Free agency is pretty quiet around the league right now as the focus really turns to the draft. The actual draft isn't for another five weeks, but this is a busy time for teams. Colleges are holding "pro days." That is when draft-eligible players at each campus work out for NFL scouts and coaches. Some of these players already worked out at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, but others weren't invited and some guys were injured at that time.
Workouts are important. They don't have as much significance as game tape, but you still want prospects to perform at a certain level. You want to see that the player has the minimal athletic ability required to make it in the NFL. Linebackers who can't run the 40-yard dash in under five seconds have virtually no chance to succeed in the NFL. Wide receivers who don't do well in the 3-cone drill likely lack the quickness needed to play pro football. And so on.
Eagles scouts and coaches are traveling all over the country right now to work out players and gather information. Some of these guys were All-American players while others weren't even starters. They'll go not only to the glamorous schools like USC, LSU and Penn State, but also go to the Colorado School of Mines if they have a prospect worth checking out. (I don't believe the Orediggers have any good prospects this year.)
One key thing to remember when you read about the Eagles checking a player out is that it doesn't necessarily mean they like him. Andy Reid and the team met with Maurice Clarett at the Combine several years ago, according to numerous published reports. Does anyone really think Reid would have drafted him? The meeting was done to get a feel for Clarett and make sure he wasn't the one-in-a-million kid who was a victim of circumstance. Clearly that wasn't the case. The Eagles did their homework and passed on him. The Broncos took a chance on him and it was a completely wasted pick.
There are a couple of other points to consider when reading about the Eagles and prospects. You may read that the team talked to a middle linebacker. On the surface that would seem strange with good players like Stewart Bradley, Omar Gaither and even Joe Mays in place. Remember that teams keep files on players for years. Maybe the middle linebacker prospect becomes a free agent in five years and the Eagles have a need at that time due to injuries or whatever. Do your homework while you have access to the players.
The other situation that may seem odd is when you find out the Eagles talked to a prospect believed to be out of their range. If a player is projected to go in the top 10, the Eagles would seem to be wasting their time by talking to him. The reason the Eagles could be doing that is to find out how much they like the prospect. If it turns out to be a player that you covet, you need to know how aggressive to be in terms of trading up for him. Imagine if receiver Michael Crabtree slid from the top five. You'd want the Eagles to know how much they liked him and whether it was worth it to trade both first round picks to get him. The same could be true for one of the top left tackle prospects. Be prepared for various scenarios on draft day. Every year we see players slide. Teams need to have rock solid opinions so that they don't take dumb chances. Make an informed decision. It may still turn out wrong, but at least you were prepared.
Let's talk about some prospects of interest to fans and their pro days …
RB Rashad Jennings – Liberty –This guy is on the rise. I had him in the middle of the draft early on. After the Senior Bowl, I moved him into the third round. He had a terrific workout at his pro day and now might not even last to our second-round pick. Jennings has the size of Tony Hunt, but he's more athletic than Brian Westbrook.
RB LeSean McCoy – Pitt –McCoy is headed in the other direction. He had the flu and wasn't able to work out at the Combine. McCoy weighed 204 pounds at his pro day. That's solid for him. He ran around a 4.5, which is OK. The numbers that hurt him were his jumps. His vertical was 28 inches. His broad jump was eight feet, 11 inches. Compare those to Donald Brown, another star runner. Brown had a vertical of 41-and-a-half inches. His broad jump was 10 feet, five inches. The jumps are important because they show lower body explosion. You want a runner who has powerful legs and can explode by or through tacklers.
RB Chris Wells – Ohio State – He had a good showing at the Combine and decided to only run the 40 at the campus workout. Wells weighs more than 230 pounds, but ran in the low 4.4 range. That is an excellent size/speed ratio. If the Eagles were ever looking for a big guy with speed, Wells could be the answer. I still don't know how good of a receiver he is. Ohio State did not throw the ball much overall, let alone to him.
OT Andre Smith – Alabama –Smith has had a disastrous off-season. He did not work out at the Combine. He publicly announced there that he hadn't been training much and that was the reason for not working out. Smith left the Combine without notifying officials that he was heading home. That caused unnecessary grief. He then had a poor showing at his pro day. He looked slow and stiff. He didn't even lift as well as expected, only putting up 19 reps. The only good news was his weight of 325 pounds. He's got that under control.
I've received quite a few questions about whether the Eagles should draft Smith if he falls to them at No. 21. I don't think so. The poor workout doesn't erase the fact that he was a dominant blocker during the season. No one questions his ability to perform on the field. The problem he has is what happens off the field. Smith isn't a criminal or anything like that. He just does boneheaded things. He got mixed up with an agent and got suspended for the Sugar Bowl. He was then slow to hire an agent and get busy training. He didn't handle the Combine well at all. He wasn't properly prepared for his pro day.
This is the side of him you see as he tries to convince NFL teams to take him early and give him a big contract. How motivated and prepared will he be once he has the big contract? The Eagles do well with tough, overachiever types. Which blocker panned out, the star from USC or the guy from Saginaw Valley State? Which pass rusher was better, the star from Miami or the small guy from Cincinnati? Think about Brian Westbrook vs. Tony Hunt or L.J. Smith vs. Brent Celek. Andre Smith is a very talented player, but I would have major concerns about his ability to succeed as an Eagle. I trust him on Sundays, but Monday through Saturday would concern me. The Eagles need focused, self-motivated guys. I don't think Smith fits in that category.
I think there are really two kinds of sleepers. There are kids from big schools who sort of fly under the radar and then there are the complete unknowns from small schools. Here are some sleepers the Eagles could be interested in.
WR Brooks Foster - UNC - Foster was the No. 3 receiver until a torn ACL sidelined Brandon Tate. Foster ended up with 30 catches. He has size and speed. More importantly to me, he always came up big on third downs. Foster is a clutch player. He played on special teams. This is the kind of guy you take in the mid to late rounds.
TE Kory Sperry – Colorado State – Sperry caught 20 touchdown passes in his career. He has good hands and can make acrobatic catches. He's got good size and pretty good athletic ability.
OT Sebastian Vollmer – Houston – He started at left tackle for two years. Played right tackle in the Shrine Game and looked very good. He's got Jon Runyan-type size and you can't help but think of Runyan when you watch him play.
CB Joe Burnett – Central Florida – Burnett is a playmaker. He's not the biggest or the fastest guy, but he finished his career with 16 interceptions. Burnett also ran back three punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns.
WR Jamarko Simmons – Western Michigan – He is big at 6-2 and 231 pounds, but still ran a 4.5 at his pro day. Simmons is a very productive player who had his best game of the year against the toughest opponent. He caught 11 passes for 174 yards and a score in the upset win over Illinois. He's tough and has good hands.
TE Zack Miller – Nebraska-Omaha – Miller is undersized at 6-4 and 233 pounds. He is athletic. The interesting thing with him is that he played quarterback in college. Miller played tight end in the Cactus Bowl, a Division II all-star game. He caught five passes for 116 yards in that contest. Gil Brandt of NFL.com reported that Miller looked very good in his workout for teams.
LB Jason Williams – Western Illinois – Williams was a playmaker throughout his career. He followed that up with a good showing in the Shrine Game. He then had a terrific workout at his pro day. He is 6-1 and 238 pounds and ran in the 4.5 range. He had a vertical jump of 39 inches. His broad jump was 10 feet nine inches.
OT T.J. Lang – Eastern Michigan – Lang is an underrated player. He started at left tackle for three years. He's not a great athlete, but he knows how to block. I think Lang is similar to Mike McGlynn. I'm not sure Lang is good enough to play left tackle in the NFL, but he could be a good right tackle or very good guard. He also might remind you of Packers right tackle Mark Tauscher.
WR Johnny Knox – Abilene Christian – Knox ran one of the fastest 40-yard dashes at the Combine (4.34). He played well in the Texas vs. The Nation all-star game. He put up crazy numbers in college. He only played two seasons at ACU. Knox caught 118 passes and averaged 19 yards per reception. Thirty of the catches were touchdowns.