NFC West: 2012 NFL combine

INDIANAPOLIS -- Alabama's Mark Barron, the top-rated safety in the 2012 NFL draft, will have to deal with stricter safety rules once he recovers from hernia surgery.

"I don't like them," Barron said flatly when asked about rules against dangerous hits.

The rules have opened the middle of the field for offenses by protecting receivers the NFL considers defenseless. The idea is to limit concussions and other serious injuries with long-range consequences for athletes. But some players factor those risks into the game and would prefer to play under the old rules.

[+] EnlargeMark Barron
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireMark Barron, on the NFL's rules protecting receivers: "I guess I'll have to make some adjustments. Hopefully, I'll be able to make them."
"The way I have been taught to play the game, I hit and I hit hard," Barron said. "I guess I'll have to make some adjustments. Hopefully, I'll be able to make them. I'm not sure I will because that is how I was taught to play the game. I guess we'll see what happens with that."

Increasingly pass-happy offenses have put pressure on defenses to counter with better coverage players. NFC West teams have turned back the clock with some of the biggest, hardest-hitting safeties around. Seattle's Kam Chancellor and Arizona's Adrian Wilson are both 6-foot-3 and around 230 pounds. San Francisco's Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner joined Chancellor in repeatedly delivering heavy hits.

The league fined Chancellor $60,000 over a three-week period for hits last season. Wilson, heavily fined in past seasons, drew a $7,500 fine for roughing the quarterback against San Francisco late in the season. Whitner sent New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas out of the game with a concussion during the playoffs. The $25,000 fine Goldson drew against Arizona was for fighting, not an illegal hit. He consistently put the hurt on opponents in 2011, once drawing a disputed penalty for a hit on Cleveland's Greg Little.

Barron, meanwhile, heads toward the draft as the only safety expected to challenge for first-round status. According to SI.com, Barron won Alabama's 5A state titles in the shot put and triple jump, plus third in the long jump. Barron said he threw the shot 59 feet, covered about 47 feet in the triple jump and 23 in the long jump.

The SI.com piece said Barron was playing youth football by age six (on the defensive line) and could dunk a basketball by eighth grade.

The shot put title seemed least likely given Barron's size. He measured 6-foot-1 and 213 pounds at the combine.

"That is something I take pride in," Barron said. "The shot put was always a lot of big guys, and I was always the smallest one. I used to go out there and beat all of them."

On Rams giving Jason Smith a chance

February, 27, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The St. Louis Rams have not given up on 2009 first-round draft choice Jason Smith.

Their new coach, Jeff Fisher, and new general manager, Les Snead, said during the NFL scouting combine that they hoped to bring back Smith following three disappointing seasons.

The strategy makes sense if Smith agrees to reduce his scheduled $10 million salary. The team might as well find out whether new line coach Paul Boudreau can help salvage some return on a massive investment. Better luck with injuries might help Smith more than anything. The concussion he suffered against Dallas came on a freak play when Smith was making a tackle following a turnover.

For the Rams, there's no sense in making tackle a bigger need by dumping Smith prematurely. Publicly declaring interest in Smith sets a positive tone for expected negotiations on a new deal.

Smith has started 26 of 48 games for the Rams, the third-lowest total for three seasons among players drafted second overall from 1990-2009.

The chart ranks three-year start totals for players drafted second overall since 1998, beginning with Ryan Leaf. The final column shows total starts each player has made for his original team.

Why 49ers could pass on first-round WR

February, 27, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Wide receivers stood out Sunday with blazing 40-yard dash times at the NFL scouting combine.

Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. summed up the implications from his perspective Insider.

The receiver group carries special interest in the NFC West and particularly for San Francisco after the 49ers acknowledged they needed help at the position. But with a potentially strong free-agent crop, I could see the 49ers addressing their 2012 rotation with a mid-priced veteran, giving them additional flexibility in the draft.

That thinking came to mind Saturday during a roughly 40-minute conversation with McShay and fellow ESPN.com divisional bloggers Kevin Seifert, Paul Kuharsky and Bill Williamson.

What did McShay think of the receivers in this draft?

"I think they're all overrated," he said. "That doesn't mean they're not going to be good. I don't think Justin Blackmon is A.J. Green or even Julio [Jones] ones or even Michael Crabtree. He's really, really good, but certainly not Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green."

McShay's quick thoughts on some of the other receivers in this draft:
  • Kendall Wright, Baylor: "He should be in the top 25 picks. I really like him, but he drops a lot of passes and double catches some."
  • Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina: "If he wants to play, if he wants to work. You look at his body, yeah, he's down to 216, but he took a Jenny Craig 216 to cut weight. It was 240. He played at 235, I was told, and put on a little weight after, then just dumped weight. ... When the ball is in the air, he's as good as there is in this class. It's just, can he separate?
  • Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers: "I like him. He's physical, he has good hands, but he's way overrated. He can't get open."
  • Rueben Randle, LSU: "Of the guys are 6-2 and above, he can get down the field the best and is the most athletic. But he is still kind of developing as a route runner and quit on them. He quit on them in the national championship game."

Crabtree, 24, led 49ers wide receivers last season with 72 receptions for 874 yards and four touchdowns. Josh Morgan is returning from injury and could re-sign.
INDIANAPOLIS -- NFL teams can at least partially thank Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson for delivering one of the top prospects at the position to the 2012 draft.

Morris Claiborne credits Peterson, his former LSU teammate, for converting him from the enemy ranks: offense.

"Growing up, I was mainly an offensive guy," Claiborne said from the scouting combine Sunday. "I didn't play too much defense, just here and there, but I never really played corner til i got to college."

Claiborne initially resisted Peterson's recruitment. But Peterson, who developed the moniker "DBU" to describe LSU, won him over.

"Patrick kept on pulling me," said Claiborne, projected as a first-round pick. "I tried for a day or two and I ended up liking it."

Peterson advised Claiborne to "go up and take over" at the combine. Claiborne has not yet worked out. He'll skip the bench press until his pro day to protect a wrist injury he played with during the season.

Claiborne and Peterson, the fifth overall choice in the 2011 draft, differ in their styles.

"I'm more of a technician, trying to funnel the guys instead of getting really physical with them at the line all the time," Claiborne said.

Draft prospect takes cue from Dockett

February, 26, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- California defensive lineman Trevor Guyton knew plenty about the Arizona Cardinals before meeting with them at the NFL scouting combine.

Guyton, coached at Cal by former Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, has been watching Darnell Dockett tape for the last couple seasons.

"He's one of the guys who just has an elite first step, a whole lot of balance and velocity with his strikes and slants," Guyton said Sunday from Lucas Oil Stadium. "Those are the main things that I focus on when I watch him play, just the way he is penetrating and everything like that. He is pretty violent with his game."

Arizona, Minnesota, Washington, San Diego, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville have met with Guyton so far, he said.

Combine officials measured Guyton at 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds. Guyton played in a hybrid 3-4 scheme under Pendergast. He could appeal to some 3-4 teams as an end. He could play defensive tackle in other schemes. That versatility adds appeal, but Guyton's relative inexperience could affect his stock.

Guyton grew up in Philadelphia before playing high school ball in the Seattle area. Washington State offered him a scholarship before Guyton had even played varsity ball.

"I went to a football camp at Washington State after my sophomore year and I just killed it," Guyton said.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Quick thoughts after a second session watching quarterbacks and receivers at the NFL scouting combine in Lucas Oil Stadium:
  • Who did not throw: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler were among the more highly regarded quarterbacks opting not to throw Sunday. I was watching receivers more than quarterbacks in this session. Kellen Moore, Darron Thomas and Brandon Weeden were among the quarterbacks throwing.
  • Who did not catch: Alabama receiver Marquis Maze struggled holding onto the ball. He caught only 9 of 14 passes while running through the gauntlet drill with quarterbacks firing passes at him in rapid succession, seven per drill over two drills. He dropped one pass on a hitch route and watched another go through his hands without making contact.
  • Running the gauntlet: Overall, receivers were much more effective in the first of the two gauntlet drills. Nineteen of the 24 receivers I charted caught all seven the first time through, with Maze dropping three, Miami's Tommy Streeter dropping two and two players, Arizona State's Gerell Robinson and Fresno State's Devon Wylie, dropping one apiece. Only 11 of the 24 receivers in this group caught all seven the second time through.
  • Who showed surest hands: Washington's Jermaine Kearse, Iowa's Marvin McNutt, Penn State's Derek Moye, Stanford's Chris Owusu, Toledo's Eric Page, Appalachian State's Brian Quick, Rutgers Mohamed Sanu and Baylor's Kendall Wright did not drop passes during the gauntlet drills or when I was watching them in other drills. The ball barely made a sound when McNutt caught it.
  • Sitting out: Wisconsin's Nick Toon did not participate in receiving drills with this group. He's been dealing with a foot injury. Toon did run 40-yard dashes, running in the 4.5s, and he participated in the vertical jump.

This was the second of two trips inside Lucas Oil Stadium as part of groups organized by the Pro Football Writers of America. I'll remain here until Monday morning, working from the media room at the stadium.

Quick impressions from inside combine

February, 26, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A few thoughts after watching select quarterbacks and wide receivers work out inside Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday morning:
  • Disclaimer: In some ways and probably overall, watching the action on television beats watching from the stands, at least for those of us who aren't trained in scouting. Our group of reporters watching this session had prime club-level seats at about the 35-yard line. The players were working on the other side of the field. There were times when I glanced up to the big screen to make sure I'd properly identified the players.
  • Assignments: The Pro Football Writers of America assigned one or two players to each of the roughly 20 reporters watching this specific group. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon were the players on my list. Sometimes it's tough to tell how a player fared, but in this case, Foles obviously struggled with his longer passes. Quarterbacks are often more comfortable throwing to their own receivers. In this case, Foles failed to connect deep when Arizona teammate Juron Criner was his receiver.
  • My notes on Foles: "Foles struggled with his throws, particularly on post-corner routes. Coaches appeared to advise him on his deep-ball trajectory after Foles overthrew Arizona teammate Juron Criner on an early deep pass. Foles put too much air under subsequent deep passes. He did not hit receivers in stride on those balls. Foles did elicit a 'good throw' commendation from one coach after connecting with Michigan's Kenneth Hemingway on a 10-yard out route. North Carolina State's Trevor Graham dropped pass from Foles on a hitch route."
  • My notes on Blackmon: "Blackmon appeared to be protecting his sore hamstring. He did not appear to open up and really run. He bobbled one pass while running through the gauntlet. He dropped one pass on a go route. There wasn't much to see here." The gauntlet consists of receivers running the width of the field while catching passes from quarterbacks stationed along the way. Receivers are to catch and quickly discard passes from seven quarterbacks while running the 53-yard width. Blackmon went to the ground making one catch.
  • Obvious limping: Tennessee Tech receiver Tim Benford seemed to be limping each time he returned to the group after running his routes. He appeared to step awkwardly after making an impressive over-the-shoulder catch early in the session. Wake Forest's Chris Givens appeared to suffer from cramping. He left the field with a trainer and stretched one leg while sitting on a table.
  • Diving grab: Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill made the most spectacular catch, a diving grab on a deep pass.
  • Quiet in there: Players are accustomed to performing before raucous crowds. The atmosphere in Lucas Oil Stadium would have let them hold a putting competition. We could hear the passes hitting players' hands.

There's another session scheduled for noon.

Programming note: Heading inside stadium

February, 26, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- I'll be heading into Lucas Oil Stadium with other Professional Football Writers of America members for quarterback/receiver workouts beginning at 9:45 and noon ET.

We'll be watching workouts and getting a feel for the overall atmosphere.

There is a production tradeoff; the time spent inside makes blogging more difficult. But hopefully there will be some reward from getting a first-hand look at the proceedings.

RG3 becomes RG 4.38 as combine rolls on

February, 26, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Watching Robert Griffin III back up a 4.41-second time with a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash left no doubt about the Baylor quarterbacks athletic credentials.

And while it's an overstatement to say the St. Louis Rams are cheering the results, anything Griffin does to enhance his standing figures to help the Rams get value for the second overall choice in the 2012 draft.

Or, perhaps more accurately, we might put it this way: The fact that Griffin has done nothing to diminish his standing among NFL teams bolsters the likelihood another team will want to acquire the second overall pick with an eye toward selecting Griffin.

Wrapping up Saturday with Brock Osweiler

February, 25, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS — A few quick thoughts on Brock Osweiler after the Arizona State quarterback passed through Lucas Oil Stadium's media workroom:
  • He wants to own the height issue. Most NFL quarterbacks fall between 6-foot-2 and 6-6. Osweiler measured 6-6 and seven-eighths, a height that could suggest diminished athleticism. Osweiler dismissed comparisons to Dan McGwire. Osweiler: "I don't think there has ever been a quarterback who was 6-7, 240 pounds and had the athleticism that I do and can make every throw on the football field. I ignored all those comparisons and just played football the way I was taught to."
  • The basketball analogies hold up. Osweiler reneged on a basketball commitment to Gonzaga when choosing to play football at Arizona State. Osweiler: "In basketball, to be a successful player, you have to have great footwork. Obviously, as a quarterback in the pocket, to evade rushers and blitzers and get the ball off, you have to have great feet. Basketball, as far as the footwork, has definitely transitioned over to my football game, as well as the vision. On the basketball court, you can be pushing it up the court and bringing it up on the side and you have to see somebody off to the corner and make a throw down the lane. Same thing as playing quarterback. You are sliding in the pocket and looking for alleys to get the ball down the field."
  • Mechanics in mind. Osweiler said he continually works on his delivery: "We've been focusing a lot on making sure that my elbow is constantly above my shoulder, that I’m following through and using all the torque that I have with my big frame."
  • Inexperience works against him. Osweiler's stated mission at the combine is to convince teams 15 college games was enough to prepare him.
  • Spread offense concerns. NFL teams are assuming more spread tendencies, perhaps taking the edge off concerns over how college prospects will adapt to pro-style offenses. Osweiler: "Playing in a spread offense that throws the football a lot, I think it teaches you to manage the football game because the ball is in your hands to make a play 90 percent of the time. Even in the run game, you have having to make decisions on the fly."

Osweiler has a pro day workout March 30. He's resting a foot injury at the combine and will not participate in workouts while in Indianapolis. He's a quarterback to keep in mind for Seattle after the first round.
INDIANAPOLIS — The Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals have avoided showing interest in quarterback Peyton Manning for fear of tampering charges.

Kansas City Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel caught my attention at the NFL scouting combine Saturday when he expressed interest in Manning despite alluding to the tampering policy's prohibition of such comments.

"I’m not supposed to talk about anybody else’s players, and he’s still a player with Indianapolis," Crennel said, "but with a talent like that, I would be crazy not to consider it, if he were available. So I'll leave it at that."

Was that tampering? Read this passage from the NFL anti-tampering policy and decide for yourself:
Any public or private statement of interest, qualified or unqualified, in another club’s player to that player’s agent or representative, or to a member of the news media, is a violation of this Anti-Tampering Policy. (Example of a prohibited comment: "He’s an excellent player, and we’d very much like to have him if he were available, but another club holds his rights.")

The Chiefs accused the Detroit Lions of tampering. Tis best for teams to err on the side of safety.

"We really can't talk about it," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Friday when asked about Manning. "He's on somebody else's team. So we're not part of that discussion right now."

Sizing up Devon Still for the Seahawks

February, 25, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS — Devon Still played multiple spots on the defensive line at Penn State.

A first-round prospect in the 2012 NFL draft, Still's versatility could make him appealing for the Seattle Seahawks in particular. Their success in converting Red Bryant from traditional defensive tackle to five-technique end could focus their attention on players with Still's versatility.

Still
Still
"[Bryant] has totally transformed his role on our football team and even to the point where we look for players to play like him as we look through our roster because he's 335 pounds — that's when he's trimmed down and in shape — and he's a monster playing on the tight-end side," coach Pete Carroll said from the NFL scouting combine.

Still lacks Bryant's girth. He appeared sturdy and athletic during his media appearance Saturday, affirmed by impressive combine measurements: 302 pounds on a 6-foot-5 frame. Still's neck appeared even bigger with silver Beats by Dr. Dre headphones around it and a black knit cap from Bommarito training centers on his head. The Big Ten's defensive player of the year called himself "hands down" the best defensive tackle in the draft.

Draft analyst Rob Rang has projected Still as a candidate for Seattle at No. 12, even projecting him as the Seahawks' pick in that spot during recent mock drafts.

"Many expect the Seahawks to consider a quarterback," Rang wrote, "but in beating the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens last year, and matching up well with division champion San Francisco, the club may not be willing to reach to fill a perceived need. ... Still could help inside at defensive tackle, as well as provide flexibility at the five-technique defensive end position should Bryant be heavily pursued in free agency."

Bryant's situation will be resolved before the draft. Still could be a consideration for Denver or Kansas City, as well. The Chiefs pick 11th, just ahead of Seattle, after winning a coin flip to break a tie in draft order.

The Seahawks aren't the only NFC West team that could use a versatile defensive tackle.

The St. Louis Rams definitely need help at tackle. They hold the second overall choice and figure to remain near the top five even if they trade back, but Still would not fill their obvious need for playmaking help.

Another consideration on Blackmon's size

February, 25, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS — Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon does not fit the height-weight profile for wideouts drafted among the top few picks.

Blackmon is also entering the NFL at a time when the league is outlawing the most dangerous collisions, however. Physical dimensions might not matter as much under the current rules.

Teams will still feel better using their earliest draft choices for players with the strongest physical credentials. I just thought it might help to account for ways the game is changing.

Blackmon would be a logical consideration for St. Louis, which picks second overall and could be in prime position to trade back from that spot, allowing another team to select a quarterback.

Kalil shines, but Rams have other needs

February, 25, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- USC tackle Matt Kalil validated his athletic credentials with a fast 40-yard time at the NFL scouting combine Saturday.

Kalil
Kalil
Kalil, listed by some as a candidate for St. Louis with the second choice in the 2012 draft, unofficially needed only 4.96 seconds to cover the standard testing distance, according to the NFL. Kalil has emphasized getting bigger and stronger to improve as a run blocker, but teams will value him primarily for his athletic ability. Any offensive lineman can take pride in a 40-yard time beneath five seconds.

Kalil weighed 306 pounds, heavier than his college playing weight.

Former NFC West mainstay tackles Walter Jones and Orlando Pace, first-round picks in 1997, beat the five-second threshold easily before becoming regular Pro Bowl players. Jones clocked in the 4.65-second range coming out of college. Pace ran in the 4.85-second range and averaged 4.9 during predraft workouts.

Jones was 301 pounds coming out of Florida State. He filled out to about 325 pounds. Kalil stands 6-foot-6 and appears capable of packing on additional weight without much trouble.

I question whether the Rams would use a high choice for an offensive tackle this year. They need playmakers to boost a scoring offense that ranked last in the NFL last season. They have Rodger Saffold at left tackle and could bring back right tackle Jason Smith, the second overall pick in 2009. Smith has had concussion problems. The Rams have not spoken with him about adjusting his salary, but that appears likely to happen if Smith does return.

Minnesota might be a more likely landing spot for Kalil. The Vikings pick third overall. Kevin Seifert has more on the NFC North blog.

Why Blackmon might not fit second overall

February, 25, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Justin Blackmon's credentials make him a high first-round prospect in the 2012 NFL draft.

How high? Would the St. Louis Rams take him second overall?

History suggests Blackmon doesn't fit the physical profile for wide receivers selected among the top three overall choices. That feeds into the thinking St. Louis might trade back from the No. 2 overall selection before taking the talented wideout from Oklahoma State.

NFL scouting combine officials measured Blackmon at 6 feet and seven-eighths of an inch. Blackmon weighed 207 pounds. The height will round to 6-foot-1, plenty tall to play wide receiver in the NFL, but quite a bit shorter than the wideouts teams have selected among the top three overall choices since 1985: Calvin Johnson, Braylon Edwards, Larry Fitzgerald, Charles Rogers, Andre Johnson and Keyshawn Johnson.

Four additional receivers come under consideration when we expand the range to players drafted among the top five overall choices. A.J. Green (6-4), Peter Warrick (5-11), Michael Westbrook (6-3) and Desmond Howard (5-10) were selected fourth overall since 1985.

Height isn't everything in a wide receiver, but those drafted earliest have generally been taller and heavier than Blackmon. Will that apply to Blackmon as well? On a side note, he isn't running at the combine after suffering a hamstring injury last week.

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