As a former scout and front-office executive for 15 years, the week in Indianapolis was one that I found very intriguing for several reasons. The hay is in the barn so to speak when it comes to a player’s DNA (tape), which includes his final collegiate season and bowl games.
Now comes the prodding and poking, no pun intended with extensive medical exams. There is also the Wonderlic test, which is a mental gauge of a player’s ability to retain and comprehend while processing information quickly. This week is also a great opportunity for coaches and personnel people to probe and investigate players that had concerns in the areas of learning, character, off-field issues, positional projection and family history.
I would meet with coaches, providing them a handout by position with any and all concerns that I may have on a player based on what information I found or what the area scouts brought to my attention as well, if different then my investigation.
The following lists of offensive players have many questions to be answered this week:
Cam Newton: Early out junior with exceptional athletic skills, good size and speed (not to mention a Heisman in his back pocket). The newest member of the New York Athletic Club will be asked 100 times this week about the situation he put his coaches and teammates through this past season for several weeks about the money his father requested from Mississippi State. For me there are three other major concerns.
1. Mental: His ability to absorb the playbook with good comprehension and retention.
2. Leadership qualities: His ability to lead 53 men at a young age.
3. Work ethic: Arrive early and stay late. One thing Sam Bradford found out playing quarterback in the NFL is that it’s a job and an adventure. Newton must have the makeup that tells you he will work hard to get a complete grasp of the offense.
Blaine Gabbert: Early out junior that displayed good athletic skills with prototype NFL quarterback size and arm strength. I have two concerns with Gabbert.
1. Nagging soft-tissue injuries: He showed very good toughness to play injured, but the concern for me is that he’s hurt too often for the next level. Coaches will have this same concern.
2. The Spread Offense: His ability to learn and retain within a comfort zone. I’ve seen his ability to drop from center (three-, five- and seven-step drops very smooth with nice feet); the catch is reading the coverage while dropping. I believe he can do it, but there will be an adjustment period.
Both Gabbert and Newton are behind where Sam Bradford was at this stage of their careers. Bradford came from underneath center a moderate percentage; these two were all shotgun.
Ryan Mallett: While this young man might have the most natural skill set of all the quarterbacks, I have two major concerns.
1. Maturity, both on and off the field. You can learn a lot about a person just by the way they walk into a room, and how they present themselves to others they have never met. Maturity level and confidence just pops out at you, or it doesn’t. His inconsistency in leading his team to victory or making poor decisions at the most vital time of the game really sends up a red flag.
2. Character and drug use issues are starting to rear their ugly head. Heavy rumors of drug use and possible addiction kept him from coming out for the 2010 draft. A lot of people are comparing Mallett to Ryan Leaf. I think Ryan was a better football player, with a cannon for an arm but the immaturity was just too much to overcome. A hair facial test might tell all 32 teams who this person really is.
Christian Ponder: A good athlete for the position, who is smart and has good leadership qualities. The major concern is injury history. Ponder has missed a lot of playing time due to injuries to his shoulder and elbow surgeries on his throwing arm. It will be interesting to see how many team doctors clear him medically. I like this player in the right offense, but surgical history is a major red flag for a quarterback’s throwing arm.
Delone Carter: I like this player’s low center of gravity. He runs behind his pads and fights for every yard with toughness and desire. He was named Ohio’s Mr. Football in 2005 as a senior after rushing for 5,291 yards (8.6 yards per carry) and 77 touchdowns. Carter has a few issues.
1. He received a medical redshirt for a dislocated hip in 2007. Hopefully, he clears the X-rays with a clean bill of health. My concern with that type of joint injury is degenerative joint disease where arthritis has already set in and could cut a career short.
2. Character. Carter was arrested in April 2010 and charged with misdemeanor assault, all because the car he was riding in was hit with a snow ball. He got out and confronted the group. A one-punch situation put an individual unconscious and Carter was suspended for spring football.
Carter is a shorter version of Michael Turner of the Falcons, a downhill between-the-tackles power runner.
Noel Devine: AIDS claimed the lives of both of his parents. He was raised by his grandmother and the parents of his high school friends. Despite his size (5-7, 160), he was highly recruited by schools in the SEC, Pac-10 and ACC. Deion Sanders is his friend and plays the role of big brother. Sanders has helped him along the way these past few years, but there are two issues:
1. Anger management: He was arrested and charged with battery in 2008 after being a participant in a group of football players that assaulted two students.
2. The biggest question mark for the next level is position. Pound for pound he might be one of the strongest players at the combine. He will run a great 40 and blow away everyone in the shuttles, with great burst and acceleration, balance and change of direction. If you could live with his height, Devine might be the best change-of-pace running back or all-purpose player available. Just don’t get enamored with the combine workout. Focus on his tape because it’s also very good.
Niles Paul: A very good athlete. A home-grown boy and local talent from Nebraska who was a two-way player at wideout and free safety in high school. A state champion in track, Paul has a very good combination of size and speed. Two things jump out on this player:
1. Receivers must have size, speed, route-running skills and the ability to compete at the highest point and fight for balls, but the number one thing is hands. Paul player dropped too many balls in the five games I watched looking for big plays and possible game-changing situations. While I will always lean back to the player’s DNA, his performance will answer a lot of questions about his ability to pluck balls out of the air. The skill set is there, but hands get a low mark from me.
2. Character comes into play during the offseason. There are possible alcohol issues including a DUI in April 2009. These issues will be addressed at the combine.
Anthony Castonzo: The first freshman to start on the offensive line in a decade at Boston College. A two-way player in high school though he only weighed 225 pounds. He has started at both right and left tackle at BC. Here are my concerns:
1. He has an injury history that includes a severely broken leg in high school. He also suffered a broken foot, missing last spring.
2. Height: Castonzo is 6-7 and in my evaluation, 6-5 is perfect size for tackles. If they are any taller than that, knee bend, anchor and feet to change direction becomes an issue (not to mention maintaining good pad level).
Watching this player explode out of his stance and attack the bag with hands (and staying low while firing his feet) is what I want to see. A bio-chemistry major that was nominated for the Rhode Scholar, intelligence is not an issue and whoever coaches him can forget trying to trick him on any test.
Now that I’m on the media side of the fence, I will lean heavily on my sources throughout the league for those players who give outstanding performances, make blunders and those that just outright crap their pants. While I will listen and take notes, I will never ever let these workouts move a player up or down the draft board. While character sets the ceiling, DNA establishes the floor.
Tomorrow: Defensive players and Combine concerns