'The NFL Beat': Combine Cliff Notes
The 2013 NFL scouting combine is upon us, and draft season is in full swing.
Some fans are just now tuning back in after "enjoying" a few NFL-free weekends running errands and doing chores. Weekends filled with snot-nosed neighbor children and thoughts of looming lawn fertilization.
Welcome back, and I am sorry about your recent troubles.
This is your 2013 pre-combine NFL draft season recap.
- First a programming note form the Professional Football Writers of America:
The PFWA exists to govern, protect, and preserve the media's rights for access to NFL teams and executives. In 2013, the PFWA brings that access to fans live from Indianapolis through COMBINEplus, an initiative powered by Google. Search the hashtag #COMBINEplus on Twitter or Google+ Thursday Feb. 21 through Sunday Feb. 24 to get involved and be a part of it.
- Coming into the combine, there is no clear-cut first overall pick, putting new Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and new GM John Dorsey in an interesting position as holders of the first selection.
- The quarterback class is all over the place, and so are their balls in practice. So are analysts' opinions. There are eight QBs in the NFL draft this season that appear in various order from the first- to third- or fourth-rounds on most big boards, and five likely to be gone by the end of round two:
Geno Smith, West Virginia: Senior Bowl no-show, but still likely the top overall QB prospect. Smith is one player who has a lot riding on the combine. A good day throwing will cement his status at the top.
Matt Barkley, USC: Barkley took a step back after electing to return for his senior season, and caused more questions than answers in his 2012 campaign. Barkley has the most fluid drop-back, pacing, and rhythm of delivery of any QB in the draft. Barkley will not throw at the combine due to an injury, and has elected to go the Ryan Tannehill route this draft season. It might not be a bad idea.
E.J. Manuel, Florida State: One of the Senior Bowl's QB standouts. A large but slim QB with a high, clean delivery and excellent accuracy in intermediate routes. He can throw well on the run, and appears extremely coachable. Manuel will be best-suited to develop his NFL game in a timing-based rhythm offense. He throws catchable balls and plays better with the field cut in half for now.
Ryan Nassib, Syracuse: The top QB on some analysts' boards, Nassib is a product of the conceptual West Coast offense that the new staff in Buffalo ran while coaching Nassib at Syracuse. Bills GM Buddy Nix has said they will be drafting a QB, and new Buffalo OC Nathaniel Hackett says in this video that he would love to coach Nassib in the NFL. The Bills pick at spot eight. Will they take a player there who some analysts have ranked as a fourth-round talent out of need and comfort? Nassib has a strong arm, a sturdy body, and throws fastballs. He shows very little touch on deep balls, and when he tries to put touch on them, ends up horribly inaccurate.
Mike Glennon, NC State: Glennon is long, tall, and skinny – presenting an excellent NFL frame. Glennon has one of the best arms in the class, but is somewhat "dopey" in his manipulation of the pocket. The tape shows that Glennon was very productive in college as the ACC's 2012 passing leader in most categories. That included dropped balls which should not count against his accuracy. Glennon struggles when the pocket breaks down and makes bad decisions. He will have trouble in the NFL if forced to play early behind a bad offensive line. With all this said, Glennon did start the 2012 draft season as Mel Kiper's top QB.
- The big winners from Senior Bowl week were Central Michigan LT Eric Fisher, UCLA DE Datone Jones, Washington CB Desmond Trufant, Florida International FS Jonathan Cyprien, Oregon State WR Markus Wheaton, Missouri Southern DT Brandon Williams, Kansas State WR Chris Harper, and Texas WR Marquise Goodwin.
- Texas WR Marquise Goodwin did himself the most favors of any other Longhorn at the Senior Bowl. Alex Okafor was rumored to have a great week in practice, but I watched every drill he ran, and I never got the memo. Texas S Kenny Vaccaro showed the NFL community he is not a competitor, ending up on the "Manti Te'o list" of Senior Bowl invitees who no-showed for no good medical reason. Goodwin looked like a professional out there, impressing scouts and his Raiders coaching staff.
- An interesting prospect many will hear about in the coming months is BYU DE Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah. Ansah is a Ghana native who came to BYU to run track and didn't first strap on a football pad until two years ago. He is a raw prospect with long arms, and at six-foot, seven-inches, 275 pounds, just looks bigger than everyone else. Ansah was quiet all week in practice and generally disappointing before really opening up in the actual Senior Bowl game.
- Some experts have Utah DT Star Lotulelei as their top prospect in the entire 2013 draft. Any easy case can be made for calling Lotulelei the best defensive player, and we're likely to hear his name called in the Top 5 picks. Thankfully for Lotulelei, he didn't pursue a career moving furniture after high school as planned.
- A reminder that if you are interested in this column, you should be playing Mel Kiper's fantasy NFL draft game at PlayTheDraft.com. Funnest game ever. It's free and you'll thank me later.
- Tyrann Mathieu (CB LSU) had some off-the-field troubles in college, but the "Honey Badger" (or "herbal gerbil" as some scouts called him at the Senior Bowl) was spotted in Mobile, Ala., during Senior Bowl week by the RosterWatch radio show. The much-maligned junior was reportedly meeting with teams, but all we can confirm is that he ordered what looked like a delicious chicken salad sandwich on a croissant.
- Michigan WR/QB/KR Denard Robinson must have been born smiling. He has a personality that lights up a room, and a handshake that feels like a bushel of bananas. These attributes coupled with what will likely test as elite speed at the combine will lead many teams to overlook the fact that Robinson currently looks a ways off from completing the college QB-to-pro-WR transition.
- The players whose characters as young professionals I came away most impressed with from the 2012 Senior Bowl were Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins. Two players who proved in different ways during 2012 they have bright NFL futures. This year, those two players were UCLA DE Datone Jones and Washington CB Desmond Trufant.
- I don't know whether the brass at the NFL league offices read "The NFL Beat," but our calls for justice in Wonderlic testing have been answered – at least somewhat. The 2013 scouting combine will be the first time the players will be given a second, hopefully much-less-worthless intelligence screening.
- It isn't the sexiest position, but the best overall prospect in the 2013 NFL draft is Alabama OG Chance Warmack. If Warmack is available at pick 18, put a star on the side of his helmet and send him to Dallas.
- Finally, an important note from the wisest NFL scout I know to keep the forthcoming events in Indianapolis in perspective. The combine is the NFL's national convention, and a madhouse for news content, access to league staff, and general elbow-rubbing. Sandwiched right in the middle of the franchise-tag period and the beginning of free agency, teams come to Indy to face the music. To me, this is what the combine is about – much more so than the drills. The same professor who says the Wonderlic is worthless says the drills the prospects run at the combine are worthless for the most part, too.
Scouts look for different things than fans at the combine.
At this year's Senior Bowl practices, I asked my scout friend what he meant when he was talking about a particular defensive end's "motor" on one play. He shrugged it off and said, "Nothing, this is Cliffs Notes anyway. (The Senior Bowl)… the combine. Cliffs Notes to my book."
Onward to Indy, friends. God bless the National Football League.