NFL Nation: 2011 NFL combine

Patriots turn No. 28 into 2012 first-rounder

April, 28, 2011
The New England Patriots couldn't sit still for both of their first-round draft choices.

The Patriots took their turn by drafting Colorado tackle Nate Solder at No. 17, but then they spun No. 28 into more assets.

Bill Belichick peddled the pick in exchange for the New Orleans Saints' 2012 first-round pick and their second-rounder Friday night. The Saints used the pick to select Alabama running back Mark Ingram.

New England now has three picks Friday night -- Nos. 33, 56 and 60 -- and could end up with more.

Over the next 19 hours, the coveted lead-off spot that will draw trade attention from teams that want to swoop in and snag a player still on the board.

More AFC East combine leftovers

March, 5, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS -- A couple days back I posted some AFC East-related tidbits from defensive players at the NFL scouting combine in Lucas Oil Stadium. Let's close the combine book with thoughts from the offensive prospects.

[+] EnlargeTorrey Smith
Andrew Shurtleff/US PresswireMaryland receiver Torrey Smith knows his transition to the NFL will be challenging.
Maryland receiver Torrey Smith on watching the New York Jets on "Hard Knocks:"
"It's tough. It's a grown man's league. You get that feel from watching it. I liked their coach. He has a lot of fun. He definitely gets his team ready. It's an eye-opener."

Pittsburgh receiver Jonathan Baldwin on his mentors:
"People from Aliquippa, Darrelle Revis and Ty Law. After the combine I'll be working with Darrelle, doing one-on-ones and press release and things like that. Darrelle Revis is one of the best corners in the game. So doing what I’m sure will help me get ready for the next level of cornerbacks."

San Diego State receiver Vincent Brown on the toughest cornerback he faced in college:
"My true freshman year, Sean Smith. He shut me down pretty good that game. I'm not going to lie. It was definitely a learning experience, and I definitely grew from that. His size [was difficult]. I'm a smaller receiver. He's a big dude. He's got a big wingspan. It was a little tough to get around him at times when I'm a true freshman and thrown in the fire like that."

Indiana receiver Tandon Doss on learning from former Bills second-rounder James Hardy's inability to make it in the NFL:
"He's a great player and athlete. He's a freak athlete. He had some things along the way that kept him down. Hopefully, he gets back into it. I’m going to learn from the experience and take as much out of it as I can."

Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady:
"Coach [Nick] Saban doesn’t ever say 'Here, let's watch No. 12 from New England,' but you watch him. He's the most fun guy to watch in the league right now. There's a lot of efficient quarterbacks, but as far as his control, his balance, the way he sets up in the pocket, the way he is so mechanically sound, it really is such a joy to watch. He's so fluid. He never gets flustered. Just his subtle movements, all of his subtleties, every little detail is addressed. Coach Saban would never let me watch another quarterback play. He thinks that's soft or something. But, yeah, I obviously have spent time watching Tom Brady. He's a hero of mine and a guy who I would love nothing more than to try to pattern my game off of."

McElroy on whether he'd like to be Brady's backup:
"In a heartbeat. Absolutely."

Texas Christian quarterback Andy Dalton on the Bills' coaching staff at the Senior Bowl:
"It was fun being able to get to play underneath the Bills and their staff. To be in a pro system and to be in a pro offense and to learn with a bunch of guys. It was a great experience and will help me with the transition."

Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams on being compared to Jets tight end Dustin Keller:
"You've got to like it because he's very successful in the NFL. I like watching him play, his style. He's that type of person who can get down field and run amazing routes. He can cause a mismatch against a slower linebacker or a smaller DB. And he has the ability to get on the line of scrimmage and block, too. I enjoy watching him play, and that's not a bad comparison at all. It's a very good one."

North Carolina receiver Greg Little on being teammates with New England Patriots receiver Brandon Tate:
"I was on the team with Brandon for about two years. I was a backup to Brandon, and I really grew as a player seeing him play and just taking notes from him. Just sitting alongside him in the meeting rooms and watching his play was very beneficial to my game as well. I don't talk to Brandon as much today. But it's definitely someone I learned from and grew from as well."

Pittsburgh tackle Jason Pinkston on his relationship with Bills assistant head coach Dave Wannstedt:
"I was pretty upset when Coach Wannstedt first got fired [from Pitt]. I had a different relationship with Coach Wannstedt than some of the other players on the team. I actually graduated from his high school [Baldwin] when he was recruiting me. I've known him for about six or seven years. So it was a different kind of relationship with me and him. He was like a father to me. My mother passed away two years ago from breast cancer, and he was there for me -- him and his family -- a lot. So I had a different kind of love for him. He was more than just a coach to me. He was like a father figure. So I was pretty upset and hurt when they fired him like they did."

Pinkston on Wannstedt's coaching style:
"Aggressive. He's smart and he plays to win. He's a great coach, and he does everything by the book. We always went by three words: trust, accountability, desire. If he couldn’t trust you, you weren't going to play. He definitely had the backs of all his players, and now all his players respect him. We love him. I still love him to death."

AFC East leftovers from the combine

March, 3, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS -- Before we get too far removed from the NFL scouting combine and mired in the labor morass, it's time to empty out the notebook from Lucas Oil Stadium. Here are some AFC East-oriented tidbits from the defensive players who met with reporters there.

Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers on the NFL's greatest offensive tackle:
"If I had to pick, I’d have to say Jake Long. One of the best I have ever seen."

Bowers on being compared to Bruce Smith and Reggie White:
"It's amazing. Just to be in the same sentence as those guys is amazing. Anytime anybody can put you in a sentence with Reggie White and Bruce Smith, you must be doing something right."

Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward on being compared to Vernon Gholston:
"We're two totally different players. Vern, they had him dropping at linebacker. You've seen my dropping abilities. They're pretty good [joking]. Me, I can play all over the line. I can play 3-technique and 6-technique. We are two different players. We had the privilege of going to The Ohio State, but we're not the same player. I'm never going to compare myself to him, and I don't think he'll ever do the same."

Fresno State outside linebacker Chris Carter about working with former Patriots outside linebacker Willie McGinest:
"We've been working primarily on drops. I know how to rush the passer. That's my big thing, work on drops and perfecting that, getting the hips loose. Making sure we go over the defenses 100 percent and I know everyone's assignment. When you play DE, you pretty much only have to know the front-seven assignments. But as a backer, one thing they emphasized is making sure we know everyone's assignment."

Hampton defensive tackle Kendrick Ellis on a fellow alum with the Miami Dolphins:
"Every time when I used to be at Hampton, I'd watch Kendall Langford. He just gave us hope. Small-school guys, we're not on TV every week. Just with him doing it, it gave us hope that we could do it. Kendall was a good player. So I try to emulate what Kendall did, being strong in the weight room, working hard and trying to be just like him."

Clemson safety Marcus Gilchrist on what he learned from C.J. Spiller:
"Humbleness. A lot times you hear about these big-time, high-profile guys and a tendency to judge them with character issues because they have such a big head. But C.J. is one of the most humble guys you'll ever meet."

Florida punter Chas Henry on speaking with Jets special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff:
"I’d sure love to hear from him. It’s a great organization. They’re going to have a lot of success in the future, and I’d love to be a part of it. ... I’m definitely following their situation."

Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson on comparisons to Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby:
"I've heard that a lot. I could definitely see myself as a similarity to Karlos. We're both tall and got long arms. Actually our play styles are very similar. That's a great comparison. He's a great linebacker. Just to have that type of comparison, someone who was in the NFL, is just a great accomplishment."

Clemson defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins on being coached by the Buffalo Bills at the Senior Bowl:
"It was real good, being coached by the Bills. They opened my eyes a lot. I had to improve my pass-rush a lot, and they taught me a lot about not looking in the backfield, beating my man first, and actually had a good Senior Bowl, got better each day."

Cancer survivor and Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich on his relationship with Tedy Bruschi:
"Tedy reached out to me first. I remember the date, Sept. 29th, because that's the date I was told I didn't have cancer any more. One thing he told me that night back at my dorm at Boston College was 'Mark, you're a survivor now. Be proud of being a survivor.' Those are words that have stayed with me through my whole process. To me, that meant get your story out there, raise as much money as you can, be helpful to other people."
Early reports from Tuesday's workouts at the scouting combine suggest that Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara isn't going to fall to the Detroit Lions at No. 13 overall, as many of you have been hoping.

Amukamara ran his first 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds and his second in 4.44 seconds. I would imagine those numbers are fast enough to assuage any doubts about that aspect of his game, validating the work Amukamara has done with a speed coach as we discussed last week.

If speed was the final obstacle to locking in Amukamara as a top-10 pick, I'm guessing it's no longer a question.

The legend of Julio Jones only grows

March, 1, 2011
Julio Jones has yet to catch his first NFL pass.

But in a league that defines the essence of manhood every Sunday, something tells me Jones will fit right in.

Last season, he set Alabama single-season records with 78 catches and 1,133 receiving yards, and that's despite fracturing his left hand in the sixth game of the season against South Carolina. Jones underwent surgery to have a plate and screws inserted and was back at practice that week. He never missed a game, nor a beat. In fact, two weeks later, he had his best game of the season with a school-record 221 receiving yards and 12 catches against Tennessee.

[+] EnlargeJulio Jones
AP Photo/Michael ConroyJulio Jones was impressive at the combine despite having a fracture in his foot.
More recently, we learn that Jones had a fracture in his foot, which was discovered at the NFL combine, when he blazed away to a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash on Sunday and put on a show in all the other drills. His 11-3 broad jump was two inches away from the combine record.

He weighed in at 220 pounds, too, so it's not like we're talking about a 185-pound guy doing this.

And to do it at less than 100 percent only reinforces what a warrior this guy truly is.

According to those in Jones' camp, the fracture isn't a serious one and was more of a crack that showed up on the scan. It's possibily an injury he played with all or most of the season in 2010.

But, then, Jones' tolerance for pain is legendary. As a freshman, he played through painful wrist and shoulder injuries and then underwent three different surgeries following the season, including one for a sports hernia. A knee problem plagued him as a sophomore and cut into his production the first half of the season, but it was Jones who made one of the plays of the year (a 73-yard touchdown against LSU on a wide receiver screen) in the Crimson Tide's run to the 2009 national championship.

Jones will probably need surgery for this latest injury, to go ahead and get it cleaned up. But he's already run a 4.39 with the injury. So being on the shelf for the next month or two while he recovers shouldn't be much of an issue. Plus, Jones recovers quicker than most mortals.

He's a proven commodity, too, and that's whether he's 75 percent or 100 percent.

And when you get right down to it, how many players in the NFL are even close to 100 percent that last month of the season after 16 long games?

There's a level of toughness required to make it in that league that most of us can't even begin to relate to ... even in our wildest dreams.

Jones epitomizes that toughness.
As the sixth and final day of the NFL scouting combine gets underway, let's tap into Scouts Inc. for some highlights from Day 5.
  • Nevada defensive end Dontay Moch turned in one of the best workouts of the combine, running a 4.44 in the 40-yard dash, recording a 42-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-8 broad jump. But Moch is undersized at 244 pounds, and Scouts Inc writes: "His impressive explosiveness and straight-line speed are offset by his lack of lateral agility, hip fluidity and body control to bend the edge as a pass-rusher. He's also raw in terms of instincts and looked tight during drills."
  • Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus proved to be in excellent shape, running a 4.94 despite a 319-pound frame.
  • Auburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley is nowhere close to being assured he will be the No. 1 overall pick. Among other things, Fairley proved smaller than originally believed -- weighing in at 291 pounds.
  • California defensive end Cameron Jordan is proving to be a climber. He had a strong Senior Bowl, ran a 4.78 in the 40-yard dash on Monday and is now projected as a mid-first round pick.
Von Miller is doing his part to get in the conversation for the No. 2 overall pick by Denver.

There was a lot of chatter in Indianapolis in the past few days that the pass rusher from Texas A&M could force his way into Denver’s debate with a strong combine performance. He might have accomplished it.

Miller ran a stunning 4.46 40-yard dash Monday at his combine workout. He stood out at the Senior Bowl last month, and now he is shining at the combine.

Denver has greater needs on the defensive line and will likely look there, but if Miller keeps impressing, Denver might have to take notice.

Miller is considered a perfect fit for San Diego. But the Chargers have no way of getting him at No. 18. The only way San Diego could get to Miller is through a trade. Now that he ran this fast time, San Diego, which has extra picks in the second and third rounds, will have to go all the way up to No. 5, at least, to hope to get a crack at the fast-rising Miller.

Is Buffalo blowing smoke on Cam Newton?

February, 28, 2011
Cam NewtonAP Photo/Michael ConroyAmong the hot topics at the NFL combine were the possible destinations for Auburn's Cam Newton.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Some have been suspicious about the Buffalo Bills' interest in using their third overall draft choice on Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.

Multiple outlets have reported general manager Buddy Nix is infatuated with the Heisman Trophy winner. Nobody within the organization has dismissed those reports. Instead, their comments reinforce the idea.

That's why thoughts of a smokescreen waft about when considering, gee, the Bills have been a little too forthcoming in their curiosity of Newton, even though head coach Chan Gailey already has stated his allegiance to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the roster has so many holes.

Could the Bills' interest in Newton be subterfuge? Have those stories been planted?

It's possible, but I don't think so.

In the hour I spent Thursday listening to Nix and Gailey talk about their team and their valuable No. 3 draft choice, Newton questions were the most prevalent.

Nix and Gailey delivered the impression there's legitimate interest in drafting Newton if -- over the course of the next two months -- they evaluate him as a franchise quarterback and he's still there after the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos select.

As someone who has covered boxing for two decades and sat in Don King's living room, I've developed what I would consider an acute ability to detect -- what's the polite phraseology? -- deceptiveness. My tolerance for it is slight.

And I've found Nix and Gailey to be two of the most genuine men I've dealt with in the NFL. They're not liars. They'll withhold information before they spread a falsehood.

In fact, the Bills have been more likely to telegraph their intentions than misdirect them.

At last year's owners meetings in Orlando, Gailey sat across the table from me and said he wanted to draft one of those "quick-as-a-cat water bugs that are running backs-slash-receivers that might give you a little bit of a punch on the field, maybe make a big play."

Shame on everybody -- me included -- for assuming Gailey meant they would draft a scatback somewhere in the second or third round. After all, they had 1,000-yard backs Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch.

They took Clemson running back C.J. Spiller ninth overall.

Twice in the past four months, Bills owner Ralph Wilson has declared a desire to upgrade at quarterback.

Wilson told Associated Press reporter John Wawrow in October that finding a new quarterback was the team's top priority. Fitzpatrick hadn't become a fan favorite at that point and went on to throw for 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns in 13 games.

But this month Wilson reiterated the importance of finding a quarterback in an interview with Fanhouse columnist Thomas George.

"Buddy, the scouts, the coaches, they are working," Wilson told George. "I know it's not going to be an instant turnaround. I think it will take two or three years to have a playoff team -- and that's if we get a quarterback.''

It also should be noted Fitzpatrick is entering the final year of his contract. If the Bills don't draft a quarterback, then they almost will be forced to invest in Fitzpatrick. He will make a base salary of about $3.2 million next season, not exactly "you're our guy" money.

At the combine, Nix and Gailey gave even-tempered responses to multiple questions about Newton. Never once did they give any indication reporters were misguided in their line of questioning.

Would they directly tell a reporter he was sniffing in the wrong place? No, but after an hour you'd get a hint from two fellas who don't enjoy wasting their breath on repetitive questions.

All of that information gives me the strong impression they will draft a quarterback if they deem one worthy of the third pick. That would include Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, Washington's Jake Locker or Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, too.

The term "franchise quarterback" is an ambiguous one. The meaning could change depending on the person using it. So I asked Nix to tell me how he defines "franchise quarterback."

"A guy who can win for you for years," Nix said. "That, to me, is what that is. You get a lot of guys that will play good for you a year or two. But somebody that can be a 10-year guy to the point you don't have to worry about that position anymore" is a franchise quarterback.

[+] EnlargeChan Gailey & Ryan Fitzpatrick
Crystal LoGiudice/US PresswireBuffalo and head coach Chan Gailey, right, received solid play from veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, but seek a long-term starter.
Buffalo has myriad roster needs and affection for Fitzpatrick, but it can't win with him for the next decade. He falls more in the other category Nix mentioned, a guy who can hold down the position for a couple seasons.

Nix joked that any personnel executive who waits until he doesn't have a quarterback before he drafts his next one won't be the one making the pick. In other words, that GM would be fired before he got the opportunity, because his team wouldn't be winning.

The Bills don't intend to draft this early every spring and haven't had such a high pick in 26 years. If they want to snag a quarterback, then they have to view this as their best chance. Again, they need to identify someone worthy of the top pick first.

Why would Buffalo lie about its interest in drafting a quarterback?

I can think of two:

  • Tempt teams that really want Newton or Gabbert to trade up to get him.
  • Induce Carolina or Denver to draft a quarterback so another targeted player such as Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley or Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson falls to the Bills at No. 3.

On the first point, Nix seemed to shoot down that possibility when saying the Bills wouldn't be interested in trading the third pick unless the player they covet is gone once the Bills are on the clock. Nix noted he doesn't believe in moving down. That indicates the Bills will not shop the pick.

On the second point, it's a possibility. The overwhelming need for quarterbacks around the league could make another team twitchy. But any potential ruse would be rendered moot if Carolina chooses Newton. Denver has incumbent starter Kyle Orton and last year's 25th overall pick, Tim Tebow, on the roster.

"You want your spot to be worth something, or you want to get the guy you want," former New York Jets executive Pat Kirwan explained Sunday at the combine. Two years ago for, Kirwan wrote a fascinating feature on the art of the smokescreen and a couple he helped pull off.

"Everyone does it to a certain extent. So what would be their motivation of doing it this year? Usually what drives the top part of the draft are quarterbacks. If Gabbert or Newton emerges as the clear-cut best quarterback, you could easily see a team saying 'We're going to take Gabbert' and see if you could get a team like the Washington Redskins to trade up there."

But not in February.

"No one ever does this stuff until a week before the draft," Kirwan said. "Now is too early to sustain it, and gives too much time for someone who's interested to come up with another plan. Later is better."

The information adds up to Buffalo being legitimately interested in Newton as its future quarterback.

Deep draft thoughts from Mike Mayock

February, 28, 2011
Mike Mayock of the NFL Network has become the official final word at the combine -- he’s the last guy at the podium after four days of interviews because he’s great at summarizing things.

I just listened to a tape of his talk, and pulled out some things I thought you’d find interesting. I’ll have his voice in a piece or two still to come as well.
  • “The defensive line in general is phenomenal. I’ve got nine defensive ends with first-round grades. Typically 3.8 to four go in the first round.”
  • He believes tight end is the weakest spot in the draft and that the safety class is below average. (Bad news for Texans, Jaguars and even Titans.)
  • Patrick Peterson vs. Julio Jones was his favorite tape of the year to watch.
  • He like the depth of the first couple rounds at offensive tackle and thinks there could be a plug-and-play guy at the spot who would be a fit for the Colts at No. 22.
  • Ryan Mallett is a first-round talent he doesn’t think will get drafted in the first round.
  • Oregon inside linebacker Casey Matthews is not explosive like his brother Clay, but he is instinctive and will play better than his measurables suggest.
Getting an actual nugget about an actual change from a team at this stage, especially given the upcoming shutdown, is a big deal.

Jim Wyatt got one out of reserved Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt in this piece, just the sort of wrinkle that would have fit nicely in my piece from a few days ago about how scouts in Tennessee and Houston have to adjust to the desires of new coaches.

Under new defensive coordinator Jerry Gray and new defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, the Titans will be looking for defensive ends who are a bit different.

Writes Wyatt out of his conversation with Reinfeldt:
In previous years, the Titans had their ends play a lot of 9-technique, lined up wide and told to collapse the pocket. Under Gray, the Titans could play more of a 7-technique, lined up across from the offensive tackles or tight ends, placement that requires stout, run-stopper ends.

"It is still a work in progress," [Reinfeldt said]. "I think our scouts are pretty good at evaluating talent and evaluating a young man's ability to play in the NFL. At the same time they need to have a really good idea of the scheme we are running, what traits we are looking for and I think that is where the combine is good for us. It's a chance for both those guys to be together and I think the pre-draft meetings will be critical for that also."

It appears this is a good draft to be looking for such an end. The Titans could conceivably even trade down from No. 8 and land a first-round defensive end like North Carolina’s Robert Quinn, Cal’s Cameron Jordan or Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn.

All of them are bigger than Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford, smaller Titans ends who are not under contract for 2011. One of those prospects could look good working in combination with last year’s No. 1, Derrick Morgan, and William Hayes, two ends on the roster who are sturdier types. Morgan went on IR on Oct. 5 of his rookie season after blowing out a knee.

A bit later in the draft there are more guys who could be attractive given a desire to have more physical ends. Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt, Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward, Miami’s Allen Bailey and Mississippi State’s Pernell McPhee all have nice size and would likely be better equipped to line up tighter to the line of scrimmage and do more against the run.

Here's looking at No. 2

February, 28, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Denver Broncos have the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft. The Broncos were was last in the NFL in total defense and points allowed in 2010 and are expected to take a defensive player with the pick.

Denver has been examining the top defensive players at the NFL combine for the past several days. Here is a look at the players who could be considered with the choice:

Da'Quan Bowers, defensive end, Clemson

Known for: He is a pure pass-rusher and led the nation with 15.5 sacks in 2010.

Why he should be the pick: He would give Denver a dominant, classic defensive end and would form a good pass-rushing pair with Elvis Dumervil.

Why he shouldn’t be the pick: Bowers is not considered a sure thing. He had only one productive year of college football.

Deciding factor: Bowers, along with Nick Fairley and quarterbacks Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, could be taken by Carolina with the No. 1 pick. If he gets past Carolina, Bowers could be the choice in Denver. I think the Broncos will seriously consider taking Bowers, who reminds many of Julius Peppers. Peppers was the first pick taken by new Denver coach John Fox in Carolina.

Quotable: “I think I can bring a lot of good things to the team. You can get a pass-rushing defensive end, a humble guy, a guy with great character, a guy who is going to work hard, a guy that is going to go about things the right way and a guy who is willing to compete with anyone anywhere.” -- Bowers

Marcell Dareus, defensive tackle, Alabama

Known for: He is a stout 4-3 defensive tackle who is coming from a winning program.

[+] EnlargeMarcell Dareus
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMarcell Dareus is expected to be a top-10 pick in April's NFL draft.
Why he should be the pick: Some scouts feel like he is more of sure thing than Fairley. He seems like he will be a productive player for 10-12 years.

Why he shouldn’t be the pick: He may not be the most spectacular player available and could potentially slip to the 5-6 range.

Deciding factor: If Denver decides to take a defensive tackle, it will come down to Dareus or Fairley. So, he must grade out higher on Denver’s board than Fairley.

Quotable: “I look at it like, if you go back in the history of watching football, before the game was started, it started up front. Some people were scared and backed up off the ball, but the real bulls stayed up front and played the game." -- Dareus

Nick Fairley, defensive tackle, Auburn

Known for: He was a dominant force for a national championship winner.

Why he should be the pick: Fairley has a chance to be the best player in the draft and would be an immediate impact player.

Why he shouldn’t be the pick: There are questions about Fairley’s ability to transition to the NFL and he may have the riskiest character of all the potential picks.

Deciding factor: If Denver falls in love with Fairley, he’ll be the pick. I think he’ll be one of the top players on Denver’s board. There’s a chance Denver will be too intrigued with his ability if he gets past Carolina.

Quotable: “Fairley is really a true three-technique and he is a disrupting guy nonstop throughout the game. He beats linemen all day, every game.” -- Broncos general manager Brian Xanders

Von Miller, linebacker, Texas A&M

Known for: He has the most potential of any player on the board and is a natural pass-rusher. His stock has been rising lately.

Why he should be the pick: He could possibly be a perennial All-Pro who could become the face of the franchise.

Why he shouldn’t be the pick: He might be available a few spots lower and he may not be the highest value pick.

Deciding factor: If Miller -- who owned the Senior Bowl -- blows away scouts at the combine and his pro day, he may be too tempting to pass up.

Quotable: “First and foremost, I’m going to be a great teammate. I’m a team guy. That’s how I play football. That’s how we were able to win the games that we won at Texas A&M. We didn’t have all the talent in the world, but we had a great team. We had great chemistry in the locker room. I’ll be a rookie, whatever those guys want me to do, I’ll be happy to do it. Just find my way, find my role. Whatever it takes to get on the field, that’s what I’ll do.” -- Miller

Patrick Peterson, cornerback, LSU

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson
Icon SMIWill Denver forsake its needs on the defensive line and draft Patrick Peterson to bolster the secondary?
Known for: The big, strong, fast Peterson is considered one of the best cornerback prospects in years. He could be the next Champ Bailey.

Why he should be the pick: Peterson and Bailey, who just signed a four-year contract extension, would be one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL right away.

Why he shouldn’t be the pick: Denver has greater needs on the defensive line. Taking Peterson wouldn’t help Denver’s most pressing issue.

Deciding factor: I think it would take a lot for Denver to take Peterson because of the reality of the team’s needs. The only way Peterson is the pick is if Denver decides he is far and away the best player on the board.

Quotable: “He is a great athlete and not only as a [defensive] player, but as a returner. He is special as a returner. He is a guy that can do a lot of different things for you. Athletically, he is as good as anybody in the draft. He can run and he has good size for a corner -- he is 205, 210 pounds. He has good size and is a guy that can make some big plays. I think especially at the cornerback position, you like those guys that can make those plays, because those are game-changers.” -- Broncos vice president John Elway

Robert Quinn, defensive end, North Carolina

Known for: He could be the best player on the board, but he missed the entire 2010 season because he accepted gifts from an agent.

Why he should be the pick: He may be the highest value pick. In five years, he could be dominant.

Why he shouldn’t be the pick: He is only 265 pounds and missed valuable playing time in 2010.

Deciding factor: It’s all in Quinn’s hands. If Quinn has an unbelievable combine and pro day, the Broncos may have no choice but to take him. Still, that may be a long shot.

Quotable: “I feel like I've got a never-ending motor. I feel like I'm the fastest guy on the field and I try not to let nobody's hands get on me. A weakness, a 6 technique within the tight end, sometimes my eyes get to going back and forward and [I] take a bad step that may hurt me. I try to do little things to make sure I take straight steps every time.” -- Quinn
The Green Bay Packers drafted 30 of their current players since Mike McCarthy became head coach, a high number. The other Super Bowl team, Pittsburgh, has 23 players drafted under coach Mike Tomlin even though Tomlin inherited a championship team with fewer roster spots up for grabs.

The home-grown continuity those organizations enjoy became a reliable storyline during Super Bowl week.

Both teams got the quarterback position right, of course, and that makes everyone else look smarter. In general, however, the teams with organizational continuity should enjoy more solid footing during a potentially rocky offseason.

The chart shows draft-choice retention rates for NFC West teams. For example, the Arizona Cardinals feature 21 draft choices selected under coach Ken Whisehunt. They have four selected under previous coach Dennis Green and two -- Adrian Wilson and Gerald Hayes -- remaining from the Dave McGinnis era.

The numbers favor Arizona in part because every other team has changed head coaches since the Cardinals hired Ken Whisenhunt in 2007. But Whisenhunt says he isn't necessarily loyal to draft choices. The record proves he's right.

Last offseason, the Cardnials preferred gambling on less experienced quarterbacks to sticking with Matt Leinart on the basis of Leinart's status as a recent first-round draft choice. Whisenhunt has said he would rather admit failure than compromise principles when putting together a roster.

"It's great to keep your draft picks, but only if they are your best players," Whisenhunt told reporters recently at the NFL scouting combine. "We released our third-round pick (Buster Davis) our first year. ... We cut a (former) second-round pick (Cody Brown) last year because we felt we had better players."

I'll be back in a bit with a look at four recent NFC West draft choices, one per team and each highly drafted, facing questions heading toward the 2011 season.


AFC North combine thoughts

February, 28, 2011
The NFL combine was in full throttle over the weekend. Here are some things we picked up as it pertains to the AFC North:
[+] EnlargeMike Pouncey
AP Photo/Darron CummingsThe Steelers and Ravens have shown interest in Florida offensive lineman Mike Pouncey.

  • Florida offensive lineman Mike Pouncey confirmed my initial thoughts entering the combine. Pouncey showed the same quickness, good feet and athleticism this weekend that he showed all season for the Gators. But something under the radar I was impressed with was Pouncey's natural enthusiasm. Not only did Pouncey look good in drills, but he was genuinely enjoying himself more than most prospects. Getting to know Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey last season, the twin brother also has an upbeat mentality and is enthusiastic about football. Small things like that count in my book. I'm not surprised at all that both the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have shown interest in Mike Pouncey. Those are two teams that not only look for talented players, but those who genuinely love the game.

  • The quarterbacks can really run this year. I don't know how many of them can throw at the NFL level, which is a major concern, but extending plays with their feet won't be an issue for this year's class. Top quarterback prospects like Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, Auburn's Cam Newton and Washington's Jake Locker all looked very athletic, and so did lower-profile quarterbacks such as Nevada's Colin Kaepernick. The Cincinnati Bengals are the only AFC North team in the market for a quarterback potentially in the first two rounds after starter Carson Palmer demanded to be traded and threatened to retire.

  • Speaking of quarterbacks, I think Arkansas' Ryan Mallett likely cemented his place outside of the first round, which might be a good thing for the Bengals. He threw the ball very well and has a cannon for an arm. But he also skipped some combine drills and has off-the-field concerns. When asked to clarify his issues at the combine, Mallet was defensive with the media, which was not the right way to handle it. Mallet said he would do so with teams and not with the public. Teams likely know those issues by now and at some point they may leak to the media anyway. But the Bengals have a track record of drafting talented players who fall down the draft board because of character issues. So Mallet could be a target for them in the second round. With Gabbert not throwing, Mallet was the best pure passer this weekend, in my opinion.

  • I still like the top two receivers in the draft: Georgia's A.J. Green and Alabama's Julio Jones. I'm convinced you can't go wrong with either player. Jones probably closed the gap on Green in the combine with this freakish athleticism. Jones' 40 time (4.39) and measurables were a little better than Green's (4.48), who remains more polished. Jones needs to work on his consistency catching the football. "The gauntlet" drill exposed him a bit and that could be the difference. I also liked Kentucky receiver Randall Cobb, who ran a 4.45, stood out in his workouts. The Browns, Bengals and Ravens could all look for receivers in the first or second rounds.

  • The Ravens' strong interest in Oregon inside linebacker Casey Matthews is interesting. For all the great things general manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff have done with the Ravens, they have yet to find a successor to middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who turns 36 in May. But it looks like Baltimore is putting a strong effort into finding that player in this year's draft. Matthews is getting a lot of attention because of the success of brother, Clay, with the Green Bay Packers. But Casey is projected to be a third-rounder.
On Friday, we opened our discussion on the Minnesota Vikings' difficult task this offseason: Finding a quarterback to take them through the next decade. One of my points was that the Vikings haven't had many opportunities to draft a blue-chip quarterback in recent years, short of trading up to grab a prospect. And based on the buzz at the NFL scouting combine over the past few days, they are in the same position again this year.

I spent some time speaking with ESPN analyst Todd McShay, who feels certain that the draft's top two quarterbacks -- Missouri's Blaine Gabbert and Auburn's Cam Newton -- will be off the board when the Vikings' No. 12 overall pick arrives. That means the Vikings will need to trade up to draft one of them. Otherwise, they must decide whether they like one of two other quarterbacks -- Washington's Jake Locker and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett -- enough either to take them at No. 12 or grab them later via a trade-down.

McShay listed his top four quarterbacks as Gabbert, Newton, Locker and Mallett, in that order. He has Mallett as a second-round value. His second tier includes: TCU's Andy Dalton, Iowa's Ricky Stanzi, Nevada's Colin Kaepernick and Florida State's Christian Ponder.

As a means for pushing forward the discussion, I'll pass along McShay's thoughts on that first tier below.

Player: Missouri's Blaine Gabbert.

McShay: "I think Gabbert should be the first quarterback. I won't change on that. Every game I've watched, I'm convinced. He's safer. That's not necessarily a reason to take him. But that [spread] system, I know they catch a lot of flak. But he has to make reads. He has to get rid of the ball quickly. His mechanics are good for the most part. He's accurate throwing in the face off pressure. People who say his completion percentage [was low before last season], they didn't watch. He's got guys in his face all the time. He's making accurate throws that guys are dropping. ... He just needs a little bit of time coming from that system. He'll be good. He's going to be a really good starter."

Bottom line: Gabbert didn't throw at the combine but proved athletic with a 4.62 time in the 40-yard dash. He'll throw at his March 17 pro day and has no character issues that have surfaced. The Vikings would be wise to study his every move over the next few months.

Player: Auburn's Cam Newton

McShay: "He is actually pretty accurate for a guy whose footwork is terrible. He opens one way, and throws [another], but he's putting it on guys. ... The only way he's available for the Vikings is if enough teams start to get really scared about Cam Newton the mental makeup."

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesJake Locker may be available when the Vikings pick at No. 12.
Bottom line: Newton would probably generate the most excitement in Minnesota, and he would have more skill players around him there than in most places he might land. But any team that drafts Newton knows they're getting more than a quarterback. It's obvious he is determined to become a marketing brand of his own. Are the Vikings OK with that?

Player: Washington's Jake Locker

McShay: "Love, love Jake Locker the competitor. Love the physical tools. Tremendous athlete, obviously. He wants it. He makes accurate throws at times. He just hasn't put it together. I've taken a lot of heat for it, and I stuck with [him] because I thought it was going to click. And it hasn't. It just hasn't. At some point, you have to be honest with yourself. That point was three or four weeks ago for me. I was able to go back and watch the coaches' copy tape and watch the seven games. He just didn't improve at all [last year]. Injuries were a little bit of a setback, but ultimately his mind is going too fast. ... It's all in his head. Maybe one day it becomes a nice smooth process. But you can't risk a high draft pick on a player [with that history]. The most important thing you have to do is be accurate. He's not accurate now and he's not showing signs over the last year of becoming more accurate."

Bottom line: There are exceptions to every rule. But historically, quarterbacks don't improve their accuracy when they move from college to the NFL. They are what they are, and Locker was a 55.4 percent passer last season. The Vikings couldn't find a better leader than Locker, and his 4.59 speed is intriguing. That should all count for something. Perhaps the Vikings could coach him into being an exception.

Player: Arkansas' Ryan Mallett

McShay: "He is immature. And there are a lot of questions about his leadership and the consistency of his emotional level, and how he just carries himself. And there is also some off-the-field stuff that he is going to have to answer, that won't come out in [public] but will definitely be asked in closed doors. ... There is no question he has the strongest arm in this class. But he can't re-set his feet in the pocket. He's like Drew Bledsoe almost. Once teams catch on to that, how to stop him, they can really limit his effectiveness. It's not to say he can't be good quarterback. But put a ceiling on that. And if you add an attitude problem and immaturity, then you have a potential bust on your hands if you spent a first-round pick."

Bottom line: It's just as easy to get excited about Mallett's powerful arm as it is his snarling personality. But perhaps the biggest concern is his mobility. No modern-day NFL quarterback can succeed without an ability to move in the pocket. You can't use your golden arm if you're on the ground.

Video: Who will be the No. 1 pick?

February, 28, 2011

Adam Schefter talks about who the Panthers may draft with the No. 1 overall pick.