Next Monday, March 23rd, representatives of NFL teams and members of the press will converge on the Rutgers practice bubble for one last chance at evaluating this year's crop of departing Scarlet Knights.
This kind of event has mixed significance; every program sends its coaches film to NFL Films in South Jersey, from which it is disseminated to interested teams, and broken down by analysts like Mike Mayock and Ron Jaworski. That's in addition to the fact that regional scouts attended games and practices throughout the season. There's always this myth of the workout warrior; the suggestion that NFL teams will throw out years of evaluation to grab any Mike Mamula that looks good in spandex and can do a few reps on the bench press. I don't really think that's the case for the most part. There are a couple of talent evaluators (ahem, Al Davis) that are dazzled by workouts alone. Most professional franchises at least have some idea of what they're doing though, and aren't going to be nearly that reckless. On the other hand, the upside of workouts is that a good performance can warrant a second look at the film.
What workouts like the NFL Scouting Combine and each team's pro day allow for is collecting even more information. Forget the official roster, because that's when the real heights and weights are measured. Some players might be projected towards playing different positions in the NFL, or have questions about their ability to fit into certain schemes. There may be questions for the coaching staff about a player's character or background. Scouts may wonder why a player improved or regressed. There's no better person to ask than the coaching staff that sees them every day. It's also an opportunity for the NFL to start laying the groundwork for the class of 2010.
Kenny Britt has already been in the process of rehabilitating his image; a good showing on Monday, along with a good word or two could go a long way. Britt also said on Sirius Radio recently that he wanted to run the 40 yard dash again; apparently he had been scoring better times while training at API in Arizona. I commend Britt's optimism, but I have to caution; even if he does run better, how much value does it really have? Based on game speed, I had pegged him as running in the 4.5 range, and that's what he did. Track speeds notoriously differ from school to school, everything will be hand-timed, and the workout won't be in pads and gear, so a time closer to 4.4 will still only be of limited value. The other concern with Britt is the belief that he's a bit of a body catcher, and may need to improve his technique in the receiving drills on Monday. The fact of the matter is, Britt can play, and based on his talent he's an easy first rounder. I pity any team that makes the mistake of passing on him.
Kevin Brock is one of several players that has a lot riding on Monday. If he can show athleticism, it could catapult him towards priority undrafted free agent or even draftable status.
With Courtney Greene, I think most of the value from Pro Day will come from everyone talking to Coach Schiano and Coach Pinkham about his role in 2008. It's no secret that with Ron Girault departing, Greene had to assume more of a coverage role last season, and he struggled in that role. However, he did adept as the season went on, and was back to his old self once he found his comfort level. What's important for Greene is that the coaching staff is able to properly articulate the story behind his play in 2008. Assuming he's portrayed as a selfless, team player that put the depth chart above individual glory, that could work in his favor.
Kevin Malast, by all accounts, had a very strong 2008. If he had played as well in 2007, he'd be on the NFL's radar right now. He does have a couple things working in his favor though. Malast did have a chance to garner increased attention in El Paso. From the few times that Malast dropped into coverage last year, I think his top-end speed is very good for a linebacker; he could run in the 4.6 to 4.7 range. The best narrative is how hard he worked to improve his play last year, and how much of a difference Ryan D'Imperio at middle linebacker made for the entire defense. Like most of the players in attendance, his initial value at the next level will have to come from contributions on special teams.
Jason McCourty could very well run in the 4.4 range, and open a few eyes ala past Rutgers corners Joey Porter, Derrick Roberson, and Manny Collins en route to a NFL career. He's going to have to showcase his smarts and affable personality, and will get some looks both as a returner and on coverage units.
There are a few Mike Teel fans in the scouting ranks, but from what I can gather, his inconsistency has divided professional observers as much as it has Rutgers fans over the past three years. Task number one for Teel will be to quickly get in a rhythm with familiar targets Britt and Underwood. He needs to show accuracy and touch on his passes and make good decisions. Teel will impress with his knowledge of the offense, and there's no doubt that everyone from the staff will put in a good word for him. Teel is probably going to measure in at 6'2. He has a decent arm; I don't think it's a cannon per se. Fan observers sometimes make the mistake of conflating arm strength with the deep ball, when a simple out is just as important.
Pete Tverdov is not going to be a defensive tackle in the NFL. Eric Foster could only find one team willing to give him a shot. Being shorter than Tverdov gives Foster a stouter build that's more suited towards playing inside. Still, like Foster, there's absolutely no doubt that Tverdov can play. Being an inch or two taller will be to his benefit at end. Tverdov would have played defensive end for most FBS teams, and that's where he'll primarily get a look in position drills. 3-4 teams may even want a look at him at outside linebacker. It's a shame in the sense that Tverdov could very well have put up respectable sack totals if given more of an opportunity to rush from the outside. Still, I absolutely would not bet against him.
Tiquan Underwood already had his opportunity to show off in Indianapolis. If anything could help him, it would be successfully packing on a few pounds of muscle without losing speed or quickness. That's my worry; he may have the metabolism of a Quincy Douby, where you just have to take him for what he is. While he was the team's starting split end during the past two years, one thing his impressive performance at the Combine may have shown is that his skillset might be better suited towards more of a deep threat role. I don't know how he performed in position drills at the Combine. If he goes through them on Monday, his best bet might be to show off on a few deep post routes. Undoubtedly, Ty will get a chance to show off his nuclear-grade intangibles too.
Jamaal Westerman played through most of the 2008 season with a major shoulder injury, and it's unclear as to what extent it affected his play. Westerman was able to stay in the lineup for most of the regular season, but missed the bowl matchup with NC State while recovering from his repair operation. First and foremost, he'll have to show that he's healthy, and be candid about the effects that the injury had on his performance during the season. Westerman had a good career at Rutgers, but didn't seem to develop into the consistent threat that some fans may have been hoping for following his sophomore season. As a classic undersized pass rusher, it's a near certainty that, if healthy, Westerman will be asked to do linebacker drills, with an eye on playing outside in a 3-4.
I don't have very much to say about the prospects of Jeremy Branch, Grenroy Lee, Kevin Small, or Chris Quaye. Honestly, fans only notice long snappers when they are making significant mistakes. Lee does have a reputation as a big hitter on special teams. It's also of note that SK.com is reporting that James Townsend, Papa Beckford, and Ronnie Girault will be in attendance. Girault was on KC's practice squad last year. Unfortunately for him, the coaching change and subsequent move towards a different defensive scheme might require looking for a new team. KC's coordinator from last year is now with the Detroit Lions. Pedro Sosa was not listed; it'd be interesting to see whether he shows up, and to learn what his current status is with his rehab, and chances of signing on with a team soon.
It's also possible that several other regional small-school prospects may be allowed to work out.