WR Jackson biggest winner at combine
WR Jackson biggest winner at combine
By John Clayton
So much for complaints about that "slow" Indianapolis turf.
Coaches and general managers finally had an NFL scouting combine that can last them through the spring. They left the RCA Dome late Tuesday afternoon with a book filled with times and workouts like never before. The times were lightning fast, and more than 90 percent of the players worked out.
For players and coaches alike, it takes a lot of pressure off until the draft. Normally, scouts and general managers have to traverse the country chasing down 40 times for borderline first-day draft choices who skip running at the combine. It's a logistical nightmare, and often some players lose out because top evaluators can't get to their schools because of scheduling conflicts.
Televising these workouts helped. Families could watch players run as if it were a marathon track meet. Times were fast. On Monday, for example, nine defensive backs ran 40s in the 4.3s. Three linebackers had 4.4 times. Only four wide receivers ran in the 4.3 range, but this isn't a great group of receivers, so don't blame the turf.
Years ago, the turf was slow in Indy. Scouts used to tell players they'd adjust those times, making them equivalent to what they would have run on grass. However, agents talked their clients out of running for fear of lowering their draft ratings based on slower times. Now, things are different.
The combine has turned into a competition. Spending years getting the track right has made the combine a place where players can run and not fear losing too much. They still have their individual workouts to fall back on.
A majority of the top 15 players didn't run, but even that is changing. North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams ran well. Maryland tight end Vernon Davis blistered the track. Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk was impressive.
Too bad the NFL could lose the draft in a couple of years if the collective bargaining agreement runs out. There might be a combine, but NFL teams will have to treat all college eligible players like free agents. That's a story for another time.
For now, here are my top 10 observations from this year's combine:
Jackson's speed and overall performance should improve his draft position.
1. Florida wide receiver Chad Jackson was the biggest winner at the combine. He ran the best time, a 4.32. Jackson caught 88 passes last season for Florida, but his receiving yardage average was below 10, usually a sign of a possession receiver. That's clearly not the case with his blistering time at Indianapolis. He's fast. He's big. He's now going to challenge Santonio Holmes of Ohio State and Sinorice Moss for consideration in the later portion of the first round. Holmes didn't run and might jump well ahead of the pack at his Ohio State workout. But Jackson has the physical dimensions and the speed teams are seeking.
2. It's hard to get excited about this year's receiving class. Reggie McNeal and Marcus Vick were just as fast as the best receivers, and these guys are quarterbacks. Derek Hagan of Arizona State ran well, at 4.49, but he still struggled catching the ball. Moss is electric, but he's short, which works well in a Rams-type offense but maybe not for West Coast teams. You'd almost get more excited if quarterbacks such as Michael Robinson of Penn State or McNeal switched to receiver just to spice up this class. Years of top underclassmen turning pro early finally caught up at the receiver position. It was inevitable.
3. Jay Cutler is clearly the third-best quarterback in this draft and he won many fans by throwing at the combine. He throws stronger than Matt Leinart and purer than Vince Young. But he didn't have the wow factor to put him in the top five unless team needs dictate that jump. His mechanics weren't great on the long passes in the middle of the field. His accuracy wasn't great inside the numbers, either . All this says is that he needs work. Teams in need of a quarterback need to move into a position to take him toward the top of the first round, but his showing at the combine doesn't change that it's too early to label him a top-five pick.
4. The only thing you can say about the Vince Young Wonderlic controversy is how an underclassman can be blindsided without having experienced guidance. He's fortunate that Jeff Foster, who runs the combine, took care of him Sunday with a quick retest. Reports were inaccurate that he scored a 6, but he did score single digits or he wouldn't have needed to retest. His 16 score on the retest is good enough, and I'm sure he'll do better on a later test. Young isn't dumb. That's pretty clear. But top-three picks shouldn't be blindsided. They need to know the preparation for a combine if they are coming out as an underclassman; otherwise, they're better off staying in school for another year. Young has been busy with public appearances he earned from his fabulous season and Rose Bowl victory. But the combine is the time to start the job interview process, and he was clearly behind. That shouldn't affect his draft rating, but it might cause a team or two to think a little bit.
5. Vernon Davis is a freak. He's 254 pounds and he ran a 4.38 40 at the combine. Think about that for a second. Only three wide receivers did better than that. Davis ran as fast on the electronic time as Moss, who is 5-foot-8. The Maryland tight end is a rare physical talent who merits top-10 consideration based on his résumé in college and his athletic abilities. He blocked guys in drills 20 yards downfield. In other drills, he was a second or so faster than most participants in a great tight end class. Who wouldn't want a tight end who is faster than a wide receiver and can block?
6. Last year's running back group was great at the top. Cedric Benson, Ronnie Brown and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams went in the top five, but the drop-off after that was huge. This year's class might have only one top choice -- Reggie Bush -- but it's depth is stronger for longer. Bush, DeAngelo Williams of Memphis, LenDale White of USC and Laurence Maroney of Minnesota didn't run but seem like locks as first-round picks. The big winner at the combine was Joseph Addai of LSU. He ran a 4.4 and did well in just about everything else, too. Addai is a complete back who does all things well, along with being fast. Five potential first-round backs will impact free agency because teams will be looking for cheaper ways to fill positions if there is no CBA extension. Instead of teams paying $5 million to $7 million on an aging back, this class of five candidates will be studied closely and compared with the veterans.
Williams could be the first defensive player to be drafted this year.
7. Defensive end Mario Williams is a little lost in the spotlight of top prospects such as Leinart, Young and Bush, but he shouldn't be. As much as teams talk about trading up for quarterbacks, what about moving up for Williams? Super Mario made that more likely with his combine workouts. Even more impressive, it wasn't necessary for him to work out. Listed at 6-7 and 295 pounds, he ran a 4.66 40. That's Julius Peppers territory. Williams has the dominating body that can fit into a 3-4 or a 4-3. He would seem to be a perfect fit for the Green Bay Packers with the fifth pick, but other teams might try to move higher than that to get him.
8. The linebacker class of 2006 is the best of this millennium. Hawk solidified a top-six selection by running a 4.6 and doing the agility drills with ease. Ernie Sims of Florida State improved his first-round stock with a 4.5 40. Thomas Howard of UTEP, listed at 6-3 and 239 pounds, moved up boards with his 4.42 40. Chad Greenway of Iowa didn't wow anyone with his workouts, but he has the tape behind him to be a middle first-round pick.
9. Cornerbacks treated the 40 like a track meet. Those who posted impressive times: Tye Hill of Clemson (4.3), Johnathan Joseph of South Carolina (4.31), Tim Jennings of Georgia (4.32), Michael Huff of Texas (4.34), Willie Andrews of Baylor (4.38), and Jason Allen of Tennessee, Antoine Bethea of Howard and Kelly Jennings of Miami (4.39). Also, safety Daniel Bullocks of Nebraska ran a time of 4.38.
10. Perfect Competition, a training group out of Davie, Fla., moved its operation to Indianapolis for seven days and had a players suite that had a chef, a 40-inch flat-screen TV, PlayStation and computers with wi-fi. Many of its clients had great combines, including Moss, Chad Jackson of Florida, Maurice Drew of UCLA and Nick Mangold of Ohio State, just to name a few. They had a massage therapist and coaches to get them ready for the workouts. It worked.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Re: WR Jackson biggest winner at combine
Crowded market could lead to bargain hunting
By John Clayton
INDIANAPOLIS -- DeAngelo Williams has been dodging defenders as a halfback seemingly since birth.
At Memphis, he rushed for 1,430, 1,948 and 1,964 yards in the past three years. His 6,026 career rushing yards trail only the totals registered by Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams and Tony Dorsett in the NCAA record book. Though he has to reluctantly concede that Reggie Bush will likely be the top pick and first running back taken, he isn't looking back in the second most competitive running back draft in the new millennium.
"I'm not one of those guys that's looking back," Williams said. "I'm not looking for LenDale White to pass me or Reggie Bush to pass me. I turned my rear view mirror off a long time ago. I'm chasing."
AP Photo/Duane Burleson
Williams led the NCAA with 1,959 rushing yards in 2005.
But timing is everything. Williams enters the NFL at the same time as the greatest veteran free agent running back class ever. Shaun Alexander is an MVP. Edgerrin James put up Pro Football Hall of Fame-bound numbers in Indianapolis. Then there's Jamal Lewis, Ahman Green, Chester Taylor and Michael Bennett. The Panthers took themselves out of the backfield market by transitioning DeShaun Foster.
How does he view that all-star lineup?
"In my side view mirror," Williams said.
Running backs better enter the NFL offseason with their heads on swivels and their eyes looking in all directions. The musical chairs for running backs is about to begin and there aren't enough chairs for the talent available. A few backs are going to go at bargain prices … or at bargain positions in the draft.
Williams is competing against first-round candidates Bush, White and Laurence Maroney to convince teams to draft them in the first round and there are no guarantees backfields will be in motion. It didn't help backs when word came out of Arizona that the Cardinals aren't going to jump into the high end of salary to play for a running back.
Cardinals vice president Rod Graves said this week it's unlikely the team will sign a free agent at the "very top of the market." That would surely depress the market for Alexander, James and Lewis. The Cardinals were considered the main team with cap room in the true market to add a feature back.
The next group of teams -- Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Tennessee -- in the market for a back would only be looking for upgrades and they may look at other priorities instead of investing heavy on backs. With the Panthers blocking Foster's freedom, five teams that let backs hit the market -- Seattle, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Green Bay and Minnesota -- have the options of re-signing their own, outbidding the other or drafting one of the top four backs.
One of the fun parts of the combine is scouts trying to figure out how the drafted backs compare to backs from the current league or past. Is Bush a Barry Sanders or a Marshall Faulk? White has that Jerome Bettis look about him. Williams is elusive but not tall, much like former Buffalo Bill Thurman Thomas.
Williams joked how pleased he was at his weigh-in and his measurements.
"Teams want to know that I'm not 5-foot-8 ˝, that I'm 5-9," Williams said. "I just want to be an exciting player. I want to help to contribute to their team's success. I want to be utilized."
Maroney made an interesting observation this week. He describes his game as being patient as a runner. That's drawn comparisons to Alexander. Maroney disagrees.
"No. I don't see that at all," Maroney said. "That's two different styles of runner. He has a nice style but I feel his style and my style do not go together."
All right, Laurence, how about James.
"I could see that," he said. "He's a downhill runner with good hands and speed."
White, of course, has the most interesting perspective. He played in the shadows of Bush at USC. Unlike the rest of the backs in the draft who are smaller, White is unique. He's big checking into the combine at 238 pounds. The rest of the top backs are 210 or less.
"That's what helps me a lot in this draft, just because how big I am," White said. "DeAngelo and Reggie are in a class of their own and then you have the in-betweens like (Laurence) Maroney. And I think how big I am and how strong I am helps me out a lot. I'm kind of happy to be in this class because you get a lot more touchdowns when you're big."
Maroney didn't hurt himself by showing up at the combine at 5-11, 217. Normally, he's between 210-212 pounds. His plan is to play between 215-220 pounds in the pros.
Maroney hurt a hamstring in workouts in preparation for the combine so he isn't running. White, Bush and Williams are saving themselves for their individual workouts.
Each back will be checking their mirrors to see which teams sign the veterans and possibly take themselves out of the market for first-round choices from the backfield. It leaves a lot of uncertainty.
"I really don't know because we have a lot of great backs coming out after Reggie Bush. LenDale, DeAngelo," Maroney said. "There are a lot of great backs out there. Right now, there's no telling where I will get picked."
Around the combine
• Delay in free agency?: Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told a group of owners and front office executives that the NFL could push back the start of free agency a week if a collective bargaining agreement is reached by Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET. NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw said he wouldn't move back the start of free agency, but he wants to get a deal. Upshaw left town and no negotiating sessions are in the works. It's going down to the deadlines, but as each day passes, the chances of a settlement look that much more impossible.
Here is the optimistic view of what's happening on the labor front. An agreement could be reached by next Wednesday and free agency would start March 10. The owners have a meeting around March 7 to go over the deal and approve it. The union starts its annual convention in Hawaii around March 9 and could start the ratification process. No meetings are scheduled between the union and the owners, but Upshaw is available at any time to try to get something done.
And talk about going to the last minute. NFL teams and agents aren't going to be informed about the official salary cap number and what numbers to tender restricted free agents until Monday or Tuesday. Free agency is scheduled to start Friday.
• Speaking of money: Here is how much money is on the table during these collective bargaining talks. Each half percentage is worth about $500 million over the length of a new collective bargaining agreement. The union is four percentage points apart in negotiations. No wonder owners say it's a lot of money.
2005 SEASON STATISTICS
Rush Yds TD Rec Yds TD
126 473 3 27 124 2
• Vikes in RB market: With their intentions to not re-sign halfback Michael Bennett, the Vikings are clearly in the market for a running back. "You know we're a little bit talent poor right there right now with Ciatrick Fason and Mewelde [Moore]," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. I shouldn't say talent poor, let me take that back. We don't have that many numbers. We just have two running backs there right now."
• McCarthy impressed by Green: Listening to Packers coach Mike McCarthy, you get the feeling he lists the re-signing of halfback Ahman Green as an important part of the team's future. McCarthy said he was pleased with how Green has been working out at the facility every day and loves his attitude.
• Favre over '05 campaign: The Packers see a possible opening that could lead to Brett Favre coming back for the 2006 season. His agent, Bus Cook, said Favre seems to have put the disappointments of the 2005 season behind him and is a little more positive when talking football. Favre will film a commercial this week and go to a golf event with Cook. His agent refuses to ask him his plans because he wants to give Favre as much time as possible to decide his future. Though it's clear Favre is leaning toward retirement, the fact he's emotionally putting the 4-12 season behind him is important.
• Size no concern for Moss: University of Miami wide receiver Sinorice Moss checked in at 5-8, 185 pounds and doesn't have any fears of being short for the NFL. "It's been something since I've been a young child," Moss said. "I've been shorter than mostly everybody else. It doesn't affect me much." By being a short, compact player, Moss said he has a lot of explosiveness in his legs and he can go under defenders on different routes.
• LenDale in Glendale?: So many people are thinking the Cardinals might draft USC halfback LenDale White that he's being labeled GlenDale White for the site of the Cardinals new stadium.
• Kiwanuka caught off guard: The funniest moment of the combine came when Boston College defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka was asked if he thought about sacks when he was on the field. "Do I think about sex on the field?" Kiwanuka said, turning the press conference into a laughfest. "I wondered where you were going with that one." He said he does think about sacks because that's why defensive ends get paid.
• Rush to glory: The big winners among the running backs who ran at the combine on the first day were Joseph Addai of LSU and Maurice Drew of UCLA. Drew ran a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash, even though his thighs are so muscular they look like they were pumped up with air. Addai ran a 4.4, but some had him at 4.37. Addai may have moved himself into the first round with his efforts at the combine on Saturday. Washington State's Jerome Henderson continued his bid for the second or third round by running a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash. Reggie Bush didn't run.
• Back on track: Tackle Eric Winston was the big winner among the offensive linemen who ran Saturday. He clocked a 4.94, second only to Chris Chester of Oklahoma. This was a big day for Winston, after not playing with his full leg strength last season because he was coming off a 2004 knee reconstruction. His time showed that he has regained the explosion in his legs. He also did well in the agility drills, moving himself back toward the first round.
• Colledge on the rise: Another player who impressed was tackle Daryn Colledge of Boise State. He ran a 5.01. Colledge is vying for second-round consideration.
• Making presence felt: Players are finally understanding the importance of running at the combine. Of the 53 offensive linemen who attended the combine, 44 worked out and most of those who didn't had medical excuses. Naturally, top prospects such as D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Winston Justice didn't run, but most of the other top linemen did. From the first group of running backs, 13 of 14 ran, with Reggie Bush being the lone exception.
• Hanging Chad: The Jets had a scheduled negotiating session with Tom Condon, agent for quarterback Chad Pennington. The Jets asked him to take a paycut from $9 million to $1 million. He rejected their first offer. If he is cut, don't be surprised to see him land in Kansas City with former head coach Herman Edwards.
• Playing tag: On the labor front, one of the changes the NFL players are asking for is a limit on the number of times a team can franchise or transition a player. Under the current system, teams can franchise or transition the same player as many times as they want. The union wants a one-time clause for franchise or transition players.
• McNair in limbo: The Titans continue to talk about restructuring the contract of quarterback Steve McNair. General manager Floyd Reese said the team won't give him the $50 million option bonus that was in his contract, but no one ever figured he would get that anyway. If no deal is reached by next Thursday, the Titans can pay a penalty clause and limit his contract to one year. If that happens, though, the cap number could go to $23 million because of proration from the future years he won't get. The contract becomes a one-year contract if the option bonus isn't exercised.
• Veteran's day: The Titans will be in the market for a veteran wide receiver to complement all the young receivers on their team. Reese joked he needed to raise the age limit for this young group of receivers so they could get a beer together.
• Edwards eyeing Holmes: Herman Edwards still believes Priest Holmes will be with the Chiefs this season and that he will receive medical clearance from his doctors to play, but Edwards hasn't spoken to Holmes.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.