March and April are the "fine tuning" months in NFL draft preparation.
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There are two main objectives in the spring:
1) Deciphering between closely rated players.
2) Completing the "needs" list on each prospect of interest.
In my years with the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans, we would have a draft board set in February, and it included "needs" beside each player we were interested in. "Needs" were the areas of a player's game in which we strived to gather more information in the spring. For example, some cornerbacks primarily play zone coverage in college, so you need to see them performing man-coverage drills. There are always character questions raised by scouts in the fall that you must get nailed down. And some players don't run at the NFL Scouting Combine, so you must gather speed readings at their pro days.
Pro days aren't just reserved for superstars, either. All seniors who want to put their talents on display show up. Many players who aren't invited to the combine participate in pro days, and some are drafted or signed as free agents. Pro days really offer an opportunity to complete evaluations on a draft class.
And also, pro days provide opportunities to interview players. At the combine, teams face time/player limits on the interviewing front, so this additional time is invaluable. I always encouraged my scouts to spend time with the lower-rated players to develop a rapport and gain an edge in signing them as free agents.
But of course, eyes remain fixed on the marquee names. Here are 10 highly rated prospects (in alphabetical order), and how I'd approach each player's pro day:
Brandt: The Hot 100
Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State: The Ohio State left tackle didn't play up to expectations in 2011. Question him on it. Watch tape with him.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State: Blackmon was limited at the combine with a tender hamstring and didn't run the 40. Time him. As a projected top-10 pick, Blackmon needs to fill in all the blanks of his evaluation.
Michael Brockers, DT, LSU: Brockers is raw. Drill him in pass rushing, as he must improve in this area. Can he do it?
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU: Claiborne averaged 4.52 on my watch at the combine. You would like the draft's top-rated cornerback to run faster than that, so I'd eagerly await his pro-day 40.
Quinton Coples, DL, UNC: I would really challenge him in drills. I'd also watch 2011 tape with him and ask him to explain his lack of intensity at times.
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Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech: Hill ran very well in Indy with a blazing 4.36 40, and he also caught the ball better than scouts anticipated. I would still focus on his hands at the pro day to see just how good they are. I'd also pay close attention to his execution of the route tree, because he ran very few routes in Georgia Tech's triple-option offense.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama: I thought his workout in Indy was monotone. You want to see more explosion and suddenness from a top-rated corner.
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama: Minor knee surgery kept Richardson from competing in combine drills. Like Blackmon, this is a guy who needs to fill in all the blanks at his pro day. His 40-yard dash will be interesting.
Josh Robinson, CB, Central Florida: Robinson certainly opened some eyes with the combine's fastest 40 time at 4.33. (He ran in the 4.20s by my watch.) Now everyone needs to go back and look at the tape (especially the East Carolina game). Is his play speed -- which has been questioned by some -- as fast as his track speed?
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: If you are a team needing a quarterback, you'll spend a lot of time assessing Tannehill in the next couple months. His workout obviously looms large. Two areas I'd focus on: 1) His ball placement on throws (i.e. accuracy); and 2) his pre-throw ball pat. Can you cure him of this? It telegraphs his throws, but other NFL QBs have done it. And this is definitely somebody you want to watch tape with, to gauge his mental comprehension.