Brooks: Best fits for top prospects
In advance of the 2014 NFL Draft, Bucky Brooks is examining potential landing spots for high-profile players in this class. READ
1) Is Teddy Bridgewater a legitimate franchise quarterback?
The Louisville star passed on the opportunity to show his stuff at the combine despite repeatedly calling himself a "competitor" during his media session. While he wasn't alone in skipping the throwing portion of the workout -- Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr also refrained, as have several quarterback prospects in the past -- Bridgewater limited his participation even further, sitting out some of the running drills. Thus, at Louisville's March 17 pro day, he'll face the challenge of going through a comprehensive workout prior to a scripted throwing session in front of a large NFL contingent. In addition to testing Bridgewater's conditioning, the exhaustive session could affect his ability to make accurate throws. With a handful of teams, including the Houston Texans, hoping to identify a franchise quarterback early in the draft, the pressure will be on Bridgewater to show scouts that he has the tools to be a special player at the next level.
2) Can Johnny Manziel excel as a pocket passer?
The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner proved he was a special athlete with his performance at the combine, but scouts and coaches are more concerned about his ability to perform from the pocket. Manziel has been at his best working as an improvisational playmaker, displaying exceptional accuracy on the move. However, the top quarterbacks in the NFL are surgical from the pocket, exhibiting outstanding accuracy, anticipation and awareness. While Manziel has shown those skills on occasion, evaluators want to see if he has the arm strength and discipline to make pro-like throws from the pocket. If he can alleviate those concerns during a scripted workout at Texas A&M on March 27, Manziel could cement his status as a top-five selection.
3) Can Blake Bortles develop into an elite NFL quarterback?
Bortles has flown up draft charts since the end of the college season, thanks to fascination with his impressive physical dimensions, arm and athleticism. Evaluators view the 6-foot-5, 232-pound Central Florida product as a Ben Roethlisberger clone with the size and mobility to drive opposing defensive coordinators crazy. Of course, Bortles must still prove his worth as a pocket passer. Thus, coaches will put him through the paces at Central Florida's March 19 pro day to see where he stands in his development. They will instruct him to execute a number of traditional drop-back passes to test his footwork and fundamentals under center. Additionally, Bortles will be asked to throw on the move to simulate bootleg or naked passes on the perimeter. If he can successfully execute these maneuvers in front of scouts, Bortles will entice a team looking to secure a potential franchise quarterback to pull the trigger early.
4) Is Jadeveon Clowney worthy of the No. 1 overall pick?
Whenever a 6-5, 266-pound defensive end clocks a 4.53-second 40-yard dash while flashing dominant physical tools and disruptive potential, scouts take notice -- especially when said defender is also a former five-star recruit. That's why evaluators around the league expect Clowney to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft despite a lackluster junior campaign that led to questions about his work ethic. If Clowney can follow his strong combine with a flawless position-specific workout at South Carolina on April 2, there will be little reason to believe the Houston Texans will bypass a pass rusher with the skills to become an immediate impact player.
5) Can Cyrus Kouandjio bounce back from a poor combine?
The Alabama standout was a consensus first-round talent until a poor combine performance sparked questions about the offensive tackle's athleticism and medical history. Given an opportunity to make amends at a March 12 pro day, Kouandjio needs to impress scouts with his footwork, quickness and body control in individual drills. Additionally, he must post better numbers in the bench press (he recorded just 21 reps at the combine) and look quicker in change-of-direction drills (pro-agility shuttle and three-cone drill) to eliminate some of the concerns about his readiness for the NFL.
6) What is Ryan Shazier's best position as a pro?
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Shazier is unquestionably one of the most explosive athletes in the draft, but scouts are still undecided about the Ohio State linebacker's ideal position at the next level. Shazier shows fantastic burst as an edge rusher and is an exceptional sideline-to-sideline player at the second level. He runs down ball carriers from the backside yet is instinctive enough to sort out run-pass plays in the backfield and fall back into pass coverage when necessary. Coaches and scouts need to put Shazier through a battery of drills on the field at Ohio State on March 7 to determine where he could make the biggest impact as a pro. Versatility is at a premium, and Shazier's diverse skill set could make him a prized commodity in May.
7) Can De'Anthony Thomas make an impact as a specialty player?
The hype surrounding "Black Mamba" has subsided, with the Oregon standout posting modest numbers at the combine. Thomas is not as fast as his reputation suggested, nor is he as explosive as others at the running back position, based on an analysis of his numbers. Consequently, Thomas enters the draft viewed as an undersized specialist with limited upside, despite his immense production in the Ducks' offense. To carve out a role at the next level, Thomas must display mastery of a certain skill (like returning kicks) while also showing the versatility to create big-play opportunities as a runner-receiver in a traditional offense. In short, Thomas must put on a show in his individual workout at Oregon's March 13 pro day.
8) Does Ka'Deem Carey have enough explosiveness to be a feature back?
The Arizona star was one of the most productive runners in college football over the past two seasons, recording 22 100-yard games. While routinely putting up that kind of yardage against premier competition suggests big-time ability, the pedestrian 4.70 40 that Carey recorded at the combine has some scouts thinking he might have gotten a boost from Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. To alter that perception, Carey must show natural running skills in drills. If he can show better quickness and burst in positional drills while recording a faster 40 time, Carey could salvage his reputation as one of the top running backs in the 2014 class.
9) Is Jarvis Landry fast enough to be a No. 1 receiver?
Landry entered the combine viewed as a big, physical receiver capable of growing into the No. 1 role in a passing game. But scouts quickly changed their opinion after watching the LSU product lumber down the track at Lucas Oil Stadium. Although he might have been injured, Landry disappointed with a 4.77 40 time and exhibited minimal explosiveness while running routes in positional drills. While some evaluators regard him as an Anquan Boldin clone, Landry will experience a dramatic slide down the board if he doesn't post a faster time at his pro day workout on April 9 in Baton Rouge.
10) Will Michael Sam show enough athleticism to merit a draftable grade?
Sam's announcement in early February that he is gay made the Missouri defender a point of focus for the media, but his lack of athleticism and explosiveness could wind up making him a nonfactor in the draft. Although the 2013 SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year earns high marks for his effort, energy and hustle, Sam must show scouts that he has enough blue-chip qualities to merit consideration in the later rounds. Sam must show more smoothness and fluidity executing turns/transitions as an outside linebacker or impress scouts with his first-step quickness and burst. Regardless, Sam must put on a stellar performance at Mizzou's March 20 pro day to salvage his chances of hearing his name called on Day 3 of the draft.