Reading the tea leaves

April 4, 2015

Just maybe the most interesting information to come out of Tuesday’s pro day at Florida State was that both Tennessee and the New York Jets had a full complement of senior personnel executives, including their respective GMs, head coaches, offensive co-ordinators, QB coaches, plus other assorted coaches, at the event ostensibly to check out FSU QB Jameis Winston even though he now appears to be a virtual lock to be taken with by Tampa Bay with the first overall pick. And while one doesn’t want to read too much into these kind of tea leave details; Tennessee, for example, may have been just doing their due diligence just in case Tampa Bay were to get a last minute blockbuster offer for the top pick from somebody like Philadelphia that wanted Oregon QB Marcus Mariota instead that was just too good to pass up on and suddenly the Titans had an unexpected opportunity to select Winston for themselves with the second pick. However, what Tennessee’s heavy attendance at the FSU pro day may indicate is that the Titans, who have been rumored to be leaning toward taking DE Leonard Williams with the #2 pick, while giving some developmental time to 2014 6th rounder Zach Mettenberger at QB, may in fact still be seriously thinking about taking a QB – either Winston or Mariota – with the 2nd pick. And while sticking with Mettenberger, who clearly would have been selected higher last year had he not torn an ACL late in the 2013 season, for another year at QB, while building up the team around starting with the top non-QB prospect in the draft has considerable appeal, especially for a conservative organization like the Titans, the sad reality is that they are in a division in which they are chasing Andrew Luck and the improving Colts – indeed Indianapolis may be on the verge of emerging as the next dominant AFC team – and its just hard to see how Tennessee closes the gap with Mettenberger and Charlie Whitehurst as its options at QB. In fact, we had one former scout tell us that in his humble opinion the odds were actually greater that Mariota ultimately developed into a very good NFL QB  than Mettenberger emerged as functional journeyman type.

The New York Jets know how the Titans may feel as they have been in pretty much the same pickle for the past decade plus as they have been chasing the hated Patriots to little avail. And while the Jets made a couple of bold moves this off-season which just may have closed the gap on New England by signing star CB Darelle Revis away from the Patriots and acquiring WR Brandon Marshall in a trade with Chicago, like the Titans, the Jets are likely never going to catch Bill Belichek, Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots with Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick in the pocket. For most of the pre-draft process the Jets played their cards pretty close to their vests saying that they would take Mariota at #6 if he was ‘the highest guy on their board’, while sending out signals that they were actually more likely to move down than up in this year’s opening round. However, as it has appeared more likely in recent days that Mariota was unlikely to make it past the 2nd or 3rd picks, the signals out of the Jets’ camp are that they may indeed be willing to move up. G. M. Mike Maccagnan indicated as such on a teleconference call with season-ticket holders last week when he said that “sitting at six is a very good spot to be in; it does allow us the potential to move up in the draft because we’re not far from the first pick.” That likely translates to memo to Tennessee (and possibly also to Tampa Bay): Got any doubts about Mariota (or possibly Winston in the case of Tampa Bay ), give us a call! Of course, even if they were to get a call, it still could be tough for the Jets to move up without really mortgaging their future (although one could argue that without a better QB they have no future). As well, as GBN co-conspirator Pigskin Paul Guillemette noted on the last segment of our blog radio program, the Jets only have a league low 6 picks this year with two of those in the 7th round.

Cooling those jets ... The state of Florida was the place to be for breaking pro days news last week as along with the celebrated Florida State workout, the league was abuzz about the 40 clockings turned in by WRs Breshad Perriman of Central Florida and Miami’s Phillip Dorsett. According to published reports, Perriman was timed in something in  the 4.28 area, while Dorsett was reportedly even faster. Great stories, and while both guys were no doubt very fast, one can probably also take those times with a grain of salt. Fact is that pro day 40-times are really not comparable with times from the scouting combine. The 40-clockings in Indianapolis, for example, are done electronically, while the pro day times are almost always hand timed clockings.  And hand-timed clockings are generally anywhere from 0.05 to 0.10 slower that electronic times. Indeed, we did a little factoring and concluded that once the difference in formats was factored in Dorsett probably ran around a 4.33, which it turns out is exactly what his official time was at the combine.  Still, those guys are fast and both are believed to have moved way draft boards around the league with reports that the 6-1, 215-pound Perriman is now rated among the top 5 wideouts on many boards with a grade somewhere in the second half of the opening round, while Dorsett may be inching closer to the opening round. Of course, it’s always important to note that all NFL teams keep their own times whether at the pro days or the combine so they are not going to be influenced by the times reported either by the schools themselves or in the media generally.

In fact, while we are on a roll with the pro day times, it was breathlessly reported a couple of weeks ago that TCU LB Paul Dawson had rehabilitated his somewhat sagging draft prospects by running an improved 40-time at his pro day after he clocked a very slow 4.93 time at the combine. Dawson, a second-day prospect for this year’s draft after a very productive couple of seasons at TCU, albeit with some character red flags, had reportedly run in the 4.78-4.82 range at his pro day. Again, however, factor in the difference between hand and electronic timing and there is a very good chance that in fact Dawson didn’t really run much better at his pro day than at the combine. Plus, even if Dawson had run a 4.78 40 at his pro day, that is still a very disappointing time for a 230-pound LB whose strength is supposedly his speed, quickness and range.

Movin’ on up or down … With less than a month to go until the draft, there still appears to be plenty of fluidity among those with top 100 grades. As noted above, WRs Breshad Perriman and Phillip Dorsett have both apparently given just what the 2015 draft needs and that’s a couple of more explosive, big-play wideout prospects; indeed, there’s a chance that as many as 7-8 receivers could be selected in this year’s opening round. The other really interesting position in this year’s early going could be the offensive line. On the one hand, there are no real locks on the OL to be a top 10 selection come April 30th, but there are just a lot of solid prospects among the Big Uglies. Its hard to find an NFL personnel person, for example, who doesn’t really like LSU’s La’el Collins, although nobody in the league appears to be quite sold on his potential viability as a LT in the pros. One also keeps hearing that one shouldn’t lose any sleep on Florida OT D.J. Humphries who just may be the best true LT prospect in this year’s draft. As such no one should be shocked if he is taken in the top half of the opening round. Same for Ereck Flowers of Miami, who isn’t as light on his feet as Humphries, but is bigger and stronger.

At the same time, its no secret that NFL teams are always on the lookout for those long, tall cover corners that can be disruptive downfield. And the latest hot name in that category is Utah’s Eric Rowe, who was kind of thought of as something of a tweener heading into the draft process, but has been moving up boards across the league since he showed that he was a better athlete than people generally thought at the combine. Rowe now looks like he has a chance to be selected in this year’s second round. Meanwhile, a safety who started to generate a little buzz in what is a relatively weak class is Ibraheim Campbell of Northwestern, a 4-year starter who isn’t necessarily the most instinctive guy out there, but has a nice size and speed combination and can do a lot of things well. Same story perhaps for Clemson DT Grady Jarrett, a quick interior defender who always has a chance to get a second-day call. On the other hand, a couple of DTs who may be seeing some slippage are Florida State’s Eddie Goldman, who had a very disappointing pro day workout where he was only able to run in the 5.3 range, and Oklahoma NT Jordan Phillips. One other quick note, Washington edge rusher Hau’oli Kikaha did not particularly well at all at the Huskies’ pro day on Thursday as he was only able to clock in the mid 4.9 range. Kikaha led the country in sacks in 2014 with 19, but the lack of elite explosion could give teams pause until later in the draft, especially given the fact he’s already come back from a couple of torn ACL’s.