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Pro day circuit wrap up

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By Nolan Nawrocki

Millions of dollars are spent each spring as coaches are introduced into the evaluation process and begin a series of private and pro-day workouts that are used heavily to make final decisions. Pro days allow evaluators to retest prospects who did not work out at the NFL Scouting Combine and account for those who were not invited. More importantly, it allows coaches to understand the drive, determination and inner workings of young prospects in the interview process. Following is a breakdown of notable performances during the spring workout period (listed in alphabetical order under each subhed):

Pro day risers

Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert — After electing not to work out at the Combine, Gabbert did very well at his pro day, showing clean footwork under center and answering concerns many evaluators had about rarely working from underneath center in college. He displayed a very strong arm, showed he could make all the throws, and very likely solidified his standing as a top-five selection, clearly benefiting from a draft lacking a surefire solution at the QB position. Some evaluators still contend his stats were not as good as Chase Daniels' were in the same system and that he folds too much under pressure, but evaluators have given Gabbert the benefit of the doubt for consistently playing through injuries and having so much upside.

Pittsburgh RB Dion Lewis — It's easy to look at his measurables from the Combine (5-6 5/8, 193, 4.59) and write him off as too short and too slow, but he ran considerably better at his pro-day workout, clocking a time of 4.47, even if he elected to run it only once, and his tape does not lie. He has very good lateral agility and burst, which showed in positional drills, and he likely will not escape the second round.

Texas A&M OLB Von Miller — Described as having produced the most explosive pro-day workout one evaluator has witnessed in the past decade, Miller showed exceptionally well, showing rabbit-like quickness in his movement and cementing his status as the top pass rusher in the draft.

Oregon State RB Jacquizz Rodgers — Set off alarms at the Combine when he clocked in the mid-4.6s in the 40 and as high as 4.74 electronically, but redeemed himself at his pro day with a solid showing in the low 4.5s. Evaluators know he does not have home-run speed and seldom broke long runs in college. Although he stands only 5-foot-6 3/8, he is by no means small at a yoked-up 197 pounds. And what impressed NFL brass most was the way he interviewed. He has been described as a "glass-eating war daddy" who will find a way to overcome his physical limitations and produce in the pros. He stands a chance to climb into the third round.

USC OT Tyron Smith — After playing closer to 280 pounds during the season, Smith bulked up to 310 and did not lose much in athletic ability, still clocking sub-5.0-flat times in the 40 at his pro day and appearing very light on his feet. He had surgery to repair a tear in the meniscus of his right knee in mid-December and elected not to work out at the Combine, but he appeared nearly fully recovered, showing very well in the agility drills. With 36½-inch arms, he clearly has the length to recover from any missteps. He will contend to be the top tackle selected.   

Pro day sliders

Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers — At least two teams already have failed Bowers medically, and his pro-day workout did little to convince evaluators that he is not damaged goods. Despite receiving as much acclaim as any pass rusher in the draft and grading out as a top-10 talent when healthy, he could spiral hard on Draft Day and even fall beyond the teens. In his pro-day workout, he noticeably struggled bearing weight, showed no lower-body explosion and clearly looked fatigued, as would be expected with someone still recovering from January surgery on a partially torn meniscus in his left knee. He easily could be the most notable "big name" slider on Draft Day.

Utah CB Brandon Burton — Chose to run the 40 at his pro day but fared worse than he did at the Combine, clocking in the mid-4.5s. He did not show much suddenness or twitch, slowed to change direction and struggled to flip his hips and come out of breaks. Coupled with his lack of physicality, a number of evaluators left the workout believing their fourth- and fifth-round grades were too high.  

Florida State QB Christian Ponder — Similar to Tim Tebow last year, Ponder has gained a lot of hype because teams have been impressed by his intangibles and intelligence — he is the type of person evaluators want to root for. However, Ponder's pro-day workout was very average, the ball tended to flutter and sail and its velocity was average. He still does not figure to escape the third round and could even go in the second to a West Coast offense. However, evaluators increasingly have drawn comparisons to Trent Edwards, who was also a very inconsistent decision maker snake-bitten by injuries, and always struggled to hold a starting job in the pros.

Colorado CB Jimmy Smith — Showed up clearly out of shape at his pro day, appearing lethargic and very winded in drills, and upset NFL defensive back coaches that he could not work through drills without continually taking breathers. Although interviewers came away believing that he is a good-natured person at heart, they pointed to a very difficult upbringing and lack of a strong support structure as a reasons why he could fail in the pros.

Colorado OLT Nate Solder — Despite creating a YouTube sensation by knocking Broncos director of college scouting Matt Russell off ground in bag drills, Solder's workout was described as very average by evaluators in attendance. Even more concerning from the interview process were questions about his mental toughness. He continues to receive heavy scrutiny from evaluators for the way he struggled against California.

Pro day surprises

Because Iowa did not have enough receivers at its workout, MLB Jeff Tarpinian and DT Karl Klug ran routes for QB Ricky Stanzi. Tarpinian, a former running back, looked so fluid and athletic that some teams left the workout believing he could be a fullback or H-Back. At 6-2½, 235 pounds, he clocked a 4.56 40-time and vertical-jumped 37 inches and showed very well in agility drills. He minimally should be able to contribute on special teams if he can stay healthy, a big question mark throughout his career.

TCU S Colin Jones clocked sub-4.4 times in the 40 at his pro day at 5-11½, 201 pounds while bench-pressing 225 pounds 20 times and registering a time of 6.69 seconds in the 3-cone drill. However, on tape, he appears extremely stiff, cannot change direction and was heavily protected underneath in coverage, grading out like a free-agent safety. He still stands a chance to be drafted late as a special-teams contributor, but he is unlikely to bring much value elsewhere.

Two small-school receivers put themselves on the map in the Northeast. At the James Madison pro day, Bridgewater (Va.) College WR Tyler Beiler clocked a 4.38 in the 40 and vertical-jumped 40½ inches. He also caught the ball well despite possessing small 8½-inch hands. At the Lehigh pro day, West Chester Dan DePalma clocked a time of 4.43 in the 40 and bench-pressed 225 pounds 20 times. They both could receive late draftable interest, but grade out as free agents on tape.

At 6-2, 299 pounds, Auburn DT Zach Clayton clocked a time of 4.79 at his pro day with a 33½-inch vertical jump and outstanding agility times. His short, 31½-inch arms show up on tape and keep him velcroed too much, but his outstanding workout numbers forced evaluators to go back and review more tape, and he very actively shows up. He figures to be drafted late.

Colorado WR Scotty McKnight benefited from childhood friend Mark Sanchez throwing to him in part to help the Jets' quarterback's brother, Nick, who represents McKnight. Evaluators say McKnight caught the ball extremely well and ran a lot faster than scouts expected, clocking in the low 4.5s in the 40 and 6.68 in the 3-cone drill. He could fend for a job as a crafty slot receiver in the pros.

Two Delaware defensive backs — SS Anthony Bratton and CB Anthony Walters — tested well. Walters measured 5-11 7/8, 204 pounds and ran in the low 4.5s but pulled a hamstring at the end of his second 40 and did not finish the workout. Bratton measured 6-0 1/8, 213 and clocked in the low 4.5s in the 40, also registering a 37-inch vertical jump and 3-cone time of 6.71 seconds. His workout numbers did not translate to the positional workout, however, and both grade out as priority free agents on tape.

Louisville QB Adam Froman missed the final five games of his senior season with a thigh injury, but he showed intriguing developmental potential at his pro day, clocking in the mid-4.5s at 6-4, 219 pounds.

Pro day notes

At his pro-day workout, Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett spun the ball as well as any quarterback, but he also ran a pedestrian 40-time of 5.39 and opted not to run a second time. On arm talent alone, he could be considered as the first pick in the draft, but every time he is pressured, he makes terrible throws and his accuracy diminishes. After listening to him discuss drug usage in the interview process, many NFL GMs do not believe the issue will disappear in the pros or that he will be able to command an NFL huddle. … Florida C Mike Pouncey showed average footwork at his pro day and convinced many evaluators that he will be much better at guard than center. … Florida SS Ahmad Black convinced evaluators he will be better suited for a role as a cornerback in the pros. He's very good reading, anticipating and jumping routes and has the toughness and instincts to be effective manning short areas. … Miami (Fla.) OT Orlando Franklin appeared extremely stiff, overweight and nonathletic at his pro day and likely slid to the third round because of additional questions surrounding his character. … Texas CB Aaron Williams was clocked in the low 4.4s at his pro day, significantly better than he did at the Combine, where his best time was 4.55, but scouts said a tenth of a second is needed to curve the fast astroturf surface on which he ran. … To Texas CB Curtis Brown's credit, he labored through positional drills despite not having recovered from the flu, but appeared noticeably sluggish in the workout. … Nebraska DE Pierre Allen was still suffering from a pre-Combine right calf injury at pro day and did not work out. Teams that had him graded as a sixth-round talent during the season said he could go undrafted. … Auburn OT Lee Ziemba appeared very nonathletic in his pro-day workout. … Miami (Fla.) LB Colin McCarthy showed very well, and in a class short on linebackers, could elevate as high as the second round. … Georgia Tech S Jerrard Tarrant appeared so stiff in positional drills at his pro day that evaluators said he almost hurt himself trying to change direction. … Some scouts have second-round grades on Penn State C-OG Stefen Wisniewski while others have graded him as a free agent. He worked at both guard and center at his pro day. The consensus is that he will fit into the fourth round, although teams in need of an interior lineman are considering him early. … Virginia Tech RB Ryan Williams did not run much better at his pro day than he did at the Combine, when he clocked in the low 4.6s. Although he timed as low as 4.49 in Blacksburg, the Hokies' fast astroturf surface needs to be curved as much as any surface and the times translate to the low 4.6s. Some evaluators are hoping it pushes Williams into the third round, but he does not figure to escape the second. … Illinois OLB Nate Bussey clocked in the low 4.5s at 228 pounds and could carve out a spot on special-teams coverage.

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