Ten Storylines of the Week
1. This week has been all about Combine fallout. If you want a thorough breakdown of what went down in Indianapolis, check out Rotoworld draft analyst Josh Norris’ takeaways here. I have a takeaway as well, that takeaway being that Washington wide receiver John Ross is really, really fast. Many a prospect has claimed that they will take down various records at the Combine, generally to no avail. The white whale, of course, was Chris Johnson’s 4.24-second run through the 40-yard dash in 2008. Adidas upped the ante for any would-be CJ2K dethroner this year, offering a million dollars and an island (?) if the record fell. Ross was clocked at 4.25 last spring, at least putting it in play that Johnson might have to pass the torch.
Consider that torch passed. Ross turned in a time of 4.22 seconds on Saturday, with some clocking him even speedier than that, closer to 4.19. At a certain point, we are just talking about semantical differences. Fast is fast is fast and John Ross is fast. So fast that his muscles seized up on him and he bowed out of further testing. All of this happened on two surgically-repaired knees and with a shoulder which requires its own procedure (to be performed this coming Tuesday).
About that island, though. Because Ross wore Nikes during his historic run, no such luck. He offered a gem of a response. “I really don’t swim that well,” he said. “And I don’t own a boat, so you know, I had to run in Nikes.” The shoe company inked him to a contract following his run.
2. While some, like Ross or Temple edge-rusher Haason Reddick, helped themselves through their work in front of the NFL, Reuben Foster was unable to count himself among that lot. It might have helped if he had actually been present. However, he did not even survive Friday’s routine wait for medical checks. Following an intense confrontation with a hospital worker -- he reportedly pulled the ol’ “do you know who I am card?” from his bag of tricks -- Foster was excused from further festivities. Interviews: Gone. Damage control: Set to stun. The interviews were the key miss, here, as Foster was not going to be taking part in athletic tests due to his recent shoulder surgery.
His agent sent a letter of apology to NFL teams and the former Crimson Tide standout made himself available at Alabama’s facilities on Tuesday. There is probably enough time before the draft itself for Foster to patch all of this up, assuming he aces the inevitable questions, but there remains the possibility that he slides out of the top-10.
3. Foster’s shaming in Indy did not sit well with his former coach. Nick Saban stepped in front of a barrage of negative headlines to vouch for Foster’s character and football leadership in a typically Nick Saban-esque way. Most notably, he actually used the term “candy striper,” which immediately dated him to an age when football was played in leather helmets.
“If you’re looking for a good teammate to be on your team,” Saban said, “Reuben’s going to be very, very good. If you’re looking for somebody to be a candy striper and be nice to everybody at the hospital, maybe not.”
4. Foster’s failure to successfully deal the “Do you know who I am?” card might not have even been the most disappointing part of Alabama’s weekend. No, that belonged to DL Jonathan Allen, who did show up but might have wished otherwise. While presumptive No. 1 pick Myles Garrett was off smashing the universe as expected by, well, the universe, Allen lost out on the possibility -- however remote -- of leapfrogging Garrett for No. 1. That won’t be happening now, not after Foster ran a 40-yard dash at 5.00 seconds, a time which was just 0.15 seconds faster than that of teammate Cam Robinson. Who plays tackle.
If those poor testing results were discouraging, then his decision not to re-test during Bama’s pro day this week was downright confounding. Unless Allen just knows he cannot do better. Which is fine. Joey Bosa’s NFL career is off to a rollicking start and he posted mediocre results a year ago. Athletic tests are not the be-all, end-all of an NFL career. Allen could still potentially land as a top-five pick (CBS Sports’ Rob Rang mocked him as such post-Combine), though it is fair to say that the margin for error is much lower, now.
5. Among quarterbacks, Deshaun Watson and DeShone Kizer stood out, for completely opposite reasons. Watson looked smooth and in control during throwing drills in Indianapolis, impressing onlookers with an accuracy that wasn’t always on display during games. Scouts were particularly impressed with his crispness as a drop-back passer, something he was rarely asked to do at Clemson. As CBS Sports’ Rob Rang notes, “few [evaluators] expected that he would look as polished as he did in the five- and seven-step drops.”
Watson’s work was similar to that of Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey in a way. They already had the intangibles rolling when they showed up in Indy. The two Heisman bridesmaids glittered brilliantly on the biggest stages, with McCaffrey humiliating Iowa in the Rose Bowl with 368 total yards two years back and Watson sinking Alabama for the title after almost doing likewise the season before. Despite this work, they were both viewed generally as borderline Day 1 prospects. I would now be surprised if either dropped off the Round 1 map. With strong Combine performances by each, the pair has probably cemented first-round status.
And then there was DeShone Kizer. Perceived by some, including NFL Media’s Mike Mayock, as the No. 1 quarterback in the class, Kizer’s work in throwing drills was apparently a downright disaster. Evaluators went so far as to ask CBS Sports’ Rob Rang the rhetorical question of his progress (or lack thereof) as a drop-back passer, “What has he been working on all this time?” Rang called Kizer’s inaccuracy “frightening.”
And let us take a moment to tip our cap to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. In a mock draft released several weeks prior to the Combine, the Worldwide Leader’s prospect guru placed East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones -- who aced his tests -- with the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 27 and did not have Kizer being drafted in the first round, at all. Again, this was before the Combine. Now, Kizer may well still be drafted on Day 1, and Jones may well last until Day 2, but even if that occurs, Kiper’s mock nailed the upward and downward swings by both players.
6. On Tuesday night, after ingesting an adult beverage or two, I texted Rotoworld’s Thor Nystrom and predicted that embattled Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon would be drafted on Day 1. That moment of psychic inspiration might have been made under less-than-sober mind, but even before Oklahoma’s pro day on Wednesday, the tide seemed to be turning in Mixon’s favor, in a very low, careful way.
Two reasons for this that immediately jump to mind, both relating to the Combine. Because of Mixon’s non-invite, he never received the level of scrutiny for his punching a woman in the face in summer of 2014 that the media circus might have brought to bear over the weekend. The cameras simply weren’t on him. The second reason for a potential Mixon rise has nothing to do with Mixon, himself, and everything to do with the two other top backs in this class. Both FSU’s Dalvin Cook and LSU’s Leonard Fournette had odd weekends. The former didn’t test up to the explosivity that he displayed during game action, while the latter showed up five pounds overweight. This left openings for nitpicking galore.
The cracks in the results of Cook and Fournette could have turned into Mixon’s gain even had he not cruised through OU’s pro day. But cruise he did, with one scout calling his workout of the Day 1 variety. And that is where I think he lands. Now in a more sober mindset, it should be noted. During his pro day work, Mixon notched a 40-yard run of 4.50 seconds, 22 reps on the bench press, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-10 broad jump.
7. So the supposed LSU offensive renaissance is probably going to be a slow one coming. While head coach Ed Orgeron said this week that there would be a competition for the starting quarterback gig, he also said of incumbent starter Danny Etling, “Danny's the leader clearly right now and will probably end up being the leader.”
During the 2016 season, Etling threw for 2,123 yards (59.5% completions) with an 11/5 TD/INT ratio. Those numbers are not leaping off the page, but there just isn’t much seasoned competition, at this point. While he might not make for the sexiest option, Etling has a few things going for him. He will at least have one offseason in which he essentially handles the starting reigns from the word, “Go,” and will have an offseason to work with new offensive coordinator Matt Canada before being pressed back into action.
8. More SEC quarterback news. Or maybe it is more fair to say non-quarterback news. Auburn’s John Franklin III -- who you might recall from his time on Netflix’s 'Last Chance U' series -- was unable to wrest the starting gunslinging job away from Sean White in August. As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat them, stop playing their game and change positions and stuff. Franklin was out on the practice field on Tuesday working as a wide receiver. The move is logical enough. Not only did Franklin fail to beat out White a year ago, had he stuck as a quarterback, he would now also be facing Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham in addition.
And one last piece of quarterback news before we move on, Notre Dame's Brandon Wimbush, widely expected to take over for DeShone Kizer in 2017, has been taking 60% of the first-team snaps.
9. James Conner’s situation differs from that of just about every other player in the draft pool. Not only is he having to prove himself as being an NFL-caliber player on the field, he has health questions that are unique given his recovery from Hodgkin lymphoma. To help to ease possible concerns, he handed out discs showing his most recent test result (from February 23), which checked out smoothly.
Evaluators love what they have seen of him, with several positively gushing to NFL Media’s Kimberly Jones.
“He's tough between the tackles, physical guy. He's a guy who's mentally tough, not just physically tough. I think you could line him up at fullback, too. That's your Mike Alstott right there; he'll play in this league for years. He's a workhorse. He's a football player,” one head coach said. Another coach backed up this sentiment with “Oh, this guy's gonna play. He's got vision and patience and power.”
10. North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky requested that he be called Mitchell. The draft process is a long and arduous one, folks.