INDIANAPOLIS — If you’re an NFL executive looking for “conversion” players in the draft, then 2010 is the year for you.
This past weekend at the NFL Scouting Combine, much of the talk was about those collegiate defensive ends that will likely make the switch to rush linebackers at the next level. Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said this year’s draft features “the deepest group of defensive players [he’s] seen in years,” which includes the “deepest group of conversion guys.”
Mayock’s point was echoed by Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio, who said, “I think those conversion players, the defensive end/outside linebackers — I’d say that’s a pretty deep group this year.” With the Patriots holding four picks in the top 53 and fielding a pass rush that struggled to maintain consistency in 2009, that means good news for New England, which figures to target that group of conversion players in hopes of finding the best available body once draft weekend rolls around.
But do the Patriots stick to the script and select the usual big edge rusher that they have coveted for so many years, someone such as Sergio Kindle (who Mayock said was the best of the conversion types), Ricky Sapp or Jason Pierre-Paul? Or do they break from the traditional mold and go after someone who fancies himself as the next Elvis Dumervil in Brandon Graham, someone who doesn’t fit with their usual approach but had terrific numbers as a collegian?
Reading between the lines, it sounds like the Patriots have at least entertained the thought of heading in a bold new direction when it comes to their thoughts on those players.
“The reality is that pool of players, the 6-4, 260-pound guys that run 4.6, there’s not many of them,” Caserio said. “Some of the small guys … like, I think Dumervil is a great example — a 5-11, 260-pound guy … maybe he’s not the prototypical outside linebacker type, but he can rush the passer. He was productive in college, and that production has translated over into the NFL.
“There’s different ways to skin a cat. You’re looking for this ideal. The reality is that sometimes that ideal is hard to find.”
Here are four other things we learned over the weekend at the combine:
EVEN WITH THE LOOMING LABOR UNCERTAINTY, DON’T LOOK FOR THE PATRIOTS TO APPROACH THIS SEASON ANY DIFFERENTLY THAN THEY HAVE IN THE PAST
Coach Bill Belichick did not make an appearance, but in his 30-minute session with a handful of New England reporters (for the full transcript of that Q&A, click here), Caserio seemed to intimate that no matter what happens with the current labor situation, the Patriots will stay the course when it comes to their team-building approach, especially when it comes to player acquisition and overall salary structure.
In other words, don’t expect Bob Kraft to start looking like Daniel Snyder just because he can.
“I’d say there are some different factors, but I think in terms of the process, in terms of player acquisition, the reality is it’s not that much different,” Caserio said. “You have free agency, you have the draft, you have players who have been released, some vested veterans like the LaDainian Tomlinsons, and then you have another pool of players who may not have played in 2009 who had played in 2008, for example the David Pattens and those types of players.
“I think there is multiple avenues in terms of player acquisition, so I would say in terms of the process, it’s not that drastically different. Obviously there are some things we can’t control as it relates to the CBA and that is out of our hands right now.”
When it comes to an uncapped year, there are some teams — including Pittsburgh — that have already publicly stated that they will adhere to a salary structure, even if there is no cap in place. It sure sounds like the Patriots will follow that model.
“We go through the same process this year as we did in years past — we have a budget in place like we do every year,” Caserio said. “It doesn’t really change for us in terms of what we do in terms of spending and player acquisition. That really hasn’t changed.
“As far as what the situation is moving forward, I mean, I don’t have a crystal ball, you don’t have a crystal ball. We’re operating under the terms that we have in place, and that haven’t really changed all that much since I’ve been here.”
THE IDEA THE PATRIOTS MIGHT GO WITHOUT COORDINATORS IN 2010 ISN’T RAISING A LOT OF EYEBROWS ACROSS THE LEAGUE
Several people were asked over the course of the weekend on and off the record whether or not the idea of the Patriots going without offensive or defensive coordinators in 2010 is a big deal. Most people simply shrugged their shoulders, saying critics are making too much of the idea.
“If the running backs coach didn’t show up one day, Bill would coach the running backs. He knows running backs better than anybody. If the special teams coach missed the next day, he could coach them. Bill’s a true head coach. So everything — whether he has coordinators in title or not — is going through Bill’s office. And well it should, because he’s really a hell of a coach,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi, who worked with Belichick in Cleveland.
“And so whatever he decides and whatever responsibility he gives to a coach is going to be coming from his desk and his office, and it’s going to be with him in mind, and I think he knows what he wants. And ultimately, it’s not a control issue. It’s just making sure that the product is as genuine as it is, and he knows what he wants to do with his football team.”
Former New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels — who had a hand in play-calling in 2005 as the quarterbacks coach, a job similar to the one Bill O’Brien now has with the Patriots — said that in New England, titles are overrated. It comes down to doing your job.
“I think whatever role you’re given or how much responsibility you’re allowed to take on, you do it with a smile on your face and do the best job you can,” said McDaniels, who eventually became the offensive coordinator in title before leaving for Denver to become the head coach following the 2008 season. “You don’t worry about perception from outside the building. Obviously, if you’re doing things with the best interest of the offense in mind and you’re standing in front of the room and you’re speaking to them, know what you’re talking about and you’re very well prepared, I don’t anyone cares what your title is.
“That was what my approach was in 2005. I think that would be good advice for any coach who would be a similar situation. Most assistant coaches stand in front of the room by themselves at some point, whether they’re the receivers coach, the tight ends coach,” McDaniels added. “I think it’s all about doing your job, doing what you’re supposed to do no matter what your title is. And if you’re prepared, the players will listen. It’s about how prepared you are and how good you make them.’’
“I’ll never second guess Coach Belichick’s approach to that,” said Thomas Dimitroff, formerly the director of college scouting in New England and currently the general manager of the Falcons. “I understand that seems out of the norm, but he’s got a plan. He’s very calculating with his decisions.”
IF YOU’RE IN CHARGE OF THE NFL, THE PROSPECT OF EITHER GERALD McCOY OR NDAMUKONG SUH AS YOUR TOP PICK MAKES YOU VERY HAPPY
McCoy and Suh met the media over the weekend, and both appeared to be grounded, intelligent young men who were self-assured without being cocky. Both are relaxed in the spotlight, and both are preternaturally mature.
The two present an interesting dynamic. McCoy is clearly a cut-up, someone with a great personality and quick with a joke. Suh is more straightforward and businesslike. In fact, it’s easy to picture the two as the leads in a buddy movie: McCoy as the jokester and Suh as the dry, straight man. McCoy displayed some serious comedic chops on a number of different topics during his Q&A with the media, including what he plans to do to Sam Bradford, his college teammate at Oklahoma whom he never got a chance to hit in practice (and later referred to jokingly as “King Sam”).
“I’m going to kill Sam,” the Oklahoma defensive tackle said with a smile when asked about the quarterback. “I kid you not. You get in practice, you get a clean move, and a linemen’s dream is a clean move and a clean path to the quarterback. In practice, that happened a lot. But I’d go to Sam and they’d blow the whistle. I’m going to kill him.”
Suh wasn’t as funny, but his frank nature was almost disarming. He was asked why he decided to work out while many other top invitees only participated in a few of the drills.
“I don’t feel like I have anything to hide,” he shrugged. “I’ve been working hard these last six weeks, ever since I took my two days off after our bowl game and let my body recuperate and so forth. … There’s no point in working out and then not coming up and showing up here. You’re just kind of wasting time. You might as well put in the work, showcase it, then go back to work, showcase it again at pro day, and then move on.”
The two players, who are now the odds-on favorites to be taken with the top two picks, have developed a friendly rivalry.
“The thing about us is everybody is expecting us to be bumping heads,” McCoy said. “‘Oh man I hope you don’t do good or I hope he don’t do good.” It’s not like that. The day we met — we met on the field when we played them this year — he said, ‘Go out there and ball out, go get that money,’ and I said the same thing to him. And it’s been like that ever since. We text each other back and forth, wishing each other the best.”
“We’re definitely competitive with each other. But no, we’re definitely good friends off the field,” Suh said. “Met him for the first time after we beat OU at home and kind of grew from there, more or less got to know each other on kind of the awards circuit and so forth. A good relationship with each other.”
OF ALL THE QUARTERBACKS WHO WERE HERE, TIM TEBOW DID THE MOST TO IMPROVE HIS STOCK
It was a mob scene — Tebowpalooza — when he was announced in the media workroom on Saturday. A sizable portion of the 628 credentialed media members bum-rushed Podium C trying to get a look at the Florida quarterback who has become the most polarizing player in the 2010 draft. Tebow held his own, even when he was being baited into questions by members of the media, answering most of the questions during the 15-minute session directly.
And on Sunday, he had an excellent workout — he didn’t throw, but he finished first among all quarterbacks in the three-cone drill (6.66 seconds), the 20-yard shuffle (4.17 seconds) and the 60-yard shuffle (11.27 seconds). In addition, he tied Josh McCown for the best vertical leap (38.5 inches) in combine history for a QB, had the second-best broad jump (9 feet, 7 inches) and recorded the fourth-best 40-yard dash time (4.72 seconds) at his position.
The numbers must be taken with a grain of salt, but when you consider the fact that he was reportedly killing it in his interviews — and with so few quarterbacks participating — he managed to come away as the signal-caller who did the most to improve his chances. If his new delivery — which he plans to unveil at Florida's pro day in Gainesville on March 17 — is a good one, look for even more buzz to start building around Tebow.
Mayock — never one to pull any punches on a player — said Tebow won’t have an instant impact on the NFL level, but if he gets into the right situation where a team takes its time with him while his mechanics continue to improve, it could have something in a couple of years.
“Let’s face it,” Mayock said. “This whole process, guys take bets on kids at different levels. Kids with drug abuse, kids that have beat women — he’s OK in the fourth round, he’s OK in the sixth round. Here’s a guy that’s done everything right for four years. Here’s a guy that’s a national champion, a Heisman Trophy winner, and I look at this and go, 'If I could get this kid in the third round and develop him for two years …'
“He’s got a lot of work to do,” Mayock added. “I’m not trying to sugarcoat it. This kid’s got a lot of work to do before he’s an NFL quarterback. But if you’re going to take a bet on anybody, why not this kid? He’s got what you want with a quarterback. He’ll be the first person in the building every morning. He’ll watch the tape. He’ll do everything necessary.”