INDIANAPOLIS -- The draft class of 2011 is starting to take shape at the NFL Scouting Combine, and I had a bird's-eye view Sunday.
The first thing that was loud and clear was teams in search of a solid quarterback in this draft have some concerns after watching the drills Sunday morning. Most teams with a QB need have a level of anxiety about this year's class. As one general manager said, "whatever Kevin Kolb was worth yesterday, he's worth more tonight."
Of course, if there isn't a new CBA prior to the draft, teams will not be able to trade with the Eagles for Kolb. Their challenge will be to draft a quarterback, or pass and hope another opportunity arises to trade for a guy like Kolb. Teams might have to reach for a quarterback in this draft and that is a dangerous business.
Rams GM Billy Devaney and Bucs GM Mark Dominik have to be relieved that they got their signal-caller in recent years. In fact, each expressed how happy they were not to be in the quarterback business.
Speaking of Tampa Bay, I had a very interesting conversation with Dominik about how his team handles the combine activities. Dominik said that when the team brings prospects in for a 15-minute interview in Indianapolis, they occasionally use game tape for the player to comment on. However, the Bucs prefer to put the guys up on the grease board where there are no hints about what is expected of each player and get them to describe through diagrams and conversation what they are expected to do in certain situations. Dominik feels, and I agree, that it gives the young men little chance to prepare for the questions and they have to "know it" to describe it.
Dominik went on to tell me how his scouting staff will meet a year before a draft class, project where the depth might be a year away and then make calculated decisions on an upcoming draft based on information they gather for the following draft. When I said it's no secret the Buccaneers need help in a few defensive areas, Dominik pointed to that issue as one his staff discussed a year ago and now feel great about the potential talent in this draft to satisfy their needs. Tampa Bay needs pass rushers, a linebacker and a safety, and it looks like it will fill those holes early in the draft.
I found it interesting that even though the Buccaneers are very much a Tampa-2 defense, they are looking at the hybrid defensive end/linebacker types because they are playing more three-man front packages in passing situations. It seems every team is looking very closely at what the Packers and Steelers used to get to the Super Bowl. Keep an eye on draftable players like Robert Quinn, Ryan Kerrigan, Brooks Reed, Aldon Smith, among others.
WRs sprint into spotlight
I got a chance to sit in a team luxury box when the receivers were running their 40-yard dashes and working out Sunday. There was a very favorable reaction to Alabama's Julio Jones, who suggested to me the day before that he just might break the 4.4 barrier, which he did (4.39). Now there are at least two first-round receivers when you include Georgia's A.J. Green. The gap between the two players has been closed, and the race is on for the top spot.
St. Louis and Washington have to be thrilled with what transpired, and other teams are equally happy about Pittsburgh's Jonathan Baldwin and Maryland's Torrey Smith It's still too early to tell, but I definitely caught some buzz about four receivers potentially going in the first round.
Fairley as team leader
My one-on-one session with players Sunday was highlighted by three defenders trying to improve their draft stock, and there's little doubt they are achieving their goal. First and foremost, Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley stopped by to talk football, and -- as always -- was so interesting.
He got into a story about halftime of the Alabama game when Auburn was behind and struggling. The coaches went off to a side room to discuss adjustments and the locker room was real quiet, almost like a feeling of defeat. Fairley said that at first Cam Newton spoke, and he followed with his own version of what had to be done to turn things around.
Sooner or later, Fairley is going to be leading an NFL locker room in the same situation. We also talked about the experience of not having the grades to go Division 1 out of high school and being humbled by the junior college experience. He might be from the same town (Mobile, Ala.) as JaMarcus Russell, but I don't think he's going to handle his NFL opportunity the same way.
Corners bring size, talent
Two of the top cornerbacks spent some time discussing their combine experience, Nebraska's Prince Amukamara and Colorado's Jimmy Smith. One thing I can say about these two guys, they have impressive size for the position, especially Smith (6-2, 211 pounds).
Smith only had three interceptions at Colorado, but he told me about the team's "Gatorade" award given out every week to the defensive player who drives an opponent right off the field and practically into the bench area. He won it 17 times, which explains why he didn't have to have many picks to make an impact.
Amukamara was a quiet guy, easy to talk to, and appeared very coachable. When I confronted him about the rumors he might run a slow 40 and be thought of as a safety at his size (6-0, 206 pounds), he looked at me just like Julio Jones did the day before and said, "We'll see about that tomorrow."
With the number of big receivers in the NFL and teams throwing the ball close to 40 times a game, these giant corners are the wave of the future. Add LSU's Patrick Peterson and Texas' Aaron Williams and at least four teams will satisfy their corner need in the first round.