NFL scouts and personnel people like to say that draft prospects can't hurt themselves in workouts. The standard line is that a player can only help himself at the annual combine in Indianapolis and that pro days are simply an extension of that, opportunities for scouts to see players who haven't worked out for one reason or another and to check up on the ones who have.
But that theory has been put to the test this year. Several top prospects have seen their fortunes change as a result of their performances at recent Pro Day workouts on campus.
The biggest winner may have been Virginia DE Chris Long. Despite being listed among the top players in nearly every mock draft and draft board that we know of, an acknowledgement of his outstanding athleticism and productivity, there were whispers among NFL personnel types that he may have maxed out at 6'3", 284. Some questioned whether he could add the bulk needed to excel as a pure DE at the next level, and with the guidance of his Hall of Fame father, Howie Long, had he already maximized his potential through technique and mechanics normally refined at the NFL level?
But Long appeared at his pro day workout noticeably lighter, carrying just 267 pounds. He then proceeded to impress scouts with a workout full of LB drills. He showed good fluidity in his drops, quick feet and smooth change-of-direction skills, all of which are necessary to play LB in a 3-4 scheme.
With the potential to transition to a rush LB position, Long has now made himself a viable option for any team at or near the top of the board, either as a 4-3 end for the Rams or Falcons or a 3-4 rush LB for the Pats, Jets or — as Long hopes — the owners of the No. 1 selection, Bill Parcells' Miami Dolphins.
Florida DE Derrick Harvey is another player rising on the heels of a strong pro day session. At 6'5" and 271 pounds, he showed great size and strength at the combine, but his 4.8 in the 40 was unimpressive and some scouts had red-flagged his general athleticism.
Though he didn't run at his pro day, he showed great burst off the line and good agility in drills, enough to again convince some 3-4 teams like the Jets and the Patriots to take a closer look, while teams like Carolina and Tampa sent large contingents to the workout and are scheduling private workouts, along with the Detroit Lions, who pick at No. 15.
But even though Harvey showed enough to make himself a consideration for some 3-4 teams, his greatest potential is still as a 4-3 end.
Speed kills. When asked about the difference between the college game and the pro game, most rookies will say the speed of the game and the players who play it. The message has been heard as the combine and postseason workouts have come to resemble mini-track meets.
Michigan WR Mario Manningham knew he needed a good 40 time out of his pro day after running a disappointing 4.59 at the combine, and he responded with runs of 4.44 and 4.38. That type of speed, combined with his outstanding athleticism and strong hands, could bounce him back into first-round consideration, where many early prognostications had him coming off the board.
John Carlson, a TE out of Notre Dame, needed a strong showing at his pro day as badly as Manningham. Carlson is an excellent receiving TE and a consistent blocker, making him the top TE prospect in this class, according to most scouts. But times ranging from 4.8 to 5.0 at the combine had his stock plummeting like one of Wile E. Coyote's anvils. Not to worry, Domers. He bounced back with a top time of 4.68 on campus and is now a solid second- or third-round prospect once again.
And here is your sleeper of the week. Marcel Reece of Washington played 24 games at WR for the Huskies and averaged over 19 yards per catch, including a 98-yard TD reception as a senior. Oddly, he was not invited to the combine, but he certainly turned heads at the Washington pro day workouts, running multiple 4.4s and recording 36½ inches in the vertical. Did we mention Reece is 6'0" and 231 pounds?
Scouts are split on where he should play at the next level, at receiver or as a FB or H-back type. But one thing is clear: With that kind of size and speed, plenty of game experience and good hands, he has vaulted right onto the Day 2 boards of many teams.
Then there is the downside. Unfortunately, the biggest faller has to be Boston College QB Matt Ryan, but more because of his status as a potential No. 1 overall pick than because of a terrible outing. In fact, his workout was fine. But in order to continue to be in the discussion of the top five, much less the top one, he needed a spectacular showing and it didn't happen.
By all accounts, he was pressing early on in front of more than 100 scouts, head coaches and NFL personnel people. Once he settled down, he showed good accuracy, but his lack of ideal arm strength and his limited athleticism will remove him from any consideration of being the top pick in this draft. Remember, they said the same things about Chad Pennington and Matt Leinart.
Ryan remains the top-rated passer in the draft, is a sure first-round prospect and has the ability to be a solid NFL starter, but he is likely to fall to the 10-15 pick range.
Ryan's teammate, DeJuan Tribble, also struggled. Considered to be a strong CB prospect before the season with projected 4.4 speed, he ran a disappointing 4.59 at the combine, then ran even slower at Chestnut Hill. At one time he was a potential second-/third-round prospect. Now he has slid into at least the fifth round.
Another ACC corner falling down the boards is Virginia Tech's Brandon Flowers. An early-entry junior, Flowers was an elite corner prospect heading into the combine but proved to be smaller (5'9", 189) and slower (4.55) than projected, and he didn't improve on that performance at the Hokies' pro day on the 27th.
He is a big hitter and an intimidator in the secondary, but without top-level speed, some teams are projecting him more as a hybrid-type player who may transition to safety. Character concerns could also drop this former first-round prospect to the bottom of Round 2.
As we mentioned earlier, speed is the name of the game in the NFL these days, and a lack of ideal speed with derail even the most productive players. A virtual unknown coming out of Cabrillo JC, CB Dwight Lowery enrolled at San Jose Sate. All he did after that was record 13 INTs in 25 games and garner back-to-back All-America honors, the first San Jose player to earn that distinction. But multiple 4.5 times in the 40 at the combine and pro day workouts have put his ceiling at the low third- to early-fourth round.
Colorado OLB Jordon Dizon is another West Coaster whose stock is dropping due to poor workouts. The former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year led the country with 120 solo tackles in 2007, but his lack of size (6'0", 229) and strength (12 reps on the bench at 225 at his pro day) have many scouts concerned about his ability to shed blocks, stand up to bigger NFL backs and make tackles at the line of scrimmage. He has dropped to third-/fourth-round consideration.