Dolphins Breakout Wildcat Offense in Their First Win by Lloyd Vance

RB Ronnie Brown and the Miami Dolphins’ Wildcat Formation was running “Hog” wild in their first win of the season over the ill-prepared New England Patriots

I have been saying for years that some form of an “option” style offensive attack could work in the NFL in certain packages/situations.  With a plethora of college and high school quarterbacks running Urban Meyer’s spread-option offense, there maybe a need in the future for the NFL to work towards some running quarterbacks strengths by running some option schemes.

Surprisingly, it was the rebuilding Miami Dolphins and their heady offensive coordinator Dan Henning that found a way to surprise the entire NFL by running a form of the option in their out of nowhere 38-13 road upset of the New England Patriots.  In the win that stopped the Patriots’ 21-game regular season consecutive win streak (last loss was 21-0 loss to the Dolphins on Dec. 10, 2006), Henning borrowed a page from the 2006-07 Arkansas Razorbacks’ playbook by instituting their “Wildcat Offense”.

At Arkansas the offensive scheme was very successful as Heisman runner-up running back Darren McFadden lined up as a shotgun quarterback and caused all kinds of havoc taking a direct snap while either running or throwing the ball.  The Dolphins  — current QBs Coach and former Arkansas assistant David Lee instrumenal —  used the same scheme to perfection using running back Ronnie Brown in the role of McFadden six times versus the bewildered Patriots.  The ‘Phins churned out 216 rushing yards and Brown (17 rushes for 117 yards and 4 TD’s) was spectacular to say the least as a part-time quarterback.  The former Auburn star set a Dolphins franchise record by running for four touchdowns including runs of 2, 5, and 62 yards.  For good measure and to keep the defense honest, Brown also threw a perfect left-handed 19-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Fassano.

With veteran quarterback Chad Pennington (17-20, 226 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT) still leading the team, I doubt we will see the “Wildcat” offense no more than 5 to 7 times a game for the Dolphins… But boy is it fun to watch.  Maybe in copycat fashion the rest of the NFL will join the Wildcat movement.

2008 NFL Review – Week 2

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The celebration and adulation of Week 1 of the 2008 NFL season gave way to thoroughly enjoyable Week 2.  This week in opinion began the long process of figuring out which teams are moving toward contention (ex. Carolina Panthers) and those teams that maybe looking to make changes in the near future (ex. St. Louis Rams).  Overall week 2 showed that no one can predict the most unpredictable league in the world.  The exciting week featured last second wins, high scoring games, controversial calls, upsets, breakout performances and other surprises.  One thing is for certain, week 2 showed why the NFL is the most popular sport by far of the four majors and why the networks are willing to fork over billions of dollars to broadcast the games that fans just cannot consume fast enough. Continue reading

Raiders Sign McFadden Early

The Raiders avoided another high profile rookie holdout by signing Darren McFadden way before training camp opens

(Philadelphia, Pa) — In a move that signaled that the Oakland Raiders are ready to move out of rebuilding mode, the 4-12 team from 2007 avoided another first round rookie holdout by signing running back Darren McFadden late Thursday night.  The Raiders didn’t announce the deal’s terms, but several media outlets are reporting that McFadden has agreed to a six-year deal worth up to $60 million, with $26 million guaranteed.

McFadden’s signing clearly shows that the Raiders and McFadden’s agent Ian Greengross had learned from last year’s debacle with the signing of first-round draft pick and first overall player selected quarterback JaMarcus Russell.  The large former LSU quarterback had little to no impact in his rookie season after missing the entire 2007 training camp while squabbling over his rookie contract. The signing should provide Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin a much-needed weapon, which can only help in building his team and strengthening his cantankerous relationship with Raiders owner Al Davis.

It will be interesting to see if the two-time Heisman runner-up can live up to comparisons to last year’s breakout player and NFL rookie of the year Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  McFadden before tackling the Peterson comparisons will need to find room in a crowded backfield that includes former college power back Michael Bush, thousand yard rusher Justin Fargas, and LaMont Jordan. 

I believe if McFadden’s college career is any indicator — ran for 4,590 yards, averaged 5.8 yards per carry, and had 41 touchdowns with explosive 4.3 speed in the forty — then he should be a very special player for the Silver and Black.  Heck we may even see Kiffin and new Raiders offensive coordinator Gregg Knapp use McFadden, a former high school quarterback, as a “Slash” type player lining him up everywhere from under center to in the slot as a receiver.

I am not ready to hand the mercurial running back the this year’s rookie of the year award early like I did last year in naming Adrian Peterson as the winner the day he signed.  But McFadden should be a high impact player in ’08 and look for him to be a strong contender for the R.O.Y along with Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, Jets tight end Dustin Keller and Texans offensive tackle Duane Brown.

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

 

The 2008 NFL Draft Arrives With a Large Amount of Hype

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

(New York, NY) —- Every year the NFL proves on one day why it is the foremost league in the world as their annual selection production, I mean draft, becomes the focal point of the sporting world.  Sure the NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, first month of baseball, and any number of sporting events are in full swing, but fans are more interested in the NFL Draft.  The 73rd rendition of the NFL Draft, titled with the catchy slogan “Believe in Now”, is so grandiose that the event will take place in the largest city in the United States and at the venerable showbiz palace Radio City Music Hall.  As if that wasn’t enough the time for the production has been moved back this year to the television friendly time slot of 3 PM just so NFL fans everywhere can get their chores done early enough on Saturday to plop themselves in front of the television for a minimum of 4 hours — I am not even going to mention the die-hards that stick around intensely watching the second day on Sunday too. 

With all the hoopla around this year’s event (two television networks, length change, two-day event, New York City, prime time slot, and hordes of media coverage), one has to wonder was there this much fanfare on February 8th, 1936.  That was the date the brainchild of league legend Bert Bell took flight as the first NFL Draft was held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia — A much quieter event where players like Tuffy Leemans were selected and didn’t know about it until receiving correspondence from the league.  The 1936 NFL draft was only been a tiny ripple compared to the ocean’s worth of hype and expectation surrounding the 2008 NFL Draft.  This year’s draft it seems to have pushed the hype bubble to maximum density or at least until next year’s event takes place -maybe with the NFL’s contract with Radio City ending this year maybe they can move it next year to a cozy little spot like the Super Dome. 

The whole thing is a “can’t miss event” to many causing jersey-clad fans to line the streets of Manhattan with millions more watching on television.   There is no need to worry about the NFL Draft television viewers as their extended couch-dom will be shared by the company of their favorite “draft guy” (NFL Network’s Mike Mayock or ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr).   As the seconds tick down on the clock, households in every NFL city will ponder questions like “Is my team trading up”, “Will they go for a need pick or the proverbial best player on the board”, “What are the stats on my team’s first round pick”, “Is that linebacker from my alamater still available”, and many others. 

For the most part all of the hoopla is just part of the show and 252 players will have new addresses after Saturday and Sunday.  One word of caution for all fans, please take it easy on the rantings that this player or that player is a team’s savior or bust before they have even taken the field.  As I know I will say it a thousand times this weekend “It takes 2 to 3 years to evaluate a draft”.  I know fans everywhere can remember the names of former “can’t miss players” that turned into just plain “missed picks” (Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, Freddie Mitchell, Ryan Leaf and many other busts).  Remember the only thing that is certain on draft day is that Jets fans in attendance will “boo” their first pick.

2008 NFL Draft Facts

Where: Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Avenue of the Americas, New York City (Between 50th and 51st Streets).

When:   3:00 PM ET, Saturday, April 26 (Rounds 1-2).

            10:00 AM ET, Sunday, April 27 (Rounds 3-7).

Television:   NFL Network (3rd year)

ESPN and ESPN2 (29th consecutive year)

Players attending the draft: The following players will be at the draft at Radio City on Saturday:  LSU DT Glenn Dorsey, Ohio State DE Vernon Gholston, Virginia DE Chris Long, Michigan OT Jake Long, Arkansas RB Darren McFadden and Boston College QB Matt Ryan.

Time Changes: 

  • Day One will be less of a marathon – On Saturday only the first two rounds will be conducted, rather than Rounds 1-3 as in the past (Hallelujah, Hallelujah – no more first rounds like 2007’s record 6 hours, 8 minutes). The draft will also commence at 3:00 PM ET, rather than at noon
  • Hurry up with your picks – Clubs will be allowed 10 minutes to make their selection in Round 1, rather than 15 minutes as in the past.  Each pick in Round 2 will be allocated seven minutes, rather than 10.  On Sunday, Rounds 3-7 will be conducted, with each selection allocated five minutes.

Number of Picks:  There will be 252 selections, including 32 compensatory choices that have been awarded to 15 teams, which suffered a loss when a quality unrestricted free agent had signed elsewhere in ’07 (ex. Eagles losing Safety Michael Lewis to the Niners).

Forfeited Picks:

  • Patriots first-round pick – As result of “spygate” activities the New England Patriots forfeited their own first-round pick.
  • Chargers fourth-round pick – Already used the pick in 2007 Supplemental Draft on DB Paul Oliver.
  • Ravens fifth-round pick – Already used the pick in 2007 Supplemental Draft on offensive tackle Jared Gaither.

Most Selections Going into the Draft: Kansas City Chiefs (13), Atlanta Falcons (11), and Philadelphia Eagles (11)

Teams with multiple selections in first round: Dallas Cowboys ( Picks 22 and 28 ) and Kansas City ( Picks 5, 17 ) have two selections in the first round. 

Teams without a pick a first rounder: Cleveland (see you in round 4), Indianapolis (pick in 2nd rd), and Minnesota (pick in the 3rd round).

Players Moving Up Draft Boards – Virginia OT/OG Branden Allen, East Carolina RB Chris Johnson, Georgia Southern WR/KR Jayson Foster, Virginia Tech CB Brandon Flowers, Arkansas State Tyrell Johnson, Purdue TE Dustin Keller, Kansas State WR Jordy Nelson, Virginia Tech OT Duane Brown, Oregon QB Dennis Dixon, Wake Forest DE Jeremy Thompson, LSU FB Jacob Hester, and USC LB Thomas Williams.

Veteran Players rumored to be on the trading block:

  • Detroit Lions WR Roy Williams – The Lions keep saying “No”, so you have to think the big receiver could land somewhere else, maybe Dallas or Philly??
  • Philadelphia Eagles CB Lito Sheppard – With Asante Samuel expected to make over 7 Million more in ’08 than him, Sheppard is very unhappy (Jags, Bucs, and Ravens rumored to be in the hunt).  Look for a deal similar to the 2nd and 5th round picks the Raiders gave to the Saints for DeAngelo Hall.
  • New York Giants TE Jeremy Shockey – The emergence of young tight end Kevin Boss has made both sides (2007 Super Bowl Champion team and player) seem ready to part ways (Seattle and New Orleans rumored to be interested).
  • Miami Dolphins DE Jason Taylor – The 34-year old Dancing with the Stars prancer and former NFL Defensive MVP does not seem to fit in Parcells plans, but the ‘Phins asking price of  a first rounder maybe too steep (Eagles, Patriots, and Jags rumored to be interested).
  • Oakland Raiders RB Dominic Rhodes – With rumors afloat that the Raiders will select Darren McFadden, look for the former Colts workhorse to either be cut or traded.
  • Cincinnati Bengals WR Chad Johnson – One of the NFL’s biggest show-stoppers is very unhappy and is demanding a traded in ’05 T.O style.  However the Bengals owners (Brown family) and their head coach Marvin Lewis do not want to let the loquacious receiver go.  With the Cowboys, Jets, Eagles, and Redskins all rumored to be interested, this deal “may have to happen” even if the Bengals must take an $8 Million dollar cap hit in getting Ocho Stinko out the door.

Lloyd’s Leftovers:

  • Like Father, Like Son – Two players this weekend can join their fathers in the NFL.  Virginia defensive end Chris Long (Howie Long, HOF 2000 defensive end and UCLA safety Matt Slater (Jackie Slater, HOF 2001 offensive tackle can become the fifth and sixth sons of Pro Football Hall of Fame players to be drafted into the league.  Chris can follow his father HOWIE (HOF, 2000) and Matt his father JACKIE (HOF, 2001). 
  • Smart College Graduate Players Wanted – With teams like the Colts, Patriots, and Giants placing an emphasis on getting older high football IQ players, draftees are making a point to graduate before leaving school.  This year there should be a high number of graduates including Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon (graduated with a 3.27 GPA in Sociology) entering the league with their degrees.
  • Flacco trying to represent for D1-AA – Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco will try and join NFL Draft 2000 selectees former Jackson State teammates CB Rashard Anderson and WR Sylvester Morris as the only 1-AA players drafted in the top 30 selections in the past 10 years.
  • The “U” is looking to keep up a first round tradition – With the expected selection of top rated safety Kenny Phillips in the first round, the University of Miami (Fla.) will continue the school’s impressive active streak of a first round selection.  If Phillips hears his name called it will be the 14th year in a row going back to the 1995 draft where All-American defensive tackle Warren Sapp was selected No. 12 overall by Tampa Bay. 

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.

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.