By Marc Sluis, Staff Writer
Potential can be a like an oasis. An illusion that mystifies and intrigues but often leaves us with nothing. Around this time of year everyone goes a little crazy. No its not just tax season but the NFL combine participants probably feel like they’re being audited, but not by the IRS. Their future employers are picking and prodding them for the most intense job interview you can imagine.
Us draft fans seem to forget all the games we watched, all the stats we’ve checked and completely forget how these athletes actually play the sport of football, me included. The wealth of numbers, measurements and times thrown at us would make even accountants feel overwhelmed. Yet, its exciting, so exciting in fact we become infatuated with how good prospects look in those interesting new Under Amour workout gear.
So is it purely a show to distract us from the prospects’ real value? No not at all. Its a time to confirm what we saw on tape, directly and accurately compare the athletic tools we witnessed throughout the season and start to form the first really precise Big Boards in preparation for our favorite time of the year. And yes, its better than a tax refund.
———–Second Team Offense—————
QB Geno Smith
6’2 (1/2) 218
The census #1 QB in the 2013 class is also among the players with the biggest potential. Smith has the size at just under 6’3, the speed of a combine best (among quarterbacks) 4.59 and the accuracy, arm strength and quick release that makes him a complete prospect. Unlike EJ Manuel and Matt Scott, Smith has similar mobility but is a far more polished passer. The fact is Smith has had flashes, actually entire games, where he has shown that franchise level ability to make every throw you could ask him to. He has good footwork, the vision to scan the field and read defenses as well as the pocket presence to set up and avoid pressure while keeping his eyes downfield and zipping balls right on the hands of his target. He’s shown all those traits numerous times, but his streaky nature produced an up and down senior season. If he can harness all of that and become a little more consistent, he could be a top ten NFL signal caller.
RB Christine Michael
Michael could be the most physically talented back in this year’s class. At 220 lb he ran a 4.54, benched 27 reps, posted a combine best 43 inch vertical, and a running back best 125 inch broad jump, 4.02 20 yard shuttle and 6.69 three cone drill. Count it all up and he led his position in 4/7 drills and left Indy with his stock soaring. While he was in the dog house for most of the past year he did impress in limited game action. His character and maturity are going to be questioned but his athletic ability speaks for itself. He has the speed, power, burst and vision to have a big impact on an NFL team and could even be number one back. Those are all “ifs” as well, however.
WR Tyrone Goard Eastern Kentucky
6’3 (2/3) 205
You probably haven’t heard much about the Eastern Kentucky Colonels but they had quite the physical specimen playing wide receiver last year. Before I sing his praises as an athlete there should be full disclosure that the reason he isn’t a bigger name even among draft nerds is his hands are, at least to this point, unreliable. If he can ever get that in order he could be really special. At 6’4 and 34 inch arms he has the prototypical size you love in a prospect and he passes the eye test physically as well. He ran an impressive 4.5 flat, posted a 36 inch vertical and a 123 inch broad jump. That combination of size, explosive leaping ability and speed means he has what you can’t teach. Teams will hope their coaching gurus can add to his game those skills that can be taught and refine his route running, defense recognition and the part that’s pretty important to catching a football: the ability to consistently catch the football.
WR Marquise Goodwin Texas
The first under 6’0 prospect to make this list is here for a reason. Namely, that reason is speed and explosion. We all know he ran a sizzling 4.27, but he is also an Olympic level long jumper and posted an incredible 132 inch broad jump showing the lower body explosion that could make him very dangerous in the open field. Sure he’ll work exclusively out of the slot but with those quicks he can still make quite a difference. He will likely be utilized in multiple ways including on quick flare screens, reverses, as a deep threat and also a return man. I think Austin is a better prospect by a long way, but to distill their games down to nothing but potential, and Goodwin gets the ever so slight edge.
WR Mark Harrison Rutgers
Who had the best combine? When you ask that question I guarantee you won’t here the name Mark Harrison and I’m not suggesting you should. But his performance in Indy deserves more press than he’s getting. Sure Justin Hunter (a true freak and an upcoming first teamer on this list) was a little better and Lane Johnson and Terron Armstead were media darlings, but Harrison had an all around stellar performance. He measured out at 1/8 of an inch under 6’3, a solid 231 pounds and has massive 35 inch arms. That near perfect frame was accented by a 4.46 40, 38.5 inch vertical, and 129 inch broad jump. All in all Harrison has the height and length to be a complete mismatch against smaller corners and the explosion and speed to punish the aggressive defenders trying to jam him at the line. And despite his relative lack of production he does show some ball skills and hands on tape. Like all the receivers on the second team he has a ways to go in before he turns into a productive NFL wide out, but he has the talent to do it.
LT Terron Armstead Arkansas Pine Bluff
6’4 (2/3) 308
The talk of the combine was certainly impressive in a workout setting and clearly has all the athleticism a top left tackle would ever need. Because of that natural ability the limit to his potential is sky high. He has the lateral agility to match pass rushers outside and should have little difficulty re-directing and backpedaling to mirror the quick moves of even elite level defensive ends. He also has the overall mobility to excel in space and in should offer a lot of versatility. The one question is his size. At 6’4 and change and 303 pounds his ability to generate a low center of gravity will actually be better than taller tackles and his 34 inch arms help negate his below average height.
RT Chris Faulk LSU
6’5 (1/2) 331
Faulk was a likely first rounder before being sidelined for the entire 2012 season with a knee injury. He has good athleticism and quick feet for a 331 pound tackle, which allowed him to be a top performer in a speed infused SEC, even on the more demanding left side. I don’t like his feet enough to be an above average left tackle, which he played at LSU, but if he moves to the right his athleticism would become a plus and his physical strength and frame (34 ¼ inch arms) would make him ideally suited to handle both run and pass protection duties. It all depends on how he returns and whether or not he can round back into football shape and regain full health.
OG Justin Pugh Syracuse
6’4 (1/2) 307
If not for 32 inch arms Pugh might be on this list and coveted by pro scouts as a franchise left tackle. Slightly undersized he played left tackle for ‘Cuse and displayed incredible foot work and athleticism in pass protection. He can backpedal fluidly and change directions to seal the edge and was able to keep fellow pro prospect Ryan Nassib upright. So why is his arm length such an issue? Well, in order to hold his own against elite level athletes that are not only fast and explosive but strong and long, he would need to that length to keep those ends off his body and avoid being pushed around. That is even more important for someone who is also undersized from a bulk standpoint. Put it all together and you have a supremely athletic guard who, if he puts on some more weight and muscle, can excel in a pull heavy read-option screen.
C Khaled Holmes USC
A disappointing season, both injury and performance wise, has put a huge damper on a formerly rising stock. Holmes still has first or second round upside but will have to work hard to squeeze out that potential. He showed at times good athleticism in space and an explosive lower body and could conceivably play guard or center. He has beaten by Utah’s Lotulelei, but the freakish 320 lb Tongan has top 3 overall talent so it’s hard to knock him for a poor performance. His 35 inch arms will help keep defenders off his body and dictate terms while establishing leverage. He needs to play more consistently and physically but his tools make that possible.
OG Alex Hurst LSU
Hurst played a lot of tackle, in the SEC no less, so he has the athleticism to handle the likes of Ndamukong Suh or Geno Atkins as well as the strength and mass to anchor against beefy nose tackles like Vince Wilfork or Casey Hampton. There are major questions about his commitment and overall stability after missing time due to personal issues, but I like what he brings to the table as an NFL guard.
TE Jake Stoneburner Ohio St.
6’3 (3/8) 252
The Buckeyes have a lot of intriguing prospects coming out this year who are hard to put a finger on. Stoneburner certainly fits into that group. A tight end with enough athleticism to play most snaps split out wide, the 6’3 252 pounder is built like a new era TE/WR hybrid. The former Buckeye actually out ran consensus #1 TE Tyler Eifert by .03 of a second (4.65) and weighed in 2 pounds heavier. He runs routes very smoothly and has the ability to get open consistently and would give NFL linebackers a lot of trouble. He might not be big or consistent enough as a power blocker but he can at least keep defenses honest in that regard. His real upside and reason for making the Second Team is his ability to provide an offense with a legitimate target with the size and bulk of a tight end and the coordination and ball skills of a receiver.