Ten Storylines of the Week
1. On the last drill for defensive backs during Washington’s pro day last Saturday, disaster struck for cornerback Sidney Jones. Jones was carted off the field after his foot reportedly caught on the turf while he was backpedaling. Yahoo Sports Eric Edholm subsequently reported that the injury was feared to be a torn Achilles tendon in the left ankle. A strong bet for the first round before this devastating injury, Jones is almost certainly no longer in play for Day 1. Rounds 2 or 3 are still possible, though. You never know. A year ago this time, there was a fear that Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith could slide to Day 3 or thereabouts due to possible nerve damage from his severe left knee injury suffered in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. The Dallas Cowboys instead gambled early, taking Smith at No. 34, just outside the first round. Something like that would be best case scenario for Jones.
And in a tangential note, if lessons were learned from Jones’ injury, they weren’t readily apparent, at least not at the pro day of Youngstown State just days later. Draft Analyst’s Tony Pauline wrote that “a source at the workout called today’s display ‘gross negligence,’ as it went well beyond working prospects on position drills -- instead it was an effort to break the players.”
2. As your bracket spontaneously lights on fire, pro days around the country are coming in at a daily clip. Thursday’s big show came from Clemson. With their pro day came Mike Williams’ much anticipated 40-yard dash. Williams declined to run in Indianapolis, leading draftniks from shore to shore to question whether he was holding off because he simply wouldn’t run well. Williams dispelled those concerns, mostly, with his runs of 4.50 and 4.49 seconds. At least that is what the scoreboard of Clemson’s indoor facility showed. Scouts in attendance timed it closer to the high 4.5’s.
"People just wanted to see his long speed. He’s run by a lot of fast dudes, so they had times on him. They just hadn’t seen him run," said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.
All of this comes with the caveat that pro days occasionally skew favorably in a huge way. Look no further than Wisconsin’s Corey Clement, who slogged through the event in Indianapolis at 4.68 seconds and then improved to 4.54 seconds on Badgers pro day. Back to Williams, though. Even if you dock him some split-seconds for the magic of the home turf, he ran plenty fine. Either he or Corey Davis -- who was unable to perform at WMU’s pro day due to his recovering from ankle surgery -- will be the first wide receiver off the board at the draft.
3. While we are on the subject of Clemson, we should probably touch on Deshaun Watson. The quarterback surprised all comers when he lit up the Combine with his accuracy, but he was unable to match the bar he set when it came to pro day. To sum up what people are saying, hand sideways? Asi asi? It was OK? Or as one scout put it to NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah, “B-minus / C-plus type workout.”
Draft Analyst’s Tony Pauline offered a similar assessment, writing that “[Watson’s] accuracy and timing on the deep outs and out to the flanks will be an issue for teams. A longtime friend affiliated with Clemson told me Watson struggles throwing to his left and it showed today.” This is not anything new to those who have followed Watson’s career. He isn’t a perfect prospect.
Because I’m all about positivity, let’s end on NFL Media’s Mike Mayock, who offered a more charitable view of Watson’s work. “His feet are a work in progress. But this is a kid you really want to work for. He's a bright-eyed kid that plays his best football under the bright lights. Really strong day for Deshaun Watson,” Mayock said. Yay, positivity. The Cleveland Browns could use a bit of that and they will be hosting Watson in the coming weeks.
4. Unfortunately, the positivity train is immediately derailed, because we have to talk about Michigan corner Jourdan Lewis. Lewis was charged with one count of misdemeanor domestic violence after his girlfriend alleged that he had a physical confrontation with her in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Lewis took to Twitter to write “It's sad that somebody would want to control you so bad they would ruin your life over it” on Wednesday afternoon. That tweet was later deleted. Lewis has plead not guilty and his next court appearance is scheduled for April 12, just 15 days before the draft.
We have no realistic idea how much this could hurt Lewis, a solid early second-round prospect in the draft, though CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler wrote that he could “tumble” on boards if this is not resolved, going so far as to say that he isn’t even guaranteed of being drafted. That sounds a touch hyperbolic, but a slide out of the first two days of the draft wouldn’t surprise me.
5. Final snowstorms (presumably) and the like are polishing off the end of the season and with the blossom of the flowers and what-not, the flowers of college spring practices are beginning to flourish. Wisconsin wasted no time in naming a starting quarterback, with Alex Hornibrook receiving the anointment from head coach Paul Chryst. That was before practice had even truly gotten underway. Hornibrook threw for 1,262 yards with a 9/7 TD/INT ratio in 11 games last season. That’s not good. Deep breathes, Badger friends. Malik Zaire is out there in the wilderness, somewhere. His father said in late December that Zaire will not be making his transfer choice until April.
6. One face that you won’t be seeing at camp this spring is that of Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio, who’s had himself a tough offseason on the health front. He was actually ruled out for spring practice after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder (that’s his non-throwing one). On Wednesday, he had procedure done to his other shoulder. Gators head coach Jim McElwain referred to this new surgery as “not major,” rather more of a clean-up job.
With Del Rio out of action for the foreseeable future, backup quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask will be splitting snaps this spring with a very real opportunity in front of them.
7. On Thursday evening, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh tweeted out something. And it wasn’t just an insane motivational quip or a snipe at the SEC. Harbaugh instead released two tables of Michigan’s spring combine results. None impressed more than defensive lineman Rashan Gary. Gary’s name is a familiar one even as he preps for just his sophomore season, as he was the consensus No. 1 recruit in the 2016 cycle. The athleticism that holds up that ranking was on display during the spring fling, with Gary running a 4.57-second 40-yard dash. He was faster than the team’s fastest linebacker (Noah Furbush, 4.63 seconds), quarterback (Brandon Peters, 4.86 seconds), tight end (Zach Gentry, 4.70 seconds) and running back (Chris Evans, 4.64 seconds). So that is terrifying. Not, however, faster than UM’s fastest wide receiver.
That would be Donovan Peoples-Jones, a five-star recruit who is set to roll into Ann Arbor for his first collegiate season like a cannonball. A fast cannonball. Peoples-Jones breezed through the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds, which would have stood up just fine with the upperclassmen about to enter the NFL Draft. Peoples-Jones also leapt an NFL-worthy 11 feet in the broad jump and an equally stellar 39 inches in the vertical.
8. There are always a few odd eggs in the draft. David Ash will be one of those in the 2017 pool. Ash retired from football in September of 2014 due to concerns over concussions. He has been medically cleared to play, though, and the former Longhorns quarterback will be taking part in pro day on March 28. He will be performing as both a quarterback and a punter. At 24 years old, it is incredibly unlikely that he might actually be drafted unless he proves to have a golden leg in hiding.
9. Visits, visits, visits galore as teams begin to narrow their lenses on specific players. Among the notable meetings reported this week, Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon sat down with the Broncos, while Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster did likewise with the Eagles. Foster’s teammate, Jonathan Allen, looks like he has meetings set up with the Bears and Jaguars. Mixon also was said to have visited the Bengals this past weekend. Meanwhile, Combine darling Obi Melifonwu of UConn has reportedly scheduled meetings with Steelers, Saints and Seahawks. The defensive back is one of the most athletic prospects in this class.
10. Dash-cam footage of Baker Mayfield being tackled into a wall by police has surfaced. During the late February incident, he became agitated when authorities asked him not to move after they were called to a disturbance between two parties. Mayfield was actually apparently playing peacemaker in the situation, but things turned south quickly. His attempt to flee failed, though, in a moment akin to The Simpsons episode where Free Willy is unable to complete the jump over the rock wall. And he crushed our boy.
Mayfield faces charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and fleeing. He has issued an apology for the incident. This will be forgotten soon enough, though we now have it on film, forever.