Authored by Jeff Risdon - 9th March, 2012 - 6:53 pm
I recently had the chance to talk with a handful of scouts and NFL personnel people following a couple of recent pro days. Much of what follows comes from one AFC North employee who was kind enough to let me buy him dinner following Texas A&M's pro day, but some of the observations belong to others. Rather than putting them into straight interview form, I've edited them for brevity, clarity, and poignancy. I have also paraphrased on a few occasions, though I did include full quotes when I felt it made the point more concisely.
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One of the questions I ask everyone I can this time of year is which players do the coaches see in a different light than the scouts. I've seen this firsthand and it's fascinating how the coach's lack of bias often greatly differs from the scouts who have seen a player's every game and have charted him for years.
Some of the answers:
"Jamell Fleming (Oklahoma, CB). Our defensive coordinator came to me and asked me why I had a 3rd round grade on him and not higher. I brought up the academic suspensions and I'll tell you his exact response to that: ‘Why do I give a sh** about a kid cheating in a class? What the f*** does that have to do with covering?' ...the next day (the head coach) asked me if Fleming could handle reading plays on the fly and comprehending our defense. He didn't care about the classroom stuff as long as I felt that Fleming knew football." This scout told me how if you just look at Fleming's 2011, he would "probably" grade out as a 1st round pick, and that is what the coaches see.
"The (Dwight) Bentley kid from La-La (CB, Louisiana Lafayette). We got back from the Senior Bowl and (the DB coach) was all over this kid, asking us all kinds of questions. I saw him twice this year and he wasn't great. He played well but I didn't rate him out anything close to what the coaches thought of him coming out of Mobile." He went on to offer that Bentley "would probably start in the slot for us" right away and they expect him to be an early 2nd round pick as it stands today. Bentley impressed the coaches at his team interview in Indy with his headiness about reading routes and his obvious love of hitting.
One of the coaches I talked to brought up I guy I tend to favor more than most draftniks, Tulsa QB GJ Kinne. "I see a lot of Matt Flynn there" and he comes from a team that would know. He liked his gutsiness and didn't find his arm as much of a problem as his scouts led him to believe. This coach was also not nearly as bullish as scouts I know are on Georgia OL Ben Jones.
Even though he didn't throw at the Aggie pro day, Ryan Tannehill was very much the hot topic. I asked for opinions on one of the biggest draft wild cards this year.
The scout who talked about Fleming above is a big Tannehill supporter, and he provided an intriguing comparison. "I see so much of Matt Ryan in him, but (Tannehill) can run so well." I asked about Tannehill's relative inexperience and while he agreed that the best case would be to have him sit for a year, "I think if you get him into camp right away he could start next year." He downplayed the Blaine Gabbert comparison that a lot of draftniks make, "Tannehill has better vision and understands the game better. It's not too fast for him. I never felt that with Gabbert...he always looked panicked."
I got a differing opinion from another scout. "His game splits are awful. Look at how many big leads he pissed away with dumbass throws! I don't see how he handles the pressure on a bigger stage. When the chips are down he folds every time." This scout did concede that the offensive coordinator on his team feels differently, and this is a team that is widely considered to need a 1st round quarterback.
When I asked various people for where they thought Tannehill would get drafted, the lowest number I got of 6 answers was #13 overall. Three different guys, including two coaches, had a number in the top 6.
Some various words on other Texas A&M prospects:
"I can't trust (CB Coryell) Judie to stay healthy. He's always battling one thing or another. The kid has some legitimate ability but I'm not going to stick my neck out for him."
"Jeff Fuller has free fallen enough that he might wind up being a steal. I don't believe his hamstring was ever right this year because he couldn't hit that second gear he had before. Go back to 2010 and you can see how well he changed speeds to get separation. He couldn't do that last year and it really hurt his game." There was talk of Fuller bulking up a little more (he's gained about 15 pounds since the end of the season) and becoming a tight end. Both myself and the scout here believe this is a good idea, given such a weak tight end class. Fuller ran in the upper 4.6s in the 40 but did turn in an impressive 4.33 short shuttle. He is a very chiseled specimen, much better physique than Alshon Jeffery despite being almost the exact same measurements. Fuller measured in at a hair under 6'4" and 223.5 pounds.
"I need to look at this Lionel Smith (CB) more. He looked like he could fly out there today. That's one of the fastest short shuttles I've seen this year (the official time was 4.22 but some had it as low as 4.17). ...our special teams coach is going to want to know a lot more about him, I can tell you that." Smith was seen being chatted up by none other than Gil Brandt, the Godfather of the NFL Draft, for a good 5 minutes after his workout. That alone is probably enough to get him drafted by some teams.
Some other random tidbits:
--Some of the folks in attendance were heading to Oklahoma State on Friday to watch Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. I was pleasantly surprised at how well Weeden is regarded; I've been a Weeden fan since last year but the draftnik community is generally not so much. Most scouts and coaches like his advanced age and consider it a real asset, along with his experience as a professional baseball player. I came away believing that if Weeden does well on Friday--and at pro day every QB looks great--he is a late 1st round pick.
The tone is the opposite on Blackmon. As one scouting director I've worked with before told me, "Everybody talks about him as a big guy, but he's short. I've seen every game he's played and trust me when I tell you he gets open because of the system...His feet are decent but he has no burst. Off the line he's pedestrian. Out of breaks he's worse than that. I love his brute strength and he's maybe got the strongest hands I've ever seen on a wideout, but I don't know how he is going to get open...he's too bulky and slow to play in the slot, he's not explosive enough to play the Z...I do see some T.O. to his game with the power and determination. A lot now that I brought it up. He's a needy receiver, one of those guys that comes back to every huddle screaming that he's open and just get him the damn ball. Ask Carson Palmer or Michael Vick about what that's like over time. It really puts a strain on everyone." He caught me completely off guard when he volunteered that Blackmon is "not in our top three" wideouts at this time.
A scout from a different team concurs...sort of. I brought up the above concerns and he gave me a big smile, the classic "yeah, but" look. He admitted the neediness rubbed him the wrong way, but he thought the dynamic ability with the ball in his hands and his ability to extend out and catch anything near him trumps it. This scout graded him out as the highest he has seen this year, but the grade is not as high as what he had for AJ Green or Julio Jones last year and he admitted to not being overly familiar with Michael Floyd.
--LSU DT Michael Brockers is not as hot of a commodity as once expected. That doesn't mean NFL people fail to hold a high opinion of him, however. One defensive position coach told me that he believes Brockers "will start for years" and become an excellent run defender. Another scout also praised his run defense and his ability to use his hands. I have not personally met Brockers but the consensus is he's a likeable, engaging kid who understands football very well. His biggest issue, according to both me and most people I've talked to about Brockers, is that he's not a dynamic pass rusher. It's a tough sell for teams to spend a high draft pick on a defensive tackle (or 3-4 DE, which might be his best position) who will likely never top 6 sacks in a season. The general consensus I got on Brockers is that he will come off the board in the 20s regardless of the lack of pass rushing oomph.
--Frequent readers know I've been high on Arkansas State LB Demario Davis for some time now, and he is definitely gaining positive momentum as coaches see more of him. As one defensive coach told me, "Any backer built like him that can run in the low 4.5s and bench 32 reps has my full attention". This coach compared him to Stephen Tulloch but also a "faster KJ Wright", a player everyone undervalued in the draft a year ago before his strong rookie season in Seattle. Most draftniks don't have him anywhere near as high as that same coach told me he expects Davis to come off the board. I should point out he works for a team that greatly values input from the coaches. I will be surprised if he isn't a top 100 pick when all is said and done.
--A regional scout who knows my roots (I lived in Holland MI from 2002-10) barraged me with questions about Kirk Cousins, the Michigan State QB from Holland Christian HS. Cousins is outside his region, and he indicated his GM has specifically mentioned Cousins a few times when talking about quarterbacks. I assured him that I know Cousins to be the genuine article, a grounded young man of strong faith and easy, natural leadership and as strong of a work ethic as you can find. Apparently Cousins' improved throwing motion he displayed in Indy has elevated his stock. I grade out Cousins higher than former MSU QB Drew Stanton, who went in the 2nd round to Detroit and is currently an underrated free agent. Much different players though.
--I asked around about injured Oklahoma wideout Ryan Broyles, who was projected by many as a top 50 pick before tearing his ACL in November. Most were guardedly optimistic about his future. One scout told me "you almost want him to sit out the whole season and get himself all the way back" instead of trying to rush back next year. Broyles is reportedly on schedule with his recovery, but the aforementioned scout was not alone in basically writing him off for 2012. He appears to be a 4th-5th round pick at this point, which is a great bargain if a team can wait a year for production. The Oklahoma passing offense completely tanked in his absence.
--Midwestern State guard Amini Silatolu lost some momentum when his arms measured short for his size (32") and he turned in one of the worst 10-yard splits (1.89) at the Combine. One scout who knows him well advised me Silatolu will need some transition time, perhaps even a full year on a practice squad. He's apparently more highly regarded by draftniks who have scantly seen him in action than field scouts who have seen more of him. Those 2nd-3rd round forecasts are probably a little too optimistic.