I. Oregon’s Dion Jordan is one of the more intriguing prospects in this year’s draft. He checked into the combine at 6-foot-6 and 248 pounds, and then ran forty times of 4.53 and 4.63 after adding roughly 20 lbs to his frame since the end of the college season. His combination of size, athleticism and length should attract NFL teams that run hybrid fronts. He played drop end in Oregon’s defense and was asked to cover backs and tight ends when he wasn’t rushing the passer. He’ll need to keep his weight up after wearing down towards the end of his senior season, and not having to keep pace with Chip Kelly’s up-tempo practices will help. He also needs to become more refined as a pass rusher. Too often he would jet up field instead of bending the arc, which created clear passing windows and running lanes for the opposition. But he’s a freak athletically and if his upcoming shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum causes him to drop, one team may wind up with a steal in the middle or bottom half of the first round.
II. Don’t buy the rumors that Matt Barkley is on the Cardinals’ radar at No. 7. His arm strength is a concern, which makes him a poor fit for Bruce Arians’ vertical passing attack. When teams bring pressure up the middle, Barkley has a tendency to sail passes and he doesn’t always set his feet with defenders bearing down on him. He also doesn’t perform well in a muddied pocket and he wasn’t asked to throw the ball vertically a lot at USC. But he isn’t without skill. He gets the ball out of his hand quickly when working the short-to-intermediate passing game and he also displays good touch on his passes. If you re-watch the Trojans’ game versus Oregon last season, he threw well both outside the numbers, between defenders, and down the seam. He could be a fit for a team that runs the West Coast Offense, but it’s unlikely that he’ll be selected in the first round (nevertheless in the top 10).
III. It would be an upset if Chance Warmack isn’t the first guard taken off the board in April but North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper is an intriguing talent as well. He doesn’t always play with good pad level and is inconsistent in one-on-one matchups. But he’s quick, agile, and moves his feet well when pulling on the edge. He also mirrors pass rushers, is strong at the point of attack, and makes good use of his hands in pass protection. He’s the perfect fit for teams that run a zone-blocking scheme.
IV. After running forty times of 4.59 and 4.64 at the combine, Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks is likely to fall into the second round. And if that happens, one team is going to wind up with a steal. Banks played mostly cover 3 in the Bulldogs’ defense, but he has the skill set to play press man at the next level. He’s aggressive in coverage, has a nose for the football, and displays awareness in space. He’s also not afraid to come up and stick a ball carrier in run support and has added value as a punt returner. No, his straight-line speed isn’t off the charts. But watch him versus Auburn and Tennessee last year. He’s a savvy playmaker and has the potential to be a solid No. 2 corner down the road.
V. Forget his somewhat pedestrian forty times – Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro might be the missing piece for a defense that’s knocking on the door of being a top-10 unit. He misses too many tackles but he’s the complete package otherwise. He’s scheme versatile in that you can line him up as a single-high safety or in the slot against quicker receivers (he did both while at Texas). He reads quarterbacks well, breaks on the ball quickly while in coverage, and is fast in pursuit. He’s also a big hitter that isn’t afraid to come up in run support, although he does need to do a better job of wrapping up when he gets there. In a deep safety class, Vaccaro is the headliner.
Around the Web…
I. His slow forty time, poor performance in the BCS title game, and the fact that his former girlfriend had an Adam’s apple will hurt Manti Te’o’s chances of being selected in the top 15 come April. But the biggest reason he’ll fall to the bottom half of the first round is because NFL teams simply don’t value linebackers as highly as they used to (not unless they have elite pass-rushing skills, that is). Te’o is a good prospect. He moves well laterally, quickly attacks downhill, and sifts through traffic while racking up tackles. But in today’s NFL, starting linebackers can be found in the middle rounds. Bobby Wagner, Daryl Washington and James Laurinaitis were second-round picks. NaVorro Bowman, Lance Briggs and Philip Wheeler were third-rounders. Dannell Ellerbe went undrafted and he’ll likely be counted on to replace Ray Lewis next season in Baltimore. Granted, Patrick Willis, Jerod Mayo and Luke Kuechly were all first-round selections. But unless they can get after the quarterback a la Von Miller, Aldon Smith or Clay Matthews, linebackers whose strength is defending the run can be had in the second or third rounds. Te’o is projected to be a three-down ‘backer at the next level, which increases his value and places him firmly in the first 32 selections. But chances are he was slotted to go in the bottom half of the first round before the Alabama game and the unfortunate passing of his fake girlfriend, and that’s where he projects following the combine as well.
II. Steven Jackson is an ideal fit for Atlanta’s offense. After posting career passing numbers last year, imagine what Matt Ryan could do if opponents had to worry about defending the run. In 2009 the Saints used the combination of an up-tempo passing game and a power rushing attack to win the Super Bowl. By signing Jackson (who showed zero signs of steep decline last year), the Falcons could install a similar offense. Now, there are things to consider. Releasing the cement-footed Turner frees up $6.9 million but Atlanta also needs to re-sign safety William Moore, re-sign or find an upgrade over Sam Baker at left tackle, and add another pass rusher or two to its defense. If Tony Gonzalez retires, the Falcons will also need to address the tight end position at some point this offseason. But the prospect of Jackson joining the likes of Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White is intoxicating. Denver, Green Bay and Pittsburgh are realistic destinations as well.
III. The Panthers are being smart with quarterback Cam Newton. Coach Rob Rivera said last week that he expects the zone read to be “more of a wrinkle than a staple” in Carolina’s offense next season. Newton is a big, strong athlete that burned teams plenty of times with the read option in 2012 (ask Atlanta). But even 248-pound quarterbacks like Newton are susceptible to injuries the more times they run the ball. In the past seven years, only one quarterback that missed a start during the season because of an injury went on to win the Super Bowl (Aaron Rodgers in 2010). While the read option can be another weapon in a team’s arsenal, having a quarterback start a full 16-game season (or 15 games if they rest in Week 17, a la Drew Brees in 2009) is vital. One way that teams can limit the risk of injuries is not subjecting their quarterbacks to repeated blows from 250-pound defenders.
IV. Despite rumors that Arizona is interested in a trade, Kansas City is still the best fit for quarterback Alex Smith, who will remain in limbo until the new league year starts on March 12. Smith doesn’t have the arm strength to effectively run Bruce Arians’ vertical passing attack and trading within the division is still faux pas in the NFL. Given his accuracy, mobility and leadership skills, Smith and the Chiefs make for a harmonious marriage. He belongs running Andy Reid’s West Coast – not Arians’ version of Don Coryell’s offense.
V. Given their available cap space and desperate need at receiver, the Dolphins should be embarrassed if they don’t wind up acquiring a wideout this offseason. Greg Jennings is a = logical fit given his connection with coach Joe Philbin, and Miami is one of the few teams that can afford paying Mike Wallace $10-plus million a year. The bottom line is that barring injuries, there’s no excuse for Brian Hartline to be the Dolphins leading receiver again a year from now.
Out of Bounds…
I. Apparently the stairs don’t go all the way up to the attic when it comes to LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery. He admitted to media members at the combine that he would take games off when the Tigers faced lesser opponents. “Some weeks when we didn’t have to play the harder teams, there were some times when effort was not needed.” Montgomery then detailed how he made bets with teammate Barkevious Mingo, including one for $5,000 on which LSU defensive end will be drafted higher. Let’s review: Montgomery, who isn’t a slam dunk to be selected in the first round, bets a potential top-15 prospect in Mingo that he’ll be off the board first, and then craps on his own draft value by telling the media that effort is essentially overrated. Yiiiikes.
II. Adam Schefter reports that the Raiders are talking to former Browns football “czar” Mike Holmgren about a prominent leadership role in the organization. That’s exactly what a dysfunctional team needs – more chefs and fewer servers.
III. Trent Richardson reportedly told Steve Wyche of the NFL Network that quarterback Brandon Weeden had trouble reading defenses from time to time and that the Browns had to skew their offense, almost becoming predictable at times. After predicting that Weeden will be Cleveland’s quarterback again in 2013, Richardson added that “we can’t put too much on Brandon.” So basically he’s Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Charlie Frye – long live the “Factory of Sadness!”
IV. After scouting Syracuse’s Shamarko Thomas at the scouting combine this week, I came away impressed by the safety’s speed despite weighing 213 pounds. My only concern? I don’t know if he can keep his feet.
V. Laugh all you want about Terrance Ganaway spending his offseason working at Jimmy John’s but the NFL would be better off if its players took Ganaway’s initiative. “I just wanted to stay fit, stay out of trouble…try to save…and not spend a lot of money,” he said. If Desmond Bryant would have taken the same approach to his offseason, maybe this photo wouldn’t be my screensaver right now.