Combine winners, losers: Opposite perspectives

Charles Robinson

Stafford has been mentioned as a potential No. 1 pick.

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty images)

INDIANAPOLIS – USC quarterback Mark Sanchez has more to gain. Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford has more to lose. If they were honest, that's why one will throw this week and the other won't.

With Stafford already considered a consensus top five pick in a relatively weak quarterback class in the upcoming NFL draft, he's chosen the same route Matt Ryan took last year: waiting to throw during pro day in familiar surroundings and optimal conditions, rather than the grand stage and pressure of a combine environment. Meanwhile, Sanchez's relative inexperience – only 16 career starts – has left evaluators scratching their heads and looking for every possible nugget about the USC junior. Exiting this week, he could be anywhere, from top five to top 25 depending on what he shows teams in drills this weekend.

"I haven't studied them enough," said San Francisco 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan. "I really don't get into the quarterbacks until I come down there and see them in person, throwing. And the majority of guys here will throw. Then I'll go back and do some work. … From [Stafford's] standpoint, I hope he does [throw]. I think anytime you have the opportunity to come down and compete in front of coaches, in front of front office people, you do it. Because that gives you opportunity to say, 'Listen, I'm not afraid.' Unless they're hurt and they can't go. But go out and compete."

From a long view, the losers in the scenario are the talent evaluators. The strengths of this draft are offensive linemen and linebackers. However, need near the top of the draft is at quarterback, with teams such as the Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs both in the market for an upgrade. Combine that need with a weak quarterback class and still-developing juniors being pushed to the forefront, and it spells potential disaster.

"A lot of work is still out there on those two," said Cleveland Browns general manager George Kokinis.

Unlike Ryan and Joe Flacco a year ago, who both had maximized their eligibility in college, Stafford and Sanchez came out as juniors, cutting down on the amount of tape scouts have had to view. It's less of an issue with Stafford, who had 39 college appearances under his belt – a number that fares well when compared against most senior quarterbacks. And it may be a major reason why Sanchez has chosen full participation, in hopes of pushing himself into a legitimate square-off with Stafford for the right to be the first quarterback taken in the draft.

"It's neither here nor there to me whether [Stafford] throws or not," Sanchez said. "That's just me. I've got to do it. I feel like I want to do it. I'm a competitive person. I want to win, and that's what I'm about. It would kill me not to throw. Too fun."

Beyond Stafford and Sanchez, here is a look at some other winners and losers from Friday …


• Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe
Unlike some of the other prospects at the top of the board, Monroe has informed teams that he'll do anything and everything they ask, and there are already mounting expectations of a big workout performance. Monroe has far more athleticism than Alabama tackle Andre Smith, who along with Baylor's Jason Smith is vying to be the top tackle taken. But there is some buzz that Monroe is capable of a monster combine and might end up being the Detroit Lions pick at No. 1 overall because of his signability.

• Texas Tech guard Louis Vasquez
Workouts don't begin in force until Saturday, but Vasquez put up 39 reps on the 225 pound bench press. That's five more reps than any other lineman who worked out Friday and the fifth most ever at the combine. It wasn't a huge shock considering superior strength has always been one of the best parts of the 330-pounder's game. Considered a middle- to late-round pick, he might be able to move up if he can show some stamina and short area quickness in his remaining drills.

• Remaining pending free agents
Some ludicrous salary figures are starting to make their way around the grapevine, led by Baltimore Ravens guard/center Jason Brown, who is apparently expecting to command $8 million per season, which would make him the highest paid interior lineman in the NFL. And Albert Haynesworth? Word is that he's going to get strong interest from at least five teams, and command $12 million-$14 million a season.



• Current Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks
They might be winners, if you believe the signals being sent by the Vikings brass (which we don't). If you have faith that Minnesota vice president Rick Spielman and head coach Brad Childress aren't downplaying their interest in other veteran quarterbacks, then incumbents Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte are going to get another shot at starting for the Vikings. Both Spielman and Childress indicated they aren't particularly enamored with any other "franchise" quarterback options, but it smacks of hopes that the New England Patriots will drop their asking price on Matt Cassel. Whatever the case, the Vikings are clearly laying the groundwork for damage control in case they don't land a clear starter this offseason.

Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Vernon Carey
With the Carolina Panthers' Jordan Gross and Pittsburgh Steelers' Max Starks off the market and offensive tackle suddenly looking wafer thin in free agency, the Dolphins gave Carey the big deal he was seeking, inking him to a six-year, $42 million deal. That's not bad for a player who a few years ago looked like a marginal starter at best. But the $15 million in guarantees raised some eyebrows amongst a few executives, who thought Carey would have gotten more had he hit the open market.

"He was the best [tackle] left," an NFC source said. "If he goes to free agency, that guarantee probably hits 20 [million]. It would have been a little bit of a gamble, but with the circumstances the way they are, someone was going to give it to him."


Andre Smith address the media at the combine.

(Michael Conroy/AP Photo)

• Teams at the top of the draft
As usual, personnel men are bellowing about some of the elite players choosing not to work out this week. And yet, the "pass" list has grown to Stafford, Andre Smith and wideout Michael Crabtree. That's potentially the three top picks in the draft. All of this in spite of the typical string of empty threats from personnel men who have even stooped to complaining that the economy will keep some of their staffers from traveling to pro day workouts.

• Browns coach Eric Mangini
OK, it wasn't quite on par with what New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese did two years ago when he proclaimed the team had interest in Willis McGahee, who was languishing with the Buffalo Bills. But Mangini might have gone a little too far Friday when he told a group of reporters the team was seriously interested in pursuing Giants pending free agent running back Derrick Ward. There is already pretty specific talk that Ward will get between $4 million and $5 million a season on the open market, which leads you to believe that some free agency spit-balling with other teams has started. If Ward reaches a deal averaging that kind of money with the Browns, it won't look good.

Michael Vick
With his status still up in the air over a potential league suspension, Michael Vick is an ice-cold commodity. A league source said the Falcons have drawn very little legitimate interest since general manager Thomas Dimitroff announced the franchise's intention to trade Vick last week. Apparently the Falcons brass will meet again next week to discuss the situation with Vick and come up with a resolution based on the interest – or lack thereof – that he has generated, and how they will proceed.

Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young
The closer the Titans got to free agency without signing Kerry Collins, the wider the door appeared to open to Young's return to the starting job. Coach Jeff Fisher said he spoke to Young following the season and Young asked what he would need to do to win his job back – a sign Fisher took as encouraging. But Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt all but assured the return of Collins on Friday.

"I would think that we would be willing to pay him whatever anybody else would be willing to pay him," Reinfeldt said.