Two weeks from Saturday the offensive linemen take the field of Lucas Oil Stadium as the workouts for the 2013 NFL combine officially begin. Until then we will fill you on how the preparation is going for many of the invitees as well as the latest word on free agency. Update Feb 18th- Justin Hunter blowing up training….Werner- not so much…
– Word is Justin Hunter/WR/Tennessee has shown freakish athleticism in combine training and is getting rave reviews. He’s expected to test great this coming Sunday.
– Another pass catcher who’s getting a lot of love is Vance McDonald/TE/Rice. The quarterback’s at the IMG facility in Bradenton, Florida where McDonald is preparing for the combine have spoken highly of his skills.
– Its ironic but everyone we’ve spoken to say Tyler Eifert/TE/Notre Dame has not looked anything special during training. That said most expect Eifert to run in the low 4.6-range at the combine and could break into the upper 4.5’s.
– Eifert’s Notre Dame teammate Manti Te’o is really not expected to test all that well on Monday, which should come as no surprise.
– I’m told Bjoern Werner/DE/Florida State has not looked like a super athlete in training the past few weeks and many are not expecting a great workout at the combine from the Seminoles pass rusher. That does not surprise me. On film Werner does not display great speed in pursuit and is more of a short (10-yard) burst defender. Its part of the reason why I never considered Werner to be 3-4 outside linebacker material.
– Despite the fact DeAndre Hopkins/WR/Clemson has looked terrific catching the ball he’s unlikely to break the 4.5-second barrier on Sunday and won’t be graded as a first round pick.
– I’ve been a bit miffed by the lack of talk surrounding Logan Ryan/CB/Rutgers. He’s been ranked as one of my top cornerbacks all season. I’m told there is concern about his speed and Ryan’s forty time next Tuesday is important. Sources close to the situation tell me Ryan will run in the 4.5-area but will turn in some of the fastest shuttle times of any defensive back. Right now we hear teams grade the Rutgers junior as a 2nd/3rd round pick.
– Blidi Wreh-Wilson/CB/UConn is all over draft boards. Some teams have him ranked as a potential late 1st round choice while others as a mid-3rd round selection.
– I am told Keenan Allen/WR/Cal has not looked anything special in combine training nor has he separated himself from the almost dozen wide outs he’s working out with in Florida. Its not that Allen has been bad rather he does not show the “wow” factor you want to see in a potential top twelve pick.
– On the other hand I am told Stedman Bailey/WR/West Virginia has really stood out and could be the surprise at receiver during the combine. He’s run terrific routes, caught everything in sight and is running very fast. The comparison to former USC receiver Steve Smith is being made and like Smith, Bailey could end up in the second round.
– Another wide out that’s been impressive is Conner Vernon of Duke. He’s shown some of the most consistent hands in training and runs outstanding routes. One other thing to keep an eye out for; I’ve been told though Vernon does not have the breakaway speed, as evidenced by his tape, he runs the fastest ten yard splits of anyone he’s training with (including the aforementioned Allen and Bailey). His problem if from 20-to-40 yards. That being the case, Vernon will get a lot of looks from teams that run the west coast offense based on his ability to get off the line. I’m also told Vernon is a “solid kid” which will further help his cause.
– Ryan Swope of Texas A&M has also looked terrific in the lead up to the combine. Scouts estimated Swope runs in the mid 4.5’s but I hear the reality is different. He’s been running in the low 4.4’s during training and has stood out in the jumps and agility drills. Most are already familiar with his sensational pass catching skills but if Swope is able to turn some heads at the combine with his athleticism and speed then say hello second round.
– From the tight end class sources tell me Gavin Escobar of San Diego State is still rough around the edges yet has caught everything in site the past few weeks.
– Mychal Rivera of Tennessee, a player I gushed about from Senior Bowl practices, is expecting to run the forty in the 4.6’s though his goal is the 4.5’s. Keep an eye on Rivera’s weight at combine as we hear he was light in Mobile at 237-pounds.
– Finally, Nick Kasa of Colorado is targeting sub 4.7-seconds in the forty at 270-pounds during his combine workout. His weight at the Senior Bowl was 271lbs. We’ve written about Kasa since December and know scouts love his upside. He’s presently ranked as a 4th round pick on our boards but a sub 4.7/forty could put him into day two of the draft.
– I am told quarterback Zac Dysert of Miami-Ohio, who was expecting to complete the entire combine workout, suffered a slight tear of his hamstring Monday and won’t throw until his pro-day on March 21st.
– Looking for a sleeper at 3-4 outside linebacker? Keep an eye on Tourek Williams of Florida International. The college defensive end has been taking in a lot of linebacker drills in preparation for the combine and is aiming to run in the mid 4.7’s at 253 pounds a week from Monday.
– Last week I was told several teams had a third round grade on Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson. I didn’t think much of it until a recent conversation confirmed the information. Teams are seemingly concerned with Wilson’s small hands, which measured 8.58-inches at the Senior Bowl. Sources told me most teams have a cut off at 9-inches for quarterbacks and Wilson was the only one in Mobile under that number. Scouts point out the way the pass flutters upon release in his game film as proof he’s squeezing the ball too much due to small hands. And for the most part these were warm weather games with a college ball. This much is certain; Wilson and his release will be under a microscope at the combine, during his pro-day as well as during individual workouts.
– Last year Kevin Zeitler of Wisconsin was a surprise selection in round one when the Cincinnati Bengals tabbed him with the 27th pick. Who will be the surprise of the first frame this year? At this stage sources tell me it could be Zeitler’s former Badger teammate Travis Frederick. One general manager has referred to Frederick as the best interior run blocking line the draft has witnessed in more than a half-decade. We hear Frederick will be a tight 315-pounds for the combine. Where could he end up? Sources tell me possibly the Indianapolis Colts at pick 24 as the team needs a guard or the Atlanta Falcons at pick 30. Watch what Atlanta does in free agency. We hear the game plan is to move Peter Konz, who started at guard as a rookie last season, to center and then sign a veteran guard. If they don’t sign a veteran then Frederick could be an option.
– Its still early but once again we heard the name of Alabama tackle DJ Fluker matched up with the New York Giants.
– Quarterback Ryan Nassib is back on the Syracuse campus preparing for the combine where he’s working with two well known names. Former NFL offensive coordinator Paul Hackett as well as Ken Anderson, starting quarterback with the Cincinnati Bengals for 17 years and himself a quarterbacks and receivers coach in the league, are both helping Nassib fine tune his game. At present time the game plan includes Nassib throwing at the combine later this month. Where will the quarterback fall in the draft? We hear three teams who select at the top of round two, including the Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets, think highly of Nassib. Its not out of the question one of these teams moves back into the late part of round one to select the Syracuse product.
– I’ve been told Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray also plans to throw at the combine in Indianapolis.
– Geno Smith of West Virginia, Matt Barkley of USC, Zac Dysert of Miami-Ohio and Tyler Wilson of Arkansas are all preparing for the combine at the IMG facility in Bradenton, Florida. Of the four sources tell me Wilson looks the sharpest in workouts thus far.
– George Whitfield Jr, who helped prepare Cam Newton and Andrew Luck for the draft, is presently working with four signal callers at his quarterback academy, Whitfield Athletix. The big name on hand is Oklahoma’s Landry Jones while Matt Scott of Arizona is the other draftable quarterback working with Whitfield. Joe Montana’s son Nate Montana and UConn’s Johnny McEntee round out the foursome. The group works out in Carlsbad during the day while the X’s and O’s are taught at University of San Diego. Former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was recently brought in to assist in the development of the passers. Those on hand tell me Scott has the strongest arm of the four.
– If the Jacksonville Jaguars target a quarterback on day three of the draft it could be the aforementioned Matt Scott. During Senior Bowl week the consensus was Jacksonville will give Blaine Gabbert one more season to prove himself. And while the franchise is likely to select a quarterback in the draft, it may not come until the later rounds. Enter Scott, a favorite of the Jaguars recently hired quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo. The two are familiar with each other from their days in Arizona and word was they spent a significant amount of time together prior to Scott’s appearance at the Shrine Game. Many consider Scott the perfect developmental prospect at quarterback. He has the arm strength to play in the NFL and showed tremendous development in his game last season.
– Speaking of the Shrine Game, we spoke glowingly of Missouri Western defender David Bass during our coverage of practice. Recent word has the 260-pound Bass running the forty in the mid 4.6’s during workouts. If he runs that fast at the combine his stock will rise as teams will give him consideration as both a 3-4 outside linebacker as well as a 4-3 defensive end.
– Since declaring for the draft we’ve graded Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker as a second round choice. It seems a number of teams have a higher opinion of the big tackle and feel Fluker won’t make it out of round one. Many in the scouting community think Fluker does not make it past the 21st pick of round one, presently held by the Cincinnati Bengals. In fact some confided Fluker may be a better fit for the New York Giants at pick 19. Despite not playing at the Senior Bowl due to groin and calf issues, teams were blown away during weigh-ins when Fluker measured just under 6-feet, 5-inches and tipped the scales at 355-pounds. His arm length of 36.38-inches was the clincher. Those we’ve spoken with love Fluker’s game film against LSU (Mingo & Montgomery) and Georgia (Jones). On a personal note I was introduced to Fluker on Sunday of the Senior Bowl by a long time friend from Mobile and was impressed with the big right tackle. Fluker really comes off as articulate, respectful and likable.
– Many chided Fluker’s teammate, safety Robert Lester, for poor play at the Senior Bowl. But the hard hitting safety told a number of people he is just spent from the long 2012 campaign.
– Most have questioned the speed of Washington State junior receiver Marquess Wilson, who opted to enter the draft. According to sources Wilson timed in the low 4.4’s at Wazzu and hopes for a repeat performance at the combine later this month. Presently the wide out is in Orlando training with Tom Shaw.
– We’ve alerted readers all along the concern with junior quarterback Tyler Bray of Tennessee has been one of maturity as well as off the field issues. Bray is aware of these concerns and sources tell me he’s been working hard in the pre-draft process to alleviate these fears. The junior passer has been working with former NFL quarterback Ty Detmer, who’s helping Bray understand what is means to be a professional quarterback and what will be expected of him. Thus far the results have been positive as the trainers and coaches in Carson, California, where Bray has been preparing for the combine, have referred to the strong armed passer as “humble” and “coachable”.
– Several sources have confirmed USC has pushed back its pro-day from the second week of March until the end of the month. The workout was originally slated to coincide with the UCLA pro-day on March 12th but players were recently told the date has been changed to the end of the month. We initially heard March 27th as the replacement date but there’s been no confirmation of that yet. Sources close to the situation told us the reason for moving it back on the calendar was to make sure quarterback Matt Barkley is prepared to throw. We’ve not spoken with anyone from Barkley’s camp but those in the know tell us they will be surprised if the Trojan quarterback takes part in any of the combine workout.
– Sources tell me Alabama defensive end Quinton Dial, who has received a combine invitation, recently underwent toe surgery and will be out a few months. The expectation is Dial will only participate in medical exams at the combine.
– So whatever happened to Marquis Jackson, the former pass rushing terror who transferred from Texas Southern to Portland State? Entering the season scouts stamped Jackson with a third round grade as he was one of the highest rated IAA seniors in the nation. Jackson finished the 2012 season with 36 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, compared to 50/18.5/6 in 2011. Sources from the area tell us it was a case of senioritis as PSU coaches say Jackson was a big disappointment. The over riding theme is Jackson should have entered the 2012 draft or thrown his name into last July’s supplemental draft, which was rumored at the time.