Final combine thoughts
The NFL combine wraps up today with defensive-back workouts. Lions fans should keep an eye on cornerbacks D.J. Moore of Vanderbilt and Alphonso Smith of Wake Forest, a couple potential No. 20 draft picks, and Utah's Sean Smith, one of the more intriguing secondary prospects in my mind at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds. I'm back in Michigan getting ready for free agency, but a few final thoughts on the league's annual job fair:
Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry had a phenomenal workout by all accounts, but that doesn't mean he's guaranteed to be the No. 1 pick. The question with him isn't about character or athletic ability or production, it's about whether he presents enough value as a strong-side linebacker (or whether he can move to the middle) to go No. 1. And that wasn't going to be answered in Indy. It's going to take more film study of not just him but offensive tackles Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe and quarterback Matt Stafford. If one of those grades out just as high at a more valuable position, they'll be the pick. If not, Curry would be a fine choice.
Cincinnati defensive end/outside linebacker Connor Barwin had a big Monday, too, running a 4.66-second 40-yard dash and besting all linemen in the vertical (40.5 inches) and broad (10-8) jumps. I wrote about Barwin, a Hazel Park native and U-D High grad, in Sunday's paper. He's a fascinating story, really. He played two years of basketball for the Bearcats and switched from tight end to defensive end last year, when he tied for the Big East lead in sacks (11) and blocked three kicks. Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said Barwin remade himself in part by studying a DVD of every sack in the NFL in 2007 (Bengals coach Marvin Lewis sent him the disk). Now, he projects as a second-round pick for a 3-4 team and casts easy comparisons to Patriots linebacker Mike Vrable.
When you're putting your roster together this is a guy that gives you so much flexibility and everybody wants that so what happens, there becomes a run on that and sometimes he gets picked a little higher, Kelly said. They're saying he's a second-round draft pick. How high he goes in the second round depends on how patient some guys can be.
Keep an eye on Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry in the coming weeks. Jerry didn't work out in Indy his pro day is March 26 but if the Lions are serious about building from the inside out they need to find an impact defense tackle. There aren't many available in free agency and tackles typically rise on draft day. Boston College's B.J. Raji will be long gone by pick No. 20, but Jerry could be on the board.
Speaking of free agency, the Raiders lavished record-setting contracts on cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and punter Shane Lechler last week because that's the only way they could keep both players long term. An NFL person told me two teams are going to have to overpay to sign anyone of significance this offseason, the Raiders and Lions. Half of his prediction has already come true.
I asked Lions coach Jim Schwartz last week how hard it will be to attract free agents to an 0-16 team. His response: People will look at a lot of different things. I don't know that anybody makes their decision strictly on the record the year before. That's the best thing about the NFL system as opposed to maybe some of the other sports is the NFL does offer a chance to turn around fairly quick, and players know that. I referenced Tennessee, a couple years ago we weren't a very attractive place to be, now they are. So I think players know that.
The Lions need a middle linebacker. There aren't many with the potential to step in and start immediately in the draft. USC's Rey Maualuga and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis are potential first-rounders, and Pitt's Scott McKillop might be next on the list. McKillop said he had a 15-minute meeting with Lions scouts Friday night in Indy. One of the things I know they're going to count on initially is a linebacker to contribute early to special teams, McKillop said. At University of Pittsburgh, I didn't play my first two years so I was just trying to be a special-teams demon for Pitt and that was how I made my mark on the team and how I felt I contributed.
Labels: Aaron Curry, B.J. Raji, Brian Kelly, Connor Barwin, Detroit Lions, Eugene Monroe, James Laurinaitis, Jason Smith, Jim Schwartz, Matt Stafford, NFL combine, Peria Jerry, Rey Maualuga, Scott McKillop