In terms of important days leading up to the NFL draft, March 18 will prove to be among the biggest.
Six schools had their Pro Day workouts on Tuesday: Boston College, Florida, Penn State, Virginia, Georgia and Syracuse. Between the six schools there are four clear-cut first-round prospects in quarterback Matt Ryan (Boston College), defensive end Chris Long (Virginia), linebacker Dan Connor (Penn State), and defensive end Derrick Harvey (Florida). Two other players could sneak into the first round, Virginia offensive lineman Brandon Albert and Boston College offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus.
[ Pro Day
Pro Days can can boost or hurt a prospect's draft stock. Gil Brandt has all the latest on the workouts from around the country. **More ...**
Three interesting prospects who could be taken on the first day are defensive end Marcus Howard from Georgia, receiver Andre Caldwell out of Florida and Penn State cornerback Justin King. There are at least six more athletes with draftable grades.
Teams gathered critical information around the country, which will impact the draft. After the workouts, I had a chance to talk with Virginia head coach Al Groh and Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski.
Groh and Jagodzinski both coached in the NFL and know what it takes to succeed at the next level. Both coaches are using pro-style schemes and techniques with their teams, which make their prospects appealing to NFL teams.
Groh pointed out that Long and Albert were both lightly recruited coming out of high school but developed themselves into big-time prospects.
Long spent his entire workout performing linebacker type skills and that tells me the 3-4 teams have started to hone in on the 6-foot-4, 275-pounder. Keep in mind, Groh coached with Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel for many years and those teams all use a 3-4 defense. Groh said Long played a stand up position on their third down package and was versatile enough to play inside or outside linebacker.
Long had no problems taking zone drops or understanding the techniques of man coverage during his pro day. If you were to test Long's football knowledge, Groh added, his stock would go up even higher. As Groh said on more than one occasion, Long plays with conviction because he is so well prepared.
Groh ended his evaluation by addressing the growing notion that Long has maxed out and will not get any better in the NFL. While Groh admits the pro game is obviously complicated, he believes it should give Long a competitive edge over teammates as he quickly learns and develops ways to beat an opponent.
My discussion with Groh about Albert was even more intriguing. Groh doubts NFL offensive line coaches came away believing Albert could play left tackle or is the highest graded guard in the draft. Once again Groh used the word "conviction" when describing how Albert would make the line calls after recognizing the defensive fronts. Albert even made the line calls when he moved out to left tackle.
Groh said he doesn't always like to see underclassmen declare for the draft but felt just the opposite in Albert's case. "He's ready to go," Groh said.
Jagodzinski was open, honest and direct about his top prospect, Matt Ryan. I asked him if reports that Ryan "pressed" at the workout were accurate.
"He did a bit, especially when it came to throwing the ball too hard early in the drills," Jagodzinski said. But he quickly added that Ryan settled down and threw 38 really nice balls in a scripted drill.
Jagodzinski went on to say that Ryan has six private workouts with teams scheduled and he expects the quarterback to be a lot more relaxed going forward.
Jagodzinski didn't hesitate to compliment Ryan's leadership abilities, character and uncanny knack for winning. When asked about Ryan's best game, Jagodzinski pointed to the effort against Georgia Tech. Jagodzinski described Ryan's performance in that game (30-of-44, 435 yards, 1 TD) as "dropping balls down a chimney." Keep in mind, new Kansas City offensive coordinator Chan Gailey was the coach at Georgia Tech last season.
As for his left offensive tackle, Cherilus, Jagodzinski had plenty to say about the 6-foot-6 315-pounder, who ran a 5.1 40-yard dash in the workout. Jagodzinski thinks Cherilus' best pro position will be right tackle, but his experience on the left side was a big plus. Jagodzinski believes Cherilus' long arms, big hands and ability to punch are his strongest assets. A number of times Jagodzinski referenced the tackle's desire to play a physical style of football.
The conversations with Groh and Jagodzinski also centered on the personal qualities of the players. When it comes to investing the big first-round money, the owners want to feel comfortable about the type of person being taken.
Jagodzinski pointed out how important those traits are to Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, whose team has the No. 3 pick in the draft. Groh knows Bill Parcells is always looking for character guys and will bring that philosophy to the Miami Dolphins when making a decision with the top overall choice. Long and Ryan are both safe picks with the talent to match the character.
There's no doubt the stock of Florida's Harvey is moving up, and he might have worked himself into a top-10 pick this week. He has basketball skills to drop in coverage, which he demonstrated with ease during his workout, and his college game tapes show a guy who can play behind the line of scrimmage.
In 18 career starts at Florida he had 20½ sacks. His 31 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds put the issue of strength to rest, and he told me that if teams want him to, he can run a 4.6 40-yard dash if he drops his weight in the 250-pound range.
There are more pro days to come but none should match the intrigue of March 18 when it comes to the final stacking of NFL draft boards around the league.