Christian Ponder To Rams: Would It Make Sense?

PHOTO: Joe Bielawa // Christian Ponder is the most sensible option for the St. Louis Rams in wake of Sam Bradford's latest season-ending injury.

PHOTO: Joe Bielawa // Christian Ponder is the most sensible option for the St. Louis Rams in wake of Sam Bradford’s latest season-ending injury.

The St. Louis Rams are now in a minor scramble, surveying the NFL for a suitable replacement after Sam Bradford’s latest ACL injury has shelved him for the 2014 season. The organization has, at least in the early going, conceded that it likes Shaun Hill enough to call him the starter (for now). With few viable options available league-wide at this juncture, St. Louis is left with a host of free agent and second/third-string selections to potentially choose from. Given the short-term circumstance, one of the more sensible routes the franchise could take would be to locate a candidate with the experience to start now and the abilities to offer something different from those currently on the depth chart.

When melding that profile into one, there may not be a better fit than Christian Ponder of the Minnesota Vikings, all things considered.

The former Florida State standout has been reduced to third-string duties in the land of 10 000 lakes after Matt Cassel was named the starter and 1st round draft choice Teddy Bridgewater the understudy. In a new coaching era, the Vikings have clearly defined Bridgewater as its long term solution at the quarterback position, and keeping Ponder on the roster could only perpetuate the unrealistic notion of a battle for that distinction. He’s become something of a spectator in Vikings camp and his West Coast skill-set certainly isn’t a fit for Norv Turner’s offense on a technical level.

Ponder is entering the final year of his rookie deal and set to make a guaranteed salary of $1.76M. Though it’s not a sizable figure, the Vikings would do well to move the player unlikely to play a meaningful snap in 2014 and avoid incurring the salary. Minnesota’s coaching staff has given no indication that it intends to utilize the former 12th overall pick, and third-string quarterback’s could be found at a slightly lesser cost. Should the Rams make a move to acquire Ponder, it would be at a very team-friendly number, on a one-year term, with no obligations past the 2014 season. From a financial and term perspective, the move begins sounding reasonable for both parties.

Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer takes a balanced approach and relies on his ground game, which features the trio of Zac Stacy, Benny Cunnungham, and rookie Tre Mason. Regardless of who the team starts under center this season, it’s likely that St. Louis will be running the ball at a higher clip than it did in 2013. An incoming quarterback wouldn’t be tasked with much, especially early on. Despite how some might feel about Christian Ponder’s skill level, he offers significantly more than Shaun Hill does from a physical standpoint and would make the team’s offense mildly less one-dimensional than it’s currently projected to be.

All things considered, it’s difficult to find a more overall sensible candidate to help the St. Louis Rams replace Sam Bradford at this point of the preseason. Aside from revving up the B.S. machine to kick start another ridiculous “Favre Watch” campaign, we can say that Christian Ponder is among the most viable options in consideration. Valuation of the player could range between a 5th-7th round selection with conditional, performance-based clauses involved. Kellen Clemens spent time as Rams backup from 2011-2013, but he’s the established backup to Philip Rivers in San Diego now, while former Schottenheimer pupil Mark Sanchez just signed a one-year deal worth $2.25M + incentives to backup Nick Foles in Philadelphia.

Everyone wants Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Aaron Rodgers, but in an emergency situation it’s time to be realistic. Christian Ponder offers the right salary, starting experience, least amount of contractual obligation, and still possesses a modicum of potential for growth. Each day that passes we draw a little closer to the season, and it only becomes even more unreasonable to expect a new addition to pick up an entirely new offense. The Rams are on the clock once again.

Twitter: @NFLDraftUpdate

Final 2014 NFL Mock Draft (1st round)

1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE. South Carolina

Quarterback is the indefinite need, but talent counts for a lot. If the Texans decision-making staff isn’t in love with any passers, it’ll be tough to justify passing on the player with the most upside in the draft for any other positional player.

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2. St. Louis Rams (f/WAS): Greg Robinson, OT. Auburn

While the bad taste of the failed Jason Smith selection still lingers, the Rams need to be courageous and make the right pick. Whether Robinson ultimately moves Jake Long over to right tackle or not, the picks gives them a couple legitimately talented bookends. Protecting Sam Bradford from further missed time should be among the top priorities.

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3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB. Texas A&M

Blaine Gabbert has officially left town and Jacksonville is under a new regime that showed signs of improvement in 2013. A new quarterback to both infuse a level of talent and also reinvigorate league-wide appeal in the franchise couldn’t hurt.

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4. Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR. Clemson

If there truly is no interest in selecting one of the available quarterbacks with this pick, than finding more offensive weapons for the eventual long-term signal caller is imperative. Watkins, paired with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, would pose a dynamic threat for opposing defenses.

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5. Oakland Raiders: Jake Matthews, OT. Texas A&M

The natural fit to a team that desperately needs a long-term answer to the left tackle position. Whomever the quarterback is moving forward, the Raiders need to be able to protect him.

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6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB. Buffalo

No draft decisions are easy, but when fit, need, and talent blend into one available prospect, it doesn’t need to be that hard a selection. The Falcons could use help in the pass rushing department and Khalil Mack, perhaps more importantly, doubles as a complete player as well.

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7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR. Texas A&M

Mike Williams is now in Buffalo and there’s no legitimate depth to speak of. Pairing Johnny Manziel’s favorite target with an equally imposing Vincent Jackson appears to be the most logical choice. Lovie Smith is now in town and brought McCown with him as his starting quarterback. The Bucs can put that supposed need off for now.

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8. Minnesota Vikings: Blake Bortles, QB. Central Florida

The Vikes could go in a number of directions with this selection depending on their view of the quarterback class. In my eyes, two things are certain – Physically, Blake Bortles warrants No. 1 consideration and schematically, he’s a fit for Norv Turner’s offense. If Bortles can recreate the success of another ex-Viking quarterback & UCF alum from the past, than this would be a great selection.

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9. Buffalo Bills: Zack Martin, OT. Notre Dame

Being a former OL coach (with success), you have to think Doug Marrone values blockers more than most would. Injuries derailed an otherwise encouraging rookie campaign from E.J. Manuel. Keeping him clean and upright is important, and I think that may take precedent. Martin is an experienced leader with the flexibility to even project at guard.

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10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB. Oklahoma State

I don’t buy the theory that Detroit would opt for a pass catcher over an available top cornerback prospect. Justin Gilbert is a legitimate top 10 talent and at a position of long-term need for the Lions. I’ll give Detroit’s staff credit and continue believing they’ll make the logical choice in this scenario.

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11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB. UCLA

Shaun Phillips was signed and the Titans boast a couple of good young linebackers in the Zach Brown, Akeem Ayers duo. Still, there’s no such thing as ‘too many’ pass rushers. Anthony Barr is good value at this point and a good fir for Ray Horton’s base 3-4.

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12. New York Giants: Aaron Donald, DT. Pittsburgh

He’s been steadily rising despite his obvious lack of size, and for good reason. The G-Men lost big Linval Joseph in free agency but still possess enough meat on the interior defensive line with Cullen Jenkins and 2013 2nd round pick Jonathan Hankins.

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13. St. Louis Rams: Hasean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix, S. Alabama

The trade that allowed Washington to select RG3 has partially helped St. Louis stockpile quality defensive players. After addressing the glaring offensive need, the Rams look to address one of the few glaring needs remaining on defense. In-the-box strong safety T.J. McDonald was impressive, but now he’s paired with a true center-fielder with range who can cover.

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14. Chicago Bears: Bradley Roby, CB. Ohio State

Charles Tillman is on his last legs and may even be moving inside to safety at some point next year. New blood is needed at the position in an NFC North with a good group of opposing receivers.

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15. Pittsburgh Steelers: C.J. Mosley, ILB. Alabama

Pittsburgh does well to capitalize on experienced, proven college players in the early round and it’s hard to argue Mosley isn’t best available at this point, either. Partnering him with Lawrence Timmons would form a very difficult duo to play against.

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16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE. Missouri

Ealy is as slam-dunk of a pick as you’ll see for Dallas at this point. Finding a potential top 10 talent, at a position that has just become a primary need, fall to the middle of round one is true value. DeMarcus Ware out, Kony Ealy in.

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17. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Pryor, S. Louisville

In the post Ed Reed era, Matt Elam was added and was encouraging as a rookie. Calvin Pryor, a physical, downhill hitter with raw coverage skills would be an ideal complement. The position would unquestionably be solidified.

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18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE. North Carolina

A tight end?! Seriously, we’re talking steal at this point if Ebron nears the 20s. The Jets added a reliable offensive producer in Eric Decker and can bolster the offensive weaponry in a different way with this selection. Ultimately, the team needs talented pass catchers. They get one here.

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19. Miami Dolphins: Taylor Lewan, OT. Michigan

Plug and play prospect for the Phins. The offensive tackle need is negated and Ryan Tannehill gains some much needed protection help. Lewan at No. 19 would be good value if he were around here.

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20. Arizona Cardinals: Dee Ford, OLB. Auburn

When you give the Cards roster a look, you’ll quickly realize that they don’t have many glaring holes that can be filled with the group available. However, the team lacks a true disruption off the edge.

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21. Green Bay Packers: Ra’Shede Hageman, DL. Minnesota

Ted Thompson is a draft day wildcard who, in multiple instances, has had little fear of selecting someone who maybe wasn’t the popular choice. Hageman has top 10 potential and if given time to develop consistency, this could easily prove to be a steal down the road.

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22. Philadelphia Eagles: Kyle Fuller, CB. Virginia Tech

An athlete with size and speed, the Va Tech product has been rising well. The Eagles 3-4 transition has some good pieces, but the secondary could certainly stand to still be improved.

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23. Kansas City Chiefs: Odell Beckham Jr., WR. LSU

After a staggeringly quick turnaround, the Chiefs are now a team without many glaring holes. The offense lacks a bit of a punch, and a wide receiver trio of Dwayne Bowe, Odell Beckham Jr., and Donnie Avery is little more formidable.

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24. Cincinnati Bengals: Ryan Shazier, OLB. Ohio State

Despite losing Michael Johnson, the Bengals still have a lot invested in the defensive end position. We’ve witnessed the value of a large group of good young linebackers in recent years, and Shazier fits the mold. A quick, twitchy athlete with sideline to sideline qualities. Slots in right next to (and complements downhill defenders) Maualuga and Burfict nicely.

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25. San Diego Chargers: Darqueze Dennard, CB. Michigan State

I think the cornerback group may shake out this way, but were Darqueze Dennard the fourth off the board, someone gets a major steal. San Diego simply can’t enter the 2014 season with its current crop of corners.

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26. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB. Louisville

After landing the weapon earlier in Sammy Watkins, the Browns get the quarterback to piece everything together here. Bridgewater helped build up a Lousiville program without a plethora of talent surrounding him. He enters Cleveland with a few very legitimate targets.

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27. New Orleans Saints: DeMarcus Lawrence, DE/OLB. Boise State

Unfortunately for the pass rusher-hungry Saints, nobody of great value remains. However, Boise State’s DeMarcus Lawrence has 1st round upside and could develop nicely into Junior Galette’s sidekick.

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28. Carolina Panthers: Marqise Lee, WR. USC

The Panthers already had a big wide receiver need even before Steve Smith left town. Now without the long-time leader, the grunt work will be spread out amongst the current crop. However, Marqise Lee has plenty of experience being a workhorse in the passing game.

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29. New England Patriots: Kelvin Benjamin, WR. Florida State

Physically, the FSU receiver is Calvin Johnson without the speed. Great high-point skills and can overmatch most corners on the boundary. New England got by with a rather sub-par group last year and Benjamin helps infuse some talent – as well as a threat in the redzone.

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30. San Francisco 49ers: Stephon Tuitt, DE. Notre Dame

Shear value at this point. Tuitt’s slide is more of a formality and the 49ers are happy to see it. Justin Smith is extra long in the tooth, while Ray McDonald is on the wrong side of 30. Preparing for the future is never a bad thing.

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31. Denver Broncos: Allen Robinson, WR. Penn State

Offering many stylistic similarities to Demaryius Thomas, Allen Robinson’s addition could make Denver’s downfield offense even more deadly. A tough vertical receiver who wins many 50-50 balls. Eric Decker is now in New York and Peyton needs his targets.

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32. Seattle Seahawks: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT. Alabama

The champions don’t have many needs, but the loss of right tackle Breno Giacomini might have left the most immediate need going into 2014. Kouandjio is one of the best natural right tackles in this class and Pete Carroll already had 1st round success with James Carpenter – another Alabama alum.

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2014 NFL Draft to have record 30 prospects in attendance

A record 30 prospects have accepted an invitation to attend the 2014 NFL Draft live from Radio City Music Hall // COURTESY Marianne O'Leary

A record 30 prospects have accepted an invitation to attend the 2014 NFL Draft live from Radio City Music Hall // COURTESY Marianne O’Leary

The NFL Draft is one of the fastest annually growing entities in the sports world, let alone just within the NFL circle. With it comes inflation, and there is no shortage of it with regards to prospects making the trip to Radio City Music Hall. Long gone are the days of seeing only a small handful of prospects beginning round one in the backstage green room. The historic fleet of 30 players is spearheaded by polarizing passer Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, amongst many other intriguing prospects will join the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.

Four quarterbacks will attend, with Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo being the only non-“big 3″ member of the class’ position to accept an invitation. Fresno State’s David Carr reportedly opted to experience draft day/weekend from home. The two most well-represented schools at the draft hail from the SEC, as Alabama and Texas A&M have three each in attendance. Additionally, the SEC also accounts for 11 attendees of the 30 – the most among any conference. Wide receiver boasts the most players in attendance with seven. There will be no running backs or interior offensive linemen at this year’s draft.

In alphabetical order, here are the 30 prospects who will be in attendance for the 2014 NFL Draft:

-Odell Beckham, WR. LSU
-Blake Bortles, QB. UCF
-Teddy Bridgewater, QB. Louisville
-Hasean Clinton-Dix, S. Alabama
-Jadeveon Clowney, DE. South Carolina
-Brandin Cooks, WR. Oregon State
-Kony Ealy, DE. Missouri
-Eric Ebron, TE. UNC
-Mike Evans, WR. Texas A&M
-Kyle Fuller, CB. Va Tech
-Jimmy Garoppolo, QB. EIU
-Justin Gilbert, CB. Oklahoma State
-Ra’Shede Hageman, DT. Minnesota
-Timmy Jernigan, DT. Florida State
-Cyrus Kouandjio, OT. Alabam
-Cody Latimer, WR. Indiana
-Marqise Lee, WR. USC
-Taylor Lewan, OT. Michigan
-Khalil Mack, LB. Buffalo
-Johnny Manziel, QB. Texas A&M
-Jake Matthews, OT. Texas A&M
-Jordan Matthews, WR. Vanderbilt
-Morgan Moses, OT. Virginia
-C.J. Mosley, LB. Alabama
-Calvin Pryor, S. Lousiville
-Greg Robinson, OT. Auburn
-Bradley Roby, CB. Ohio State
-Ryan Shazier, LB. Ohio State
-Jason Verrett, CB. TCU
-Sammy Watkins, WR. Clemson

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2014 NFL Mock Draft, v. I

As promised, here is the first installment of Dion Caputi’s 2014 NFL Mock Draft. So as to avoid over-stuffing appetites for draft-related content too early in the process, I’ve opted to keep mocks to a minimum until this point. However, with the big day(s) approaching fast, be prepared for a ramped up effort to provide you with evaluation notes, analysis, and – of course – mocks. Now, lets get after it:

1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB. UCF

Matt Schaub is officially out of town and the combination of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum and T.J. Yates won’t offer new management any palpable assurances. I lend a fair amount of credence to the notion that Bill O’Brien likes a particular style of quarterback. In two years at Penn State, he transformed an erratic Matt McGloin into a more well-versed pocket passer, before coaching the tall-standing gunslinger Christian Hackenberg to 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. Of the quarterback triumvirate that the draft’s top 10 will be focused around, the lone prospect that fits O’Brien’s physical mold is Blake Bortles. The big, pocket-mobile passer has all the tools necessary to be a franchise cornerstone and the talent to warrant No. 1 overall consideration.
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2. St. Louis Rams (f/WAS): Greg Robinson, OT. Auburn

Arguably the most valuable prospect in this draft class, quarterbacks-aside. The underclassman blocker has quickly become a top 3 lock and perhaps the standalone tackle above Jake Matthews. A really good bender with quick feet, Robinson displayed all season how physical he can be with pads on and an athletic inclination during workouts at this year’s combine. The endgame for St. Louis, were they to select Robinson No. 2 overall, would be to plug the Auburn product in at left tackle. Short (and long) term, it would allow the organization to slide Jake Long to the right side, where he is likely to be more effective. Conversely, if St. Louis is comfortable with Long on the blindside and can’t move down, you have to think Sammy Watkins is a very logical option for a team that has flexibility with its picks.
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3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE. South Carolina

I’d argue that despite Gus Bradley’s comments about Chad Henne “probably” being the opening day starter, that a quarterback should be the pick here. Regardless, the former Seahawks defensive coordinator knows the value of putting pressure on the opposing passer, and few prospects to enter the NFL Draft have projected to be as good at it as Jadeveon Clowney. Motivation is the overwhelming concern to most evaluators, but the disruptive potential that the Gamecocks star offers is sure to make him a dangerous commodity to pass on. There is depth at the quarterback position in the 2014 NFL Draft, so the Jaguars may prefer to target one on day two.
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4. Cleveland Browns: Teddy Bridgewater, QB. Louisville

It’s tough to justify entering a season with Brian Hoyer as the standalone quarterback option when jobs are on the line. The Louisville gunslinger is accurate, mechanically smooth, and did a lot to help build up a program that wasn’t packed with an abundance of offensive talent. The cloudiness over Cleveland’s interest in seeking a quarterback with this pick doesn’t hinder my strong belief that the organization will ultimately opt for a signal caller to build around. New head coach Mike Pettine is a defensive minded individual, and while it may be a stretch here, it can be argued that Justin Gilbert could form a frustratingly good duo with Joe Haden.
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5. Oakland Raiders: Jake Matthews, OT. Texas A&M

The Raiders have done well to invest in veteran pass rushing help, but holes remain. Amidst the fallout of Rodger Saffold’s botched signing and Jared Veldheer’s bay area departure, the organization was left without a viable blindside option. The acquisition of Matt Schaub relieves the pressure to select an immediate improvement at quarterback, and in this scenario a supreme talent is available in a primary area of need. Discovering a long term solution under center remains a legitimate need, however.
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6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, OLB. Buffalo

If reports are true, than the Falcons may be looking to move up in order to secure elite pass rushing prospect Jadeveon Clowney, and the Rams at No. 2 are a very likely suitor should that be the case. However, in a no-trade mock, Thomas Dimitroff and co. are pleasantly surprised to find another potentially elite defender to aid a porous pass rush. In multiple ways, this scenario could actually prove more fruitful. The UB standout could have a similar rookie impact to that of Von Miller. It’d be hard to envision Atlanta passing on Mack to reach for offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, but he – as well as Anthony Barr – are likely to be in the discussion, at the very least.
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7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR. Clemson

The Bucs have very little depth at wide receiver after Vincent Jackson as it is and the team just dealt troubled Mike Williams to Buffalo. The big investment in prized free agent defensive end Michael Johnson negates the need to add a pass rusher here and Alterraun Verner shores up a need at cornerback. Josh McCown was brought in to be Lovie Smith’s starter, so by process of elimination + evaluating available talent in this scenario, top pass catching prospect Sammy Watkins is an easy selection.
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8. Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB. Texas A&M

Love it or hate it, the Vikings desperately need a quarterback, and Johnny Football could very well be the game-changing wildcard that Minnesota lacks. General Manager Rick Spielman is one of few survivors of the Brad Childress-era staff assembled in 2006. He has lasted through two head coaches and two unsuccessful attempts at drafting a franchise quarterback. Swinging for the fences at No. 8 may be his last chance despite being good at his job overall. The Vikes have a penchant for moving down the board and positively manipulating the draft, but if no quarterbacks are available and they can’t, linebacker C.J. Mosley makes a lot of sense in an emergency scenario.
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9. Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, OT. Michigan

The Bills managed to rank in the top third of the league in sacks and the overall pass defense was statistically impressive. What can stand to be improved more so, however, is pass protection. E.J. Manuel put together what I would quantify as an encouraging rookie campaign, but was marred by multiple injuries in the process. Taylor Lewan would offer a level of flexibility to head coach Doug Marrone – who comes from an offensive line background. Every year we witness an emphasis on tackles when a run begins, so taking the big Michigan man here may not wind up being that much of a reach. Lewan can slot in on the right side or push left tackle Cordy Glenn inside to guard – where I’ve always thought he projects better to. Hasean Clinton-Dix could be a natural replacement for the departed Jairus Byrd, as well.
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10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB. Oklahoma State

A dream scenario for the Lions, having arguably the top player available at perhaps their most legitimate of needs fall to them. Gilbert offers the Lions a cornerstone piece to lean on in the secondary and even holds extra value as a return threat. Detroit has been void of a true playmaker in the defensive backfield and there are few players available with the talent level he has remaining in this scenario.
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11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB. UCLA

New defensive coordinator Ray Horton deploys a host of 3-4 variations and an impact pass rusher to groom into a high leverage role would help the process along. Barr is excellent value, as he could ultimately wind up a top 5 selection and many wouldn’t think twice about it. The converted fullback also provides a level of flexibility amongst the front seven, with versatile linebackers Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers able to line up in a variety of spots. Veteran Shaun Phillips was signed to a two-year deal, but I’m not sure he negates Tennessee’s need to find 3-4 pieces early on.
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12. New York Giants: Aaron Donald, DT. Pittsburgh

Despite losing big Linval Joseph to the Vikings in free agency, the G-Men still have enough run-stuffing size in the middle between Cullen Jenkins and 2013 2nd round pick Jonathan Hankins. Adding an active, high-motor presence like Aaron Donald to help reinforce the defensive line would partially make up for lost depth. Capable in both the run and pass, the Pitt product is well-dressed in accolades and boasts three years of excellent production. Those who write off the 2013 Nagurski, Bednarik, Outland, and Lombardi award winner due to his lack of size are making a critical mistake.
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13. St. Louis Rams: Hasean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix, S. Alabama

After improving the offensive line early on, the Rams have even more flexibility at No. 13. Frankly, I’d be very surprised if the Rams were to make both picks without moving down, but with so many premium draft picks available there is plenty of flexibility. Jeff Fisher is a former defensive back himself and while T.J. McDonald had an encouraging rookie season, the organization could stand to pair him with another young talent. Although St. Louis hasn’t shied away from spending high picks on wide receivers, you can’t rule out the possibility this year – Mike Evans would be a natural complement to the electric Tavon Austin.
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14. Chicago Bears: Darqueze Dennard, CB. Michigan State

After improving the pass rush with the addition of Jared Allen, the Bears eliminated a potential early round need. The organization, in my mind, did well to retain Charles Tillman for one more year, but the veteran cornerback is now at an advanced age and regressed last season. While he may remain on the boundary, it can be argued that a move to safety may benefit his career. Regardless, the team needs an infusion of young talent at the position and the consensus All-American Darqueze Dennard is a great fit. There isn’t a very big drop off, if any, from Justin Gilbert in talent and I’d argue Dennard’s positional aptitude is greater.
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15. Pittsburgh Steelers: C.J. Mosley, ILB. Alabama

Particularly in recent years, the Steelers have done well to capitalize on falling talent. The selections of Maurkice Pouncey, Cam Heyward, David DeCastro, and Jarvis Jones helped aid specific needs and promoted a youthful turnover in the process. In this scenario, there are few better fits than the instinctual, athletic C.J. Mosley. Boasting quality physical skills and a high football IQ, the defensive field general can be plugged in next to Lawrence Timmons from day one. We’ve seen the value in many good, young linebackers of the past couple draft classes and I think the Alabama product might be the best prospect of all by comparison. Keeping in touch with the defensive youth movement, I’d keep a close eye on nose tackle Louis Nix. Perhaps even Notre Dame left tackle Zack Martin.
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16. Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, DE. Missouri

It was difficult not to notice how poor the Cowboys defense was last season as it transitioned away from a 3-4 base front. Take DeMarcus Ware out the equation and what’s really left? Particularly along the defensive line, the Cowboys desperately need to add young blood and the well-built, raw talent from Missouri helps aid those concerns. Jeremy Mincey is a half-decent vet and there are a couple young ends that can compete, but the team lacks a potential difference maker. Kony Ealy might be a top 10 player based solely on talent, in my opinion. Safety is also a possibility, as the team has done well to rebuild its secondary in recent years, so Louisville’s Calvin Pryor makes a lot of sense as well.
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17. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Pryor, S. Louisville

General Manager Ozzie Newsome is top shelf when it comes to roster management and further proved it this offseason by knocking off multiple needs prior to the draft. Last year, the effort to move on in the post-Ed Reed era began with the 1st round selection of promising young Matt Elam. Were the draft to shake out this way, I can definitely see a scenario where the thought of pairing him with the raw, but talented Calvin Pryor is too tantalizing to pass up on. The addition of wily vet Steve Smith eliminates the need to look for a wide receiver here, in my opinion, but big Mike Evans is an intriguing looking fit. Perhaps a projectable 3-4 defensive end like Ra’Shede Hageman or Stephon Tuitt, as well.
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18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE. North Carolina

A little bit of a curveball, as the Jets could greatly benefit from plugging in a number of available defensive talents that Rex Ryan may be chomping on the bit to work with. Still, Eric Ebron’s talent is undeniable and him being unselected at this point would constitute a shock to many onlookers. While I don’t think he’s Vernon Davis 2.0 as a prospect, as some might, the North Carolina star is a mismatch nightmare and will help aid whomever is under center for Gang Green in 2014. As noted, there is a host of defensive building blocks that make sense. A nose tackle like Louis Nix or pass rusher like Dee Ford. The need at cornerback is currently so big that you can’t rule one out despite the lack of true value available, in my opinion.
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19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT. Notre Dame

I’m tempted to believe the Dolphins would consider again addressing the defensive line with in-state talent Timmy Jernigan at this point, as he’d be value. However, if offensive line is the decision, which makes more sense to me, than you could make an argument for either Martin or Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio. Ultimately, the Notre Dame captain wins out in that situation here, as he is guard/tackle versatile and brings a very level-headed personality into a locker room that could really use it right now.
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20. Arizona Cardinals: Dee Ford, DE/OLB. Auburn

The Cards did very well to fill a sizable need on the blindside with the addition of Jared Veldheer, while also relieving pressure to add immediate help at cornerback with the signing of Antonio Cromartie. On paper, there are few glaring needs for Arizona, but for a team that does well to generate consistent pressure on opposing passers, further reinforcements couldn’t hurt. Disruptive edge rushers are a draft day premium and it would be a technicality that brought Dee Ford to No. 20 overall, in my estimation. Depending on how much faith the organization has in right tackle Bobby Massie, Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio could be a natural fit as well. Just a thought, but Austin Seferian-Jenkins would really open up a Cardinals offense that often emphasizes tight ends.
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21. Green Bay Packers: Ra’Shede Hageman, DL. Minnesota

There’s another slight curveball, I’d say. Jernigan still on the board and Hageman goes to Green Bay. Why? Ted Thompson is a bit of a draft day wildcard and I think he does a fair amount of projecting with many his selections. Physically, the Minnesota product is a specimen in the J.J. Watt mold. However, he’s incredibly raw and doesn’t display regular consistency. Hageman has untraceable potential and I think the Pack in particular would believe they can tap it.
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22. Philadelphia Eagles: Bradley Roby, CB. Ohio State

The Eagles began a 3-4 transition and have a few pieces worth emphasizing, but the secondary stands to be improved upon. Malcolm Jenkins was brought in to play safety and pairing him with a fellow Ohio State alum would be an intriguing option, in this case. You can never have enough good cornerbacks and if the semi-enigmatic talent at Bradley Roby’s disposal is properly channeled, he could be a bargain. Consistency is somewhat of a concern, but he won’t be overloaded with responsibility as a rookie.
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23. Kansas City Chiefs: Mike Evans, WR. Texas A&M

It was impossible to predict such a drastic and positive turnaround for the Chiefs in 2013. After picking first overall last year, they’re a team without very many glaring needs this May. Without a safety to potentially plug in next to Eric Berry or additional depth at linebacker, the team can look in a variety of directions. Mike Evans is arguably the best remaining talent and could ultimately wind up going well inside the top 15. Big, red zone threat with strong hands, the Johnny Football’s preferred target is also able to run good routes – a highly intriguing combination. A wide receiver trio of Evans, Bowe, and Avery would be quite formidable, and it can never hurt to add more offensive weaponry.
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24. Cincinnati Bengals: Ryan Shazier, OLB. Ohio State

Cincy stays in-state to seek improvement at the linebacker position, here. Shazier is a twitchy athlete with sideline-to-sideline speed. His positional value is aided by the current crop of young linebackers who have made great contributions early on (e.g. Luke Kuechly, Kiko Alonso, Lavonte David, Bobby Wagner, etc.). Despite losing Michael Johnson, the Bengals have invested premium picks in the defensive end position, so reaching for one – if you even believe one is worthy – isn’t necessary. Combining the All-American Buckeye with Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga would give the Bengals another nice piece on defense.
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25. San Diego Chargers: Kyle Fuller, CB. Virginia Tech

With Irish Chocolate on the board and a palpable need at nose tackle, the Chargers ultimately lean toward the position that is much harder to improve. Simply put, San Diego can’t enter this season with its current group of cornerbacks. Eric Weddle aside, the secondary is in disarray and new blood is needed. Va Tech’s Kyle Fuller is an instinctual boundary defender with great athleticism and physicality. His hand usage in press isn’t what I believe it can be, but there is formidable upside. Some elements of his game are reminiscent of long-time Chargers soldier Quentin Jammer.
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26. Cleveland Browns (f/IND): Brandin Cooks, WR. Oregon State

Despite there being talent available at cornerback and Timmy Jernigan still floating around unpicked, the Browns would do well to surround their new quarterback (No. 4 overall pick Teddy Bridgewater) with more targets. The explosive and athletic Brandin Cooks is a dynamic downfield threat that offers something a little different than what the current Browns receiving corps does. The reliable-handed Oregon State receiver can also create after the catch. An offensive core that features Bridgewater, Cooks, Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, and co. looks young and formidable. I wouldn’t even rule out a top rated guard like UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo or perhaps guard/swing tackle David Yankey of Stanford.
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27. New Orleans Saints: Demarcus Lawrence, DE/OLB. Boise State

Rob Ryan’s transition to a 3-4 front has panned out, as the Saints recovered from a historically poor 2012 season. However, the focal point of any unbalanced formation is generally the edge rushing Jack linebackers or “conversions.” 26-year-old Junior Galette tallied 12.0 sacks last year and can only benefit from having a formidable bookend. Former JUCO transfer Demarcus Lawrence of Boise State is a fast-rising prospect with a proven track record of pass rushing ability and production, boasting 20.0 sacks over the previous two seasons. Lawrence is fluid in space and has a great physical skill-set to build upon. Not many are mocking him in the first round, but I personally don’t see a very big drop off between Dee Ford and himself. It is a deep wide receiver class, so I think there is more value in the pass rushing option here. Although, in this scenario I’d be very intrigued to see the do-it-all Marqise Lee of USC working with Drew Brees. Champ Bailey may also cancel out any chances of a first round cornerback.
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28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR. Florida State

Full disclosure: I pegged a cornerback here and couldn’t bring myself to stick with it. With the unparalleled depth this draft class has at the wide receiver position, coupled with its lesser positional value, I just don’t know how likely it is that Carolina chooses one here. That said, it’s difficult to justify passing on the opportunity to surround Cam Newton with more weapons, and the national title winner Kelvin Benjamin could be a dyanmic addition. A true redzone threat who high-points with ease, Benjamin is only scratching the surface of his potential. If the organization that drafts him is patient and realizes he will enter the league without much polish, there are a number of benefits to be reaped long term. Although he doesn’t remotely match up in the speed department, Benjamin is of similar size + body type to that of Calvin Johnson’s, and that can (and will) cause mismatches at the next level.
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29. New England Patriots: Timmy Jernigan, DT. Florida State

And the seemingly unrealistic slide is over. Jernigan falling to No. 29 is no indictment of his abilities, but a formality based on the way this mock scenario has panned out in my mind. The Patriots are always a trading candidate on draft day, but in the event a player like this is available at this point, it’s an easy decision. The squatty, powerful Seminole has the skill-set to play either defensive tackle role in a base 4-3 and would be able to contribute without immediate pressure in New England. The countdown on Vince Wilfork’s Patriot career may have begun this offseason and the club has always shown a willingness to be patient with its high picks. The turnover on defense continues with this selection, as Chandler Jones and Timmy Jernigan would be two very formidable building blocks.
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30. San Francisco 49ers: Stephon Tuitt, DE. Notre Dame

San Fran has gotten by nicely along its defensive line for a few years now, but it might be time to begin looking at infusing some youth. In September, both starting ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald will be 35 and 30, respectively. Adding a top, young talent to groom for the future could prove supremely useful – especially considering the value of Tuitt at this point. The 6’5″ 304 lbs. Fighting Irish 5-tech has tallied a total of 19.5 sacks in two years and has a strong foundation for future improvement.
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31. Denver Broncos: Jason Verrett, CB. Texas Christian

The Super Bowl runners-up suffered the loss of both Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey. Despite landing Aqib Talib in free agency, the team remains a little exposed at the position. TCU’s Jason Verrett reminds me a little of Russell Wilson as a prospect: a complete player who would, in my mind, be a very high pick were it not for less-than-ideal size. That said, he can adapt to multiple coverage schemes, tackle, play physical, and boasts very good hops as well. Despite the height deficiency I do project him to be able to play on the boundary at the next level. I wouldn’t rule out a wide receiver here either. Although Emmanuel Sanders was brought in, the departure of Eric Decker could entice Denver to pull the trigger on any one of the remaining talents at the position. An overabundance of offensive weapons has never harmed a Peyton Manning-led team.
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32. Seattle Seahawks: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT. Alabama

The champion Seattle Seahawks’ very talented roster is well-documented, but the team did witness starting right tackle Breno Giacomini bolt for the Jets. Although the team could also potentially look to replace departed cornerback Brandon Browner, it did just fine without him, so the position is likely to be addressed later. Pete Carroll and co. have been happy with the production of the last Alabama offensive lineman it selected in round 1, in James Carpenter, which can only help the case for this one. Cyrus Kouandjio projects to be a very effective right tackle at the next level and could easily be selected much earlier despite a rocky-at-times pre draft run up. This pick helps shore up one of, if not the only, legitimate positional concern the Seahawks have right now.
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2014 NFL Combine Notes: Defensive Line & Linebacker

Monday brought with it my personal favorite day of the combine: conversions. Nothing intrigues me more than evaluating the hybrid types who have drawn the distinction of being a potential 3-4 rushers. We also got the opportunity to take a look at the rest of the linebackers and defensive linemen (both tackle & end) in attendance. Here are a few notes on Monday’s combine workouts:

Defensive Tackle

*Monday starts and ends with Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald. The undersized (6’0 3/4″ 285 lbs.) 3-tech ran a 4.68 – the best among defensive tackles by a wide margin – threw up 35 reps on the bench press, and displayed his short-area burst with an impress 7.11 seconds in the 3-cone drill. His movement in drills was top notch. Donald, a potential late 1st round selection, had a really strong combine and only helped himself with his performance in Indy.

*The big man Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota once again caught eyes with his stellar physical makeup. He carries his frame very well and got East-West pretty comfortably. An athletic body-type with room to grow. Struggled to regularly stay low when participating in drills, which is consistent with his game film.

*The squatty Florida State product Timmy Jernigan showed off good, quick feet and a pretty strong looking frame to match. Able to sink hips well when changing direction, using hands well on bags. Bent his hips very well, maintaining balance nicely when moving laterally. Overall, had a nice day.

*Another individual who carried a big frame well was LSU’s Anthony Johnson. Combined good footwork with decent lateral ability. Another balanced, wide-based individual in drills.

*Penn State nose tackle-type DaQuan Jones was moving well for a 6’4″ 322-pounder. A little stiff when changing direction, but that’s okay for someone of his stature. Managed to keep low and look the part of a leverage-savvy inside lineman.

*Mr. Irish Chocolate himself, Notre Dame’s Louis Nix did himself no harm, in my opinion. Ran about as slow (5.42) as you’d expect a natural 6’2 3/4″ 331-pound nose tackle to, but was moving better than I expected laterally and had a deceptively decent short-area burst.

*Louisiana Tech nose tackle Justin Ellis exhibited pretty decent movement for a bulky interior lineman. His lateral movement and ability to sink his hips, keeping a wide base, was something that particularly caught my eye. Late add at the Senior Bowl, where he was encouraging, Ellis has done a good enough job to keep the momentum going.

*Princeton’s Caraun Reid had a good day and is maintaining a solid pre-draft run up. He looked really quick in drills and ran a solid 4.91 as well. Movement skills were above-average, to me. He’s setting a good example for future Ivy Leaguers with pro aspirations. Do everything and make the most of opportunities.
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Defensive End

*The big man on the draft circuit, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney blazed the best 40-time amongst the DL groups, posting a 4.53 at a filled out 6’5″ 266-pounds. He did not participate in drills, but tallied nice numbers in both the vertical (37 1/2″) and broad (124.0″) jumps. I, like most, would have liked to see him compete, as he’s by no means a lock for No. 1 overall, but he did the job in physical testing. With that said, nobody ever doubted that aspect of his evaluation.

*Oregon State’s Scott Crichton was a bit of an eye-opener on Monday, displaying his high motor in drills and good short-area quickness. He has big hands and used them well in bag drills. Also carried his 6’3″ 273-pound frame well.

*Missouri’s Kony Ealy has a heavier frame and was moving well with it. Good short-area explosion is what caught my eye when watching him. Looked a little stiff at times, but nothing overly concerning.

*Despite being a bit of a tweener, I’m a fan of Texas’ Jackson Jeffcoat. Had somewhat of an up and down workout overall, but I couldn’t help noticing his quickness when getting lateral. On the other end of the spectrum, his ability to turn and run with fluidity left a little to be desired. Still unsure as to whether he is a fit in space as a 3-4 player – might be better off adding to his frame and putting his hand in the dirt, full time.

*Shepherd’s Howard Jones is a lean athlete who looked more like a linebacker – which is where he will play at the next level – rather than a lineman. Physical testing was solid and he moved about the field really well in drills. A little stiff when flipping his hips, but the athleticism was on full display. 40.5″ vertical, 124.0″ broad, 7.16 3-cone. All top shelf figures.

*Another player who will likely be playing in space as a 3-4 rusher moving forward is Boise State’s DeMarcus Lawrence. I was very impressed with his workout, as he had fluidity on display throughout every movement drill. I didn’t see much stiffness either. One of the players who won from his group, in my mind.

*One of my 2014 NFL Draft favorites, North Carolina’s Kareem Martin did well. At 6’6″ 272-pounds, ran a 4.72 time, moved without much stiffness, and had pretty active hands. Didn’t shock or awe the way I thought he was capable of, but still put together a good performance.

*USF’s Tevin Mims caught my attention at times. Pretty fluid in free-flow movement, change of direction was nice in conversion drills, and carried a 6’4″ 260-pound frame well. I see the foundation for a decent stand up 3-4 linebacker in his skill set.

*Ball State’s Jonathan Newsome looked like a linebacker running through drills with defensive linemen. Well-built athlete who was noticeably loose in movement. Change of direction and hip-flip skills were pretty solid, as well. Definite stand up conversion in most base fronts.

*The polarizing Michael Sam of Missouri was so-so throughout the day. Competed well and showed off a solid physical makeup, but was very rigid in change of direction throughout drills. Looked too stiff to play in space, lacked the sort of lower-body explosion I was expecting, and didn’t time well (4.91). Without sounding as though I’m piling on, as I do think there is a fit for him in a base 4-3, he’s got some work to do before May.

*Arkansas’ Chris Smith had a better day than I expected. Better in space than I saw compared to his in-game footage and showed off a good initial burst in many instances. Ran a 4.71, which was better than the 4.8-range I had him pegged for. Still needs to get a little strong, in my opinion.

*Lastly, Boston College’s Kasim Edebali was a high energy mover throughout the day. Noticeable quickness and burst in drills, ran alright at 4.79. I liked his change of direction skills and I think his best fit will come as a 3-4 player at the next level.
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Linebacker

*Buffalo’s Khalil Mack entered the day with the distinction of being the best player available amongst the LB group. He didn’t disappoint, as he stayed fluid, looked loose, moved freely, and made a couple good catches. As a space player, he should be just fine. No hindering limitations in that regard. Ran well too, posting a 4.65 – good enough to tie him for the fourth best time. Impressive 40.0″ vertical and 4.18 shuttle numbers.

*Interesting UCLA product Anthony Barr put his raw talent on display. Bends very well and stayed really flexible in movement. Ran a solid 4.66 time and coupled it with a nice 6.82 in the 3-cone. Effortlessly carries his 6’5″ 255-pound frame and showed great initial burst. Definite 3-4 player to me if you’re looking to maximize Barr’s capabilities.

*I am very intrigued by Florida’s Ronald Powell. Very talented player packed with upside – a former top HS recruit at DE, I see a nice fit as a rush linebacker. Pretty fluid in space and has a little better hip bend than I saw on film. The physically gifted Gator also ran a nice 4.65.

*The Florida State linebackers had a solid day. In particular, Telvin Smith, who posted the second best time at 4.52, was flying through drills at high speed, and changed direction with ease. Versatile Christian Jones wasn’t as fluid as his teammate, but did exhibit quality footwork and used his hands well in bag drills.

*Boston College’s Kevin Pierre-Louis posted the fastest time, at 4.51, and put his footwork, good bend, and lateral quickness on display. Unfortunately he’s undersized and rounds a little when he’s changing direction.

*Notre Dame’s Prince Shembo was a pleasant surprise at the combine. Physical player who’s athleticism wasn’t believed to be the equal of some other peers in the LB group, but he proved capable. Much-better-than-expected 4.71 time, strong hand usage in bag drills, and was improved in East-West movement.

*Another athlete with versatility, USC’s Devon Kennard has played inside, outside, and at defensive end while with the Trojans. Great physical makeup, ran a clean 4.70, and looked pretty loose hipped for a player who exited HS as a defensive end. He has a lot of untapped pass rushing potential.

*Small-schooler Jordan Tripp from Montana had a very solid workout. Consistent and quick were the two positives I took from his combine. In a day where more than half the linebackers couldn’t catch a cold, let alone a football, Tripp made comfortable off-body grabs with regularity. He was active with good footwork. Even ran an impressive 4.67 time. FCS kids standing out.

*BYU’S Kyle Van Noy is an energy player who flowed well in drills. Good hips, changed direction pretty well, and did every drill at a high pace. He’s an all around player who needs to establish a fit for himself, but I see him succeeding in a number of schemes. Actually hit is head on a camera tripod while laying out for a ball near the sideline at one point.

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2014 NFL Combine Notes: Quarterback, Wide Receiver & Running Back

Things heated up at the 2014 NFL Combine on Sunday, as we witnessed an infusion of speed with the offensive playmakers. We saw a few of the “name” quarterbacks participate in throwing drills, while others opted to hold out until pro days. This year’s wide out class is as deep as it has ever been and coupled with a long list of running backs with very different skill-sets. Certainly an intriguing bunch to evaluate. here’s what caught my eye on day two of workouts in Indianapolis:

Quarterback

*Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater was in attendance, tallying a 30″ vertical + 9’5″ broad jump, but chose not to throw. Johnny Manziel also opted to wait for his pro day to showcase his throwing, but ran a 4.68 time in the 40-yard dash, 31.5″ vertical, and 9’5″ broad jump.

*Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas let it rip on Sunday. On film he exhibits an inability to control his arm with consistency, leading to erratic spells. In Indy, he was regularly throwing ropes to receivers in intermediate and longer range drills. He showcased well and surely will catch the eye of coaches who feel they can massage his most obvious creases. There obviously is no physical limitations, and he even clocked the best time of any quarterback with a 4.60. Without ruling out his future as a passer, it’s worth noting that he’s got the size + speed to entice some as a prospective tight end… a position he was highly touted at out of high school.

*Tajh Boyd of Clemson displayed pretty solid timing with his foreign receivers. Drops were quick and easy, release was compact. Made a couple nice throws downfield.

*Alabama’s A.J. McCarron is one of the more under-appreciated passers of this class, and his downfield throwing abilities don’t get the due credit, in my view. On Sunday, he made three very nice, very accurate deep throws for completions. McCarron was putting a little bit of loft under his short-intermediate throws and out-route simulation drills, but overall it was a positive showing.

*Highly touted UCF passer Blake Bortles threw and had a good day. Solid on deep passes. Perhaps most importantly, there was no evident loss of velocity, as some have been increasingly concerned about in this pre-draft run up. Short-intermediate range throws were released with pretty noticeable strength.

*Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t really stand out to me, but continued to display really good footwork. This carried over from his solid Senior Bowl performance, and I believe it translated into pretty good timing despite unfamiliarity with the receivers.

*Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage was arguably the best of the second group on Sunday and displayed a strong arm with good timing.

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Running Back

*Nobody did more to earn the label of “workout warrior” out of the running back group than Georgia Southern’s Jerick McKinnon. He marked the second-fastest 40-time among his position (4.41), the most bench press reps (32), second best vertical (40.5), second best broad jump (11’0″). Performed well in drills, looked fluid and quick when running routes. Had a really good day.

*Kent State’s Dri Archer was, by far, the fastest timed player of his positional group after posting a blazing 4.26 time in the 40-yard dash. He exhibited comfortable, off-body hands. Archer made me a believe that he can be utilized as both a running back and slot-receiver in order to get him touches in space. Could be a legitimate playmaker if placed in the right system.

*Blake Bortles running back at UCF was the talented Storm Johnson, who put together a very solid combine workout. The Miami (FL) transfer solidified the notion that he has good hands and can be a factor in the passing game, making a handful of quality off-body grabs. Loose, fluid movement for a well-sized ‘back. Likely to remain in my top 5 for the position.

*Washington’s Bishop Sankey made a bit of a statement. A primarily downhill, North-South runner who ran really well (4.49) and showed reliable hands in catching drills. Good hips, bent well, stayed loose.

*Alabama State’s Isaiah Crowell did himself good with a solid performance at the combine too. Was moving really nicely and intrigued with a couple quality catches off his frame. Timed speed was average at best, but the former 5-star recruit from the University of Georgia flashed enough talent to warrant a look.

*Lache Seastrunk of Baylor checked out physically. Very muscular, strong lower-body and it translated well – the ex-Oregon Duck had the best vertical (41.5) and broad (11’2″) jumps, putting his explosion on full display.

*Oregon x-factor and return specialist De’Anthony Thomas underwhelmed in his 40-time, clocking in at a 4.50, but looked as quick as you’d expect. Teams will have to find creative ways to get him in space, but he has the electricity to intrigue a team hungry for a potential playmaker and returner.

*Auburn’s Tre Mason wasn’t really a standout amongst his positional group, but didn’t perform poorly either. Solid in receiving drills, but could have maybe ran routes with a little more purpose. Aside from that, he competed and did himself no harm.

*Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde ran his first 40-yard dash and pulled up holding his left hamstring. He did not participate in any drills afterward as a precaution.

*For a bigger, bulkier ‘back like Toledo’s David Fluellen, he was able to sink his hips and change direction really nicely. Pleasantly surprised by his decent fluidity.

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Wide Receiver

*First and foremost, the fastest timed receiver was Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, who clocked a 4.33. A fleet-footed burner with the ability to play in the slot or out wide. Looked explosive during drills.

*Clemson’s Sammy Watkins didn’t get me out of my seat with his workout, but he flashed the occasional “wow” moment during the day in drills. Great body control, really solid hands, and did everything at a high speed, while remaining efficient in his movement He may be disappointed with it, but his official 4.43 time was nothing to scoff at.

*Johnny Manziel’s most talented target Mike Evans was a standout among his section of wide receivers. Long athlete who displayed really good hands all throughout the day, plucking off his frame with regularity and comfort. Looked a little stiffer in and out of his breaks, but strides nicely downfield.

*Kelvin Benjamin looks like a specimen at 6’5″ 240 lbs. definitely passed the eye-test. Ran a 4.61, which is fine for a player of his stature, and demonstrated his ability to use his length when making catches. Had a bit of a propensity to drop the occasional pass this past season, but was pretty consistent in making catches during combine drills. Appeared to be a little less rigid than Mike Evans when changing direction or sticking his foot in the ground in/out breaks.

*Big, physical Rutgers pass catcher Brandon Coleman ran a really solid 4.51 time at 6’6″ 225 lbs. Made a few nice catches downfield and overall, I believe he helped himself. Physical makeup is very interesting.

*Disappointing 4.60 time for Penn State underclassman Allen Robinson, but he proved on film that he could get separation and win in 50-50 situations when he was in them. Still, his physical testing wasn’t anything more than average.

*LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. exhibited impressive body control during the gauntlet drill and ran routes with authority. Timed speed of 4.43 was a good figure for him, as well.

*Ole Miss’ Donte Moncrief was up and down in drills, but physically did well. Ran an impressive 4.40 and was a top performer in the vertical and broad jumps. Big frame was carried well.

*A surprise from Pittsburgh State (KS) John Brown blazed a 4.34 and looked very quick in and out of cuts during drills. Accelerated quickly and stayed loose all throughout the day. I’ll have to do a little more work.

*Alabama’s Kevin Norwood is a player I’ve been high on for some time now. He struggled to consistently complete drills without the occasional drop.

*Oklahoma slot-man Jalen Saunders was agile and electric, ran fast (4.44), and looked good enough in a variety of drills to indicate he could line up out wide on occasion too – which film also suggest, in my view.

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2014 NFL Combine notes: Offensive Line & Tight End

The on-field portion of the 2014 NFL Combine kicked off on Saturday with offensive linemen and tight ends working out for evaluators in attendance. Lets keep this short and sweet. Here are a few notes from day one:

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Offensive Line

*Michigan’s Taylor Lewan showcased his athletic ability by timing as the fastest offensive lineman at the 2014 NFL Combine, running 4.87 officially. The 6’7″ 309-pounder had the best broad jump (9’9″), while placing as a top 5 performer in the vertical jump and 3-cone drill. Got a little upright at times during some drills, but moved well throughout drills. Good posture and bending.

*Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson, at 6’5″ 332-pounds ran 4.92 (good enough for second best time), and repped 32 times with 35″ arms. Looked powerful in the lower half and drove well in pad drills. “Pad level” at point of attack in certain drills was particularly impressive, but had a slight tendency to overextend. Overall, strong day.

*Nevada tackle Joel Bitonio had arguably the best workout. Very fluid mover with good feet and hips. Ran well (4.97), plus had high marks in the broad jump, 3-cone drill, and 20-yard shuttle. Extended arms well in pad drills.

*Top guard of the day was UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo. Fluid, fluid, fluid. Movement skills were up there with any of his fellow linemen, if not better. Tested very well in the 20-yard shuttle and performed particularly well in short-area movement drills. Second-round pick with potential to fit into the bottom portion of round one, supported it with a good workout.

*Johnny Football’s left tackle Jake Matthews entered the day with the distinction of being a potential top 3-5 selection and did nothing to harm that with his performance. Didn’t stand-out like some of his fellow linemen, but put together a professional workout and displayed a solid ability to square his frame in pad + mirror drills.

*Colorado State center Weston Richburg is someone I’ve been praising highly for quite a while now. He, like Su’a-Filo, was a standout with regards to transition movement. Fluid, able to stay balanced, and even bent pretty well. At 6’3″ and a shade under 300-pounds, he was able to exhibit strong short-area quickness.

*The big, physical University of Tennessee tackle Antonio Richardson was never going to be in his element at the combine, but competed well throughout the workout. Strong in pad drills that required him to make some contact and extended pretty well. Kept his feet under him well when driving. Decent agility.

*Similar to Tiny Richardson, another lineman who wasn’t at an advantage without the pads on was Stanford’s David Yankey. His pedestrian 5.48 time isn’t concerning, as he’s a strong blocker who extended his 34″ arms nicely in pad drills. He showed enough.
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Tight End

*It was very difficult not to take note of Tennessee State’s A.C. Leonard. The Florida transfer officially ran the fastest time with a 4.50 and was tied for the best positional broad jump at 10’8″. In drills he continued to display very natural movement ability while maintaining reliable hands throughout. If he can be as clean off the field as he was on it Saturday, he will be an interesting one moving forward.

*Notre Dame underclassman Troy Niklas didn’t run the 40, but participated in drills. He was one of the more eye-grabbing pass catchers of the group to me, exhibiting natural hands. Comfortably catches off-body and didn’t lose stride in the process during drills. Combine stats weren’t great, but he had a good day when you consider he was reportedly dealing with a strain.

*North Carolina product Eric Ebron ran the second best official time at 4.60, but reportedly tweaked a hamstring during his second 40-yard dash attempt. He was seen with an ice wrap on his right leg and did not workout.

*Colt Lyerla of Oregon ran well at 4.61 officially, but didn’t “wow” in drills like some may have expected, but showed off his athleticism quite well.

*Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro looked a little off-balance while running drills and hands were up and down throughout the day. Had a decent overall workout.

*Quarterback-turned-H back Trey Burton of Florida worked out with the tight ends and looked very athletic. He ran well (4.62) and his ability to get downfield and change direction was solid enough. He was clearly raw as a pass catcher and it showed in drills. An athlete without a position at the moment, but he has talent.

*C.J. Fiedorowicz, the big Iowa in-liner, did well in pad/block-mimicking drills and displayed a decent ability to catch underneath or short-passes. As expected, he struggled a little with the downfield catching drills and wasn’t always comfortable when locating the football.

*CSU’s Crockett Gillmore is coming off a good platoon role at the Senior Bowl and continued to display reliable hands in drills at the combine. Would have liked to see him run better (than an official 4.89), but overall his workout wasn’t bad.

*Cal H-back Richard Rodgers ran less than what I’d have expected at 4.87, but moved better than his time would indicated when participating in drills. Natural hands and fluid route runner, but I was disappointed not to see him make more of his physical skills during combine testing.

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Five players to watch from South

WR Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma

-What makes this OU slot-type especially dangerous is that he combines short-area agility and elusiveness in space with legitimate long speed. Saunders exhibits body control and natural hands. He’s proved slippery as a route runner, as it is troubling for defenders to consistently keep hands on him off the snap. The Fresno State transfer has had two quality years at Oklahoma, developing into a decent blocker and definite threat on punt returns – both of which add a level of value to his draft stock. The Senior Bowl practices will give Saunders the opportunity to flash his ability in space when participating in one-on-one drills. He’s among a handful of players with the ability to really grab his opportunity in Mobile and run with it… so to speak.

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DT Daniel McCullers, Tennessee

-While there aren’t many physical marvels of McCullers’ stature that succeed at the pro level, there is always a certain level of interest in maximizing the capabilities of such a monstrous individual. He may not wind up being as tall as advertised, but the ex-JUCO standout carries his weight very well, and would benefit from continuing to work his weight (listed 351 lbs.) down a little further. Only a two-down player, but incredible length and bulk. His presence alone can be disruptive to the flow of an offense’s ground game, and his height (listed 6’8″) can affect passing lanes in the short-middle of the field – although the PBU (pass break up) numbers aren’t where they could be. He’s a space-eater that likes to take on blockers rather than penetrate and play in the backfield. I see 3-4 value in his game as a 0-technique, a la Casey Hampton – who attracts blockers and keeps the linebackers clean behind him. Conditioning and balance, as is for most massive-framed linemen, are two areas worth monitoring. However, when kept sharp, McCullers has pocket-collapsing strength. With regards to the Senior Bowl, I’m looking to evaluate his movement skills as they relate to his size, and whether he can dominate in 1-v-1 situations.

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DT Will Sutton, Arizona State

-Looking at the other end of the McCullers-spectrum, we have a 1-gapper with excellent prenetration skills in Will Sutton. The two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year had a spectacularly productive junior campaign in which he totaled 23.5 tackles for loss and 13.0 sacks, but production dipped to 13.5 and 4.0 last season. The addition of weight and extra attention from opposing offensive linemen undoubtedly contributed to the lessening of statistical success, but he remained effective. He became more positionally responsible as a senior, choosing to less frequenty go cavalier. Good motor, plays to the whistle. Quick in short, tight areas, and utilizes his natural leverage on bigger blockers. He’s a distinguished player with a pedigree (two-time All-American), and enters the Senior Bowl as a known commodity amongst most collegiate athletes. I’d like to see him play with a chip on his shoulder in practices and lead the way.

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OLB Kyle Van Noy, Brigham-Young

-Despite playing as an edge linebacker in BYU’s base 3-4, Van Noy – like Von Miller in 2011 – is better suited to a 4-3 front. He’s an active, high energy defender with surprisingly good coverage skills. Developed a knack for playmaking throughout his collegiate career. Has wheels and can play sideline-to-sideline. Not a natural pass rusher off the edge, as he is susceptible to being swallowed up by bigger blockers. I’m eager to see whether he will be able to win vs. strong, bulkier Senior Bowl blockers. The physical aspects of practice and the game will be closely monitored, as we should all know by now that he can run and make plays.

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CB Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma

-To me, the most impressive aspect of Colvin’s game is his ability to play tight coverage, at roughly 6’0″ 192 lbs., against quicker + slippery receivers. Very comfortable in off-coverage and doesn’t typically get beaten for the big play. Defends passes well despite lacking high-end ball skills. The two-time All-Big 12 selection has a penchant for keeping his assigned target quiet over the course of games. Not overly physical in run defense, but an effective blitzer. Colvin displays good fluidity and it resutls in smoother change of direction skills. When in Mobile, I’d like to see the OU standout continue exhibiting quality anticipation skills when tasked with lining up in off-coverage concepts.

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Five players to watch from North

QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson

-The ability for a quarterback to be mobile and remain accurate is very important in many NFL offenses nowadays. Tajh Boyd is a smaller passer, but boasts a very strong arm, with the ability to run effective play-action and distribute well. Pegged by some – myself included – as being a nice fit for a west coast style offense, the Clemson pivot possesses an innate comfort in throwing on the run and has proven to be a threat to take off when he gets mobile. Although he’s only 6’1″ at most, Boyd compensates well and benefits from his release point. In practice, I’m looking to see what sort of rhythm he can find with his foreign targets and how consistent he can be at setting his feet + stepping into throws; a sticking point with Boyd, and a pair of issues that most mobile passers can fall victim to. In the game, I’m eager to evaluate his capability of making multiple reads, the avoidance of locking onto targets, and trusting his arm too much – which tape tells me he is susceptible of doing occasionally. Boyd is the North roster’s most balanced and distinguishable quarterback, so it’s important to me that he plays like it throughout the festivities in Mobile.

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OT Seantrel Henderson, Miami (FL)

-They say talent is given every opportunity possible to flourish, and the rule certainly applies to this Miami (FL) product. Henderson, a St. Paul, Minnesota native, was once described by recruiting savant Tom Lemming as “a cross between Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Pace” – praise nobody on earth can ever hope to live up to at the tackle position. However, the raw talent is undeniably there, and 6’7″/6’8″ near-350 lbs. athletes at the position simply don’t grow on trees. If he can continue working to keep his head level off-field, there’s no reason to believe a team, or teams, will not feel they can shape him into a strong player on it. Quick feet, very comfortable in movement when pulling or moving to the next level, stays physical, and potentially lights out when he gets his arms extended on a defender. Although he’s not gotten as much game experience as you’d prefer by this point, his experience in a three-point stance should benefit him, and how comfortable he looks in that aspect should show at the Senior Bowl. Becoming a better knee bender will be imperative to his future and if Henderson isn’t able to show he can avoid getting beat to the outside by speed in Mobile, he may find himself pegged as a right tackle-only by consensus, if he hasn’t already. It’s a little unfair to constantly give so much attention to players who put together only average-at-best production in college, but with a talent base like this, it’s tough not to remain intrigued.

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DE Kareem Martin, North Carolina

-Few came into their own like Kareem Martin did in 2013. The large lineman amassed 82 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles (all personal career-highs) this past season. One primary benefit of Martin’s Senior Bowl trip, for evaluators, is the opportunity to try and identify a clear-cut role for him at the next level. At an unofficial 6’6″ 265 lbs., with room to grow, some could feel he is be best suited to a 5-tech role in a 3-4 base, while others may view him as not being strong enough, and his movement better utilized in a 4-3 front. A tall edge player with good length and a sturdy base, the North Carolina product plays with finesse and maneuvers his way around blockers well despite a larger frame. Martin doesn’t absorb an abundance of unnecessary contact and has been as durable as he is versatile. The All-ACC first-team selection could prove valuable as an interior rusher on third-downs in the NFL, adding to his value. He is very ball-aware, positionally responsible, and uses his athleticism in order to be apart of scrums on a down-by-down basis, leading to a high volume of tackles. Martin also properly uses his length to affect passing lanes and break up throws art the line of scrimmage. Depending on how well he is able to perform in Mobile, I believe we could be looking at a potential riser in the pre-draft run up. The combination of size, movement skills, length, pass rushing aptitude, and overall athleticism is very intriguing.

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DT Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota

-In terms of raw, unadulterated talent, you’re looking at one of the draft’s crown jewels. A converted tight end and high school basketball player, the very-athletic Ra’Shede Hageman ticks every box in the physical skill department. The 6’6″ 311 lbs. interior lineman has flashed moments of utter disruption as a pass rusher, but has proven unable to consistently bring his game together while at Minnesota. Expected to be a combine warrior with similar projected stats to that of J.J. Watt in 2011, it is important that the Golden Gopher star can continue displaying a penchant for winning in one-on-one battles at the Senior Bowl. He’s exhibited the ‘plus’ movement skills and fluidity to be an effective pursuit player from sideline-to-sideline in run defense, which adds a unique element to his game. Tape doesn’t live up to the hype that his dimensions and supremely gifted stature generate, but there is a high quality piece of clay to be worked with in regards to Hageman’s game. Generally regarded as a boom-or-bust prospect; there isn’t much room in between. The question is, can he show enough on-field promise, in addition to his specimen-like physical ability, to warrant the early consideration he will no doubt receive in early May. Any and all signs of that will be what evaluators are on the lookout for during the Senior Bowl.

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ILB Chris Borland, Wisconsin

-Everyone loves an underdog, and Chris Borland certainly fits the bill as one of the 2014 NFL Draft’s more underappreciated players, in my opinion. Not often will you see a linebacker who is listed at 5’11” or less go on to great things in today’s NFL, but much like his ex-teammate Russel Wilson, Borland’s all around game compensates nicely for his lack of size. A consistent tackling machine with phenomenal instincts and a particular knack for playing effectively in the box, the 2013 Big Ten Player of the Year has put together an impressively productive college career in Madison. Energetic defender, he is quick in short areas, regularly moving with fluidity + pesky, effective blitzer with good penetration skills – these characteristics should be on display in many movement and one-on-one drills. While he runs + tracks well, his lack of matchup size hurts his projectability as a pass defender at the next level, so that will undoubtedly be an area to keep an eye on with regards to the Senior Bowl. Borland’s tackling form, despite a seemingly unparalleled accumulation of tackles, can fail him at times, and I’d like to see a bit more growth in that aspect as he moves to the next level. At the very least, he should prove to be a very capable special teamer early on – he’s spent plenty of time in that phase of the game.

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2014 Senior Bowl: South roster

*(Height | Weight | Hand Size | Arm Length | Wingspan)

Quarterback
Derek Carr, Fresno State (6’2 1/8 | 215 lbs. | 9 1/8 | 31 1/4 | 75 1/8)
David Fales, San Jose State (6’1 3/8 | 220 lbs. | 9 1/4 | 31 1/8 | 75 1/2)
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois (6’2 1/4 | 219 lbs. | 9 | 30 1/4 | 75 1/4)

Running Back
Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky (5’10 1/8 | 225 lbs. | 9 1/8 | 30 5/8 | 73 7/8)
Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern (5’9 | 209 lbs. | 8 3/8 | 29 1/2 | 71)
Jay Prosch, fullback, Auburn (6’0 3/4 | 256 lbs. | 10 | 30 1/8 | 74 1/8)
Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina (6’0 3/8 | 231 lbs. | 8 1/2 | 31 3/8 | 75 5/8)

Wide Receiver
Mike Davis, Texas (6’0 1/4 | 193 lbs. | 10 1/8 | 32 | 77 1/4)
Ryan Grant, Tulane (6’0 1/4 | 197 lbs. | 9 5/8 | 30 7/8 | 74 1/2)
Cody Hoffman, BYU (6’3 7/8 | 218 lbs. | 9 7/8 | 33 | 78 1/4)
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt (6’2 5/8 | 209 lbs. | 10 1/2 | 32 5/8 | 80 1/8)
Kevin Norwood, Alabama (6’2 | 197 lbs. | 10 1/8 | 31 3/8 | 74 1/4)
Solomon Patton, Florida (5’8 1/2 | 179 lbs. | 9 1/4 | 29 7/8 | 70 3/8)
Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma (5’8 3/4 | 164 lbs. | 8 3/4 | 28 7/8 | 70 7/8)

Tight End
Marcel Jensen, Fresno State (6’5 3/8 | 264 lbs. | 10 1/8 | 34 1/4 | 83 7/8)
Arthur Lynch, Georgia (6’4 1/2 | 258 lbs. | 10 1/8 | 31 | 75 7/8)

Offensive Tackle
Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee (6’6 1/8 | 315 lbs. | 9 5/8 | 33 3/8 | 82 1/4)
Morgan Moses, Virginia (6’6 1/8 | 325 lbs. | 9 3/4 | 34 3/4 | 83 7/8)
Billy Turner, North Dakota State (6’5 | 316 lbs. | 10 1/4 | 33 1/4 | 81 3/4)

Offensive Guard
Joel Bitonio, Nevada (6’4 | 307 lbs. | 9 7/8 | 33 | 80 7/8)
Jon Halapio, Florida (6’3 1/2 | 320 lbs. | 10 1/2 | 32 3/4 | 80 1/8)
Gabe Jackson
, Mississippi State (6’3 3/8 | 339 lbs. | 9 3/4 | 32 3/4 | 79 1/4)
Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt (6’5 1/4 | 290 lbs. | 10 1/8 | 32 1/2 | 79 7/8)

Center
Marcus Heit, long snapper, Kansas State (6’2 5/8 | 252 lbs. | 10 1/4 | 30 3/4 | 76 7/8)
Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma (6’3 1/4 | 302 lbs. | 9 3/4 | 32 3/4 | 79 1/4)
Bryan Stork, Florida State (6’3 1/2 | 306 lbs. | 10 1/8 | 31 | 77)
Travis Swanson, Arkansas (6’5 | 310 lbs. | 10 | 32 7/8 | 79 1/2)

Defensive End
Dee Ford, Auburn (6’2 1/8 | 243 lbs. | 10 | 32 3/4 | 77 1/8)
Chris Smith, Arkansas (6’1 1/8 | 266 lbs. | 9 5/8 | 34 1/8 | 82 1/2)
Ed Stinson, Alabama (6’3 1/8 | 292 lbs. | 9 1/4 | 32 7/8 | 78 3/4)
Brent Urban, Virginia (6’6 3/4 | 298 lbs. | 9 7/8 | 33 5/8 | 80 3/4)

Defensive Tackle
Deandre Coleman, California (6’5 | 315 lbs. | 10 1/4 | 34 | 81 1/2)
Daniel McCullers, Tennessee (6’6 7/8 | 348 lbs. | 10 5/8 | 35 5/8 | 85 1/2)
Caraun Reid, Princeton (6’2 1/8 | 301 lbs. | 10 1/4 | 32 5/8 | 79 1/8)
Will Sutton, Arizona State (6’0 3/4 | 315 lbs. | 9 5/8 | 30 5/8 | 76 1/8)

Linebacker
Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech (6’3 1/4 | 252 lbs. | 9 3/8 | 32 7/8 | 81 1/4)
Lamin Barrow
, LSU (6’1 1/4 | 229 lbs. | 9 7/8 | 33 | 79)
Adrian Hubbard
, Alabama (6’5 7/8 | 255 lbs. | 9 1/8 | 33 7/8 | 81 3/8)
Christian Jones, Florida State (6’3 3/8 | 234 lbs. | 9 5/8 | 32 7/8 | 80 3/4)
Telvin Smith, Florida State (6’2 7/8 | 218 lbs. | 10 1/2 | 32 1/4 | 79 3/8)
Jordan Tripp
, Montana (6’2 3/4 | 237 lbs. | 9 5/8 | 30 7/8 | 75 1/4)
Kyle Van Noy, BYU (6’3 1/4 | 244 lbs. | 9 1/2 | 32 | 78)

Cornerback
Walt Aikens, Liberty (6’0 5/8 | 205 lbs. | 9 3/8 | 32 1/4 | 79 1/2)
Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma (5’11 3/8 | 186 lbs. | 9 1/4 | 31 | 75 1/2)
Chris Davis, Auburn (5’9 3/4 | 201 lbs. | 9 3/8 | 30 1/2 | 74)
Keith McGill, Utah (6’3 | 214 lbs. | 10 1/4 | 33 | 80 7/8)
Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech (5’9 1/2 | 190 lbs. | 9 7/8 | 33 5/8 | 80 3/4)
Jaylen Watkins, Florida (5’11 3/8 | 194 lbs. | 9 5/8 | 30 5/8 | 75)
Lavelle Westbrooks, Georgia Southern (5’11 3/8 | 195 lbs. | 9 7/8 | 31 7/8 | 77 1/8)

Safety
Terrence Brooks, Florida State (5’11 | 197 lbs. | 8 1/2 | 30 1/4 | 74 3/8)
Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt (6’0 1/8 | 200 lbs. | 9 1/8 | 31 3/8 | 75 3/4)
Craig Loston, LSU (6’0 3/8 | 214 lbs. | 10 1/8 | 30 3/4 | 75 1/4)

Special Teams
Cody Mandell, punter, Alabama (6’2 1/4 | 214 lbs. | 9 7/8 | 30 3/8 | 76 1/8)
Cody Parkey, kicker, Auburn (6’0 1/4 | 189 lbs. | 9 3/4 | 29 5/8 | 73 1/8)

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Conference Breakdown
SEC: 22
ACC: 8
Big 12: 5
MWC: 4
Pac-12: 3
Big South: 2
Independent: 2
Southern: 2
Big Sky: 1
C-USA: 1
Ivy league: 1
MVFC: 1
Sun Belt: 1

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