What do you call a fifth-round rookie WR with real expectations? Tajae Sharpe, and there may not be another player like him in NFL history. Tennessee's poor history of developing wideouts has led to a rare opportunity that Sharpe can seize this season.
27 Feb 2010
by Doug Farrar
There seem to be three dings on this year's best-ranked quarterback prospect. Those who praise the Oklahoma quarterback's accuracy, ability to throw to all zones of the field, and general intangibles are worried about his relative inexperience throwing under duress, his injured right shoulder, and the 6-4, 223-pound frame that has seemed all to vulnerable to big hits. But as first reported by Daniel Jeremiah of Move the Sticks, Bradford weighed in at 236 Friday morning. This news had the room all a-Twitter, and scouts at the scene reported that Bradford looked slimmer in the waist and more developed in the upper body than before. In some circles, this put him as the pick to overtake Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy at the top of the draft board a month before the March 25 private workout where he'll finally test his shoulder by throwing passes in public for the first time since October 17.
St. Louis Rams General Manager Billy Devaney, the owner of that first pick, advised caution when attempting to plant that particular flag. "We'll get with the doctors as soon as we get back to St. Louis. That'll be a big decision, and a lot will go into that. We'll probably have more than one opinion on that. We want to get as accurate and thorough information we can, so we'll find out after this process is over."
And as for the current rumors from ESPN's Adam Schefter that the Rams were absolutely, positively going to take Bradford, Devaney had this to say: "That took a lot of pressure off us right away … we feel really good about the health status of Sam Bradford now with Dr. Schefter giving him a clean bill of health and guaranteeing our pick. So we're on to the second round right now."
On a more serious note, Devaney told me off the floor that he's been in contact with Tom Condon, Bradford's agent, about the workout and rehab processes. Bradford has been throwing "50 balls a day." But as Devaney told me, he has no idea under what circumstances those ball are being thrown, and he won't know until the 25th -- just like everyone else. As much as Dr. Schefter is usually right about his tidbits of information, this may be a bit of a stretch.
NFL Network analyst and former Redskins and Texans GM Charley Casserly talked about his own evaluation of Bradford. "The number one thing I wanted to see on him was throws under pressure. He had a clean pocket a lot of times. I have no questions about toughness. I saw guys right there under his nose and this guy never flinched and threw the ball and completed it. At times, some pressure, some incompletions. I want to get a reel on every throw. What I saw was positive. What else you'll get in a workout is the velocity on the ball, the quickness of the release and how he takes some coaching. You're going to grade the games on how good of a football player he is.
"The thing about on tape, I don't think tape is clear on quickness, athletic ability and arm strength. It's clear on techniques, you can grade the production and the intelligence, You have to see a guy live on speed, athletic ability, arm strength."
Bradford didn't head to the podium along with most the other quarterbacks on Friday, but we expect him sometime Saturday to answer some questions -- one before he speaks a word.
Earlier this week, Browns team president Mike Holmgren said that quarterbacks who didn’t throw at the Combine and didn't have injury issues in the way were "bring sold a bill of goods." He's also one of many talent evaluators who share the opinion that quarterbacks who do throw here and struggle with receivers they've never worked with before aren’t debited as much as they might imagine -- teams understand. On Friday, I asked Holmgren what he does look for when he's watching those drills -- what skills do personnel guys not throw out?
He said that while it's different for everybody, "I always started with he has to have the innate ability to throw the ball naturally. At a workout, you can see it on film, but I like to look at it in person. I’m not just talking about velocity, I’m talking about accuracy. Just his rhythm, how he delivers the football. You can get picky with ball carriage and ball delivery and length of delivery and those types of things, and it varies. But can he pass the ball from me to you and complete the ball accurately?
"The second thing is his movement in the pocket. Not necessarily great running ability, but can he avoid (pressure) in the pocket, can he do those things, keep his poise and deliver the ball? They do drills like that here, and you can see how he does those things. Third, in the interview process you get a little feel for the young man. It’s a pressure position and a lot of times things don’t go quite right. How do you react to that? You have to kind of try and learn that. Toughest thing to evaluate."
It's made tougher overall when quarterbacks don't throw, and Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour is the primary culprit this year. At the podium, LeFevour confirmed that he had no injury issues whatsoever -- he simply wanted to save his throws for a more comfortable situation (his Pro Day on March 24) and he doesn’t seem to understand the criticism that's been thrown his way. "I was the first one to commit to the Senior Bowl as a quarterback so I’m not afraid to compete. It’s just doing what I think is best. I’m obviously not shying away from anything, I’m not hiding anything. I just want to put the best product out there and do the best that I can on Pro Day."
LeFevour is an average-armed, first-read shotgun quarterback; just the kind of player you'd expect to want to throw here and get the most exposure. After all, how many people are going to trek to Central Michigan's Pro Day? The perception that LeFevour would actually prefer a smaller audience, true or not, could do serious damage to his draft prospects.
Aside from the three podiums, there are eight circular tables, generally for lesser-known players to sit with smaller media throngs. I talked with three players at the tables on Friday -- USC receiver Damian Williams, Wayne State running back Joique Bell, and Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller.
Williams, whose teammates call him "The YAC Master", was asked why he was so good after the catch. "Because I don't like getting tackled!" Sometimes, it's that simple. He transferred from Arkansas after earning Freshman All-SEC honors, sat out the 2007 season, and got on board where he felt more comfortable. Williams caught 58 passes for 869 yards from Mark Sanchez in 2008, and his production actually increased with freshman quarterback Matt Barkley in 2009 -- up to 70 catches for 1,010 yards in 2009. This got him First-Team All Pac-10 honors, and he was named Team MVP. Williams won't light the 40 on fire, but teams in need of a receiver who can sit in zones and make things happen after they get the ball would do well to check him out.
Bell went to the smaller Detroit-based school because he believed in his ability to succeed at running back when larger programs wanted to convert him to safety. He bagged two separate 2,000-yard seasons, impressed at the Senior Bowl, and sounded very confident when I asked him about those who would question his stats against the level of competition. Bell's time at Wayne State has been about getting people to see who he thought he could be. "I always thought about being (in the NFL). My freshman year at college, I was working as security at the Detroit Lions football camp. One day, I grabbed a scout from the Lions and asked him, "Do you think a guy could get drafted from Wayne State?" And he told me, 'If you have talent, they will find you.'" And they have. Currently ranked 11th on NFLDraftScout.com's list of draft-eligible backs, Wayne is projected as a mid-round pick who could get a bump in status with a good day on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Like LeFevour, Hiller is a MAC quarterback hoping to follow in the footsteps of Pennington, Leftwich, and Roethlisberger. Unlike LeFevour, he did his thing in a more pro-style offense where he ran shotgun about 30 percent of the time and developed a feel for play action. The 6-4, 230-pound Hiller passed up larger programs for a pass-wacky offense and the chance to start sooner, a decision he has never regretted.
"Bill Cubit calls our plays -- our head coach - and he had been at Stanford running the West Coast system that Trent Edwards played in for a couple years," Hiller said. "Coach does a great job of keeping us balanced, so we're able to do a lot of play action. My pre-snap responsibilities are everything, from protection checks, run to pass, pass-to-pass, pass-to-run, dictated by coverage, different scheme looks. And what that's done is forced me to prepare very well, week in and week out. So I've learned how to study film, learned how to understand the game planning process. I think those things will help me at this next level." He's a smart, competitive guy who will benefit from throwing this weekend (yes, he's one of the few!) if he can erase questions about his ability to throw intermediate-to-deep on a consistent basis.
That's it for today; we're starting up fast and fierce at Lucas Oil again and some very interesting interviews took my time away. You'll find out about those in an upcoming combine report.
(Ed. Note: In other news, Escape from New York was a success! Your humble EIC arrived in Indianapolis last night and is now here sitting next to Mr. Farrar in the media room. I'm off to tape Top 10 bits in a few minutes; look for both me and Mike Tanier on this summer's new Top 10s on NFL Network. -- Aaron Schatz)
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