NFL Nation: 09 combine
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
It's believed the Bucs have had an interest in Ward all along, but were a little concerned about his initial asking price. But Ward, who is concluding a visit to Denver on Sunday, may not be getting the kind of initial offers he was hoping for.
Ward would be a nice fit for the Bucs, who don't have much depth in their backfield. After releasing Warrick Dunn, the Bucs have only one sure thing. That's starter Earnest Graham, who has dealt with some injury issues. The Bucs clearly need another starting-quality running back.
Tampa Bay also has Cadillac Williams, but he is recovering from his second major knee injury in two years and no one knows for sure when he'll be ready or if he can be the player he was before the injuries. The Bucs also want to take a look at Clifton Smith, who made the Pro Bowl as a return man in his rookie season, as a running back. But Smith's lack of size means he probably can be a third-down back, at best.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Not sure what to make of reports the Bucs approached Denver about a three-way trade that would have sent Matt Cassel to the Broncos and Jay Cutler to the Bucs. It didn't happen, but it shows the Bucs have a pretty grand plan at quarterback. If they were looking into Cutler, they may want somebody who is several notches above Luke McCown, who has been told he will have a shot at the starting job. McCown better not get too comfortable. It is unclear if Denver actually would consider moving Cutler. If he is on the market, this story might not be over yet.
The Saints apparently are serious about upgrading their secondary. Mike Triplett reports Darren Sharper will be in for a visit Monday. The Saints will have Jacksonville safety Gerald Sensabaugh in Sunday and St. Louis cornerback Ron Bartell already has visited.
The Buffalo Bills signed offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner. It is a great move for Hangartner, who wanted to go somewhere he could be a starter. It is a tough loss for the Panthers because Hangartner gave them quality depth at center and guard.
|Kim Klement/US Presswire|
|Florida receiver Percy Harvin could be a first-round pick for the Titans or Colts. |
Is Percy Harvin a multipurpose receiver who will automatically make an NFL offense more dynamic? Or is he an inexperienced route runner who will have a hard time when a team needs him to fill a somewhat conventional role?
That's the debate we can expect to hear for the next two months on the draft value of the Florida wideout, who could be in play in the late first round when two AFC South teams in need of a receiver -- the Colts and the Titans -- make their first picks.
"He's a versatile player," one scout from the AFC South said, offering the positive outlook. "In those spread-type offenses instead of being polished route runners, they become versatile type players. Because you're a part-time running back, part-time screen guy, part-time reverse guy. You do a number of different things as well as being a receiver... The thing you have to keep going back to is he makes a lot of plays -- whether it's screens, reverses, catching the ball across the middle of the field and taking off. Somehow you've got to find players like that and find a position for them."
Come April 25, the Colts will be looking to restock at the start of the post-Marvin Harrison era and the Titans will need to consider, as always, a dynamic receiver who can stretch the field.
A guy like North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks is more polished, more of an outside guy and could be more ready to step right in and produce.
The Titans saw the sort of major impact vibrant running back Chris Johnson had for their offense as they went 13-3 last season. Would a wideout cut from similar cloth give them a dynamic duo? Or, if they broke with their long tradition of avoiding receivers in the first round, would they be better served with Kenny Britt of Rutgers, Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland or Nicks?
Like Harvin, those three are leaving college early. The Titans should at least be looking to upgrade at the No. 2 spot that was held by Justin McCareins when healthy. But, despite the deficiencies in their pass game, the team is loathe to play rookie receivers much. The top six-rated receivers in this draft -- Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin, who are expected to be gone early, Harvin, Heyward-Bey, Nicks and Britt -- didn't play full college careers. If one of them lands in Tennessee, the team is likely to preach patience. The Titans might have the pick spend more time on the bench than on the field.
ESPN had Harvin at 4.41 in the 40, while the NFL.com stopwatch had 4.37 at the combine. His speed wasn't going to be a question. He discussed durability in his podium talk where he also shrugged off the route-running questions, pledging to answer them for all at his March 18th pro day at Florida.
"I ran a lot of digs and posts, but as the season went on I didn't get to run a lot of them," he said. "A lot of our games were blowouts or they needed me to run the ball [as a back]. I've done it many times in practice so I don't think it'll be hard transition for me. I'm looking forward to my pro day, to show the coaches I can do it."
He didn't dismiss comparisons to Bush while saying he is this draft's most explosive player.
Willing to talk about Bush, Harvin also boldly invoked the name of Carolina Panthers star Steve Smith. Perhaps he turns out to be as physical and tough as Smith, an explosive playmaker who's also shown those qualities, but Smith hasn't jumped to mind when I've seen Harvin play for the Gators.
"I'm a little bigger than him, but just as explosive in the open field and have a knack to make big plays," said Harvin.
The scout said it's easier to evaluate a running back who can do a lot of receiver work as opposed to a receiver who can do a lot of running back stuff. That could hurt Harvin, but it also could help ensure he lands with a team that has ideas for how to use him -- something that's taken a few years to happen in New Orleans with Bush.
For a front office that looks for players who fit in predictable boxes, Harvin is unlikely to be the guy. In Florida's offense, he excelled more often running to spots than following the sort of route tree an NFL team will present.
"At the end of the day, there are going to be a group of NFL teams that look at him and say, 'I don't care, we'll find a way to get him touches, we'll find a way to get the ball in his hands, he's just so explosive we have to have him,'" Mayock said. "I think I've got him No. 3 right now [among wide receivers] as a first-round pick. I like him. But I think there are going to be some teams that really like him and some that will say, 'I'm not sure what to do with him.'"
"If you're scared off, I don't think you're doing your work on a player like that," the scout said. "I don't think you can be scared of a player that makes plays and has great speed and scores touchdowns."
INDIANAPOLIS -- More than a few mock drafts have paired Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and the Green Bay Packers, who are set to choose No. 9 overall. (Among the mock drafters are ESPN.com analyst Todd McShay.)
Will Jenkins end up with the Packers? No one knows at this point. The Packers will need weeks to filter through the information they gleaned at the scouting combine, and frankly there is some question about whether Jenkins projects as a cornerback or a safety.
Jenkins spent a good part of his media session Sunday downplaying suggestions that he is better suited for safety. If they can't project him as a cornerback, it's unlikely the Packers will select him at No. 9; rare is the safety who is deemed worthy of a top 10-pick.
Jenkins refused to say exactly how tall he is -- "6-foot-something," he said -- and makes the argument he is a cornerback in safety's body. So, let's get on with it:
Are you aware of the cornerback-safety debate?
Malcolm Jenkins: Yeah, I've heard all the [speculation] about how I'm going to run, if I run slow then I'm going to be a safety and all of that. I'm not really worried about it. It's all about how I'm going to run and I'm real confident in how I'm going to do with that.
So there is pressure on your 40 time?
MJ: No. They're expecting me to run 4.5 and I'm pretty confident I can run faster than that. So I'm not really pressured.
If you were asked, how would you sell yourself as a corner?
MJ: If you turn on the film that's what you see. I do what every other corner [does]. If you put on a film of a guy that's 5-10, 185, I'm doing the same things that they're doing [but] at my size. In the league you've got receivers that are bigger and more physical, and that's what you need, a guy that can do it all. With my size and speed, it's something rare that you don't find a lot around the nation.
INDIANAPOLIS -- With center a focal point for the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills, I had the opportunity Sunday to ask NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock what he thought of the position after seeing them work out at the scouting combine.
Mayock notes the best of this year's center class are Oregon's Max Unger, Louisville's Eric Wood, California's Alex Mack, Penn State's A.Q. Shipley, Alabama's Antoine Caldwell and TCU's Blake Schlueter.
"We didn't get to see Mack, who I really wanted to see a little bit. Wood from Louisville, he's not a fast guy. I didn't expect him to be a fast guy. I think I know what he is. I think Wood and Unger, to me, are the two top centers in the draft.
"But it's a really deep position. I can keep going down that list. I've got A.Q. Shipley from Penn State, who a lot of teams don't like because he has the shortest arms at the combine. Every time I put the tap on, A.Q. Shipley's a good football player. Antoine Caldwell from Alabama, are you kidding me? He had a great Senior Bowl, a better player than I thought. A kid that wasn't even invited here, Blake Schlueter from TCU. I think he can play in the NFL.
"I think the tight end/H-back group, the center group and the outside linebacker group are three of the strongest groups in this draft."
I followed up by asking if any center was worth a first round pick this year:
"At the end of the first round, if you're a playoff team and your guy is not there, you wanted so-and-so and so-and-so's not there. You've got to have a guy in your back pocket that's probably more of a second-round guy that you know can be a starter, that won't give you any problems and he's going to be good value for the money.
"A lot of times those centers and guards that are the top guys at their position, a high second-round pick, they end up getting [drafted late in the first round]. An Unger or a Mack or a Wood wouldn't surprise me. I got them all in the second round, but if one of those guys jumped up it wouldn't surprise me."
INDIANAPOLIS -- One last Colts entry before we at the AFC South Blog call it a combine and drive back to Nashville.
Bill Polian talked about the health of three of his players Sunday afternoon.
Cornerback Marlin Jackson is recovering from a blown out right knee suffered during a late October practice. Safety Bob Sanders dealt with a knee injury during the season. Rookie running back Mike Hart also suffered a serious knee injury in October.
"Marlin is coming along fine, we anticipate that he will be PUP [to start training camp], I think Bob will be PUP to start the camp period, beyond that I don't think we have anybody that I can tell you that is for sure in that boat," he said. "...Mike Hart is going to be close. He's coming along fine, he's going to be close. Whether he's PUP or not is up in the air at this point."
INDIANAPOLIS -- We may revisit some of this in the coming days in more detail, but I feel compelled to hit you with the gist of the other comments made by Colts president Bill Polian Sunday afternoon.
Overtime: His feelings as a member of the competition committee on overtime are not based on the team's overtime playoff loss in San Diego when the Colts did not get the ball in extra time.
He credited the Chargers, but said "we should have won that game [in regulation], all we needed to do was make four yards in two downs and we didn't do it."
Those who created the overtime rules were smart to do what they did, he said, and Polian did not sound like a backer of a change.
Tampering talks: He said he is concerned about the degree of discussions at the combine between agents of pending free agents and club personnel, but doesn't know how what technically may qualify as tampering can be staunched.
"I don't know if there is a remedy for it that's enforceable, it just may be human nature," he said. "I wish it were otherwise but I don't know of any way to make it change."
Coaching transition: The transition from Tony Dungy to Jim Caldwell has been as seamless as Polian had hoped.
"Jim has already put his mark on the daily operations, the way he wants things done, which is a little different than what Tony did and that's to be expected and understandable but we've gone ahead without any interruption at all," he said. "...He's taking a little bit different approach to the offseason camp and perhaps the camp, we haven't solidified that yet."
Family ties: Asked what makes his son Brian, an assistant at Notre Dame, such an effective recruiter, Polian was at the ready.
"He has his mother's personality," Bill Polian said.
Opening the combine: Polian doesn't like the idea but wouldn't rule out the idea that the combine may someday be open to both the media and the public.
"Never say never," he said. "Let me tell you there is no groundswell on the part of the competition committee to do it... I think the potential distraction is an issue."
Play clock: Jeff Fisher, the co-chairman of the competition committee, said Friday he didn't expect the play clock to be tied to replay despite a bad mistake that hurt his team in its playoff loss to Baltimore.
"It has to do with the number of camera placements for various games throughout the league," Polian said. "Every game does not have the same number of cameras, therefore you do not have the same number of looks at various part of the stadium or the field from week to week, from game to game. That's one mechanical issue we have no way of addressing. There are other issues that have to do with that too, but that's the most glaring one.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones turned to the one voice that's allowed to speak for the organization Saturday: his own. Earlier that afternoon, he'd told local reporters they'd wasted their (newspapers') money by attending the NFL combine in Indianapolis and suggested he "might" be able to visit with them Monday.
But the most accessible owner-general manager in the league couldn't help himself Saturday night. It seems that he needed to get something off his chest. Last month, he ordered everyone at Valley Ranch to stand down when it came to "independently" speaking to the media. And on Saturday, he decided to take dead aim at some of the "misinformation" that leaked last month -- namely an Ed Werder report that cited two sources saying that Stephen Jones was preparing to recommend to his father that wide receiver Terrell Owens be released.
"That Stephen and I were debating about Terrell, that's just misinformation," Jones said regarding his son, the club's vice president. "That's just not accurate. I don't know where that comes from. That's just total misinformation. And the thing is that nobody would know that except for me or Stephen, and I know Stephen didn't tell you. So whoever else said that happened is just wrong. It's just speculation, as far as us debating."
In fairness to Werder, he never reported that father and son were debating the topic. He had sources telling him that Stephen Jones was preparing to lobby for T.O.'s departure. Who knows? Maybe he never got around to having that conversation -- especially after it was reported that he was leaning in that direction. And since Jerry Jones is the only one in the organization allowed to speak, we won't be hearing from Stephen on this topic.
The elder Jones also defended his decision to place a gag order on head coach Wade Phillips, whose dignity was left flapping in the wind last week.
"It's well known that relative to our personnel decisions, who makes that decision," Jones said. "All I'm trying to say is basically that's where you need to go to see where the status of that decision is. That's where you need to go. That's what we're trying to avoid."
I guess you lose any sense of perspective when the word "billionaire" is attached to your name. What Jones can't see is that he's undermined Phillips and his coaching staff at every turn. Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells all brought an aura to one of the most revered coaching jobs in professional sports. In a relatively short period of time, Jones has made the position almost completely irrelevant.
"Where I'm coming from here, I just want to make sure you're not getting bits and pieces of information," Jones told reporters in Indy. "That's not doing anybody any good and you're not making accurate reports."
As Phillips once explained after being grilled over a Pacman Jones incident, "Jerry will be out here with the facts in a minute."
Words to live by.
INDIANAPOLIS -- As bitterly as his tenure with the Buffalo Bills ended, Bill Polian is happy owner Ralph Wilson has been selected for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year.
Polian was the architect of the Buffalo's Super Bowl teams in the 1990s. Wilson hired him in 1984 and promoted him to general manager a year later. Polian's first move was to hire his old Canadian Football League buddy, Marv Levy, as head coach.
Polian oversaw a team that went to the Super Bowl four straight years, although he was out after their third trip. Some said Wilson grew weary of Polian's volatile temper. Others cited an internal management power struggle.
Polian, who eventually won a championship as Indianapolis Colts president, had nothing but kind words for Wilson.
"Thrilled that he made it for he and his family," Polian said Sunday afternoon at the NFL scouting combine in Lucas Oil Stadium. "He gave me my start as an executive in this business, and I'll always be grateful for it.
"He's a wonderful person, a man of his word, which I think most of those of you who voted recognized. That's one of the reasons he's in the Hall of Fame. He's a man of great conviction. He loved the game. He's given everything he's had to the game. It's great to see him honored.
"I hope I'll be able to be there [in Canton for Wilson's induction]. If not in body, I'll be there in spirit for sure."
INDIANAPOLIS -- The scouting combine runs through Tuesday, but the media's four-day stretch is winding down as reporters and bloggers shuffle off to the airport. Some assistant coaches will follow as their groups finish their work.
Colts president Bill Polian said Lucas Oil Stadium has been a hit hosting the event for the first time.
The rubble from the imploded RCA Dome still stands between the new stadium and the convention center, meaning everybody had to step outside at least briefly to get here. In a year the buildings will be connected and executives, coaches, scouts and reporters of special stature staying at a number of downtown hotels won't need so much as a sweater for a walk to a workout or meeting.
"Everyone to a man or lady has said how much they enjoy this and how interesting and how exciting the building is," Polian said. "I have not talked at any length to the people who operate the combine. That will come at a later time with the competition committee. But in preliminary discussion it seems everything has gone fine."
Then, ESPN.com AFC East kingpin Tim Graham asked this poetic question: "Do you find that teams are wistful and miss that corridor where they had to walk past us?"
Said Polian to laughter: "No, I haven't. No one's mentioned that to me, no."
Those who wanted to avoid on-the-record conversations here have been able. Previously if you waited someone out long enough, there was a better than 90 perent chance he'd have to walk past you because of the way convention center traffic was funneled.
One thing he thought was clear from some excellent 40 times run by receivers is that Lucas Oil Stadium qualifies as a fast track.
Finally, while we talk venue, it seems the right spot to share the opening of Bill Belichick's 12-minute soliloquy that preceded the first question he fielded at his surprising podium session.
"Well, it's kind of interesting to be here at this stadium. As the combine has moved along, it's come a long way. I remember being at Arizona State. It was getting dark, standing out there, watching The Fridge do his vertical jump. That was quite a sight to see.
Of course, coming to The Dome, and now coming in here, it's amazing how the combine has grown at every turn, the media, the agents, the players, and the preparation for it. And all these guys who spend months preparing for it. So it's become quite an event."
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bill Polian's podium talk on the final day of official media availability at the combine qualifies as a must-listen and always draws a crowd that fires a wide range of questions at him.
As usual, he offered a lot of great answers, but few of them did much to help us sort out his team's current issues: the status of free-agent-to-be center Jeff Saturday and veteran receiver Marvin Harrison, whose cost is salary-cap prohibitive.
Saturday's agent, Ralph Cindrich, announced this weekend that his client would test free agency. Polian said he understood where the representative was coming from, didn't want to comment on that announcement and said the team had made an offer that Saturday was still mulling over.
Cutting Harrison could save the team $7 million against the cap while leaving behind a $6.4 million hit in dead money.
"We're having discussions," Polian said, but the possibility this is the last capped year creates issues with Harrison and others, issues they are trying to work through.
Vague on both counts.
Another entry or two coming with more from Polian shortly. We thank you for your patience.
INDIANAPOLIS -- We warned you last week. If you're looking for guesses about specific teams drafting particular players, you're reading the wrong NFC North blog on the ESPN blog network. But with Detroit positioned at the No. 1 overall in the April draft, it's only fair that we take a look at what we learned about the top of the draft this week at the annual scouting combine.
|AP Photo/Darron Cummings|
|Matthew Stafford did not throw during his workout at the combine.|
(Just for kicks, we'll bring you three questions with a player often associated with the Green Bay Packers' slot at No. 9. But don't get used to it. I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA -- yet -- if the Packers want to draft Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins.)
With that said, let's try to handicap the Lions' possibilities at the end of this important week -- while knowing there are many more important weeks yet to come before the draft. I compiled the list below in order of the most to the least likely target, an order we'll revisit and update regularly as the draft approaches:
1. Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford
Why he's the guy: The Lions paid an awful lot of attention to him at the combine, more than any other individual prospect. Nothing happened to suggest he has fallen from the perch as the top quarterback available, which always makes a player a top candidate for the No. 1 overall pick. And you can't deny the karma: Stafford attended the same high school (Highland Park in Dallas) as former Lions quarterback Bobby Layne.
Why he isn't: Stafford's decision not to throw at the combine means the Lions' evaluation of him can't be complete. It also means NFL teams haven't had a chance to evaluate his accuracy after a college career in which he completed 57.1 percent of his passes.
2. Baylor offensive lineman Jason Smith
Why he's the guy: Smith put up the best combine numbers of the top left tackles in the draft. His 33 repetitions on the bench press and 5.22 time in the 40-yard dash both ranked in the top 10 of all offensive linemen. It seems clear he could step in as an immediate starter at one of the game's most important positions.
Why he isn't: The tackle position in this draft is said to be exceptionally deep, and it's possible the Lions could get an immediate starter either with the No. 20 or No. 33 overall pick. Smith might well emerge as the top tackle in the draft, but is he a player worthy of the No. 1 pick overall? That hasn't been determined.
3. Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry
Why he's the guy: Nothing injects life into a moribund defense more than a big-time playmaker, and Curry has the capacity to step in right away at a key position of need: Strongside linebacker. Coach Jim Schwartz has noted the Lions have a deeper personnel deficit on defense than offense, and spoke glowingly of Curry at the combine.
Why he isn't: Curry is built like a middle linebacker but has never played there, and it's difficult to imagine the Lions would move Ernie Sims out of the weakside position. The linebacker position isn't often considered crucial enough to merit a No. 1 overall pick, especially for a 4-3 team.
4. Virginia offensive lineman Eugene Monroe
Why he's the guy: The Lions indicated a heavy level of interest prior to the combine. He is probably more athletic than Smith and has more room to grow. Like Smith, there are no character flaws.
Why he isn't: We downgraded Monroe a bit after a less-impressive combine performance that included 22 repetitions on the bench press. At the moment, Smith is stronger and better prepared to step in right away. This comparison, of course, could change over the next few months.
INDIANAPOLIS -- As the Jaguars look to revamp, they could be replacing as many as seven starters from their depth chart.
While they've talked about how they will steer away from big ticket free agency and build from the inside through the draft, those holes are too big for a draft class to fill. The Jaguars have six picks in the draft and are not expecting any compensatory selections to beef up the class.
So it's reasonable to expect the Jaguars to take the free agency approach other teams have employed in recent years that won't get fans especially excited in March but could pay off in November.
Using the one-man's-trash-is-another-man's-treasure approach, they could seek players who come at reasonable costs and have the potential in their systems to pan out as effective pieces.
Examples from elsewhere last year: quarterback Chad Pennington in Miami, linebacker Kawika Mitchell in Buffalo, return man and corner Chris Carr in Tennessee (a restricted free agent with no compensation attached), running back Mewelde Moore in Pittsburgh, linebacker Brandon Chillar in Green Bay and nose tackle Bryan Robinson in Arizona.
New GM Gene Smith indicated to Michael Wright recently that selective free agent shopping in the discount aisle is part of the plan a year after the team handed big bucks to receiver Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence, who they recently cut.
"We'll look at all positions where we feel a player may improve our roster," Smith said. "There is a role for pro free agency. I know a lot of people feel that a large number of players usually get overpaid and end up underperforming, and there are examples of that every year. When you pay a player a large sum of money there are naturally higher expectations placed on him. Some play up to the expectations and some don't.
"Bottom line, it's tough for any new player to come into a new environment and new system and have an immediate impact. ... Some certainly will be role players and others will be competing for starting positions There are some positions that will be of more emphasis than others. We may not be the so-called 'big players' on opening day, but we'll stay the course on the targeted players we have an interest in."
Final Miami 10 Buffalo 29 Final Jacksonville 10 Washington 41 Final Dallas 26 Tennessee 10 Final Arizona 25 New York 14 Final New England 30 Minnesota 7 Final New Orleans 24 Cleveland 26 Final Atlanta 10 Cincinnati 24 Final Detroit 7 Carolina 24 Final St. Louis 19 Tampa Bay 17 Final Seattle 21 San Diego 30 Final Houston 30 Oakland 14 Final New York 24 Green Bay 31 Final Kansas City 17 Denver 24 Final Chicago 28 San Francisco 20