INDIANAPOLIS – Pat White says that when someone signing his NFL paycheck tells him to stop playing quarterback, that's when he'll let the position go. But after Sunday, NFL coaches might not be in such a hurry to put the brakes on White's development as a passer.
Left out of the conversation among this year's big-time quarterbacks, White put up what appeared to be the strongest throwing performance of this year's scouting combine. This coming from a player who had been projected as an Antwaan Randle El type – a future NFL wideout with occasional passing gadgetry.
But after appearing to outshine USC's Mark Sanchez in drills, he might have changed some minds.
"I think he showed that he can be a legitimate quarterback prospect," said an NFC assistant coach who watched White's workout. "If you cover one eye and just watch where the football is going, I don't think you would question the skill level there. But the whole package is where you uncover that eye and say, 'OK, he's not the [ideal size].' Then you have to get into some judgment calls."
But at the very least, White is forcing those thoughts, and that made him Sunday's biggest winner. He said earlier this past week that he'd consider a move to wideout if that's what it took to make it on the NFL level. But he also avoided combine drills at that position, hoping to deliver a strong quarterback evaluation. He'll still show his potential as a receiver at his West Virginia pro day, but not until maximizing his exposure as a passer.
"I am still working to be a quarterback," White said. "And until somebody tells me 'no,' I am going to continue to. I also want to keep my options open and the best opportunity to play football. If that is the case, I do whatever is best for me."
As expected, White ran the best 40-yard dash of any quarterback at the combine, notching times in the 4.48-4.54 range. But he opened eyes when he began throwing, working out in the same quarterback group with Sanchez. White squared up well and showed a good arm, particularly on a set of out routes, which typically separate the best quarterbacks from the pack. He delivered with good timing, and appeared to have consistently good ball placement.
It was a nice change considering the performance of some other notable quarterbacks – particularly Kansas State's Josh Freeman and Ball State's Nate Davis. Both had some erratic moments in their passing performances, and Freeman looked like a ball of raw skill that still had a lot of work ahead of him.
Sanchez had a solid performance, but it wasn't jaw-dropping, which is what many evaluators thought he needed in order to challenge Georgia's Matthew Stafford as the No. 1 quarterback in the class. Nobody is going to rush to put White in the Stafford-Sanchez category, largely because he has a frame (6-feet and 197 pounds) that will lend itself to durability issues on the next level. But if he shows he can consistently deliver with his arm, it might engender some patience from teams who will take a shot at developing his skills. At the least, he's an intriguing option for a Wildcat-type package. At the most, White displayed Sunday that he could be much more.
Here are some of Sunday's other winners and losers …
• Wideouts with speed
With all the workout camps predicated on speed these days, it's almost a shock when fast wideouts don't live up to what scouts expect. Certainly it happens, but almost none of the perceived "fast" wideouts let anyone down this year.
Missouri's Jeremy Maclin and Florida's Percy Harvin, came close this year, each being clocked in the 4.37-4.45 seconds range in the 40. But maybe that tells you just how fast guys are getting, when they are upset for posting numbers that average in the low 4.4 range. Neither Harvin nor Maclin hurt their first-round grades, but they may have been upset at getting shown up by Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Heyward-Bey said he would run in the low 4.3 range and then did it, also settling in the top five of every major agility drill and showing respectable upper body strength for a wideout with 16 reps on the 225 bench press. With good size (6-2, 210 pounds) he solidified himself as a first-round grade. Three others who fared well and moved up from late-round consideration: Penn State's Deon Butler, Abilene Christian's Johnny Knox and Mike Wallace from Ole Miss. All ran their 40's in the 4.3-4.35 range and made upward strides.
• Boise State running back Ian Johnson
He said he didn't want to be known only as the guy who proposed to his future wife on the sidelines of a win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. After his combine outing, he won't be. Johnson put up an eye-opening performance, and arguably the best all-around numbers of any running back at the combine. Not only did he showcase speed (4.45 range in the 40), he also had good upper body strength (26 bench reps – one more than Georgia's Knowshon Moreno) and superior change of direction (6.93 in the 3-cone drill and 4.18 in the 20-yard short shuttle). He still carries the knock that he's not a compact runner and is injury prone, but he's got good size (5-10, 212) and can catch the ball. Those workout numbers give him a shot at being a good utility back at the next level. Think Mewelde Moore with some additional speed.
• Nebraska offensive tackle Lydon Murtha
An injury prone but very talented player, scouts knew Murtha was going to come in and wow with his athleticism. He didn't disappoint, leading the offensive linemen in almost every conceivable measurable. He showed quickness and top notch change of direction by leading all tackles in the 20-yard shuttle (4.34 seconds) and three cone drill (7.06 seconds). He showed explosion with a 35 inch vertical leap and 9-foot-2 broad jump. And though it doesn't matter all that much, he tacked on a 40 in the 4.9 range as well. Add it in with size that shows room for growth (6-7, 307), and he's an intriguing prospect.
An NFC personnel man said one of the knocks on Murtha is that he lets some players get under him and isn't a staggering run blocker. But clearly he's got some talent to work with – showing why he was one of the nation's most heavily recruited tackles as a high school senior. His performance likely cemented a mid-round grade and could persuade a team to take a chance on him earlier than expected.
The Detroit Lions
The thing that was important for the Lions was to walk away from this combine with options at the No. 1 pick – not just one worthy player, but several. And by all accounts, they did just that, leaving with four players who could be targeted with the selection. The left tackles from Baylor and Virginia – Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe – both showed enough in workouts to justify consideration, and at the same time, Detroit was able to weed out Alabama's Andre Smith in the vetting process.
Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford didn't do anything to take him out of the running, but he has yet to throw the football, too. And unless Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry melts down in his workouts, he appeared as impressive a person as anyone in this draft. Certainly, any one of that foursome could be a bust, but one thing the Lions won't be forced to do is lock onto one player because of lacking alternatives.
• New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick
Anytime he talks, it's a winning situation. And Sunday was an all-time classic. In what could only be described as a ship roaming the open sea, Belichick opened his meeting with the media – the first time in my eight years at the combine I can recall him meeting with the media – with a 12-minute statement. It touched on seemingly all things … his coaching tree … the coaches whom he's surprised aren't in the league right now … the combine in general … even a story about the time he watched William "Refrigerator" Perry do his vertical jump many, many years ago.
And all of this came before a single member of the media could ask a question. Thank goodness someone finally did, or Belichick would probably be getting to his thoughts on the economic stimulus plan right about now.
• "Elite" running backs
Georgia's Knowshon Moreno and Ohio State's Beanie Wells failed to show top end speed it would have taken to crack the draft's top 10. Wells posted a 40 in the 4.55-4.6 range, which was a solid but not stunning number for his size. Moreno's time was troubling.
When the week started, a handful of coaches and personnel people suggested Moreno as the guy who could help himself with a great workout. And while he fared well in the agility drills, his 40 was clocked in a lukewarm 4.55-4.65 range. Some personnel men were predicting something closer to 4.45. It's not the end of the world, but it's enough to keep Moreno in the 20-32 range in the first round, rather than inside the top 15.
• USC quarterback Mark Sanchez
He didn't lose much ground this week. But he couldn't seize the opportunity to change a lot of minds about who the best quarterback in the draft may be. Stafford still wears that crown coming out of the combine, and unless he crashes next week at Georgia's pro day (not likely), or simply has terrible ink board sessions with coaches (also not likely), he'll still be the first quarterback off the board. If anything, Sanchez's solid performance in passing drills Sunday underscores what most people suspected about this quarterback class anyway: it's just plain weak.
• Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman
The player who had the most "upside" in terms of size and tools didn't blow anyone away Sunday. He's got a strong arm, likely second only to Stafford. But Freeman was inconsistent Sunday, missing some passes and generally not featuring great consistency with his ball placement. His footwork, like most guys going into the league, needs some work as well. In short, he looks like a project, and that might knock him out of the first round. Now it's clear why so many talent evaluators thought he made a mistake in bypassing his senior season. He could have used that polish in this setting.
• Iowa running back Shonn Greene
Already criticized as a one-year wonder with limited "wiggle" to make guys miss, he posted 40 times that hovered around 4.7. He's a powerful bruiser who mashed out chunks of yardage in college, but he's going to have a hard time getting to where he can inflict that damage without a major burst. He was a second-round pick who might fall back into the third.
- Mark Sanchez
- Pat White