The drills began on Saturday at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, with offensive linemen and tight ends taking the lion’s share of the work on the field of Lucas Oil stadium. But beyond the drills, there were other players taking part in the media frenzy that has been going on since Thursday morning.
Defensive linemen and linebackers took to three podiums, as did a few different skill position players who were stragglers from Friday’s interview trio of quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. Based on what happened on and off the field, here are three players who helped their cases in the short term and three who either want to refine their approaches or were the victims of bad luck.
QB Cam Newton, Auburn – Newton’s 14-minute media session was as prepared and rehearsed as could be, but we all expected that. But coming as it did so soon after Ryan Mallett’s meltdown, it was a breath of fresh air in that Newton at least tried to address some questions about his past, and deflected the ones he didn’t.
Newton’s media savvy drops at times – and at these times, you see a more vulnerable individual. He seemed especially concerned with the rapid-fire approach of the meetings with teams, in which prospects are asked personal questions and to draw plays up on a whiteboard. When you hear a potential first-round pick say that “everyone in the combine was going through the same process, asking themselves questions, like, ‘Is this really what I want to do?' ” you tend to wonder if all that talk about overcoming adversity is just a front.
Nonetheless, the real proof with Newton will come during his drills on Sunday, when he’ll be able to answer the on-field questions that have him more comfortable. Getting past the media scrum as well as he did, though, was a reasonable first step.
C Ryan Bartholomew, Syracuse – Bartholomew is a mid-ranked prospect at a position that doesn’t have a standout, which means that he’s been categorized as a late-round pick or potential undrafted free agent. At least until Saturday, when he put together an impressive size/speed combo platter. He led all bench-pressers with 33 reps, ran a 4.97 40-yard dash (not bad for a guy standing 6-feet-1 and weighing 300 pounds), and placed well in the 20-yard shuttle. Bartholomew is still putting his game together, but standard operating procedure with extreme athletes of any stripe is to take a flyer near the end of the draft if there’s potential. In that element, Bartholomew may have pushed his stock up a round.
TE Virgil Green, Nevada – USC tight end Jordan Cameron had a fabulous day. But Green did Cameron and Florida Atlantic’s Rob Housler one better by putting up the most complete set of numbers relating to his position. Fast, non-blocking tight ends need to get down the seam in a hurry and get vertical in the end zone. When you can put together a 4.64 40-yard dash and a 42.5-inch vertical jump (five inches better than anyone else Saturday), it’s easy for teams to project you as the next great offensive threat at the position.
DE DaQuan Bowers, Clemson – Bowers didn’t melt down like Ryan Mallett, but his assertion that his torn meniscus was “100 percent” raised eyebrows. Projected by some as the first overall pick, Bowers elected to skip the combine workouts, and the “100 percent” comment gained a lot of steam. “I am 100 percent,” Bowers said. “It was a small meniscus tear. It hampered me from my first three weeks of training, which is why I am not doing anything at the combine because I feel that I want the same amount of time that everybody else had to train and fully prepare for the combine.”
That’s standard for injured players. But the sound bite may come back to haunt him if he doesn’t shine at his pro day.
OT Tyron Smith, USC – Projected by some as the second-best tackle in this draft class, Smith played right tackle at USC at 280 pounds. He wanted to show that his increase in weight to 307 in time for the combine was related to an increase in core strength. But after putting 29 reps up on the bench press, Smith pulled out of the rest of the drills because he’s still rehabbing from a knee injury. He’s expected to work out at his pro day on March 30, but it could be a rough month for him. His tape doesn’t have enough examples of next-level strength, and teams are going to have to imagine him at left tackle at this point.
QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas – It’s easy to understand that Mallett doesn’t want to talk about the rumors relating to his character and alleged drug use, but the way he handled his abbreviated media conference perpetuated the perception of Mallett as a person who is defensive in all the wrong ways.
The first question was about his supposed drug use, which set things off the wrong way. "First one, huh?" Mallett responded. "No, I'm not going to talk about that right now.
"I've got interviews with the teams. And what teams need to know, they need to know. I'm going to leave it at that.”
Eight minutes later, when it was pointed out to Mallett that these questions weren’t going away if he didn’t address them, he simply cut the media session short.
Most NFL teams have taken the lessons of Ryan Leaf to heart when it comes to quarterbacks. They spend much more time on the intangibles these days, and unless Mallett presents a very different version of himself to NFL teams, he’s going to drop precipitously down a few NFL boards.