The end of March typically signifies the conclusion of the pro day season and begins the final phase in the evaluation period.
Scouts are heading back to their respective offices for meetings. The information they have gained from individual workouts will play a pivotal role in where prospects are placed on draft boards.
Evaluators will provide decision makers with updated times and measurements recorded at pro days, as well as dispense any additional background information provided by college coaches at the workout.
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In addition, position coaches offer their reviews of a prospect's workout based on observations from the football specific drills. This assessment is critical to the evaluation because it often determines if the prospect has the skills to fit within a team's respective scheme. Furthermore, it helps organizations determine the proper order for ranking prospects on the board.
With the banter just starting to heat up in these meetings, let's take a look at some of the questions being asked in war rooms across the league:
1. How could a McNabb trade impact the draft?
As the Philadelphia Eagles continue to dangle quarterback Donovan McNabb, there's a furor throughout the league. Trading the talented playmaker could alter the landscape of the top of the draft.
For the Raiders, McNabb would bring much-needed stability at quarterback and allow the team to continue to focus on rebuilding their offensive line. Offensive tackle has been a problem for Oakland, and the franchise is set to select a top tackle prospect with their first-round pick (No. 8). With protection paramount to the success of any quarterback, it's unlikely the team would deviate from its current pre-draft strategy.
The Bills would face a tough decision if McNabb landed in Buffalo. Though he would fill their biggest need, his presence would force the team to decide between adding a franchise-caliber offensive tackle or a potential building block to their new defense.
The Bills are switching to a 3-4, which requires more beef along the line. With three defensive tackles carrying high first-round grades (Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy and Dan Williams), the Bills were expected to give serious consideration to one of the interior stalwarts to lead the rebuilding project.
On the other hand, the addition of McNabb could prompt the team to immediately address their woeful offensive line. The team surrendered 46 sacks last season (tied for fourth-most in the league) and such steady pressure would prevent McNabb from excelling. Therefore, it's highly likely his presence would prompt the Bills to use their first-round pick on one of the top offensive tackles.
2. Can Berry play corner as a pro?
Several teams at the top of the draft are debating the potential of moving Eric Berry from safety to cornerback after closely studying him on film and in workouts. His movement skills and instincts would be uncommon for the position, and scouts are intrigued by the possibility of playing him at the game's premier defensive spot early in his career.
Although Berry never played the position in college, his potential to develop into a "shutdown" corner is worthy of consideration when pondering the impact.
Elite cornerbacks are capable of eliminating an entire side of the field with their superior skill, and their penchant for timely playmaking reduces the number of options available to the quarterback in the route tree.
Additionally, the presence of a dynamic cornerback puts an offensive coordinator in a bind. Savvy play callers are forced to re-examine their game plans when facing cover men capable of snuffing out No.1 receivers. The use of a scaled-down playbook dramatically diffuses the potency of an offense.
Given the importance of keeping opponents out of the end zone, it's not a surprise that scouts and coaches are constantly on the hunt for potential game-changers at cornerback.
In Berry's case, he has some intriguing tools that make the position change an enticing possibility. The 6-foot, 211-pound prospect ran 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash. With that, Berry has the size and speed to matchup with swift receivers on the edge. He's smooth and fluid in his movements, and possesses the natural instincts to make plays on the deep ball.
As a former high-school standout at cornerback -- Berry was rated the No.1 cornerback by several recruiting services as a senior -- he's comfortable playing receivers in space. His ability to routinely handle the SEC's top tight ends on the perimeter also showcases his outstanding cover skills. While covering a tight end vs. a receiver in the NFL can be dramatically different based on the speed and quickness differential, Berry's unique skill set gives him a chance to succeed against the game's top wideouts.
Given the sophistication of the pro passing game, Berry's ability to cover like a corner makes him ideally suited to play strong safety. More offenses are using athletic tight ends to create mismatches on the edge, and having a player of Berry's caliber allows the defense to nullify those advantages. Furthermore, Berry appears to have the potential to line up over the top of slot receivers in a base defense and function as a nickel corner in sub-packages. This allows the coordinator to matchup with opponents in a variety of ways and grants him the opportunity to include Berry in the pass rush -- he will be close enough to the line of scrimmage to be used as an extra rusher off the edge on some blitz calls.
With the ability to impact the game as a multi-dimensional weapon, Berry has not only cemented his status as the draft's top safety, but may have also earned recognition as the top defensive prospect.
3. Can McCoy be a franchise QB?
That's the question that is running rampant in war rooms across the league as they closely examine the quarterback class.
McCoy, who passed for over 13,000 yards and accounted for 132 touchdowns (112 passing and 20 rushing) during his career at Texas, has been lauded for his accuracy, athleticism and leadership skills. Though he lacks exceptional arm strength, he has the ability to make all the requisite pro throws and shows good zip on his passes.
In addition, McCoy is an outstanding game manager with exceptional poise and savvy in the clutch. He finished his career as the winningest quarterback in NCAA history, leading his teams to 45 victories. His ability to single-handedly guide Texas to success has earned him kudos in the scouting community.
Although McCoy lacks prototypical size for the position (6-1, 216 pounds), he has been masterful at finding throwing lanes in the pocket. His accuracy indicates he can get it done despite his inferior stature.
McCoy's right shoulder injury has raised some concerns about his durability, but the fact that he started 53 games in college suggests he has the necessary toughness to man the position.
McCoy must still show evaluators he can successfully make the transition from directing a spread offense to running a conventional pro style system. Still, teams looking for a quarterback with exceptional intangibles and skill will hope that McCoy can develop into a franchise-caliber quarterback as a mid-round pick.
4. How many offensive tackles will go in the first round?
The draft is full of talent at the offensive tackle spot, which may result in as many as seven linemen coming off the board in the opening round.
Russell Okung is undoubtedly the top player at the position and is expected to be taken no later than fourth overall. As a polished technician, Okung has the tools to develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber player quickly. Given his immense talent and potential, it's not surprising that the Lions are seriously considering him over Suh and McCoy with the second pick.
Okung's rapid ascension up the draft board has sent the stocks of several prospects soaring. Although Bryan Bulaga, Anthony Davis and Trent Williams rate well below Okung on most boards, they may be taken in the top 10 due to the inordinate amount of teams looking for a franchise-caliber offensive tackle.
With the supply of highly-rated offensive tackles not up to meeting the demand, the bottom of the first round may see a few reaches.
Considering an average of five offensive tackles have been selected in the first round over the past three drafts, it shouldn't come as a surprise to see a run at the position this year.
5. Who is Carlton Mitchell?
The South Florida receiver has not earned household recognition yet but is creating buzz across the league.
Though he finished the season with only 40 receptions, he averaged an impressive 17.7 yards per catch, scored four touchdowns and recorded three 100-yard games.
As a big, physical receiver with outstanding speed (clocked at 4.49 in the 40), Mitchell is a vertical playmaker with soft hands. He excels at making plays down the field, but also shows excellent running skills with the ball in his hands. His ability to turn short crossing routes into long gainers stands out on tape, and he's earned kudos among coaches and scouts.
With a few private workouts already scheduled over the next few weeks, Mitchell has a chance to solidify his status as a mid-to-late-second-round pick.