With the NFL Combine beginning today, Paul and I decided to discuss the event and the chances of the former Tigers taking part in the next few days' events in Indianapolis.
Billy: Eight players will be headed to the NFL's annual Scouting Combine this week, the headliners, of course are Morris Claiborne and Michael Brockers, the potential top-10 picks. But Rueben Randle is starting to creep up the draft boards, and as we saw in last year's draft, you never really know how things are going to go.
I said this last year but it bears repeating again: scouting and talent evaluation is an incredibly imperfect science, and there's really no singular way to do it. All of the best minds in the game have had their mistakes; Jimmy Johnson once thought Steve Walsh would be a better NFL quarterback than Troy Aikman; Ron Wolf told everybody that of the legendary 1982 quarterback class (including John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino), the name we'd all remember would be Tony Eason; Jim Finks used a first rounder on Shawn Knight, who was so bad Saints coaches could tell at his first mini-camp that he didn't even have NFL talent; and of course Bobby Beathard famously hitched the San Diego Chargers to Ryan Leaf, franchise savior. The combine matters for a lot of reasons -- the comprehensive medical exams, the team and media interviews, the infamous Wonderlic Test and, of course, the drills. They all factor into NFL teams' draft decisions, along with the hours of tape they've watched. And for every great player that didn't run that fast on a track or throw up 225 that many times, there have been legit workout warriors that put those numbers to use in the league. Hell, Jason Pierre-Paul played one year of major college ball and had 6.5 sacks. That hardly sounds like first-round material, but when you have his athletic talents sometimes a team is willing to take a chance, and New York Giant fans certainly are thankful for that.
And by the same token, even guys left off the combine invite list (which I believe is compiled based on the number of teams that want to look at a player in that setting) still wind up getting drafted. Going back to the two Super Bowl participants, Osi Umenyiora and New England's Sebastian Vollmer were both second-round picks despite not being invited to Indianapolis out of college. So players like Will Blackwell, Jarrett Lee, Mitch Joseph and T-Bob Hebert all still have chances of getting their names called.
Paul: It's going to be interesting to see what happens. Mo Claiborne would have to run a 4.7 AND die in a fire, to not be a top 10 pick at this point. Scouts are in love with the guy (for good reason).
Brockers is a bit more interesting. I've seen mocks having him anywhere from 8 to 32. He's a tall, leaner type tackle, but he plays with good leverage and strength. In recent years, a lot of LSU players have struggled with the bench press. Will Brockers? If he does, does that hurt him? How agile is he? How does his body look? He could either make himself a ton of money or not at the combine. One thing that will help is that the tape should back up his lofty rankings. Brockers was one of the few people who showed out in the BCS title game. I really like him as an NFL player, personally.
Randle's two biggest question marks are speed and aggressiveness. Randle was thought to be a 4.4 guy coming out of HS. Is that true? If so, he's a 1st rounder, easily. If he runs more like a Brandon LaFell 4.57ish type of 40, his status is a little more in question. What concerns me more about Randle is his aggressiveness (or lack thereof). He doesn't strike me as a guy with a "my ball mentality." I like WRs who attack the football. When the ball is in the air, you better believe it is yours. I worry Randle lacks that.
Billy: Yeah -- Tommy Moffitt focuses so much on functional strength, flexibility and general conditioning in a way that isn't always reflected on the bench. But it wouldn't shock me if Brockers breaks that mold, cause the guy is a complete horse. He reminds me a lot of John Henderson, though he wasn't nearly as dominant in college (few were, Henderson's one of the best I've ever seen in this league).
And we're on the same page with Randle. It isn't to say he isn't an aggressive type, it's just that he's never shown that outwardly. But then he never shows any emotion outwardly.
But that's why teams also interview these kids. The big thing Rueben has going for him is that he managed to catch 13 touchdowns in three seasons with worse quarterback play than any of the other major prospects he's competing with, and in his only season as a true No. 1 target he averaged nearly 18 yards a catch.
Which brings us to the workouts and their importance. I can't stress enough to readers that a bad 40-time by itself isn't going to make or break anybody, but if you're a team that's looking at Randle and, say, you have a concern about whether he has the speed/agility to separate from NFL corners, you're going to want him cracking at least a 4.6 in the forty, do a couple tenths of a second better than that in the shuttle and get under 7 seconds in the three-cone drill. These sort of things don't paint the whole picture of a guy's talent, but they can help fill in the empty spaces that you couldn't completely see on film.
Paul: Definitely, and for the record, I think Randle will, run low 4.5s/high 4.4s. He got behind a lot of good defensive backs while at LSU. He ran away from people. Guys like that usually get it done in the 40. It will be interesting to see how he interviews. Like you said, he's so stoic, it's hard to gauge him. Will he come across in interviews as a guy who genuinely loves football and is ready to put in the work? Or will he just come across as a guy that's naturally gifted at the game so he's doing it? That could affect his status some too. The combine is going to do a lot to separate that tier of receivers after Blackmon. Wright is the fastest, but also the smallest. Jeffrey is probably the most physical/aggressive, but also out of shape and possibly slow. Floyd probably has the most talent, but lots of baggage. Randle might legitimately be the best blend of talent, character and measureables after Blackmon.
What about the other guys going? Brandon Taylor was a corner coming out of HS, and people once said he had more fluid, natural hips than Patrick Peterson. He wound up at safety, where he had a nice career. There are questions about his speed. There are also questions about his tackling (which won't be answered at the combine, obviously). I like him a lot as a player, though he doesn't strike me as dynamic. What's he need to do to boost his status?
Ryan Baker is a guy whose play really suffered this year, IMO. I'm not sure what happened, but his play seemed to drop from last year to this year. I suspect he'll run a decent 40 though (4.6 range). But he has had some disciplinary issues. He's also a bit small and struggles in coverage. He needs to prove he's got the necessary agility and fluidity to excel in coverage at the next level.
Billy: In Rueben's case I don't think it's whether or not he loves the game or is willing to put in the work, it's a question of whether he's got that "I want the ball every play" type of attitude. Coaches won't admit it, but they want that in a wide receiver. Not to the extreme we see from the more diva-ish players, but they want their top target to have that level of confidence. And in Rueben's case, they're going to have to tell from interviews with him and his coaches.
Brandon Taylor strikes me as a guy that might go a little higher than any of us think, similar to Pep Levingston or Stevan Ridley a year ago. I doubt he blazes up the 40 but it wouldn't shock me if he turns in some solid times in the agility drills/vertical, and I have absolutely no doubt he'll nail his interviews and get glowing reviews from his coaches. He's played a little corner and nickel, and the traditional "strong" and "free" safety positions are pretty much interchangeable in John Chavis' defense. That versatility is a major plus. The same goes for Ron Brooks, whom has great special teams experience. It wouldn't shock me at all if he's the fourth or fifth Tiger taken. With a 53-man roster, NFL teams love DBs that can work at a lot of different spots, even if they're not necessarily starting caliber.
I'm actually a little surprised Baker made it on to the combine list. He's undersized, really only had one productive year out of seasons starting and is a liability in coverage. The guy's definitely got the type of speed you want from an NFL linebacker, but it's all point A to point B. And in the NFL agility and getting through traffic to the ball is more important than pure speed for a linebacker. Honestly, if I were ranking the NFL prospects among LSU's departees, Baker and the other guys that made the combine list -- Deangelo Peterson and Jordan Jefferson would be behind some of the guys that didn't get invited. But clearly some teams want to take a look at them.
Paul: I'm curious to see what Ron Brooks runs, just for fun. Some reports say he's one of the two or three fastest players on the team. Brooks can definitely carve out a niche for himself in the NFL, even being a bit undersized. He has return skills and he could play the nickel. He needs to utilize the combine as an opportunity to say, "Hey, I may have been a backup, but just look at those guys who were ahead of me. I'm pretty damn good too."
One thing that helps Baker is that he was a special teams maven. Coaches like that. Plenty of guys have made NFL careers being special teams players alone. Who else would you think deserved an invite? Jefferson has NFL tools, though he lacks consistency and his elongated motion is worrisome. Still, when you have his type of talents, coaches are going to think, "I'm the guy that can bring it out of him." Peterson should blaze the 40 and he's got all the athletic tools, even if I'm not a huge fan of his game.
Will Blackwell was an All-American, and I wrote a little about him last week. To me, he's just not an NFL player. He was a solid SEC regular, but he always struggled against top-tier competition. I've read mixed reviews of what happened at the Senior Bowl, but I take it scouts didn't see enough to think he deserved a combine invite. Jarrett Lee doesn't have NFL tools and he really struggled to find any consistency throughout his career (even this year where he sprinkled some dreadful performances in with some good ones). One guy I thought may get a look was Ken Adams, only because he's got that NFL build, and plays with pretty sound technique. Though, nothing he does will wow you.
Billy: Baker's got his work cut out for him, that's for sure. To me, I think Peterson and Jefferson have just enough combine talent, i.e. that they're going to time/test well in some regards, that I think the scouts want to see if there's enough there to overcome the lack of quality game film. I doubt they'll show enough to answer those questions though.
Blackwell not getting an invite surprises me. He was a pretty good masher in the running game this year. It almost makes me wonder if there are still some lingering issues with his ankle. I know he got the all-clear to play, but if there's any lingering pain, chances are that won't get better with time and for a guard, that's a big red flag. I thought T-Bob Hebert would get a little more attention, to be honest. He was never a mauler, but he was a solid technician that new protections extremely well and could play all three interior spots. NFL types usually like that, especially when the player in question is the son of a former pro. Of course, in this case all the attention Bobby Hebert's attracted in the last month might be a negative.
Lee and Jefferson (and this is the last time I'm discussing these two together) will each have to overcome the fact that their greatest negatives as quarterbacks are generally deal-killers for the NFL. Pro quarterbacks, more than anything else, have to be able to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball quickly and accurately under pressure. Neither one has shown the ability to do that with any consistency in the last four years.
And with me, Adams is also on the "wouldn't surprise me if he got a look" list. Keep in mind this is a guy who played receiver in high school, went to junior college and still really hasn't gotten a lot of snaps in as a full-time defensive lineman, at least compared to other prospects. If he put on a good show at LSU's Pro Day on March 19, somebody might take a shot. Pro teams love to take flyers on pass-rushers with potential in the late rounds.
Paul: I'm not surprised by T-Bob, mostly because he's pretty slight. I know he's listed at 300, but I bet he's more like 285-290, which is probably enough to play Center, except that he also lacks great strength. Even dating back to his days as a recruit, they talked about his lack of strength in Meat Market. It's a facet of his game that never really improved. He's a solid technician, but with his lack of strength, even that won't help him get by in the NFL, in my opinion.
I know I'm circling back around, but I'm really pumped about Mo and how he will show out. Mo has the game tape to back up his athleticism. And I really think he's going to surprise a lot of people with just how athletic he is. I expect he'll run a low 4.4, time well in all the cone drills and post an impressive vertical. It's probably hard for him to go much higher than he's already projected (5th), but I do think overall impressions of him may be raised. Maybe enough for a team to move up and try and snag him.
At the end of the day, I think we'll see 5 guys drafted: Mo, Brock, Rueben, Taylor and Brooks. Baker, Jefferson and Peterson have a shot as well, but I wouldn't expect it.
Billy: I agree. Mo's combine workout-type numbers got a lot of play even in high school, when virtually nobody that followed recruiting knew anything about him. And when you consider that Tharold Simon, Eric Reid and Tyrann Mathieu are also likely to go fairly high in the next year or two, this is going to be a great DB run for Ron Cooper, whose reputation still isn't as well-known as it probably should be with the average college football fan. And of course there are the guys like Craig Loston, David Jenkins and Jalen Collins, about which we don't really know enough to asses at the moment.
With you on the five draft picks, but I'll add Adams or maybe Joseph as the sleepers. He's not much more than a blocking tight end, but if teams buy that he can do that at an NFL level, they might snatch him up to be a second or third/short-yardage tight end.