So what did we learn? Lets take a look, position by position, at the good, the bad and the ugly.
Of course the story here was Tim Tebow, Florida’s legendary quarterback who’ll, no matter what you think of his NFL prospects, will go down as one of the great college players of all time. His day was uneven at best. He made some decent throws and actually completed 8 of 12 with at least one perfect throw being dropped. But still, the hitch in his delivery was present, the slow release and all the other technique issues that make him a project. I have always been a Tebow believer. I feel strongly the talent is there, the size, the smarts, the mobility, the arm, the accuracy even and with some good, NFL coaching for a year or two, he will be productive in the league. But its evident he has a long way to go. He did dispel the somewhat over-the-top criticism he can’t take a snap under center as he did so at least half the time Saturday. But he is a work in progress and it’ll take many, many more practices and much hard work before he is ready to successfully step on an NFL field as a starting quarterback. The best quarterback in the game right now was Tony Pike from Cincinnati. He displayed good field presence, accuracy and touch. Of all the guys on the field at QB Saturday, Pike was the one who looked most NFL ready.
Dexter McCluster from Mississippi had an uneven day. He looked a bit sluggish as a receiver running routes and fumbled once when hit head on. He didn’t show his usual explosiveness in the return game either. But one late burst on a screen play late in the game was impressive and shows once he gets an offense down, the speed and elusiveness is there and can open up an offense. Joique Bell was a small school kid from Wayne State who got a chance to play with the big boys and had his moments. Early in the game he showed both power and speed running the ball. He has a good 220+ frame and good quickness. But he struggled later and did put a ball on the ground though the offense recovered. He has a ways to go but has some obvious talent and size. LeGarrette Blount from Oregon made a nice showing with power and hard running. He’ll need to answer character questions as he missed most of 2009 due to a suspension. And his speed is only adequate. He’s never been used much in the passing game. But he has power and size and runs hard. It was a good day for him and a good first step.
Jacoby Ford from Clemson showed off his world class speed a number of times on a reverse early in the game and an electrifying punt return. For the Patriots, Ford would solve a lot of problems. He has the kind of rare speed to stretch the field while also being able to play effectively inside in the slot. He has great kick return potential as well. He may even last to the second round, where the Patriots have three choices. Jeremy Williams from Tulane had a generally good day with six catches and a long run on a reverse. He has good size at 6’1″ 201 and looked to be a solid route runner. But he did drop one easy perfect throw from Tebow that would have converted a first down. Mardy Gilyard from Cincinnati was probably the best receiver in the game, topping the 100 yard mark and scoring a touchdown. He also showed return ability. With more positive displays before the scouts such as this one, it would be no surprise if Gillyard ended up in the first round of the draft.
Alabama tight end Colin Peek had a workmanlike day where he displayed good wheels and nice hands down the seam. He is somewhat of an under the radar player who wasn’t featured too much by the Crimson Tide, but has good ability and nice height at 6’6″. The Patriots will likely be in the market for a tight end. Peek is the type of mid-round guy they just might love. He scored the South’s only touchdown of the day. Garrett Graham from Wisconsin also displayed good foot speed and hands and the ability to get down field and create match up problems for linebackers. The Patriots likely need a pass catching tight end type, unless they feel Rob Myers is a sleeper in that regard. And Graham was the on guy in this game who looked like he could fit that bill.
The best lineman of the day for me was LSU’s Cirion Black who showed a combination of strength, good footwork and relentlessness in playing the game. Much talked about guard Mike Iupati from Idaho struggled mightily early in the game at right guard and appeared uncomfortable there. Later, when he switched to his more natural left guard spot, he performed much better. Yet, he appeared more of a mauler type and not a particularly good athlete. The Patriots prefer better athlete on their line and Iupati did not appear to be their style of player. Boston College’s Matt Tennant struggled some at center and it appears he will need to gets stronger before he is ready to play in the league. Pencil him in as a mid-round choice who’ll have to undergo serious NFL strength and conditioning coaching and improvement. Arizona State’s Shawn Lauvao caught my eye holding his own against Alabama’s massive tackle Terrence Cody in the second half. Lauvao played mostly tackle this year for the Sun Devils, but played guard for them in the past. He played guard Saturday. The Patriots may like his tenaciousness and versatility, though it appears he may need to bulk up a bit as well.
There were two extremely impressive lineman for me during the game, those being Dan Williams from Tennessee and Cam Thomas from North Carolina. Williams has all the tools and could be a top 15 pick. He can play inside and outside in a 3-4 and would fit the Patriots perfectly, though they may have to move up to get him. He is polished, stout at the point of attack, plays hard and is very disruptive versus the pass. He seemed skilled at diagnosing screens as well. Thomas looked like a prototypical nose tackle who caused a ton of problems for opposing linemen. He had a sack, which isn’t his forte, but also was very stout against the run. At 330 lbs., he’d fit perfectly on the nose for a 3-4 team and improved his stock immensely on Saturday. Somewhat unheralded, he may now have moved up into the second round of the draft. Another player who really caught my eye was Georgia’s Geno Atkins who made a ton of plays and was very active. He may be a bit undersized for the Patriots, though he looks capable of being an end and could possibly fit with them there. A pure hustle player who looked like a 3-4 end to me and a more talented version of Mike Wright was Penn State’s Jared Odrick. The team that drafts Odrick will get their money’s worth as he can play all 3 downs and his motor never stops. He has solid talent as well and is equally good against both the run and pass. He is just a good football player, not spectacular at anything, but very good and hard working at all aspects.
I included Michigan’s Brandon Graham here, though he played pretty much straight 4-3 defensive end in the game. Graham was easily the game’s MVP, racking up 2 sacks, causing a fumble and generally terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. Reportedly, the Patriots worked him out earlier this week and spent a lot of time with him. Mike Mayock compared Graham favorably to former Michigan end Lamarr Woodley, now a starting linebacker for the Steelers. To me, he reminded me somewhat of former Patriots Willie McGinest, albeit a bit shorter at 6’2″. In any event, his pass rush skills are beyond dispute after the display he put on Saturday. He is good against the run. The question is, can he play standing up at all? He didn’t Saturday. Can he be an outside linebacker? Should the Patriots even care anymore? What is wrong with having a designated third down rusher if he is superior at it? It says here Graham can convert to OLB, but it may take some time. He clearly is a good, physical and relentless football player. If he is merely a situational pass rusher his first year, so be it. But if you add him, he will make plays for you in 2010. One of the other two players who stuck out to me at linebacker was TCU’s Daryl Washington who was an inside linebacker in college but played outside Saturday. He was good, showing solid instincts in the passing game and good tackling ability. He has a 6’3″ frame but only checks in at 228 right now, a bit small for Patriots linebackers. But perhaps its time the Patriots not be so beholden at linebacker to “the mold.” Washington can play football. Its obvious. He is smart, he is physical, he’s quick, he’s a good tackler. At one time Tedy Bruschi was undersized for a 3-4 as well. That turned out all right. Washington can put on weight. And the Patriots should consider him even if he doesn’t fit their traditional requirements. San Jose State’s Justin Cole also looked to have a good day to me. He has more of the Patriots prototypical size and he’s played outside before. He has a little bit of everything, good size, movement, pass rush ability and long arms. He’s probably a mid-round choice but may make a good outside linebacker project for a 3-4 team. On the other side of the spectrum, Miami’s Darryl Sharpton I thought looked like he lacked instincts and didn’t pack a punch when he did make a tackle. I was unimpressed. South Florida’s George Selvie is a player I liked during the college year, but he is a college defensive end who is trying to convert to linebacker as well. He looked completely lost out there, as much as anyone on the field at any position, and did not make any plays. Though he has great size and talent, its apparent its going to take time with Selvie. While I’m not completely down on him and think there is plenty to work with to turn him into an NFL linebacker, that it will probably take him at least a year, maybe two, probably removes him from any first and possibly even second round consideration.
Probably the defensive back who had the best day was Florida State’s Patrick Robinson, a cornerback. Robinson looked comfortable and quick, providing good coverage and good run support. Solidly built he is another player who perhaps won’t flash the amazing athletic ability of other corners, but is solid in every way, tough, physical, smart and will be a good corner in the NFL for many years. Alabama’s Javier Arenas had an uneven day, displaying good instincts at time and making a nice return on special teams, but getting beat for a long touchdown by Gillyard. Arenas is a good player and reportedly a leader, but not talented enough to be a great corner in the NFL and is probably a mid-round choice. He’ll help some team with his excellent kick return ability, however. Two safeties who had good days include USC’s Taylor Mays, who had an interception and was active in run support and Nebraska’s Larry Asante. Mays at one time was considered a sure-fire top 5 pick. Then he had a mediocre year this year and its even a question whether he’ll go in the first round now. He did a lot to rehabilitate himself Saturday with a very strong day in which he looked like a leader on the field and played with intensity. Asante is a tough, physical, smart safety who’ll probably start in the NFL for ten years.