It's amazing what a pro day can do, at least in a hypothetical sense.
In late February, ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski insisted that he wouldn't touch Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with a 50-foot pole -- more specifically, Jaws said that he wouldn't take Manziel, the man who tore up the SEC over two seasons, anywhere in the first three rounds of the 2014 NFL draft. A fan of quarterbacks who play within structure above all, Jaws couldn't see, based on an admittedly incomplete tape review process, how Manziel would survive in the NFL.
And then, Johnny Football tore it up at his pro day, and all was right with the world again. Well, sort of.
“In studying the game tape of Johnny Manziel, I saw flaws in his mechanics," Jaworski said on ESPN. "George Whitfield has done a terrific job of coaching him up. I did not see those flaws in mechanics [at his pro day]. I saw him stand on his back foot, driving the football. Throwing the football with velocity and accuracy."
So ... where would Jaws put Manziel in his hypothetical draft board now?
"This is one piece of the puzzle we put together, but I saw a tremendous improvement in the mechanics of Johnny Manziel. I loved the fact that he put the helmet on, he put the pads on, and he had the rib protector on. All those things that will affect a quarterback on a Sunday. So yes -- he moves up on my board."
From the fourth round to the third round, apparently. So he's got that going for him, which is nice. Most people in and around the league will tell you that pro days are, at best, a very small part of the picture when it comes to draft evaluation. But when you make one hyperbolic statement to start the narrative, it's important to reverse course to buff the story up on the other side. And for that, I've moved Jaworski up on my own hypothetical board.
How did the performance at Texas A&M's indoor facility shake up our latest Mock Draft? Let's jump in.
1. Houston Texans: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
There's an automatic assumption that new Texans head coach Bill O'Brien will shy away from Manziel because he has a prominent affiliation with quarterbacks who stand in the pocket and use more traditional kinds of motion to deal with pressure (hello, Tom Brady), but something O'Brien said at the owners' meetings caught my ear.
"You certainly can't box him into a certain way of playing," O'Brien said of Manziel. "He's been successful since he was 4-5 years old playing the way he plays. You can't force a guy to be something he isn't. But we have a system adaptable to many different types of quarterbacks.''
And that's the key to success. The NFL does require that quarterbacks throw from the pocket and in structure, but those who believe that Manziel can't succeed at the next level because his play is full of randomness and nothing else should hold off. Manziel does make plays from the pocket, and while he will need serious coaching to be consistent against NFL defenses, the clear mechanical improvements he showed at his pro day showed two things: He's receptive to the right kind of coaching, and he understands that development is needed. Manziel is tremendously and functionally mobile, he gets the ball out very quickly, and he's able to make plays under pressure with his arm that few other quarterbacks can make. Why wouldn't O'Brien take a risk on the variables when the upside is so tantalizing? He could make Johnny Football into a franchise-defining individual. It's not a certainty, but it's a possibility.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington): Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Jeff Fisher is all too familiar with the Matthews family -- Jake's father, Bruce, played on the Oilers' and Titans' offensive lines for years, and he coached the line for Fisher throughout the latter's Tennessee tenure. Jake is a different kind of player than his dad -- less of an earthdog (see: mauler) and more of a technician -- but he has all the fundamentals together, though he may have less pure physical potential than Greg Robinson, the draft's other top tackle. Taking Matthews would give the Rams the option of putting Rodger Saffold at guard, where he's a better player, thus better protecting Sam Bradford (or whoever else plays quarterback for the Rams over the next few years). It's a safe pick at a position of severe need, and it makes the ascending Rams much better in an important way.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
With Manziel gone, and the Jags desperately in need of a quarterback, Bortles might be at front of mind. Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley was certainly interested in Bortles' future after the UCF star's pro day.
"You watch the tape and he intrigues you, and then you see that he got better during the offseason and that intrigues you," Bradley said. "You feel he is a guy that is moving up the scale. If he comes into our system or if he goes to Houston or Minnesota, each one of those teams will ask him to do different things, and what he's put on tape and what he did on his pro day showed he can take coaching and can get better. That's good. That's a great trait to have."
Bortles has the size (6-foot-5, 230 pounds), arm and mobility most teams desire at quarterback. Jacksonville is hyper-interested in rebuilding its franchise using unconventional methods, and this may be a bit of a reach, but as soon as he learns to read defenses and expand the field at an NFL level, Bortles could be just what the Jags need.
4. Cleveland Browns: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Browns have done a great deal in the last two seasons to enhance and expand their roster, but two serious issues remain -- they need a franchise quarterback, and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz gave up 11 sacks last season. It would be wise for the team to avoid reaching for its quarterback of the future, though it could (and should) consider Teddy Bridgewater interesting with the fourth overall pick. If they don't go that route, Robinson would be an interstellar upgrade over Schwartz at right tackle, and would be able to perform spot duty if left tackle Joe Thomas ever misses an NFL snap -- which he hasn't done since entering the league in 2007. Robinson needs technique work, but he's a complete and total mauler capable of making any opposing defensive end work hard for any pressure he gets. This makes him an optimal right tackle in any system, and given the importance of outside pass protection (not to mention Robinson's talent), this isn't a reach.
5. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney's pro day this week will go a ways in determining his professional future (a loooong way in the minds of some!), though not as much as it might were he a quarterback. What the Raiders have at this point is a bunch of older players they signed in the recent free agency period, and a need to make a serious splash in the draft. It's entirely possible that Oakland would overlook the alleged effort concerns with Clowney (which I believe to be more related to technique; Clowney frequently gives great effort but doesn't have the array of hand and foot moves needed to bring more consistent pressure) and pull the trigger on a player that could help their defense a great deal from multiple gaps.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA
The Falcons spent a lot of money on their defensive line in free agency with the additions of Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson, but this team has lacked a young, consistent pass rusher throughout the Thomas Dimitroff/Mike Smith era. Barr, though a relatively undeveloped player, has the unquestionable physical attributes to change that. The former running back has the speed, agility and lateral burst to become a top-level pass rusher; he now needs to get his next-level technique together and become better against the run.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The Bucs, and specifically new head coach Lovie Smith and new general manager Jason Licht, may be ready to cut bait with receiver Mike Williams after a long history of off-field incidents. And if Watkins is available with the seventh overall pick, that decision becomes much easier, because paring Watkins with Vincent Jackson would be downright unfair. Watkins doesn't have Jackson's size at 6-1 and 211 pounds, but few receivers in this draft class get off the snap with more quickness, and in and out of breaks more suddenly. The Bucs excelled in free agency, and adding Watkins to that mix wouldn't just validate a tough decision -- it might make the Bucs the favorites in the NFC South.
8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Given new head coach Mike Zimmer's recent comments about Manziel, we can assume that Zim will, like most defensive-minded head coaches, be conservative in his choice of quarterbacks. The Vikings still have Christian Ponder under contract, and they re-signed Matt Cassel. But Zimmer will still have a problem if he expects either of those guys to lift the Vikings out of the cellar in a very tough NFC North division. Bridgewater was maligned by many after a less than impressive pro day, but he has a lot of skills, he sees the field well, and though his ceiling may not be as high as Manziel's or Bortles', that may appeal to Zimmer, who wants a quarterback he doesn't have to worry about.
9. Buffalo Bills: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Kiko Alonso proved to be a superstar as a rookie, but the Bills would love to move him outside, making their front seven more diverse. Mack would absolutely allow them to do so as he possesses the ability to line up just about everywhere, including at edge rusher, with his pass-rush skills.
10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The Lions have a clear need at cornerback, which is why many have already locked Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard in as their pick. And though Dennard would be a great choice, I like Gilbert a bit better as a pure cover corner -- I believe him to have the quickness and fluidity to go up against the top receivers in the NFL. At 6-0 and 200 pounds, Gilbert, an aggressive press corner, has the size to deal with the behemoth receivers he would face in the NFC North. Add in his return skills, and you have a very special player.
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11. Tennessee Titans: Aaron Donald, DL, Pittsburgh
New Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton loves versatility in his linemen above all else, but there's nobody in this class who can move offensive linemen around quite like Donald can, and putting him at the three-tech position alongside the criminally underrated Jurrell Casey would make Tennessee's defensive front a serious problem for opposing offenses. Some will ding Donald for being undersized at 6-1 and 285, but he's an impact player no matter what.
12. New York Giants: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Many have the Giants taking a tight end with this pick, and though it's a clear need, it's also true that Eli Manning has always benefitted most when he had a receiver who could go up and grab the ball no matter the defensive coverage. That was Jeremy Shockey early in Manning's career, and Plaxico Burress a bit later. Evans is a bit like Burress in his size (6-5, 231) and leaping ability, and he's certainly used to catching footballs from unconventional angles -- being Johnny Manziel's main target for two years will do that.
13. St. Louis Rams: Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
Now that we've protected St. Louis' quarterback with Jake Matthews, let's give him a special receiver in Beckham, who would go a long way toward correcting the team's problems at the position. They do have Tavon Austin, and they took a shot on Kenny Britt with a one-year deal, but the latter move does little more than show the franchise's desperation to get another playmaker on the roster. Beckham is special not only for his speed, but also for his route awareness and toughness. With Beckham and Austin in the same offense, the Rams could test deep coverage in ways they haven't since the Greatest Show on Turf days.
14. Chicago Bears: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Few would be surprised if the Bears went with a great safety at this spot, given their obvious deficits there. But the cornerback position has also dealt with attrition, and though Charles Tillman re-signed with the team and Tim Jennings is still on board, Dennard would give the Bears the athleticism and ability they need, and possibly allow Tillman to move to safety, killing two birds with one stone. Dennard isn't a burner, but he's a good technician and will be a consistent player at the next level for years to come.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
The Steelers' draft mistakes over the last few years leave the team in need at several spots, but there's one clear thing Dick LeBeau's defense needs to make it go, and that's the kind of nose tackle who can soak up double teams, provide agility to cover in certain packages and get penetration when single-teamed. Nix is primarily a stomper at the point of attack, but he's very agile for a bigger man, and if the Steelers can help him keep his weight under control, the sky's the limit.
16. Dallas Cowboys: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
And speaking of draft mistakes ... there's Dallas, which has been looking in vain for a great cover safety for years now. The Cowboys are not going to get one in free agency because they'll be cap-strapped for the next 20 years with Jerry Jones continuing to move his players' contracts forward, which would make Clinton-Dix an even more valuable addition. He's an aggressive tackler and a pass defender with a great deal of potential. Yes, the 'Boys need a new pass-rush expert with the departure of DeMarcus Ware, but they can get that guy later if they're smart. The safety class is more top-heavy, and that's where Dallas needs to pounce.
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17. Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
The signing of Steve Smith reduces a need Baltimore has had for a long time, though Smith might be best at slot duty at this point in his career. What we do know is that the team wants to move 2013 first-rounder Matt Elam to strong safety, leaving it in the lurch when it comes to deep coverage. Pryor, who I actually like a bit better than Clinton-Dix, is physical in the run game and can handle everything from slot duty to center field. He's not quite as fast as Earl Thomas, but he plays with a similar disregard for his own body -- and the bodies of his opponents.
18. New York Jets: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Grabbing Eric Decker in free agency gives the Jets one piece in a passing game that desperately needs an overhaul, and the signing of Michael Vick gives the team a good Plan B in case Geno Smith still isn't ready for prime time. To that equation, let's give Gang Green a sleeper of a receiver in Lee, whose tape is certainly better than the middling accolades he's received through the pre-draft process. Perhaps it's because Lee played through injury in 2013, or because this receiver class is so deep, but it certainly seems as if many are missing the boat on the qualities that make Lee an interesting NFL prospect -- his second-level speed, explosion after the catch and vertical ability that belies his 6-0 frame. The Jets would be well-served by taking Lee (who reminds me of Reggie Wayne) here.
19. Miami Dolphins: Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
It's clear that the Dolphins still need help along their offensive line -- signing Branden Albert in free agency was a good first step, but there are other issues. Miami needs a left guard to replace Richie Incognito (which shouldn't be tough; ancillary issues aside, Incognito played horribly in 2013) and right tackle Tyson Clabo allowed 11 sacks in 962 snaps last season. Martin isn't an elite pass blocker, but he could slip inside to guard or move to right tackle and become a very solid addition to a front five that will get quarterback Ryan Tannehill injured if serious changes aren't made.
The plan appears to be for Kevin Minter to replace Karlos Dansby as Arizona's inside linebacker alongside Daryl Washington, which presents a problem -- Minter is more a forward-motion player, while Dansby provided coverage and range Minter did not show at LSU or in his first NFL season. If defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who guided the second-best defense in the NFL last season, feels that more reinforcements are needed, Mosley would be a great place to start. He's a heady player against the run, has tremendous instincts in coverage, and shows the kind of field range that would make him a "Mike" 'backer worthy of a first-round pick.
21. Green Bay Packers: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Dom Capers' defensive line, formerly a strength of the team, now has considerable issues. Tackle B.J. Raji is back on a one-year "prove-it" deal, while Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly are maybes to return, at best. At 6-6 and 310 pounds, Hageman has the potential to play tackle or end, and he's a tackles-for-loss machine at his best. Some have compared Hageman to an embryonic J.J. Watt, and while that's a stretch at this point, he does have All-Pro potential in a purely physical sense.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Chip Kelly's Eagles have already let DeSean Jackson walk, and guard Evan Mathis, one of the NFL's best at his position, might be next -- according to several rumors -- because he wants a new contract. If Mathis is indeed on his way out, there's no better option in the draft than Su'a-Filo, one of the most physically imposing and nasty guards I've seen in the last decade. An outstanding technician, Su'a-Filo gets under the pads of defenders and rocks them back on a regular basis, frequently adding hits at the whistle to emphasize his point. He has the movement skills to play in any system, and the intelligence to pull it off at the NFL level. If he lasts until the 22nd pick (and I'm of the opinion that he shouldn't), the Eagles would have their Mathis replacement right here.
23. Kansas City Chiefs: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Chiefs are in a bit of a pickle here. They clearly need a tackle, with 2013 first-round pick Eric Fisher struggling at times on the right side last season, and Branden Albert off to the Dolphins. Lewan isn't among the elite at his position class, and he has some off-field concerns, but he has the perfect size (6-7, 309), pure speed (he ran a 4.87 40-yard dash at the combine) and a nebulous-but-intriguing skillset that could develop into something special over time. Patience could pay off for Andy Reid in this case.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
With Terence Newman and Adam Jones getting up there in age, and Leon Hall coming off his second Achilles tendon surgery in three years, it's time for the Bengals to stockpile at cornerback. Verrett is underrated by some because he's a bit undersized at 5-10 and 189 pounds, but he's expert at undercutting routes and finding angles to make things work. And Cincinnati has seen Hall play extremely well when healthy at 5-11 and 195, so the fit could be just right.
25. San Diego Chargers: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
San Diego's defense was a disaster from front to back in 2013. The good news? General manager Tom Telesco can go in a lot of directions when it comes to the inevitable quest for improvement. The team will hope that Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram can be the pass rushers needed in 2014, but between Freeney's age and Ingram's injury issues, that's a hot potato. One of Ealy's greatest strengths is that he plays well in different packages -- he can rush from the edge as well as he holds up against the run, and he has a special knack for deflecting passes at the line. Though Ealy doesn't always flash on tape, his versatility and consistency would help a lot.
26. Cleveland Browns (from Indianapolis): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Carr is in a compelling spot in this year's draft. He's not rated as high as the holy trinity of Manziel, Bridgewater and Bortles, but he's seen by many to be the next best thing, and that probably puts him in the late-first, early-second range. Here's what we know: The Browns, who didn't provide a strong presence at some of the more glamorous pro days, recently went to Carr to engage him in a private workout. And new Browns head coach Mike Pettine said at the owners' meetings that he saw Carr as the best pure thrower in this draft class.
"Very physically-gifted. And a lot of times it's hard to bet against the family history as well. You're talking about like a Jake Matthews [where] it's the old 'Don't bet against the genetics.' I think he certainly falls into that category as well.''
Not that older brother David was able to make much of a dent in the NFL, but that was in part because he was selected by an expansion Houston Texans team that didn't have much else to brag about. If the Browns are on point with Carr in the first round, he could have better luck -- he's got good arm strength, surprising mobility and though he played out of the shotgun in college, that's not the NFL handicap it used to be.
27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Adding Jairus Byrd in free agency made the Saints defense a lot better, and Rob Ryan did an amazing job in his first season as the team's new defensive coordinator, but the need for a younger pass rusher is quite clear. Ford put up career-highs in his fifth year at Auburn with 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss, and he explodes off the edge with a great deal of speed as a pass-rushing linebacker. He tends to get lost when blocked one-on-one and needs free space in which to operate, but in Ryan's multiple and complex blitz concepts, Ford could really shine.
28. Carolina Panthers: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
There's no need for speculation when targeting Carolina's biggest personnel need -- the Panthers lost their three most prolific receivers in Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn in the offseason, leaving GM Dave Gettleman with the need for a complete rebuild. Cooks is a smaller player more suited to the slot, but there's no denying his productivity -- he led the nation in receiving yards in 2013 with 1,730, which led him to the Biletnikoff Award. His speed, especially after the catch, is truly electrifying, and he'd be Cam Newton's best friend in a big hurry.
29. New England Patriots: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The AFC personnel executive who recently blasted Ebron specifically and the entire 2014 tight class generally as "overrated" may have been laying a smoke screen, because his comments about Ebron's blocking in particular were fairly ridiculous. Ebron isn't a traditional inline blocker, but he looks pretty good when coming out of a blocking stance, and his primary assignment in college was to catch the ball -- which he did 62 times for 973 yards in 2013. And at 6-4 and 250 pounds, with legitimate 4.6 speed on the field, Ebron has the kind of tape the Patriots would find interesting given their obvious needs at tight end -- whether Ebron's a "pain in the butt" or not.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
The 49ers took chances on running back Marcus Lattimore and defensive end Tank Carradine in the 2013 draft, knowing full well that both players might have to "redshirt" as they recovered from injuries suffered in college. So, there's probably no aversion in that front office to the idea of Fuller, who was sidelined in his senior year with a sports hernia, but shows a lot on tape when healthy. And he was healthy at the combine, running a 4.49 40 and looking good in the agility drills. Fuller played everything from tight and off coverage outside, to slot corner, to safety in college, and the 49ers could use that kind of versatility in a secondary that took hits when Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers left.
31. Denver Broncos: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Losing guard Zane Beadles to the Jaguars in free agency might be a problem for the AFC champs. While it's true that Peyton Manning makes his lines better with his quick release and expert decision-making, it's also true that Beadles gave up just one sack last season in 1,449 snaps, which is pretty ridiculous, no matter who your quarterback is. Yankey would be a good fit in Denver because he has the athleticism to play left tackle (which he did for the Cardinal in 2012), and the strength to maul defensive tackles inside.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
The Seahawks won their first Super Bowl with one of the best defenses we've ever seen, and an offense that relied heavily on power running and far less on passing. It might be a folly to expect the defense to perform that well again (though they're certainly going to be very good), so the key to a return trip to the big game might be opening up the aerial attack. If so, Benjamin would be a great acquisition, because he's a huge (6-5, 235) target with a killer wingspan and the ability to win overhead battles with just about anyone. Seattle has had issues in the red zone from time to time throughout the Pete Carroll era. Benjamin could change that quite decisively.
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