The NFL's annual showcase Scouting Combine will begin on Thursday, and with eight former Tigers taking part, ATVS' own Colossal Connection, Paul Crewe and I, tag-teamed our thoughts on how they'll show at the pre-draft showing.
In this metaphor I'm clearly Andre the Giant, a legend in the drinking community and singlet enthusiast. Paul, much like Haku, has never been afraid to bite a guy's nose off to prove a point.
The combine's kind of become misunderstood in recent years, partially due to retarded sportswriters who pump up the idea that anybody who shows up and runs fast or jumps high will become a first-round pick. Nowadays, it's primarily used as an opportunity for all 32 NFL franchises to interview every prospect they are interested in and give them a thorough physical. In fact, you could argue the physical is the most important part, because no team wants to find out they just drafted a wide receiver that needs meniscus surgery or a quarterback with a tear in his rotator cuff. There's also a battery of standardized intelligence and psychological tests, which are also designed to help the teams better understand the player they're getting.
In recent years some have thought the process has gotten a little too invasive, and while I understand why people feel that way (especially in situations like the Jeff Ireland-Dez Bryant dust-up last year), I also understand that if an NFL team wants to make a multi-million dollar investment (though those numbers may get rained in with the new collective bargaining agreement) in you, they have a right to make sure they feel it's a sound one.
Besides that, few top prospects work out anyway, choosing to wait until their pro days when they can perform under their ideal conditions. The ones who do usually have something to prove - and this can be the case for the top-10 prospect who wants to show he can be top five - or come from a smaller school that won't draw nearly as much attention for a pro day. And while the workouts do matter, they generally are used to confirm or disprove what scouts already think based on in-person and game film evaluations. If you're a guaranteed top-10 pick like a Patrick Peterson or a Da'Quan Bowers, one bad 40-yard dash isn't going to turn you into a second-round pick. But if you're say, a lineman and there are concerns about how quickly you can fire off the ball, drills like the broad jump and short-shuttle can help you overcome that perception. NFL.com has a great series of videos from the NFL Network's Mike Mayock on what scouts are looking for in the various drills here.
On top of all this, remember - there is no fool-proof, no-doubt perfect formula for evaluating talent, be it at the high school, college or NFL level. And for every workout warrior that falls flat, there are guys like Vernon Davis and Nnamdi Asomugha, who never harnessed their talents in college but exploded as pros. For every Terrell Suggs, a ridiculously productive college player who didn't work out great for scouts, there's a Peter Warrick, who timed slow in the 40 and saw that reflected in an inability to separate from NFL corners.
Paul: First, let's take a look at Patrick Peterson. Frankly, the combine should be perfect grounds for Peterson to prove his worth. He's an athletic marvel. Last summer LSU ran a story about Peterson being amongst the strongest and fastest players on the team. There's a great chance he'll run one of the fastest 40 times of all combine participants. These things will only confirm general suspicions about him.
What will be important for him are the positional workouts. There's a rising sentiment that he may be better suited at the safety position and lacks the hip flexion to be a true, lockdown corner. If he's able to show that he can turn and run with WRs downfield (his straight line speed is no question, but opening your hips and running is way different). Expect Peterson to shine physically and get branded "raw" by many observers. A dynamite showing in positional workouts could propel him from top five lock to number one overall talk.
Billy: Physically, our dear General Zod simply has to meet the hype. Now, that sounds simple, it also means that he'll be under the most scrutiny, on and off the field. If he decides to do anything besides the 40, he'll be expected to do it all at an elite level. To show that every exercise meets the form he shows on film. The short/long shuttles and the three-cone will especially be under the microscope if he shows up north of 210 pounds. Those drills show the difference between great corners with size like Asomugha and Champ Bailey, and bigger ones that end up better off at safety like Malcolm Jenkins and Antrel Rolle.
But as much as people want to see that Peterson is a franchise defender physically, they also want to see it in the meeting room. Attitude, study habits and leadership skills will be under scrutiny as well. Coaches and player-personnel men will challenge him in interviews, and pour over the answers to the Wonderlic and other personality tests. Sure, every team wants an elite talent as a cornerstone defensive player, but if they also believe you bring an elite work ethic and standout leadership skills, they'll feel a whole lot better about making you a top-five pick (even if that selection no longer comes with 30 or 40 million in guaranteed dollars after the new CBA is implemented).
How about the only other potential first-rounder from LSU -- Drake Nevis?
Paul: Nevis is arguably the player with the most to gain at the Combine. I've seen early mocks penciling him as a late first rounder, which, frankly, seems a bit high to me. He's a diminutive, penetrating defensive tackle that usually wins on quicks. He's both short (not a terrible asset for the leverage game at DT) and light, which will hurt his perceived value. He passed on the Senior Bowl for injury reasons, but I wonder if that wasn't more a cosmetic decision, as he works to add bulk before the combine in effort to show that he has every down NFL DT size.
Frankly, I'm not sure adding bulk will be good for Nevis overall. His game is quickness, and he'll never been the broad, anchor type of DT. He's a 1-gap DT. He's really an ideal fit for teams who don't mind having undersized players up front (Philadelphia, Indianapolis come to mind), that like to let their DL play fast, and loose and attack. I could definitely see a team like Indy fall in love with him (though they will probably be more interested in upgrading OL). Regardless, the major doubts for Nevis heading into the combine will surround his overall physical measurements. If he shows up to the combine and weighs in at around 6'0 flat and 295 (which would be shorter, but heavier than he was listed) and still shows that elite quickness... that will move him up draft boards. If he's bigger and as a result, more laboring, that could really hurt him. My guess is, teams won't see Drake as an every down player. But that's not all bad... a pass rushing DT is a valuable commodity and could certainly bolster his draft stock.
Finally, Drake would be absolutely disruptive in some games, but he would also disappear at times. I haven't studied the tape enough, and I don't think it would be for lack of effort. I'm guessing the times he disappeared are the times when teams would go right at him, and perhaps double team him. If he shows that he can take on double teams and handle playing the run right at him... it could seriously propel his stock.
Billy: He's definitely a niche player. That doesn't mean he can't be a first-rounder (ask Tyson Jackson), but it takes a coincidence of team, need and draft slotting. It's going to take the right team (one that values quickness over size) in need of a three-technique DT coming upon him at the point where they feel he fits in, and that could come anywhere from the 20th pick on down.
You're dead-on with him not needing to get bigger. An undersized, quick defensive tackle has a specific asset that makes him valuable. If he gets too big, he no longer has that asset. And yeah, he's stronger, but most big DT's have the strength. Take away the agility, and he's just another guy. And despite Nevis' size, strength has never been an issue (see last summer's crazy workout numbers).
For him, the combine's going to be about the bench-press, short-shuttle, broad jump and whatever other position drills he chooses to do. It wouldn't shock me if he passes to wait on LSU's pro day, since he's recently injured. Nailing the workout at 100-percent, both from a health and conditioning standpoint, is worth waiting on. And to be honest, he's the kind of guy who will shine more working one-on-one with coaches. That's where he can show the burst off the line, the great hands and excellent technique. If Tim Krumrie, the ex-longtime Kansas City defensive line coach is still working with draft prospects, his infamous hand-fight workout would be pretty damn interesting with a guy like Nevis.
Number three in the LSU draft prospect pecking order appears to be Kelvin Sheppard.
Paul: Kelvin Sheppard, to me, is a guy who has about maximized his potential. A fan favorite (and rightfully so), Sheppard is a big, thick linebacker with decent speed. He's not overly physical. I'll be really intrigued by what his 40 time is. If he can run in the 4.7 range...he could help himself.
He seems best fit for a 3-4 ILB job, but I could see him transitioning to the OLB spot in a 3-4. That may allow him to maximize his size/speed by just getting downhill. Sheppard is a smart player, but his biggest weakness by far is his inability to get off blocks. Teams that ran at right at Sheppard, typically had tons of success. He just could not fight through blocks. That's a big no-no for NFL linebackers, and definitely makes his draft status questionable. I think he'll actually test surprisingly well in the agility drills, but may have a slower 40. He's good in short areas, probably a two-down type of pro. Teams will fall in love with his leadership and dedication, though.
Billy: His prospects remind me a lot of the last great LSU Mike linebacker, Bradie James, and I see him having a similar career arc. The kind of guy who sits on a 3-4 team for two or three years (somebody like the Steelers or maybe the Chargers, that doesn't have an immediate need but an aging veteran they'll be ready to jettison soon), plays a lot on special teams and then takes over the job.
The 40 and other agility drills will be the difference between being a third round pick and a fifth or lower for Sheppard. He's a big guy, and he's not terrible at shedding blocks due to having some really long arms, but he doesn't have the great lateral speed most teams look for in a 4-3 middle 'backer. The 3-4 can shelter him from the speed issue, and his strength and ability to work through blocks is something that can improve with time. The interview room is where Sheppard will shine. He's a smart player with a lot of enthusiasm, and I doubt anybody that has coached or played with or against him will have a lot of negative things to say. Being a John Chavis favorite will definitely help -- the Chief is probably more respected by the NFL than any other college linebacker coach.
Another key leader of the 2010 team that has a lot to prove this week is Stevan Ridley...
Paul: Ridley is certainly in the "needing to show something," group at the combine. He's a well put together back that has a thick, but lean build. He makes his hay as a one cut, downhill runner with solid quickness, good power but less than stellar top-end speed. Ridley's biggest question mark will be the 40. Undoubtedly, he's been working to get that time down. If he can show up at the combine and run in the lower 4.6 range that could seriously help his cause, even though that's still a less than elite time.
Much like Nevis and Sheppard, Ridley is a system-fit player. Some teams will value his skill set much more than others. His versatility to play some fullback and catch the ball out of the backfield will definitely help his stock. A team like Washington or Houston will likely value Ridley higher, since he is tailor made for their system. He excels is taking the cutback lanes, hitting them hard and running downhill. From memory, his best runs this season often came on zone blocking schemes where he was able to seek out a crease, and knife through the defense for a big gain. I feel confident his tape will help him to get drafted. He does possess excellent vision and some versatility, but timing well in the 40 and agility drills will do major things for his draft stock.
Billy: Exactly. His stock can kind of run the gamut, and he could go anywhere from the 4th or 5th round to undrafted. On the one hand, this isn't a particularly great running back class, and it's really top-heavy for big backs. After Mark Ingram and Mikel Leshoure, you have a lot of smaller guys like Quizz Rodgers, Kendall Hunter, Shane Vereen and so on. But, on the other hand, more and more teams are willing to pass on drafting running backs and leave them for free agency. That also means that the relativity factor is going to be big for Ridley -- how his workouts compare to similar players like Daniel Thomas, John Clay and Jamie Harper. If he can outperform them, he'll be higher on the list of teams looking for a bigger back on the draft's second or third day.
I actually think Ridley can fit a lot of different systems due to his versatility. He's a strong short-yardage runner, a good blocker and a capable receiver, and I could easily see him fitting in as a combination fullback/goal-line/third-down back on a lot of teams, especially more passing-oriented ones like the Saints or the Patriots. Kind of like Chester Taylor or Jacob Hester. I think that will be reflected in his game film, but some baseline workout numbers will be extremely important. The NFL philosophy of late is that running backs grow on trees, and task one for Ridley is to show that he belongs on that tree.
Paul: One last note on Ridley, I think the Eagles could be a team that targets him as well. There's some history there (Eagles drafted Charles Scott last year). They are in desperate need of RB depth, and they tend to prefer guys with the type of versatility he brings... they'd love to be able to line him up at FB and use him as a goal line back.
Billy: Speaking of workout warriors, Terrance Toliver will be a guy who may likely test a lot better than his production indicated.
Paul: Toliver is certainly a guy with plenty of physical ability. He's big, but has good speed. He saved the best game of his career for his final performance, putting on a show at the combine. That sort of dominance is what LSU fans expected to see from him for 4 years. His inability to ever completely put it together is definitely a black mark on his career. Now, could scouts perceive that as relative to the lackluster QB situation LSU had? Certainly.
I expect Toliver to test out well in most of the running drills. He's got some very good ability after the catch. He can go up and get the ball with his big frame. He needs to show increased focus and improved catching ability. For me, I think the interviews will be HUGE for Toliver. Because to me, the gap in his talent and performance is mainly an issue of his dedication. Does he love the game? Does he really want to dedicate himself to being the best he can absolutely be? That is something NFL GMs will have to figure out throughout his interview process. If he tests well physically and proves his dedication, he could go as high as the 3rd round based on just raw, physical ability.
Billy: I agree on the running drills. You'll see more than one frustrated post on the Rant after Toliver's 40/shuttles/vertical leap numbers leak out, complaining about his lack of production. But the questions will all come above the waist. Does he have the strength to handle the jam at the line of scrimmage and block (the bench press will be big for that)? Does he project the attitude of a determined professional who wants to improve, or just a nice talent quick to blame his lack of numbers on bad quarterback play? And most importantly, can he get open and catch the football with his hands?
Toliver is a guy who needs to take every opportunity he can to run routes and catch the football in front of the NFL evaluators. If they need extra bodies to catch for some of the quarterback prospects (which happens at the combine from time-to-time when too many prospects choose not to work out), Toliver needs to be out there. Because that's the biggest question he'll have to answer. For the last four years, Toliver's been a consistent "basket" catcher that lets the ball get into his body, and you can't get away with that in the NFL (he couldn't even get away with it in the SEC, hence the drops).
He's definitely going to get drafted. Six-foot-five guys that can run are rare, even in the NFL, and somebody will at least give him a chance. But how much polish he puts on his game will determine if he's a third or fourth-rounder a team is excited about developing, or a fifth or sixth viewed as a low-risk/high-reward project.
Another guy that I think has something to prove in the attitude department, albeit in a totally different way, is Joseph Barksdale.
Paul: Agreed. Much like Toliver, Barksdale is an above average athlete with good size, and arm length for either LT or RT. He can definitely get out and move around, which helps him. I'm not sure how he'll test out strength wise. He's a guy that has some versatility... he could probably play anything but center.
He's not much of a drive blocker, despite having a bullish frame. What I failed to ever see from Barksdale is that mean streak that really separates elite linemen from decent ones. He doesn't play with a nasty attitude. I think he can be solid in pass pro, but in the NFL that nastiness is absolutely necessary in the run game. His footwork is solid, his arm length should measure out pretty well. He wasn't really a guy that got beat a whole lot at LSU... but by that same token he wasn't a guy we saw just absolutely take over games, which you would think he'd be able to do due his raw size and athleticism. I'm not sure the combine is going to really be where he needs to prove his worth. That will come once the pads are on... which may mean the combine cannot really improve his draft status.
Billy: I think that's exactly it. Barksdale probably has the least to gain in Indianapolis and the most to lose. He's definitely not going to go out there and pull a Bruce Campbell, with some insane numbers that suddenly get him second- or third-round buzz. But with his size and athleticism, he'll be expected to hit certain minimum requirements like 20 or more bench reps, a sub-5.3 forty and a short-shuttle time under 5 seconds. If he doesn't hit those marks at the combine or at pro day, he may be waiting a while for his phone to ring.
After that, everything else Barksdale will have to prove will come in interviews and with pads on. Is he the type of mauler NFL teams want? That's the big question. He's not NFL-left-tackle athletic, but I could see him fitting in on the right side or at either guard spot. He has to convince a team he's got that nastiness in him, because it's not going to show up on film. There's a long list of NFL linemen who aren't elite talents and make up for it by being mean sons-a-bitches that will do whatever it takes (within the rules or otherwise), to get the job done. And I'm just not sure Barksdale has that in him. That mentality can cover for a lack of size and for a lack of athletic ability, and that's why you see guys like Jeff Saturday, Mark Schlereth or Matt Birk have 10-plus year careers. That's how you see a guy like Rudy Niswanger keep a job in the league when it was originally something he was just going to try instead of going straight to med school. He's entering his fifth season with the Kansas City Chiefs after being undrafted.
Another Tiger lineman that will be looking to show that he belongs is Lazarius Levingston. To be honest, I was a little surprised he got a combine invite.
Paul: Frankly, I'm surprised as well. Pep did the team a good deed this year when he agreed to move down inside to add depth to DT. There's really nothing that stood out about his game either at DE or DT. Honestly, he was basically just an able-body in there at either position. His size isn't tremendous. His athleticism is average. I highly doubt he gets drafted, but I'm sure he'll get a camp invite, likely as a 3-4 DE project.
Billy: He's another guy that is going to have to prove he belongs athletically. He's built a swing lineman at the next level, which is great if he can show off the athleticism for it, but a problem otherwise because he's not quick enough to be an end or three-tech tackle and not big enough to play two-gap. While I imagine he'll have the opportunity to at least make it into a mini-camp, realistically he's working out to be a low-round pick or a priority free agent. Anything beyond that I think he's going to have to earn in camp.
Do kickers even work out at the combine?
Paul: I have no clue, honestly.
Billy: With Josh Jasper, my guess is he just needs to hit everything as hard and as high as he can. NFL teams generally recycle veteran kickers because they've seen them make real-life in-game field goals, but if Jasper can show off a nice leg on kickoffs, that might be his early ticket on to a roster.
Paul: Jasper is an NFL kicker, but it usually takes a few years for those guys to latch on somewhere, so don't be surprised if he's a free agent after the year is over.
I'd say this year, more than any in recent memory, our guys need to go into the Combine to prove something. Whether it's concerns about size or athleticism or dedication, there are question marks surrounding nearly every LSU athlete that could have tremendous impact upon their draft positioning.
Watch the NFL Scouting Combine Feb 24 - March 1.