four of the North and South units including CB Tracy Porter of Indiana, CB Chris Godfrey of Iowa, CB Patrick Lee of Auburn and CB DeJuan Tribble of Boston College.

Where are all of the running backs?? – With so many juniors dominating the rankings of this position, you could clearly see that the top guys were not in Mobile (No Darren McFadden and Felix Jones of Arkansas, Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois, Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart or Texas’ Jamaal Charles). Of the backs that were here Justin Forsett of California, Chris Johnson of East Carolina, and Tashard Choice of Georgia Tech performed well, but they all seem to me to be Day 2 guys. I however did like the play of fullbacks Owen Schmitt of West Virginia, Peyton Hillis of Arkansas and LSU’s Jacob Hester.  All three showed their toughness and a willingness to help out anywhere.

Strong Linebacking Crew – This group impressed me, because they jelled in such a short period of time.  Hall of Fame linebacker and San Francisco coach Mike Singletary spoke glowingly about this group’s work ethic and athleticism. In drills you could see the quickness and athleticism of players like USC LB Keith Rivers, Virginia Tech LB Xavier Adibi, Penn State’s Dan Connor, LSU LB Ali Highsmith and Colorado’s Jordon Dizon. Rivers drew a lot of praise from Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, but some guys that have work to do are DE conversion candidates Shawn Crable of Michigan and Bruce Davis of UCLA.

That is a wrap and BIGPLAY will definitely be there next year to cover the Senior Bowl again, which is now the place to be to seen.