With less than 50 days until the first pick of the 2014 NFL draft, it's time to get busy. NFL teams and media evaluators alike are battling the clock to finalize evaluations, study depth charts and fine-tune the draft work that's been ongoing since last May.
Pro days are here, and with them comes all of the madness of "draft stock." Should players move up or down the board based on an on-campus workout in shorts and T-shirts? That's a matter of opinion, and different evaluation philosophies will tell you yes or no.
We'll get into that and more in this week's Scouting Notebook.
Five Up, Five Down
5. DT Aaron Donald, Pitt
It was just last week when I wrote about Aaron Donald's continued ascent up my board. One week later, here he is.
The love affair with Donald's game isn't so much about these new discoveries on his film, but rather about the instant impact he can bring to an NFL defensive line. If you're a team in need of a 3-technique pass-rusher, he's your guy. No questions asked.
Some teams may overlook or downgrade Donald due to a lack of "elite size," but at 6'1" and 285 pounds, he's big enough for me. And his film shows a productive disruptor no matter the challenger.
That's the type of player I'm moving up.
Current ranking: No. 14 overall
4. RB Storm Johnson, UCF
In preparation for the UCF pro day this week, I turned my attention to running back Storm Johnson. The former Miami Hurricane and UCF transfer was a player I saw early in the year, but I needed to recheck his late-season games and match up his combine numbers with the tape.
Johnson is a big (6'0", 209 lbs at the combine), athletic running back with inside-outside running skills and very soft hands. He has to overcome his issues with fumbling, but a pro coach will find an underrated, NFL-ready back in Johnson.
Current ranking: No. 92
3. CB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
If you want a big, long cornerback with press coverage skills, Pierre Desir is your guy. So what if you've never heard of Lindenwood, Desir can play. Turn on his game film, and you'll notice something very early—teams don't throw at him.
Desir doesn't have great interception numbers because teams avoided him like the plague. NFL quarterbacks will likely learn the same lesson, as he's aggressive, smart and has big upside once coached up by pro-level scouts.
Current ranking: No. 68
2. RB Bishop Sankey, Washington
In a deep running back class, it's easy to overlook players. Bishop Sankey is a guy I keep going back to as a top-tier, Day 1 impact you can bet on.
He's fast—4.49 officially with a 1.59-second 10-yard split—and has the breakaway ability on the edge. Sankey can be a game-changer, and in a class of running backs who are all very similar, he stands out from the crowd.
Current ranking: No. 62
1. QB Aaron Murray, Georgia
If healthy, Aaron Murray could be the surprise quarterback of the 2014 class. However, his health can't accurately be gauged yet after a late-season ACL tear ended his season and his chances of improving his stock over the course of the offseason.
On film this year, Murray looked much improved as a prospect. He learned to play within the limitations of his size (6'0", 207 lbs) and started to become a master of the over-the-middle throw.
Murray, in the right system and once healthy, has starting ability.
Current ranking: Incomplete
5. WR Marqise Lee, USC
The more I watch the top wide receivers in the 2014 class, the more Marqise Lee falls down my board. The USC product has pedigree and is a solid player, but what he lacks in consistent hands and health has caused a steady drop down the board.
Lee made plenty of big plays at USC, but digging through three years of film, you'll see a player who didn't improve or develop during that time. Lee has to become a more consistent pass-catcher before I see him as a reliable starting NFL wide receiver.
Current ranking: No. 41 overall
4. CB Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida
The decision to leave Florida early is one that Loucheiz Purifoy may come to regret. The athletic cornerback has potential, but instead of working on his game and improving his draft stock during a senior season, he opted for the pros.
That decision looks like it will hurt him on draft day. With great depth at cornerback, and many of them ready to play from the jump, Purifoy moves down the board due to his rawness and the lack of readiness he brings to the table.
Current ranking: No. 104
3. OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor
Cyril Richardson, believe it or not, was at one time a first-round prospect on my board. That's the crazy thing about earlier-season rankings and perspectives. The more you watch, though, those rankings change.
More information equals a more thorough evaluation, and that doesn't help Richardson. He's big, powerful and can easily handle one-on-one situations, but he's a liability if you ask him to move.
Current ranking: No. 124
2. DE Chaz Sutton, South Carolina
The South Carolina defensive line has three draftable players in this year's class—Sutton, Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles.
Sutton made many plays on film, but you notice his teammates funneling the ball his way. As offenses worried about Clowney and Quarles, Sutton stood out, but his abilities and upside don't project as well to the NFL.
He has some value as a potential late-round player or free agent, but fans who saw his highlights may be disappointed on draft day.
Current ranking: No. 271
1. OG David Yankey, Stanford
When David Yankey declared for the draft, I proclaimed he would be the first interior offensive lineman drafted. And he may be, but that statement was made too soon.
With an in-season evaluation as a first-round talent, the more I look at Yankey and the rest of this class, the less likely it is he's drafted that early. He's smart and has great technique, but he isn't overly powerful or aggressive as a blocker.
That's an issue for teams that prefer a power- or man-blocking guard.
Current ranking: No. 44
The Scout’s Report
— Much has been made of Teddy Bridgewater's pro day performance. On the afternoon, the Louisville quarterback completed 57 of 65 attempts—an oddly high number—with two dropped passes included for a "true" miss count of six. Bridgewater threw without a glove, a curious decision given his 71.0 completion percentage in 2013 came with a glove on his throwing hand. How does the pro day affect his stock? On my board, it doesn't, and he's still No. 1 overall. Three years of film and his individual workouts are all teams need to see.
— Blake Bortles is in the competition to be the No. 1 overall pick, and if you put much stock into pro days, his performance was better than Bridgewater's. Bortles also threw 65 attempts, completing 56 of them. I counted five drops during the workout, though, meaning only four "true" misses. Bortles' work with Jordan Palmer showed, as his footwork was much improved on the move. His accuracy was off at times—both high and low on outside throws—but improvement was expected and delivered.
— In my talks with NFL scouts this week, one name that kept coming up was Alabama wide receiver Kevin Norwood. In a draft class dominated by underclassmen at the position, Norwood is seen as one of the most pro-ready players in the group. One scout also told me Norwood has "the strongest hands" of the entire class.
— Who is the most overrated player in the class? I polled five area scouts, and three listed USC wide receiver Marqise Lee as their answer. The other votes were for Timmy Jernigan and Teddy Bridgewater.
— Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley did something rare this week—he declined to be weighed at the team's pro day. Easley, who is still working back from knee surgery, was measured but not weighed at his insistence. He does have an individual pro day planned at a later date.
— It's tough to read too much into pro day visits, but the San Francisco 49ers have been busy looking at cornerbacks. The team was heavily represented at both Florida and Virginia Tech workouts, and there are five draftable cornerbacks represented by those two schools.
— Baseball fans will remember the great Dale Murphy, but football fans should get to know his son Jake. The Utah tight end has impressive hands, and while he stood on his combine numbers during the Utes' pro day, his work in positional drills caught the eye of many. The younger Murphy has the ideal size and speed for a flex tight end.
— Several players are battling the flu this week, as both Derek Carr and Kony Ealy experienced struggles with vomiting before their pro days. Ealy, in particular, lost several pounds before working out for NFL teams.
— You might be surprised to hear the New England Patriots are interested in running backs, but several of this year's backs have told me the Patriots' staff met with them after the combine.
The question came in on Twitter this week: "What is a blue-chip prospect?" The answer may vary from person to person, but for me, a blue-chip prospect is a player with elite skills at their individual position.
For example, Andrew Luck was a blue-chipper at quarterback. Jadeveon Clowney is a blue-chip defensive end prospect, and Von Miller was one at outside linebacker.
The trouble is not overusing the phrase and qualifying too many people as blue chip. Once you start spreading the label onto every top prospect, it loses its value.
QB Blake Bortles, UCF
There's a reason Blake Bortles is considered by some as a first overall pick candidate. He possesses ideal size (6'5", 232 lbs), agility and enough playmaking ability to excite an offensive coordinator. In the pocket he's strong, and he carries himself a lot like Andrew Luck from his movements and mannerisms.
With the ball in his hands, Bortles is able to extend the pocket and move around, making impressive throws across his body and on the run. He does an excellent job of keeping his eyes up on the move, allowing him to find targets late in the play.
Receivers will like Bortles thanks to his soft touch and ability to lead them away from traffic with his passes. He throws an easy, catchable ball and doesn't put his players in danger with late throws over the middle.
Bortles struggles to marry his feet to his core to his arm when throwing, especially on the move. He too often throws with a wide, unbalanced base and without setting his feet. That will lead to high, low and away balls, and in the NFL, turnovers over the middle.
His field vision is average, and he has to learn to get through progressions quickly and while in the pocket. Rolling to his right consistently to extend his progression time won't work in the pros.
You've likely heard that Bortles has a big arm, but he doesn't with his poor technique. He could if a coach is able to align his mechanics, but game film shows a passer who likes to float balls into the hands of his receivers.
As Bortles stands now, he would be a low-level NFL starter without development. The scary proposition when drafting him early is that he may not develop, which will lead to a disappointing career and quick removal of a franchise-quarterback label.
Pro Player Comparison: EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills
The Big Board
This week I put it up to a Twitter vote: Which would you rather see updated, mock draft or big board? The people have spoken, and a mock draft was the request.
|Post-Free Agency Mock Draft|
|1||Texans||DE Jadeveon Clowney||South Carolina|
|2||Rams||WR Sammy Watkins||Clemson|
|3||Jaguars||QB Teddy Bridgewater||Louisville|
|4||Browns||QB Blake Bortles||UCF|
|5||Raiders||LT Greg Robinson||Auburn|
|6||Falcons||OLB Khalil Mack||Buffalo|
|7||Buccaneers||WR Mike Evans||Texas A&M|
|8||Vikings||QB Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M|
|9||Bills||OT Jake Matthews||Texas A&M|
|10||Lions||FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||Alabama|
|11||Titans||CB Justin Gilbert||Oklahoma St.|
|12||Giants||TE Eric Ebron||North Carolina|
|13||Rams||OT Taylor Lewan||Michigan|
|14||Bears||DT Aaron Donald||Pitt|
|15||Steelers||WR Odell Beckham||LSU|
|16||Cowboys||DE Kony Ealy||Missouri|
|17||Ravens||FS Calvin Pryor||Louisville|
|18||Jets||CB Darqueze Dennard||Michigan State|
|19||Dolphins||OT Zack Martin||Notre Dame|
|20||Cardinals||OLB Anthony Barr||UCLA|
|21||Packers||ILB C.J. Mosley||Alabama|
|22||Eagles||OG Xavier Su'a-Filo||UCLA|
|23||Chiefs||WR Brandin Cooks||Oregon State|
|24||Bengals||CB Kyle Fuller||Virginia Tech|
|25||Chargers||CB Jason Verrett||TCU|
|26||Browns||CB Bradley Roby||Ohio State|
|27||Saints||OLB Dee Ford||Auburn|
|28||Panthers||WR Kelvin Benjamin||FSU|
|29||Patriots||TE Jace Amaro||Texas Tech|
|30||49ers||WR Davante Adams||Fresno State|
|31||Broncos||OG Brandon Thomas||Clemson|
|32||Seahawks||OT Morgan Moses||Virginia|
10. I have no idea what the Carolina Panthers are doing. Some will tell you to not panic, it's only March, but the list of players they've lost without replacing is staggering. Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn are all gone at wide receiver. Jordan Gross, the team's top-ranked left tackle, retired. And that doesn't even include pre-existing needs in the secondary.
You might think this is a very deep wide receiver draft, and the team will be OK. And it is, but it's not a deep left tackle draft, and protecting Cam Newton has to be a priority. The Panthers can restock their wide receiver corps using draft picks, but that doesn't leave many picks—they currently have seven—to address left tackle, safety, cornerback and offensive line depth.
9. Look at the two big players in free agency in the AFC thus far, and you'll see two franchises trying to win a Super Bowl in the next two seasons. The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots have aggressively added to their defenses in order to give Peyton Manning and Tom Brady a few more shots at a ring before hanging up their cleats. That rivalry is going to be fun to watch now that Aqib Talib (Denver) and Darrelle Revis (New England) are involved.
8. Many people have asked me to weigh in on Merril Hoge's comments about Johnny Manziel being a bust. First, I think it's premature to call any player a bust before he's drafted. Second, Hoge and everyone else in this industry must own their statements. If he believes Manziel will be a bust, more power to him.
7. Pro day timing is an inexact science, with the school releasing an "unofficial" number and teams doing their own timing. The key here isn't the number the media gets, but what number shows up on the stopwatch of the team's official timer. That is the number the team will use for the player on draft day.
6. Speaking of workouts, the most important workout a player does between his final college game and draft day is the one he does for a team in private. NFL teams can bring in up to 30 players each year for private workouts, and it's in that workout that you'd better nail it. So don't put too much stock on what happens on campus in a pro day, as it can all be erased or fixed in a private workout.
5. Do NFL teams really feel like there is no top talent at quarterback this year, or is that a smokescreen? I wish I knew what to tell you. I have spoken with several scouts who feel like there isn't a true top-10 quarterback, but that hardly means a team won't draft one there. Also, it would be very smart of teams to leak that they don't love the quarterbacks in this year's class, hoping to drive down their stock to competitors.
4. The idea of a "red flag" for a prospect is difficult for those of us in the media to handle, and we each probably handle it differently. Ideally, I don't like to dock a player based on rumors or minor off-field transgressions. In the past I've reacted and lowered too many players—most notably Vontaze Burfict moving from my top five to the seventh round—and had it blow up in my face once they're in the NFL.
That said, my draft philosophy is that you have to take it into account on some level. And it will obviously vary depending on the claims and/or charges. Weighing the off-field issues versus the on-field talent is something all of us, in the NFL and out, will continue to struggle with.
3. Michigan left tackle and top-15 prospect Taylor Lewan is being arraigned on three charges stemming from a Dec. 1 altercation, per Kyle Feldscher of the Ann Arbor News. Being charged is never good, but an arrest or charge within two months of the draft is a great way to crush your stock.
This is one of the developing stories you must watch in terms of a player's stock actually falling in the offseason. Ultimately this is news right now, but seeing what comes of the charges is what matters most. NFL teams have intense security departments digging through a player's past, and it's likely they're already well-informed on the situation.
2. There are many draft-day and team-building philosophies out there, and I'm not naive enough to tell you mine is right over all others. Instead, I'll challenge readers who dabble or live off draft evaluations to recognize that before completely bashing and tearing down another. How you like your draft prospects at each position is a lot like how you like your steak cooked. There is no right or wrong way, just personal preference.
1. I'm asked this on Twitter every day, so I'll put it in print form as a record of it: Teddy Bridgewater is still my No. 1 overall quarterback and player in the 2014 NFL draft. Is that ballsy? Maybe. In a class with no sure things—not even the great Jadeveon Clowney or my man-crush Sammy Watkins—Bridgewater's value as a quarterback makes him my top player.
There are flaws to his game—skinny legs, average deep accuracy—but the positives are many. He's the smartest quarterback in this class on the field, making his own calls at the line of scrimmage and actually knowing when to check down to beat the defense. And with the ball in his hands, Bridgewater throws with touch, smooth mechanics and the ball placement wide receivers crave. His pro day may not have excited you, but his three years of game film at Louisville sealed the deal for me.
Twitter Must-Follow of the Week
@BryanBroaddus, Dallas Cowboys
A former scout for the Dallas Cowboys, Broaddus now works in the media department. What's most important are his insightful tweets about everything Cowboys.
If you're not a fan of America's Team, Broaddus' scouting background makes his information informative and knowledgeable for the fan-turned-evaluator.
Working and Reading
Here's a quick look at what I'm working on and reading this week.
Indianapolis Star: "Jim Irsay Fighting for His Life, Needs Help" (Bob Kravitz)
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles Pro Day (Video)
Bleacher Report: "An Insider's Guide to Scouting Quarterbacks" (Greg Gabriel)
MMQB: "Eric Winston, New NFLPA President" (Robert Klemko)
Monday, March 24: NFL 1000 series continues with the top 4-3 defensive ends.
Wednesday, March 26: NFL 1000 top defensive tackles.
Friday, March 28: NFL Scouting Notebook.