CARSON, Calif. --The subtle "art" of tracking the rising and falling pre-draft stock of NFL prospects is one that keeps a lot of people employed. Whether it's actually a meaningful exercise is quite another story. We've all seen enough smokescreens to, in the immortal words of Marvin Gaye, "believe none of what you hear, and half of what you see" when it comes to this or that player supposedly shooting though the roof or falling through the elevator shaft on draft boards. That a pre-existing injury concern could impede a team from totally buying into a guy before they see a medical re-check and get him in for a private workout isn't a surprise, but the extent to which some people claim to be able to divine just where each NFL team is in its selection process is curious at best and fraudulent at worst.
In the 2011 draft class, perhaps no player has seen more of this phenomenon than Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, who was seen by many pundits as a potential top-3 pick before a torn meniscus prevented him from working out at the NFL scouting combine. Despite the fact that many players at the top of the boards do abbreviated workouts in Indianapolis, it seems that for some reason, Bowers' condition is somehow exacerbated by the fact that he wasn't running his 40-yard dash and three-cone drill on the turn at Lucas Oil Stadium.
What those who would cast aspersions on Bowers' draft stock may not realize is that Bowers started his workouts late after the 2010 season because of the surgery to clean his knee up. Because of that, his pre-combine training timeframe was severely limited (just three weeks before the combine started), and the message was sent out.
"If I really had to — if it was a live-or-die situation and I have to work out at the combine, I would have been fine," Bowers said. "But I didn't want to rush myself into making the mistake of not being fully prepared for the combine. Everyone else had eight to nine weeks to prepare for the combine, and I wanted the same amount of time. It was only fair to myself. So I took the time off, and I came back and got at it.
"The whole situation with my knee has been overblown — it wasn't as serious as everybody made it out to be. I had a slight meniscus tear in my right knee, and I played half of the season with that, which means that I got half my sacks on a torn meniscus. I'm working on my recovery time, and I'm 100 percent now. I'm looking forward to my pro day on April 1, so I can show everybody that I'm just fine, and hopefully shot up all the nonsense. I met with Dr. James Andrews in the early part of February, and he said I'm fine. He gave me some rehab stuff and I've been working on that ever since."
"Da'Quan just felt that at the time of the combine, he felt that he could not give his best performance," Gaines said. "So, if he was going to have eight weeks of training … at that time, I think he was at three weeks. Could he have run at the combine? Yes, But he would not have run up to his capabilities. Da'Quan has been here the whole time — he sat out the media; he hasn't done stuff. He just worked his butt off every day. Physical therapy, one-on-one-training, technique running, position drills, strength training. You name it, he's doing it. I've never seen a kid so competitive, who wants to work so hard. Not necessarily to prove everybody wrong, but just to show what he can do. He's as good as advertised, and he's going to do very well at his Pro Day, which is next Friday."
Bowers is obviously looking forward to that workout, and he'll have a busy time after that. "As far as I know, a bunch of teams will be there in the 1st. I have a lot of visits set up from the third to the middle of April — around the 15th to the 16th with a lot of teams. So I'm looking forward to going and meeting with those guys, and hearing what they have to say. I definitely believe that all the top 10 teams in the draft order will be at the workout. Carolina, Denver, Buffalo, the Jaguars and Titans will be there. Cardinals, Browns, Bengals. And I have a lot of visits with those same teams in the later part of the next week. I'm looking forward to meeting with those teams one-on-one, and being able to answer those questions they have that I won't be able to answer thoroughly on the 1st."
For Bowers and Gaines, it's all about trying to ignore the speculation and staying focused on the work. As great as Bowers was in his 2010 season, there are fine points with every player that could use some work. "The biggest thing with Da'Quan was that his core strength was not good," Gaines said. "By core strength, I mean from his chest down to his thighs. We really worked on his trunk and his abs, his obliques and his back. We got his body back in like — he went through a very brutal season physically, where the guy was giving everything very play. We wanted to get him leaner — he still weighs 280 pounds, but his body fat Is down five percent. We also worked with him on first-step quickness, and just making him a stronger athlete."
"The thing is, when you're mentioned as a top-five pick, you're already an elite athlete. Our job is to make sure that Da'Quan leaves here better than he was when he came here."
Bowers still believes in what he brings to the table, and after observing a day's worth of workouts in which he flashed the kind of strength and agility you'd expect from a healthy player of his caliber, I'd have to agree that any lingering knee issues are certainly hard to spot. "As far as I'm concerned … I mean, whoever makes these mock drafts, that's their job," Bowers said of the allegedly analytical process. "I'm not knocking what they do. But until Carolina or Denver or any of those top teams tell me that I'm dropping, I'm not worried about it."
The situation has progressed to the point that Joe Flanagan, Bowers' agent, felt compelled to release a statement Thursday.
"Recently, inaccurate reports have surfaced regarding our client, Da'Quan Bowers, the health of his knee and the scheduling of his workout. Bottom line: Da'Quan's knee has progressed ahead of schedule, in every regard, since the day he walked out of his procedure. There have been no "setbacks" or "new concerns", and Da'Quan is very much looking forward to his workout on April 1st.
Here are the facts:
Shortly after the combine, on our advice and based on input from the teams at the top of the draft, it was decided to push Da'Quan's workout deeper into the proday schedule, simply to give him more time to train.
On March 4th, all NFL clubs (and certain media) were notified that Da'Quan would hold his proday at Clemson on April 1st, the day after North Carolina's proday, to best accommodate NFL personnel.
As announced at that time, Da'Quan will indeed work out on Friday, April 1st, at 9:00 a.m. at Clemson University. He will participate in all combine and defensive line tests and drills. He will be meeting and dining with several teams in both the days leading up to and after the workout.
Starting on April 4th, Da'Quan will begin traveling for visits currently scheduled with 8 teams at the top of the draft. Those teams will visit with Da'Quan and conduct physicals. He will also participate in the medical re-check in Indianapolis, which will lead to updated medical information being provided to all 32 clubs.
We believe this series of events ... the meetings, dinners, workout, visits, physicals and re-check ... will show that there exists no short- or long-term concern about his knee and also confirm that Da'Quan is the best defensive player in this draft, with as much upside as any prospect in a very long time."
Sometimes, agent-speak is just that. But as stated before, it's hard to watch this guy in action right now and come away thinking that he's in anything but the best of health.