NFL Nation: 2012 NFL combine

NFL32: What's next for Hines Ward?

February, 29, 2012
2/29/12
10:39
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Wendi and Mort discuss the future of Hines Ward, David Diehl answers a Facebook question, and in Did You Hear That?, Dontari Poe talks about his impressive combine performance.
The cornerback workouts at the NFL combine put the Cincinnati Bengals in tough spot.

North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins had the best workout among the corners, which puts him in the conversation as the second-best corner in the draft. Jenkins posted the sixth-best 40 time (4.46) among defensive backs, and he seemed the most confident, agile, quick-moving corner during drills, according to ESPN's Todd McShay.

[+] EnlargeJanoris Jenkins
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireIn combine interviews, Janoris Jenkins gave candid answers to questions about his checkered past.
The Bengals, who are expected to take a cornerback with one of their two first-round picks (Nos. 17 and 21), need a player with Jenkins' skills and upside. Leon Hall is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury and Nate Clements is 32. The only problem: Jenkins is one of the biggest character risks in the first round.

Can the Bengals gamble on a player when it has backfired on them so frequently over the years? You want to say no, until you see his Pro Bowl potential.

Jenkins said he failed one drug test at Florida and was arrested three times -- once for a bar fight and twice for marijuana possession. He was kicked off the team at Florida and finished his college career at North Alabama. He’s also 23 and has fathered four children by three different mothers.

To his credit, Jenkins didn't dodge questions like Ryan Mallett did last year. His direct approach should preserve his first-round status.

He said he didn't make excuses when teams asked him about those incidents at his NFL combine interviews.

"I was honest, straightforward," Jenkins. "Told them I did it. I admitted to everything. I take full responsibility. I learned from it. It made me a stronger person. How to separate myself from certain guys, certain people. In order to be successful at the next level, I can’t do the things that I used to do.’’

Asked if he had given up marijuana, Jenkins said, "I'm done. I can’t do it. I thought about my mom and my kids. In order for them to have a nice life, I have to put that aside."

Jenkins might have been the top-rated corner in the draft if not for the red flags. Character concerns caused cornerback Jimmy Smith to slide to the Ravens at No. 27 in last year's draft.

"I’m pretty sure it will hurt me," Jenkins said. "But I’m moving past that."
INDIANAPOLIS -- There has been a lot of speculation that the San Diego Chargers could potentially be in play for Indianapolis Colts’ pass-rusher Robert Mathis in free agency.

Wayne
Wayne
I can see it, but I can also see the Chargers looking at another Colts’ star in free agency.

If Vincent Jackson leaves in free agency, I could see the Colts considering Colts’ receiver Reggie Wayne as a short-term solution. Jackson likely will not be given the franchise tag. I expect him to go to free agency. I think the Chargers have a solid chance of keeping him, but if he leaves, the team will have to look at another option.

I think Wayne is the type of player that would be right up the Chargers’ alley. He could be fairly inexpensive compared to other receivers and I think he still has something left in the tank.

Wayne, 33, had 75 catches for 960 yards last season playing without the injured Peyton Manning. Going to a team with a franchise quarterback in Philip Rivers and going to a team with playoff hopes, could energize Wayne.

I don’t think he’d be an answer for the long-term, but for a couple of years, I could see a Wayne-Chargers’ combination work if the Chargers have to suddenly replace Jackson.
Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe is the perfect fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who need to find the heir apparent to nose tackle Casey Hampton. Most mock drafts agreed, linking Poe to the Steelers' 24th overall pick in the first round.

But Poe won't be there when the Steelers are picking at that point. Not after his "epic" showing at the NFL combine.

Poe's numbers produced at the combine compare favorably to the ones recorded by Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Even though Ngata was a more polished player coming out of college, Poe is projected to go in the middle of the first round (Ngata was taken 12th overall).

Everyone knew Poe was strong. He backed that up when he had 44 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press -- which was 16 above the average for defensive tackles over the past four combines. What really stood out was Poe's speed. He ran a jaw-dropping official time of 4.98 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

You got the feeling that Poe would enjoy getting drafted by the Steelers. He has definitely followed Hampton's career.

"He's aggressive. He's one of the more aggressive defensive tackles this league has seen," Poe said at the combine. "His hand strength. Once he gets his hands on you, he kind of controls you. That's probably what I admire most about him."

Luckily for the Steelers, this is a deep draft for nose tackles. BYU's Hebron Fangupo, Washington's Alameda Ta'amu (who had the third-slowest 40 time among defensive tackles) and Alabama's Josh Chapman are expected to be taken from the second to fourth rounds.

NFL32: Combine's best performances

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
10:30
PM ET

Suzy Kolber and Chris Mortensen discuss the NFL Combine's best performances; Merril Hoge wonders if the Indianapolis Colts will draft Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III; and in "Did You Hear That?" Georgia Tech receiver Stephen Hill likens himself to a pitbull.
Bob Glauber of Newsday tweeted that the Colts are not inclined to pursue tampering charges against Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel for comments he made about Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning on Saturday at the NFL combine.

From what I hear, I don’t expect the NFL to pursue charges, either. I expressed my thoughts on the silly saga Monday.

In other AFC West news:

The word at the combine was Cincinnati free-agent Jonathan Fanene could fit in with the Broncos. He is a versatile 4-3 player who can play both defensive end and tackle.

Another tidbit uncovered at the combine is that Oakland will be looking for linebackers aggressively in free agency and in the draft. Kamerion Wimbley and Aaron Curry are potential candidates for release in Oakland as the Raiders work to get under the salary cap.

It was a good day at the combine for potential AFC West prospects. Defensive tackles Dontari Poe of Memphis and Fletcher Cox of Mississippi State, and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly of Boston College all performed well at the combine Monday. The Broncos might be interested in Poe and Cox, and the Chiefs might look at Kuechly.

There is a report that the Jets will allow linebacker Bart Scott to seek a trade. He’s a 3-4 linebacker. I don’t see the two teams in the AFC West that run a 3-4, Kansas City and San Diego, making a run at Scott through a trade.

He is getting older and is on the decline. Perhaps if he becomes a free agent and is inexpensive, there could be interest. The Raiders will run some 3-4 looks, and it is possible it becomes a 3-4 defense based on its personnel heading to training camp, according to coach Dennis Allen, and it will need linebackers. I’m not sure if Scott would be the type of player the Raiders would pursue.

One team to keep an eye on in the Brandon Carr pursuit is Dallas. Word at the combine was the Cowboys could make an aggressive run at the Chiefs’ cornerback.
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."

Seven takeaways from the combine

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
11:13
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LuckBrian Spurlock/US PresswireOne thing that didn't change after this year's NFL combine -- Andrew Luck is still going to the Indianapolis Colts at No. 1.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Let's hop around to seven things I took away from the NFL scouting combine with an AFC South takeaway on each:

1. There are a lot of intriguing receivers, but some insiders don’t expect even Justin Blackmon to be a quick, high-impact guy like A.J. Green and Julio Jones were last year. It’s the beginning of hole-punching season and scouts and analysts will pick people apart. But while there are a lot of talented receivers coming out, if you are a team that needs immediate impact, one strong opinion says you’d be wise to shop in a pretty good free-agent market.

What it means to the division: The Jaguars have to land at least one big-time guy in free agency. I nominate Vincent Jackson. The Colts need to hold onto Reggie Wayne or Pierre Garcon.

2. The top guys seem like sure things: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III and USC left tackle Matt Kalil could go 1-2-3 if someone trades into St. Louis’ No. 2 pick. I’ve not heard anyone raising any real issues with any of the three or with LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. The quarterbacks are expected to be franchise guys, the tackle can protect a franchise guy and the corner can take away the franchise guy’s top target.

What it means to the division: There is no suspense at all about what the Colts are going to do and Luck’s combine visit to Lucas Oil Stadium was the first of many. Claiborne could be irresistible if he is there at No. 7 for the Jags.

3. Position values can be overrated. Historically, guards and safeties are not regarded as early first-round values. But this draft may feature singular guys at each spot, and it makes little sense to pass on Stanford guard David DeCastro or Alabama safety Mark Barron if you have a hole at the position. They are both drawing raves.

What it means for the division: Both probably disappear after the Colts and Jaguars have picked first and seventh but before the Titans pick 20th.

4. Quinton Coples is going to be a scary pick. The North Carolina defensive end gets some people talking about Julius Peppers. But his effort in his final year with the Tar Heels was questionable at best. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said it looked like Coples “had a union deal” the way he went through the motions. The team that takes him won’t have a guarantee joining its roster, it'll have a guy a defensive line coach will need to figure out.

What it means for the division: The Jaguars could go into the draft still needing a rush end, but the knocks on Coples don’t make him seem like a match with GM Gene Smith at all.

5. There is a flurry of new information teams will be gathering for a couple more days. But when scouts and personnel executives get back to their offices Wednesday, the film will once again be the prevalent measure they put to work as they stack their boards. Forty times, bench press numbers, Wonderlic scores and interview notes will all factor into grades. But the most significant information gained in Indianapolis is typically the hands-on medical information training staffs gather. Details of issues there may also be the biggest secrets.

What it means for the division: Nothing different than for anyone else. We don’t know what we don’t know, and the intrigue is a big part of why this whole process is so insanely popular.

6. News nuggets from coaches and GMs are more and more difficult to pry loose at this stage of the year. We learned Jaguars defensive tackle Tyson Alualu had knee surgery, the Colts have made a contract offer to Pierre Garcon he didn’t accept, the Texans still see Matt Leinart and T.J. Yates competing for the No. 2 quarterback job and the Titans might overpay for a veteran edge rusher. Beyond that? Not much. A lot of generalities as secrecy ruled the day.

What it means for the division: Run through the AFC South coaches and GMs. Who’s the most dynamic, chatty guy of the bunch? I think it’ll be Colts coach Chuck Pagano in time. Five of the eight guys are in their first or second season in the job. Everyone is pretty reserved at this point, even the veterans of the group, Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak of the Texans.

7. We need to go find the specifics of a different rule every year. Colts general manager Ryan Grigson and Pagano both said they had not seen Peyton Manning throw. They didn’t say they aren’t allowed to see Manning throw. As it turns out, though, NFL rules don’t allow for executives beyond medical staff to watch even a rehabilitating player work at this point. While I don’t believe there is a decision still to be made, it’s interesting that the Colts' new duo at the top will only be able to hear reports from medical people and not see for themselves by the March 8th bonus deadline for Manning.

What it means for the division: Every team in the division will have a question at quarterback heading into camp: Is Matt Schaub’s foot healed? Can Matt Hasselbeck hold off Jake Locker? Does Blaine Gabbert get better? And how effective can Luck be from the start?

You can argue whether the Browns should trade up to draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. What's not debatable is that RG3 had the most dazzling NFL combine showing of any quarterback in this draft class.

He impressed reporters with an engaging 15-minute interview. He erased any questions over his height when he measured 6-foot-2. And he wowed the NFL world when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds (I put RG3's speed in perspective in a weekend blog post) -- one of the fastest ever for a quarterback -- and recorded a 39-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-3 broad jump.

It's officially now a two-player draft: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is going No. 1 and RG3 is getting drafted No. 2. But, who is going to trade up to the St. Louis Rams' spot and take the Heisman Trophy winner?

The Browns are in the driver's seat because they can offer the Rams the fourth overall pick. The cost of moving up two spots is very steep.

According to ESPN's John Clayton, the Browns would have to trade both first-round picks from this year (Nos. 4 and 21) as well as a significant pick in 2013 (possibly a third-round one or higher). What this means is trading three potential starters for one potential franchise quarterback.

If the Browns decide to draft RG3, he is ready to win the starting quarterback job right away. He would go against Colt McCoy, who beat RG3 and Baylor, 45-21, in 2008.

“It’d be fun to compete with Colt,” Griffin said at the NFL combine. “I played him one year in college, and he beat us, so maybe I’d like to go out there and beat him. It’d be great; it’d be an honor to go to Cleveland.”

If it's RG3 versus McCoy for the Browns' starting job in 2012, RG3 wouldn't be on the losing end this time.

On Rams giving Jason Smith a chance

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
10:30
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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.
The tampering rules and the general lack of enforcement of them get some analysts all stirred up.

Crennel
Crennel
I’m not one of them. Everyone understands how things work, and there is a tacit understanding that preliminary contact takes place between team executives and agents of free-agents-to-be before free agency officially opens.

If the league is going to pick situations to use as examples where penalties are handed out, it should investigate some blatant agent-team contact, not the transcripts of coaches and general managers from the podiums at the NFL scouting combine.

Yes, Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel spoke of Peyton Manning. But he prefaced it with an acknowledgement that Manning was off limits and he merely stated the obvious: if a four-time MVP comes available, Crennel and the Chiefs would be crazy not to consider him.

If that loses the Chiefs a draft pick, then sign me up with those petitioning for an alteration of the tampering rules.

The comment is not going to have any bearing on what Manning or the Colts do or don’t do.

On an issue where there is little enforcement, that should be the standard.

If the rules are going to hit someone for stating the obvious, then they need to be reframed.

Why 49ers could pass on first-round WR

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
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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.
Combine meetings really don’t mean much. Every team meets with several players. It’s just an example of teams doing their due diligence. That’s why the Chiefs talked to quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. They are expected to be the first two players off the board. The Chiefs have little chance of getting either player, but they are still doing their homework.

Yet, it is fairly interesting that Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said two of the five teams that interviewed him at the NFL combine were San Diego and Oakland. He is expected to go in the 15-20 range. The Chargers, who pick at No. 18, have other needs and the Raiders don’t have a pick until the fifth round, although they are expected to get a compensatory pick at the end of the third round.

Cornerback is the Raiders’ greatest need. However, it is unlikely the Raiders will be able to find away to get a first-round pick. Still, Oakland’s new brass is doing its due diligence and talking to first-round talent, anyway. It’s a smart move because you never know what can happen.

Actually, I think Denver is the team in the division that is most likely to draft Kirkpatrick. Cornerback is a big need and if he slips to No. 25, I can see Denver taking him.

In other AFC West news:

San Diego general manager A.J. Smith ended any speculation that the Chargers will part ways with linebacker Takeo Spikes. Smith said the 2011 free-agent acquisition will be a Charger in 2012. Spikes is a leader and he has value to this team.
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.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Morris Claiborne is largely regarded as the top cornerback available in the draft.

The Jaguars may be drafting a bit too late at No. 7 to get him, but he’d sure be a great fit. Jacksonville has a quality young corner in Derek Cox. But veteran Rashean Mathis is about to be an unrestricted free agent and is coming off a torn ACL. Even if he’s re-signed and recovered for opening day, the Jaguars need their next starting corner on the roster.

Not long ago, Claiborne wasn’t even a cornerback. He said he was recruited to LSU as an “athlete” and teammate Patrick Peterson, drafted fifth overall by Arizona last year, convinced him to try corner.

He was quickly hooked.

Regarding the combine, Peterson told Claiborne to “go up and take over.”

Claiborne is an admirer of Darrelle Revis and rates himself a technician who funnels receivers rather than being especially physical with them.

He’d be a great piece for the Jaguars. But it may be difficult for him to get beyond Tampa Bay at No. 5.

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