NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
The pro day schedule is nearly complete, but the last full week of pro days was packed with major programs and star talent. The highest-profile pro day of them all, however, was USC’s pro day on Wednesday, where all eyes were on quarterback Matt Barkley, hoping to prove himself as a top-two quarterback in the 2013 draft class while also trying to prove his health following a shoulder injury that ended his senior season early.
Barkley’s much-anticipated passing workout, along with the rest of USC’s pro day, was available this week on ESPN3. Also available this week on the ESPN family of networks was LSU’s pro day, of which were portions were also streamed via ESPN3 Wednesday, and Texas’ pro day, which was televised on Longhorn Network.
At the pro days of three of the nation’s premier college football programs, Barkley was far from the only player to catch the attention of NFL scouts.
By completing a full passing workout, Barkley answered the most important question Wednesday, by proving that his shoulder is healthy once again. As for his performance in the workout, the positive and negative physical traits displayed on pro day matched up with what the tape also shows.
Barkley’s sound mechanics, sharp footwork and short-to-intermediate passing accuracy make him arguably the draft’s safest quarterback prospect, and he put all of those attributes on display Wednesday.
His arm strength, however, continued to hold up as a negative of his game. Barkley really struggled to hit his deep passes, most often underthrowing his receivers, and as a result, he will continue to be knocked for his below-average arm strength by NFL standards.
On the receiving end of his throws, Robert Woods continued to make his quarterback look good, as he did consistently over the past three years of his career. While Woods did have a couple of uncharacteristic drops off his hands, he also made some tremendous plays on the ball, including a terrific one-handed snag in front of his body on a deep ball up the right sideline.
On the defensive side of the ball, two defensive backs stood out.
Cornerback Nickell Robey had a tremendous day in the measurable drills, running a 4.37-second unofficial 40-yard dash and putting up marks of 40.5 inches in the vertical jump and 10 feet, 4 inches in the broad jump.
Robey’s times in the 20-yard shuttle (4.29 seconds hand time) and 60-yard shuttle (12.14 seconds hand time) were disappointing, but were in large part due to poor field conditions. As ESPN’s Ed Cunningham repeatedly pointed out, the entire group’s times in the agility drills were affected by FieldTurf on which the players were consistently slipping and unable to plant their foot properly. Robey also looked good tracking and making plays on the ball during defensive back drills.
A pleasant surprise among defensive backs Wednesday was safety Drew McAllister. A backup and special teams player at USC, McAllister is very much a long shot of being drafted, but he helped his cause for earning undrafted free agent consideration. He showed very good movement skills in the defensive back drills, backpedaling fast and clean while showing very fluid hips and change of direction.
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ contingent of general manager David Caldwell, head coach Gus Bradley and vice president of football technology and analytics Tony Khan were all in attendance for USC’s pro day to watch Barkley, according to NFL.com. They previously attend Geno Smith’s pro day at West Virginia, as they are at least displaying interest in evaluating the draft’s top quarterbacks.
Others reported to be in attendance included the general managers of the Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams. Barkley is a potential target for the Raiders, while Woods could be a target for the Rams with one of their two first-round draft selections. A possible mid-round choice for the Bears could be center Khaled Holmes, who also had a solid pro day Wednesday, as the Bears continue to revamp their offensive line.
While ESPN3 made sure to show every moment of the Matt Barkley throwing workout, they unfortunately did not show anything from LSU’s positional drills, focusing only on the measurable drills. Nonetheless, there were a couple of players from their high volume of prospects who managed to stand out with their workouts.
Many of LSU’s top prospects did not participate in full workouts, including pass-rusher Barkevious Mingo, who participated in positional drills only, as was also the case with cornerback Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu, as both participated in full workouts at the combine.
The one top prospect who did a full workout Wednesday was inside linebacker Kevin Minter. Notably, Minter ran a 40-yard dash in a 4.70-second hand time, and vertically jumped 35 ½ inches but dropped three inches to a 9-foot-6 broad jump.
Two potential Day 2 defensive line selections did not have great days. Defensive end Sam Montgomery had a decent but unspectacular showing with a 4.84 hand-timed 40 and 22 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan, who was dealing with a hamstring injury according to NFL.com, showed very little explosion in the jumping drills, with disappointing marks of 28 inches in the vertical jump and 8-foot-5 in the broad jump.
One fringe draft pick who helped his cause Wednesday was wide receiver/athlete Russell Shepard. Shepard, who some teams view as a defensive back at the next level according to NFL.com, looked very good athletically in the measurable drills. Specific marks for Shepard included a 4.53 hand time in the 40, a10-foot-2 broad jump and a 38.5-inch vertical jump.
The New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers all had their head coach and general manager in attendance Wednesday, according to NFL.com.
For the Saints, Mingo would be a great choice if available at the No. 15 overall pick for a much-needed pass-rushing outside linebacker as they switch to a 3-4 defense. There are no LSU players worth drafting for the Eagles at No. 4 overall, but Day 2 or later possibilities could include free safety Eric Reid and cornerback Tharold Simon. If Mingo manages to fall all the way to No. 17, he would be a great choice for the Steelers at 3-4 outside linebacker, but other possible targets for the Steelers could include Minter or Reid.
The Longhorns only have three likely draft picks, but all of them — safety Kenny Vaccaro, defensive end Alex Okafor and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin — could end up in the early rounds of the draft.
Of the trio, the pro day was most important for Okafor, who did not participate in on-field workouts at the combine. Okafor had a solid if unspectacular day.
Okafor looked fairly fluid in the on-field drills, though he did look tight in his hips during the televised repetitions of linebacker drills where he had to drop into coverage and backpedal. His numbers were solid: according to NFL.com, Okafor ran a 4.88/4.89 40-yard dash, had a 36-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-4 broad jump and completed his 20-yard shuttle in 4.40 seconds.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro also needed a good day, following a combine where he did not appear to be fully healthy and struggled, including running a disappointing 4.62 40. Unfortunately for Vaccaro, he was dealing with an injury again — this time a hip flexor issue — and was only able to participate in positional drills Tuesday.
As was the case of the combine, Vaccaro did not appear to be at full speed and was somewhat stiff in the change-of-direction drills. He may not have helped his cause as a first-round draft pick with his pre-draft workouts, but he still has a good shot at being the first safety drafted this year.
Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, who was also the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials long jump champion, continued to show how outstanding of an athlete he is during Texas’ pro day. Goodwin put up an outstanding vertical jump of 42 inches, and also put up an 11-foot-5 broad jump according to NFL.com.
During receiving drills, Goodwin did have one bad drop right off his hands on a 10-yard slant, but also made the best catch of the day with a beautiful one-handed grab in stride on a deep crossing route.
One other Texas player with a shot of being selected in the late rounds is running back D.J. Monroe. Monroe helped his case on Tuesday with some fantastic numbers according to NFL.com, including 40 times of 4.38 and 4.40, a 36-inch vertical jump and 9-foot-11 broad jump. He also worked out as a receiver in drills, and made some impressive catches on deep balls by adjusting to the ball well and catching clean in his hands.
30 NFL teams were in attendance according to NFL.com, but the most significantly represented were the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert were both in attendance, while Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and defensive line coach Jay Hayes were on hand.
Vaccaro could definitely be in play for either team in Round 1, especially the Bengals, who need an upgrade at strong safety over Taylor Mays and could draft that potential upgrade at the No. 21 overall pick.
Okafor could also be in play for both teams. He said during an interview on Longhorn Network that the Steelers’ linebacker coach was working with him as a potential convert to a much-needed outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense. By sending their defensive line coach, the Bengals also indicated interest in Okafor as potential defensive end depth on Day 2.
Goodwin could also be in play for either team, as both teams could be looking to add an athletic deep-threat wide receiver in the middle rounds.
Other Pro Days This Week
Notre Dame’s pro day Tuesday was headlined by inside linebacker Manti Te’o, who has made more headlines than any 2013 NFL draft prospect since the end of the college football season. Te’o’s 40 time remained consistent with his playing speed, running two times in the 4.7-second range according to NFL.com.
Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was in attendance, which could indicate the Vikings having interest in Te’o at the No. 23 or 25 overall pick to fill their need for a middle linebacker. NFL.com also reported the attendance of Cincinnati Bengals tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes, which indicates possible interest in playmaking tight end Tyler Eifert at the No. 21 overall pick.
Another projected first-round pick who worked out at their pro day this week was Brigham Young’s Ezekiel Ansah. Ansah stood on his impressive measurable performances from the combine, but participated in position drills according to NFL.com.
The most remarkable pro day performance of the week may have come at South Carolina, where running back Marcus Lattimore participated in drills less than six months removed from tearing three of four ligaments in his right knee. At the conclusion of his workouts, he received an ovation from the scouts in attendance, according to USA Today’s Robert Klemko.
NEPD Editor James Christensen attended the Iowa State pro day earlier this week, where he spotted New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on hand. Patricia likely had his eye on Cyclones linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, two potential mid-round draft choices to add linebacker depth.