NFL Nation: 2013 NFL combine

INDIANAPOLIS -- Minnesota defensive back Brock Vereen has unique insight into the NFL through his older brother, Patriots running back Shane Vereen.

The younger Vereen, whom Scouts, Inc. rates as the 18th best safety in this year's class, is at the combine this week.

[+] EnlargeBrock Vereen
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsBrock Vereen says having older brother Shane blaze a football trail for him has been a big plus.
When asked if he aims to be drafted higher than Shane (a second-round pick in 2011), Brock had an interesting answer.

"I think the biggest part of me just wants to hit him," he said lightheartedly. "I just can't wait til we meet on the field."

While some siblings may dream of playing with each other, the younger Vereen conceded he hasn't spent much time thinking about that possibility.

"You know both of us want to play against each other so much that we haven't really talked about being on the same team," he said. "But if that were the case, it'd be a blessing."

The two played together for one season in high school, as Shane was a senior when Brock was a freshman.

No matter where Brock Vereen ends up, having had an older brother to guide him along the way has been a big help.

"I've been very fortunate as far as always having an older brother at the level that I was trying to get to," he said. "When I was in high school, he was already in college, and now with the situation here. Just to have that insight and to understand the ins and outs of certain things that they might not find out until they're actually in the NFL. It's definitely an advantage I think."

Brock Vereen said he is hoping to answer questions about his speed here in Indianapolis, noting that any time slower than 4.4 seconds in the 40 would be a disappointment for him.

He was named a first team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches for his efforts last season.
The Kansas City Chiefs' situation with the No. 1 pick remains one of the most fascinating questions of the NFL offseason.

Thursday, longtime draft guru Gil Brandt tweeted he thought they are five players worthy of being the No. 1 pick by the Chiefs -- left tackles Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher, pass-rushers Barkevious Mingo and Bjoern Werner and cornerback Dee Milliner.

That got me thinking. Out of that group, Milliner may be the most interesting choice for Kansas City. Yes, in our latest AFC West mock draft, I tabbed Joeckel for the Chiefs at No. 1. But that’s because I think that’s where the team would lean.

But I would re-sign free agent Branden Albert, and the Chiefs are set at the pass-rusher position. That leaves Milliner.

I think a combination of standout Brandon Flowers and Milliner could be a great fit. This is a passing division and the Chiefs would be well prepared. Also combining a cornerback tandem of Flowers and Milliner would be both help and benefit from the Chiefs’ strong pass-rushers.

Defense starts with pass-rushers and coverage, and the Chiefs would be in terrific shape. That’s one of the reasons why I suggested a Darrelle Revis trade involving the No. 1 pick.

I realize Milliner -- who ran a blazing 4.37 at the combine -- may not be worthy of the top pick, but you can say that about any of the top prospects.

The Chiefs need to get creative and need to get immediate value. So, taking Milliner could be something the team may consider in a year without any clear-cut answers for the No. 1 pick.

How teams avoid scouting groupthink

February, 28, 2013
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They bunch up in a line at the 40-yard mark of a 40-yard dash, leaning, crouching or craning for the right view to see the finish and click their stopwatches at precisely the right time.

NFL scouts and talent evaluators are together a great deal, though not always so intimately.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsNFL scouts intently watch linebacker Manti Te'o run the 40-yard dash during this year's combine.
They overlap when they visit campuses during the season to see practices, meet kids and watch tape. They are seated next to each other in press boxes on Saturdays at games. At the East-West Shrine Bowl, at the Senior Bowl, at the scouting combine and in those timing lines at pro days, colleagues and competitors exchange pleasantries.

And they have at least casual chit-chat about what they see from, and what they hear about, the players they are gathered to check out.

Such time together doing the same work for 32 teams can put an evaluator in position to be influenced by the gravitational pull of groupthink, a concept that was greeted with sour faces by the people I asked about it at the NFL scouting combine.

“If you point 20 scouts out in the stands, I'm confident they'd all say, ‘I'm so anti-herd mentality,’” said Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, who worked his way up from college scouting. “That's the easy way to go. If you just agree with everyone, then you have shelter. If you stand outside the pack and you beat the drum for something that's not popular, then you stand alone. But it shows you have courage. It also shows you believe in that player and that opinion you formulated by hard work.

“That's something I told our staff when I opened our draft meetings. This is your venue to state your opinion. You were away from your families. You were on the road. You were guzzling coffee and staying in bad hotel rooms and those types of things. Now talk about your guy. You put in all the work, so you should have a strong opinion. I feel like if you go with the flow, you're just going to be an also-ran.”

Older, crusty scouts who have been there and done that and seen it all may be friendly with their peers and popular mentors in the business. But odds are the respect they’ve earned and the longevity in the business result from an ability to see things in players that either boost or lower draft stocks and help make good decisions that involve millions of dollars and a franchise’s fortunes.

I spoke with two scouts about groupthink and herd mentality.

“The percentage of scouts that fall into the herd mentality today is probably 50 to 60 percent,” one scout said. “Twenty years ago, the number was closer to 25 or 30 percent. The median age of scouts has dropped drastically over the past 10 years. This is partly due to the age of general managers has dropped in the past 10 years.

“The younger GMs seem to prefer younger scouts to work under them because they are less opinionated. And most of those young GMs did not grow up on the college side; they grew up in pro scouting or working on the salary cap and in the office answering to someone daily instead of being out on the road scouting and working by themselves, somewhat independently.”

Working alone fosters the sort of independent thinking that is the goal in scouting, and in plenty of other lines of work.

Here at the AFC South blog or on the radio, I strive to have a unique take. But some subjects don’t lend themselves to one. Sometimes, without even realizing it, the tug of prevailing wisdom latches onto me. I hope to catch myself more often than not. But I read and listen to a lot of other opinions. Certainly, herd mentality can slip into my thinking.

Some of it is human nature, and fighting against the current can be difficult work.

A second scout shared his strategy for staying at arm’s length from the competition. He helps keep himself away from the herd mentality by steering clear of the herd.

“I get sick anytime I show up at a school and see other scouts,” he said. “I act cranky, so people think I am a jerk. It usually distracts from conversation. A lot of times I ask coaches I know if I can come in at weird times -- 5 a.m. gives you a three-hour head start and 4 p.m. and staying until late can work too, especially at the big schools.”

General managers at the top of a team’s scouting pyramid can do a lot for their scouting staff by banging the drum for individuality.

Seattle general manager John Schneider said he’s proud his organization gives scouts a lot of leeway. He wants strong opinions. But he also doesn’t expect a scout to know everything all on his own.

“We try to work it where we feel like we don't have all the answers all the time,” Schneider said. “We're looking for more and more questions, and answers to be questioned."

Fear is one big reason to get lured by the herd.

Stick your neck out and be right, and that’s great. But the reward of that success may not be as strong a result for an evaluator as is the failure of going out on a limb and being wrong.

Batting averages for any scout are not going to be close to perfect. In evaluating football players for a living, a scout has to accept he’s going to miss. Ideally, the guy who hired that scout isn’t going to crush him for it. That GM has an opinion and likely a less-than-perfect batting average too.

In another level of groupthink, scouts dread bosses who try to bully underlings to co-sign their opinion, hoping instead that differing viewpoints are always welcome.

“I encourage our scouts to just do the work and have convictions in what you see and let us kind of manage the draft and let us kind of make the decisions for us,” new Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell said. “Just give us back what they see.

“I’m never going to be the type of boss to be like, ‘Man, you really missed on that guy.' Because we’re all going to miss. We’re all going to have situations where we maybe undervalue somebody or overvalue somebody.”

NFL32: Tom Brady's impact

February, 26, 2013
2/26/13
10:23
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Suzy Kolber and Chris Mortensen discuss the impact of Tom Brady's contract extension; John Clayton breaks down Manti Te'o's performance at the NFL scouting combine.; and the NFL32 crew discusses the transition from college to the pros.
The New York Jets are near the top of the draft after an awful, 6-10 season that had a little bit of everything. Therefore, here is our latest poll question: Who will the Jets take with the No. 9 overall pick?

SportsNation

Who should the Jets take with the No. 9 overall pick?

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    27%
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    15%
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    20%
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    20%
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    18%

Discuss (Total votes: 8,275)

Will it be Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan? He showed well at the combine by running a 4.6. But a lingering shoulder injury is a question mark. Despite that, can Jordan be the outside pass-rusher the Jets need?

What about Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson? New York desperately needs dynamic players on offense. Patterson has the physical tools, but the downside is Patterson has limited Division I experience. Can Patterson successfully make the jump against NFL competition?

Finally, could the Jets draft a quarterback in the first round? West Virginia's Geno Smith is the top-rated quarterback in the draft and New York personally interviewed Matt Barkley of USC at the NFL combine. The Jets need competition for incumbant quarterback Mark Sanchez, and they have their eye on both rookie quarterbacks.

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on New York's best option in the first round. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Combine takeaways: Houston Texans

February, 26, 2013
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A combine rewind on what we heard from the Houston Texans in Indianapolis…



Connor Barwin is a core player: Sure he is, as long as he’s affordable. Barwin had 11.5 sacks in 2011 and there was an offer on the table as the 2012 season kicked off. He passed, and was far less productive after his gamble. General manager Rick Smith can call him core, but to me a core guy is one you can’t survive without, and they certainly should be able to replace him if he finds a free-agent deal that compels him to leave.

They seem content with what they have on the right side of the offensive line: They platooned at both right tackle and right guard in 2012, and it sounds like they’ll be content to allow Brandon Brooks or Ben Jones to slug it out at right guard (or perhaps split time again) and see Derek Newton as the right tackle going forward.

They will keep the option of a franchise tag for Glover Quin as a possibility for as long as possible: The safety tag is about $7 million. It’s a palatable number, but the Texans have only $5.768 million in cap room. If they can’t reach a long-term deal that will produce a lower salary-cap number for 2013, tagging Quin will force the team to restructure a deal or two or cut someone that helps create room.

Brooks Reed could play inside: But that doesn’t mean the Texans are planning to move him. Gary Kubiak made it sound like they want more of a contingency plan if they have the sort of issues inside like they did last season. Move Reed inside and you create a hole outside, especially if Barwin leaves.

They’re still a young team, experiencing what they need to in order to make a jump: Yada, yada. This was quite a bit of spin, but what else can Smith say at this point when evaluating where the team stands? “We’re going to continue to add players, which is what this weekend is all about,” he said. “But I see a group of men that have gotten the experience that’s necessary to go make a real run at it and I think that’s where we are right now.”

A young quarterback is always a possibility: Said Kubiak, "In this business, you better be looking for young quarterbacks you think have a chance to be a 10-, 12-year guy. This year will be no different." T.J. Yates isn’t a sure thing. But the Texans only carried two quarterbacks in 2013, so the team would have to find someone it prefers to Yates in order to draft a QB. I don’t think they spend a premium pick on the position.
The Detroit Lions were surely happy to see the top cornerback in the NFL draft, Alabama's Dee Milliner, run two blazing -- but as of now, unofficial -- times Tuesday morning in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. If he wasn't already in the realistic conversation for the Lions' No. 5 overall pick, he is now.

Milliner ran his 40s in 4.31 and 4.37 seconds, based on hand-timing on the field. Update: His official time was 4.37 seconds.

Speed is only one portion of the evaluation of any player, but at cornerback it is pretty important. Speaking about the position last week at the combine, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said: "We like fast."

Milliner is to have surgery to repair a torn labrum but, barring any complications, he figures to be a prime candidate for the Lions. I'll have a post later Tuesday on the complexities the Lions face at the top of the draft, given their run of injuries and character problems among recent draft choices.

NFL Combine Talk

February, 26, 2013
2/26/13
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The NFL combine wraps up Tuesday with the final position group – the defensive backs – taking the field for workouts.

There are sure to be some blazing 40-yard dash times, and plenty of other impressive results, so check in with us between 9 a.m.-2-p.m. ET for updates and perspective on the numbers, and other news and notes from around the league.


NFL32OT: Brady's extension, trading Smith

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
10:26
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The NFL32 crew discusses Tom Brady's contract extension with the New England Patriots and Tyrann Mathieu's performance at the NFL combine. Meanwhile, Adam Schefter breaks down the trade talks involving San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.
Every team in the AFC East could use help at wide receiver.

The Miami Dolphins and New York Jets lack dynamic players on the outside. The Buffalo Bills will lose depth with David Nelson and Donald Jones heading for free agency. And the New England Patriots, at the end of the first round, need to get younger.

Could the Dolphins, Bills and Jets all have their eye on Cordarrelle Patterson? The University of Tennessee receiver wowed scouts this weekend with his freakish athleticism and fast 40 time of 4.42. Patterson has been linked to Miami, Buffalo and New York in various mock drafts, and he only improved his stock at the NFL combine.

The Bills, Jets and Dolphins are only four picks apart in April’s draft. Buffalo has the first pick in the division at No. 8 overall. New York is next with the No. 9 pick and Miami holds the No. 12 selection.

Patterson is in play for all three teams. It could simply be a matter of which team is willing to jump on the draft’s top receiver first.

Buffalo currently is the only team with a No. 1 receiver. Steve Johnson has had three straight 1,000-yard seasons and is Buffalo's main option. The Bills also drafted T.J. Graham in the third round last year and has plenty of other needs to fill with the eighth pick.

The Jets don't have much around their quarterback. Starting tight end Dustin Keller is a free agent, as well as 1,000-yard tailback Shonn Greene. Veteran receiver Santonio Holmes is returning from a season-ending foot injury, but the Jets have to hope Holmes didn't lose a step. New York also drafted inconsistent receiver Stephen Hill last year in the second round.

Miami is perhaps the most needy team for a wide receiver. The Dolphins must build around quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Right now the top receiver under contract is slot player Davone Bess, and that’s not good enough. The Dolphins will be aggressive in free agency and go after receivers like Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings. However, they must decide if they will spend more money to bring back a player like Brian Hartline or look to the draft if Patterson is available.

With the exception of the Patriots, no AFC East team had a passing offense ranked higher than 25th in 2012. This is a division in need of dynamic receivers, which means Patterson is a player to watch for nearly every AFC East team.
If Manti Te'o is on the board at the bottom of the first round, I wonder if Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh will remember the Notre Dame linebacker's far-from-explosive 40-yard dash.

With a camera on Harbaugh while he was watching Te'o run, he shook his head in disappointment as Te'o was officially clocked at 4.82 seconds at the NFL scouting combine Monday. You can click here to see the unhappy reaction from Harbaugh on the NFL Network. Many were expecting Te'o to run in the 4.75 range. He also declined to do the bench press because of a shoulder injury.

Te'o has faced tremendous scrutiny since an embarrassing girlfriend hoax was made public to go along with his struggles in the national championship game. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay described Te'o's combine test results as "disappointing," which could lower his draft stock.

So there is a chance that Te'o could fall down to the bottom of the first round to a Ravens team that needs inside linebackers. But, based on Harbaugh's look on the 40-yard dash, I'm not sure if the Super Bowl-winning coach would be happy about that.
By most accounts, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o has made a positive impression in interviews at the NFL scouting combine. His on-field testing, however, hasn't suggested he is primed to be anywhere close to a top pick in the 2013 draft.

Te'o officially ran his 40-yard dash in 4.82 seconds Monday, a relatively slow time for a prospect who weighed in lighter -- 241 pounds -- than some middle linebackers. He also declined to do the bench press because of a shoulder injury.

We've discussed Te'o as a possibility for potentially open linebacker positions with the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, and he could well become an elite NFL player. But his combine test results, which ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay termed "disappointing," won't boost his draft stock.
The quarterback-needy teams in the AFC East both have their eye on USC prospect Matt Barkley. According to Peter King of Sports Illustrated, Barkley met with nine teams at the NFL combine -- and the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills were in that group.

Barkley is one of the great mysteries in this year's draft. He would have been a sure-fire, top-10 pick if he had left school early after the 2011 season. But Barkley chose to come back to USC in 2012, had some flaws in his game exposed and suffered through an injury-plagued season.

The Jets and Bills are desperately looking for quarterbacks. Mark Sanchez and Ryan Fitzpatrick both flopped in New York and Buffalo, respectively, and are not the long-term solutions. Both AFC East teams have top-10 picks and should have a shot at Barkley if they're interested in the first round.

But Barkley comes with a lot of questions and would be a risky pick for the Bills at No. 8 or the Jets at No. 9. Both AFC East teams may be better off taking safer players in the first round to address other needs.

NFL big plays: Who and what makes them

February, 25, 2013
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NFL teams spent Sunday watching running backs and wide receivers work out at the NFL scouting combine. As always, teams are looking for players with big-play ability.

But what is a big play?

In my experience, NFL teams tend to see them as runs covering 12-plus yards and passes covering 16-plus yards.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch used different measures in a recent piece suggesting the St. Louis Rams need to find a game-breaking player in the draft. But the idea is the same across the board. The longer the play, the better for offenses.

I've put together a couple charts showing where NFC West teams stood last season in big plays, using NFL teams' definition of them. The Rams had 102, which is about the same as they had in 2011 (100) and 2010 (100). They had 89 in 2009.

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford led the NFC West with 66 of these 16-plus completed passes. Seattle's Russell Wilson was second with 64. San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick (41) and Alex Smith (32) combined for 73. John Skelton (26), Kevin Kolb (20), Ryan Lindley (12) and Brian Hoyer (4) combined for Arizona's total of 62.

The San Francisco 49ers had 126, up from 108 in each of the previous two seasons. Seattle had 121, a rise from 95 in 2011, 100 in 2010 and 80 in 2009. Arizona had 84, down from its totals in 2011 (103), 2010 (102) and 2009 (122).

The first chart shows totals for last season. The chart below shows individual NFC West leaders, also from last season.

The Seahawks and 49ers pumped up their totals for rushing with additional quarterback runs covering at least 12 yards. Wilson (14) and Kaepernick (11) combined for 25 of them. Smith added two for the 49ers. Kolb had five. Bradford had three.

We can revisit in the future whether the 12- and 16-yard cutoffs are most meaningful. I just know those are the cutoffs teams cite when evaluating players and offensive production.
With both slot receivers Wes Welker and Julian Edelman pending free agents, West Virginia’s Tavon Austin was a natural fit for the New England Patriots at No. 29 overall.

The miniature Austin is the type of slot receiver New England likes in its offense. He could either learn under Welker for a couple years, or join the less-expensive Edelman to make a dynamic pair in the slot if Welker doesn't re-sign.

But Austin's performance this weekend at the NFL combine may have raised his stock and made Austin too rich for New England's liking. Austin ran a lightning-fast 4.34 in the 40-yard dash, which is the second-fastest time this year. He also caught the football well in group workouts.

The combine isn't everything, but there is now more potential for teams ahead of New England to get enamored with Austin. He has strong game tape and was one of the top workout players at this year's combine. That's a strong combination.

Austin often gets comparisons as a hybrid between Welker and Percy Harvin of the Minnesota Vikings. Austin has the precision and quick first step of Welker and the deep speed and explosiveness of Harvin.

New England likes value players and Austin would certainly count as value at No. 29. But Austin’s stock most likely is on the rise after a dynamic combine, and he could be off the board by the time the Patriots pick.

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