04/07/06 - Word Around the War Room
April 07, 2006 - There may not be a time in all of sports when more rumors and deception take place than in the final weeks preceding the NFL Draft.
Some teams are willing to spend thousands of dollars in travel just to be seen at the pro days of players the team has no intention of drafting. Some teams look for media coverage to publicly tout -- or question -- a player while withholding their true feelings about the prospect. The cloak and dagger tactics used throughout the month of April are all in an effort to confuse rivals as to the team's true draft plans.
Sometimes, however, the appearance at Pro Days and interviews about players are legitimate. Sometimes, the conversations contain nuggets of information that indicate what might happen on draft day. Nuggets that, in the case of last year, for example, caused me to place Lofa Tatupu in the second round of my final mock draft or Logan Mankins as the first pick of the second round. Most had Tatupu as a fourth or fifth round pick and were shocked when Seattle selected him with the 45th overall selection. Logan Mankins, expected by most to be a 3rd round pick, wasn't selected with the first pick of the second round, as I had projected. He didn't make it that far. He was selected one pick earlier by the New England Patriots with the final pick of the first round.
As April 29th gets closer and closer, the talk in NFL circles is becoming increasingly intriguing. A few of the more fascinating possibilities I've heard are listed below.
* Heading into the season, Tennessee defensive back Jason Allen was considered by both BLESTO and National Scouting as the top senior free safety prospect in the land and a likely top fifteen selection. Allen unfortunately suffered a terrible hip dislocation October 8th against Georgia and his football future was immediately in doubt. Other than a surprise appearance at the Senior Bowl to speak to scouts, not much was heard of Allen until the Combine. There, Allen showcased his rare athleticism, running the 40 yard dash in 4.39 seconds, posting a 39.5" vertical jump, and a 6.77 second three cone drill -- figures that were among the most impressive of all the defensive backs tested in Indianapolis. Scouts, immediately encouraged by Allen's workout, labeled Allen as rehabilitated from his injury and placed him back among the elite prospects of the draft. NFLDraftScout.com ranked him as high as the 13th best player available in the 2006 draft. Three independent sources within the league, however, have since confirmed that Allen's hip has been red-flagged by doctors and might be a degenerative condition. This news will no doubt greatly impact Allen's rankings with teams and could cause a significant drop down the board.
* Vince Young and his future NFL team remain the draft's most intriguing subplot. The supremely gifted quarterback has been projected to land anywhere from Houston with the first overall pick to falling completely out of the first round. The one team most have felt was safe to assume would not take Young was Green Bay. That said, sources within the league have theorized that the Packers will consider the Rose Bowl MVP if he is available at the fifth pick. These are the same Packers fresh off of drafting quarterback Aaron Rodgers with their first round pick last year. The same Packers dealing with Favre's decision. "Favre is the face of the Packers right now, there is no denying that. But what better way to signal the end of the Favre era and the beginning of a new one than to draft a kid like him [Young]..." This is how one scout, speaking on the condition of anonymity, rationalized Green Bay's interest in Young. Clearly, Young is the most polarizing prospect of this draft. Some teams feel he is a colossal project, likely never to reach his full potential.
Others see the league as evolving towards more multi-dimensional threats at quarterback and that Vince Young might be the most talented of the the era. Scouts from teams within the first few picks have privately made the fearful comparison to "being the team that drafted Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan" as a sign of their reluctance to pass over Young. Still other inside talk about the Packers circulating is that the Packers will also consider Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler. There are scouts who have compared Cutler's strong arm and confident temperament to a young Favre. The real question, of course, is why would the Packers even entertain thoughts of using another first round pick on a quarterback the year after plucking Rodgers with the 24th overall pick? Insiders don't believe it is necessarily a statement about Rodgers potential so much as it demonstrates how highly the Packers might think of Vince Young and/or Jay Cutler. Still another intriguing angle is that the team doesn't appear to have the same interest in Matt Leinart, should he somehow fall to the fifth pick (more on this later). Certainly at this point the smart money remains on the Packers drafting a defensive player with the fifth pick. However, there is enough smoke behind this rumor and Ted Thompson is a disciplined enough talent evaluator and best-player-available practioner that no player is out of contention for the fifth overall pick.
* Much has been made of LenDale White's performance, or rather lack thereof, at both the Combine and Pro Day. There are those who feel White will slip out of the first round due to the negative press. Two sources within the league certainly wouldn't be surprised. One, a high ranking official on a team with a need for a running back, was utterly shocked at White's lack of preparation. He acknowledged that White had been a prospect his team would consider with their first round pick. However, after having seen for himself how disinterested the former USC back had been on his own Pro Day, the source argued for his club to completely remove White from consideration. A source from another team had an even more interesting take. In this case, while representatives of his team were at the workout, news of the developments had not yet reached this scout.
I, in fact, was reporting to him the results. The scout seemed unfazed by Reggie Bush's workout results, and slightly miffed that Leinart was "too good" to run the 40 yard dash. The more interesting element, however, was his take on White's weight gain, poor showing on the bench press, and his failure, once again, to run. "That is typical LenDale," the scout said. "He's been known as an immature, lazy guy throughout his time at SC and it just goes to show you that even on one of the most important days of his life, he still is pulling this [stuff]. He's a pretty good kid, but you have to question how important this is to him." Told that the expectation was that White would run in another few weeks, the scout's reply was simple. "Who cares. It's too late. The damage has been done." It remains to be seen just how far White could drop. A strong workout right before the draft could help repair his image. That said, at this point, it is difficult to imagine the front office gutsy enough to hand White the type of money and responsibility that comes with being a first round pick.
* Finally, perhaps it struck you as odd, as it did me, of the idea that Leinart might be "too good" to run the 40 yard dash for scouts. It certainly seems like the perfect fit that Leinart will be selected by the Titans with the third overall pick. However, Leinart's passing at the Pro Day was classified as "pretty ordinary" by one scout I spoke with and there is no doubt that his decision not to run will annoy some of the old-school scouts of this league. One might be surprised to note just how much of a discrepancy there is between teams as to Leinart's upside in the NFL. I know of a few teams who have either Vince Young or Jay Cutler firmly ranked ahead of Leinart on their board. I know of one team, in fact, that has both ranked ahead of the former Trojan. If Leinart was to somehow get past Tennessee, the tension within the New York Jets, who owners of the next pick, could be thick. Leinart would have to be a strong consideration and yet the trade offers from other teams could be tempting.
The year's upcoming draft and the college game can be discussed here.
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It doesn't have much to do with the Falcons, but I just thought it was interesting, especially for the guys that are entering the mock draft contest:
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.
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