INDIANAPOLIS -- I met with both star quarterbacks at the combine Saturday night and came away impressed, as anyone would be. Anyone. It's impossible to not like Stanford's Andrew Luck and Baylor's Robert Griffin III. Luck is humble; you can tell he's uneasy saying nice things about himself, or things designed to paint him as the Next Big Thing in the NFL. Griffin's humble too, but charismatically so; he has no problem telling you anything you want to know about him.
Two moments I liked.
1. I was asking Luck, in his agent's hotel room, about a lot of things educational -- his reading habits, his college experience, living in Germany and England in his formative years, the fact that his Stanford coach, David Shaw, told me that out of high school Stanford was competing with Rice and Northwestern and not the football factories for Luck.
And so Luck could tell what road I was going down: Smart kid, apple-polisher, would always have the architecture degree to fall back on if the football thing fell through. And almost like he could read my intentions, he swatted them away. Not in a derisive way, but just to make sure I understood him. "Yes, school's important,'' he said. "But football's always been more important. The more I play, the more I love it. I've gotten to the point where, the more you learn about the game, the less you know. I love it. I want to learn more about it all the time. So, yes, academics were important in our household. Both of my parents were lawyers. They went to school forever. Stanford, Silicon Valley, the opportunities they presented were a big plus. But on top of that, coach [Jim] Harbaugh was so infectious. The staff was so good. If I didn't think we could win there, I wouldn't have gone.''
2. I met Griffin at the Athletes Performance Institute suite at the Omni Hotel downtown before he went to do his interviews with teams Saturday night. I wondered how he'd adjust from being a big college star to being the center of the universe in his NFL city. "You'll be a savior if you go to a place like Cleveland,'' I said. Griffin smiled. "The word 'savior' was thrown at me when I got to Baylor,'' he said. "My situation there started out a little crazy. We played a high school playoff game at Baylor's football stadium when I was a senior. It was actually just before I enrolled at Baylor when I graduated high school early. We win the playoff game, and after the game, there are maybe 1,000 fans in Baylor stuff in the stands, with signs like, 'We can't wait for you.' So that's been pretty much what I've dealt with even before I got to Baylor. I think I've been pretty prepared for that.''
Now for some news and notes I picked up in three days at the combine:
There hasn't been a second pick in the draft this compelling since 1998. Throw away the draft trade value chart. It's meaningless when there's a player creating the buzz of Griffin. Same thing with Ryan Leaf 14 years ago. Forget what Leaf became; he and Peyton Manning, at one point after the college football season, were 1 and 1a on draft boards for any quarterback-needy teams. San Diego was picking third that year and Arizona second. The Cards put the pick up for auction. To move one spot, San Diego sent two first-round picks, a second- and three-time Pro Bowl running back/returner Eric Metcalf.
The Rams will drive a hard bargain. Cleveland (fourth overall pick), Washington (sixth) and Miami (eighth) will be in the derby to move up; Seattle (12) and a couple of mystery teams could be too. Add the fact that the money involved (four years, about $22 million) is likely to be less than the money paid to the top (current) free agent Matt Flynn, and the market for Griffin will be hopping.
"The whole paradigm has changed in several ways,'' said Rams COO Kevin Demoff Saturday night. "Griffin could be cheaper than Flynn. The fact that you can get a potential franchise quarterback for what the top picks are paid now makes it easier to justify trading a lot for it.''
So the Rams hope.
Demoff thinks there will be three distinct windows to get a deal done. The first, and I think most unlikely, is before the free agency period opens March 13; before Griffin gets hotter at his March 21 Pro Day, a team may choose to try to blow the Rams out of the water with an offer. The second would be after the Pro Day, when all the teams' decision-makers are in one spot, Palm Beach, Fla., at the March 24-28 league meetings. The third: in the days or hours before the April 26 first round.
"You can't tell what the musical chairs will do,'' said Demoff. "Maybe someone will get left out and need Griffin. You don't know.''
The Rams have to hope that two top-10 teams in the first round want to compete for the pick. Without that, they won't be able to maximize value. The Rams will trade the pick, for sure. But the size of the ransom will depend on the seriousness of the competition.
Stephen Hill (who?) was The Man this weekend. The Georgia Tech receiver said he wanted to be the 6-4 player who plays like he's 5-10 -- a quick guy in and out of cuts who can get off pressure at the line of scrimmage. Hill did more than that. He ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash and made the most impressive catch of the day Sunday, when the wideouts worked inside Lucas Oil Stadium, a diving catch in which he laid out and caught the ball at the end of his fingertips. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, his speed -- tied for the fastest 40 of the weekend -- surprised scouts. His 2011 season was odd. He didn't have a 100-yard receiving game in his last nine games; only twice did he catch more than three balls in a game. In three seasons, he caught only 49 passes ... but he did average 25.5 yards per catch in his career. Now he'll spend the two months before the draft trying to prove he can be a complete receiver instead of just a sideline-streaker.
The receiver order: Looks like Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd of Notre Dame will be the only wideouts in round one, unless Hill sneaks in there. Reuben Randle of LSU and Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu (the Bucs and new coach Greg Schiano want him) could go 4-5 unless Baylor's Kendall Wright overcomes a lousy combine.
The quarterback order: After Luck and Griffin, Ryan Tannehill is the hot guy -- though Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State, Brock Osweiler of Arizona State and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, who threw well at the combine, are more pro-ready right now. Tannehill could go as high as eight to Miami, to be reunited with his former college coach at Texas A&M, Mike Sherman, on Joe Philbin's new Dolphin coaching staff. Among coaches I spoke with over the weekend, Tannehill's got some gaps in his game and could be picked higher than he should go, the same way Christian Ponder and Jake Locker went higher than most football people expected last April.
Remember "Seinfeld,'' a show about nothing? I'm not the biggest combine fan; I think the effects of it are overrated, and the most important things that happen here -- the medical exams and the interviews of players by individual teams -- aren't televised. We marvel sometimes at the athleticism, for example, of a player like Andrew Luck who's supposed to be a pocket quarterback. When on earth will the standing broad jump that he did (apparently, well) Sunday ever come into play? Have you ever seen a player with both feet on the ground leap as far as he could from a crouch? Most of this exercise has little to do with the reality of playing football. And so on Sunday, I went into an NFL Network television truck to watch, as Kramer and George and Jerry and Elaine did for so long so well, a show about nothing, televised by 16 cameras all over the field at Lucas Oil Stadium. And I have to say I came away impressed with how smart TV people and TV/technology experts can make something out of the combine.
"We need to always ask the question, 'What does it mean?' '' said Mark Quenzel, NFL Network's senior vice president of programming and production. "We're trying to constantly figure out the significance of what we're watching, and what makes it so tough is none of the important people, none of the 32 teams, wants to talk about it. They're all holding their cards close to the vest.''
The visuals are often good and the commentary interesting, as on Sunday when Rich Eisen pointed out that Andrew Luck was standing on the sideline he'd likely be standing on for years with the Colts once Indy drafts him; or when Michael Irvin talked about the way he judges receivers; or when Mike Mayock pointed out, when discussing 28-year-old Brandon Weeden, that it wasn't till Kurt Warner was 27 that he got out of the grocery store to have a real chance at playing in the NFL. That's all good stuff. The combine telecast is best when smart people like Mayock and Mike Lombardi and Charlie Casserly talk over the combine like it's wallpaper. It's there, and it's pleasant to look at, but if you don't have content piece after content piece, you're going to be changing the channel to "F Troop" after the quarterbacks throw.
Everything else, in dot dot dot fashion. Longtime Jets special-teams coach Mike Westhoff told me this is the best kicker/punter crop he's ever seen at a scouting combine ... I can't see Trent Richardson going very high, and I can't see more than Richardson among the backs going in the first round ... I heard Albert Breer say only the Colts medical officials, and not owner Jim Irsay or football people, could watch Peyton Manning throw. That's not the impression Bill Polian had before he got fired by Irsay. But at the end of the day, if the Colts are serious about keeping Manning, they'll find a way to learn what they need to learn ... There's still much skepticism that Manning can throw well enough before the start of free agency -- when at least one team might cross Manning off its list and sign a Matt Flynn, let's say. There's no way I'd sign Manning unless I saw him throw the ball at 80 or 90 percent of the way he used to ... Best guesses for Manning, if he can throw well and is released, in order: 1. Miami, 2. New York Jets, 3. Washington, 4. Seattle, 5. Arizona ... I can't see the Texans franchising Mario Williams at $22 million for 2012, unless they're sure they've got a sign-and-trade partner that can do a long-term deal for Williams for significantly less than that per year ... Rex Ryan looks like he's losing weight. Odd, too, to see Ryan sitting alone, reading the paper for a few minutes Sunday at a Starbucks without being bothered ... The Dallas training camp will be in Oxnard, Calif., and not San Antonio this year ... Water's getting a little sharkier: The NFLPA registered 235 new agents this year. Who are they going to represent, exactly? ... When De Smith talked to about 900 agents in Indy Friday, he told them they had to redouble their efforts to push clients to get their degrees and take care of their money for post-retirement. He told them they'd have $50 billion coming in for players in the 10 years of the labor deal, but their jobs with their players weren't done when the contracts are ... The Athletes Performance Institute people who train players for the combine and for their rookie seasons also do media training, and interview training for players when they meet with teams. But one of their clients this year didn't need it: Robert Griffin III. "After spending time with Robert Griffin III,'' said Peggy Iralson of API, "I notified his agents it was clear he didn't need that training. He was already game-ready for interviews and a brand of his own.'' ... Griffin really enjoyed his time with Andy Reid in the 15-minute interview segment they had ... Talked to Oliver Luck Sunday. He credited Jim Harbaugh for making Andrew Luck's Stanford team balanced academically and athletically. "Jim did a phenomenal job coaching smart kids,'' Oliver Luck said. "Lots of these kids, obviously, are very bright high-achievers from white-collar families. Jim was fine with that, but he made them realize that to win football games they had to be able to be blue-collar lunchpail football players who could run power off the bus.'' ... The Seahawks like Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler. If they don't end up with Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn, I bet they end up with one of those two quarterback projects ... I think Denver picks a quarterback in the first two rounds ... I think New England's a candidate for the fifth straight draft to take a corner in the top two rounds ... The hip rehab of New England cornerback Ras-I Dowling is going very well. He'll be ready for most if not all of his offseason work ... The Jets would think seriously of Trent Richardson at 16.
Now for something completely different. And finally, I promised on Twitter to enlighten you about Kiperization in this column. Griffin told me at Baylor they had a saying for NFL prospects in their last game or two before graduation, a saying with ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper in mind. If a player was dogging it, or not giving full effort, he'd get chided for "Kipering.'' And so in the Baylor bowl game against Washington, with Griffin already having collected the Heisman and with visions of the NFL dancing in his head, Baylor had a 4th-and-1 play. A running play was called. The back took the ball and sprinted through the hole. Griffin followed him. At one point, Griffin leaped over a defender to block a safety, and the block sprung the ball-carrier for a touchdown. Griffin was thrilled, because no one could accuse him of Kipering. "That's one of the plays I'll always remember about Robert,'' said his coach, Art Briles.
Tomorrow: The NFL alum who won an Oscar, and the surprise agent for Andrew Luck.
"I hope somebody falls in love with me besides my fiancée.''
-- Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III
"To see Kendall Wright run 4.6, I was stunned.''
-- NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, on what was thought to be a speed receiver from Baylor coming into the combine. Wright has to do some major draft rehab at the Baylor pro day, March 21 in Waco.
"We lost two coaches from our offensive staff and the prospect of going forward, the responsibility that I have, while I am very interested in his career, I think he will be an outstanding coach for the New York Giants going forward, but we have to put our hands around our situation first.''
-- Giants coach Tom Coughlin, on the club denying permission to Kevin Gilbride Jr., an offensive assistant, to interview with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to be their quarterback coach.
This generated intense interest from several coaches at the combine -- one head coach, four or five assistants -- whom I spoke with. Gilbride is the son of the Giants' well-respected offensive coordinator, and when Coughlin denied him permission (which was in his rights), it rubbed coaches the wrong way.
An offensive assistant/quality control type of coach, which Gilbride Jr. is, is a step below quarterback coach -- a major step below. "Not just a step below in terms of what your duties are,'' said one assistant on Sunday. "But the money is huge. Quality control guys make maybe $50,000. Maybe. Quarterback coaches who've done it for a while might make $400,000. A young guy like that, maybe $250,000.''
Why would the Giants prevent Gilbride Jr. from moving? Timing is the likely reason. Most staffs are set in stone by now. The fact that Greg Schiano got his head coaching job late in Tampa Bay and the fact that he doesn't know a lot of the pro coaching staffs means he was going to try to hire coaches from teams that would, in turn, have to potentially raid another staff to fill a vacancy. So Coughlin is simply trying to look out for the best interests of the Giants.
But the complicating factor is that Gilbride Sr. has been with Coughlin on the Giants staff since 2004. He's helped the Giants win two Super Bowls, and his son is a bright prospect in the coaching ranks, from what I hear. No one's heard from the Giants' offensive coordinator on this issue, and if Coughlin gives Gilbride Jr. the vacant Giants quarterback-coaching job, which he may do, all will be well. If he doesn't, I would expect it could -- could, I stress; not will necessarily -- create some tension on the staff.
Stats Inc. came up with a stat that I think shows what an impressive downfield thrower Robert Griffin III was last year: air yards. That's the amount of passing yards a quarterback gets, obviously, through the air, before a receiver catches and runs with the ball. Comparing the percentage of air yards Griffin had last year to two other downfield throwers, Andrew Luck of Stanford and Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State.
Don Banks made this wish-I'd-thought-of-this point Sunday afternoon in the press room at the combine: Jim Harbaugh was replaced as Indianapolis' quarterback by Peyton Manning in 1998. Jim Harbaugh coached Andrew Luck to replace Peyton Manning as Indianapolis' quarterback in 2012.
Strangest thing in the Delta terminal after I flew into LaGuardia late Sunday night. A woman stood outside the door leading from the terminal to baggage claim, where gypsy cabbies and limo drivers with signs always wait. I heard these three sentences: "No, I need you to come inside the terminal. I am not going down there with those guys all waiting. You've got to come in and help me.''
Ma'am, it's New York. It's a big airport. Those men don't bite. You put your head down, ignore them and walk outside. You'll be fine.
"It's official -- RGIII is faster than my first car.''
-- @SC_DougFarrar, Doug Farrar of Yahoo Sports, after Robert Griffin III ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash Sunday morning.
"Penelope Cruz just made every other person on the red carpet look like they're wearing a burlap bag.''
-- @nprscottsimon. National Public Radio host Scott Simon, watching the red carpet show before the Oscars.
"Can't wait to not watch The Artist when it's on HBO or Showtime.''
-- @PeteAbe, Boston Globe baseball writer Pete Abraham, following the awarding for Best Picture Sunday night at the Oscars.
"MLB and cable sports tried to sully the reputation of an innocent man. Picked the wrong guy to mess with. Truth will set u free #exonerated"
"When its guilty until proven innocent, all u need are the facts. #howsthecrowmlb #exonerated"
-- @AaronRodgers12, the Green Bay quarterback and very good friend of Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun, whose 50-game suspension for taking a banned substance was overturned Thursday.
Switching it up today, post-combine. Handing off five of the Scouting Combine thoughts to Mike Mayock, who spoke with me off the NFL Network set Sunday afternoon:
1. "I think Andrew Luck is more athletic than people will ever give him credit for. When you compare his numbers this year to Cam Newton's numbers last year, they're almost identical. We all gushed about the athlete Cam was, but we don't with Luck, whose athleticism is underrated. Whereas Robert Griffin's pocket awareness is underrated also. It's an interesting juxtaposition between those two guys. We kind of want to push them into categories we're comfortable with, but they're both better than we think across the board.''
2. "I think I understand why the highly rated quarterbacks don't want to throw here. They want to throw to their own receivers, who run the precise routes, and they don't want to look bad throwing to guys they haven't thrown to before. But last year Cam Newton threw, and he didn't throw very well, but he wasn't afraid to come out and rip it.
"Why don't you come out here, in front of 32 teams, in front of all the decision-makers, in an apples-to-apples comparison, when you're going to blow people away anyway. Why wouldn't you do that? At the end of the day, you ought to tell your agent, 'No, I'm going to compete,' and go out there and throw the ball. Like Calvin Johnson said a few years ago when he threw on sneakers here and went out and competed.''
3. "I think the trend of the big-bodied receivers we're seeing in the league has to do with the ability of teams to throw the back-shoulder fade. And more and more, we like the big-bodied wide receivers so they can shield the ball from the cornerbacks. Here, Michael Floyd of Notre Dame just really dotted the 'I' with his performance. He had a great day. And the kid out of Georgia Tech, Stephen Hill, there was a quiet buzz about him coming in here. I heard, 'Watch out for this kid.' He had only 28 receptions in an option offense at Georgia Tech, but averaged almost 30 yards a reception. Unofficially, we had him at 4.3 flat, and I think teams are going to leave here saying, 'We have got to figure this kid out.' How high can you go get this guy? He's thrown his hat in the ring.''
4. "I think you have to be careful about some of these weights. Alshon Jeffery, the South Carolina wide receiver, is supposed to be 6-4, 230, and he's 219, and guys like him are trying to cut their weight to run faster. What's their playing weight going to be when you draft 'em? If you're going to play at 230, I want you 230 here so I can get a true speed of what you'll be when you play.''
5. "I think the tight-end class is a bad class. And that's not good, given that everyone is looking for the next Gronkowski and Hernandez. I don't have a tight end with a first-round grade.''
1. I think I have never heard -- not once -- on draft day any team executive or coach say they didn't pick a player because he didn't work out at the combine. So while I respect Mike Mayock very much and understand the frustration of football people that every player on hand won't do every drill and football thing he's asked to do, I can't get remotely fired up about it.
2. I think, also, I have no problem with the league trying to make combine drills like the 40-yard dash more interesting by having two players stand next to each other and race instead of having each player run alone. Who cares? Now that the league is going to try to make combine drills more palatable for the TV audience, the only way I'd fret about it is if the choreography affected the on-field performance markedly. I don't see how showing players competing will do that.
3. I think when I went to Indy and looked forward to seeing Justin Blackmon, I thought I was going to see someone bigger than he is. I thought I'd see a slightly smaller Calvin Johnson, from having watched enough highlights of Blackmon. But what I saw is more Brandon Lloyd than Calvin Johnson. Seems like a very good kid, and a good player certainly. And as a couple of NFL people told me over the weekend, he plays big. Understood. If I were about to make him the fourth or fifth pick in the draft, I'd like a guy more imposing than an eighth of an inch shorter than 6-1 and who weighs 207 pounds.
4. I think whoever takes Janoris Jenkins, the former Florida cornerback who finished his career at North Alabama, is going to have some sleepless nights. He's 23. He's a top talent, and likely will go in the first round. He's also been arrested three times, once for a bar fight and twice for marijuana possession. He has four children three or younger (Janoris Jr., Legend, Janorian and Paris) by three different mothers. "I've made a few mistakes and I've learned from them,'' he said at the combine. Question is, who will take a shot on a very good talent at a vital position, who is such a risk?
5. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. If you haven't read this yet, you simply must. It's the SI story, masterfully done by Thomas Lake, on the high school football and basketball player from Michigan, Wes Leonard, who died on the court last year after an inspirational victory. One of the best things I've read in a while.
b. Good SI.com story and explanation on the Braun case by David Epstein and Joe Lemire.
c. I pity Justin Morneau, still feeling the effects of post-concussion syndrome.
d. Wondering what it must have been like for longtime Giants VP and scout Chris Mara to sit at the Oscars last night and listen to Colin Firth say of his daughter Rooney that her role in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was "dazzling perfection?''
e. Congrats to the Vancouver Canucks. In the span of 24 hours, they went to Detroit and broke the Wings' 23-game home winning streak and then won in New Jersey against one of the hottest teams in the league.
f. Finally saw Ides of March. Disturbing, if you know the outcome, but well done and politically smart.
g. Lord, who is doing the Red Sox PR? More shooting the messenger after an offseason of ignoring the drinking-in-the-clubhouse-during-games stories from last season. The team never addressed it, except to say it wants it buried and wants everyone to look ahead, not behind. "It's a new chapter, beginning today," Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino said at spring training the other day. "Our idea is, let's write this new chapter. Enough has been said about the last chapter.''
But not by you. Not saying, "It'll never happen again, and it's a disgrace it ever happened in the first place.'' Whoever in the organization had the grand plan of eliminating the issue by ignoring it and sneering at the media when it was brought up has no idea that such an irresponsible issue doesn't go away in the eyes of many followers -- like me -- if you bash people over the head for bringing it up.
h. Coffeenerdness: Ordered my latte at the JW Marriott Starbucks in Indianapolis Sunday morning. Turned around to see 49ers quarterback coach Geep Chryst. "Ordering behind you at Starbucks,'' Chryst said, "is like going after Michael Jordan in a dunk contest.'' Why, thank you.
i. Beernerdness: Thanks to the folks at Sun King Brewery in downtown Indianapolis for the tour and the hospitality at Friday night's Tweetup. Not to mention the Sunlight Cream Ale and pizza one of the owners, Steve Koers, provided a few of us writers as we talked football with the locals. Good time was had by all.