The 2013 Combine doesn’t quite have the same kind of flash.
What that means for NFL teams looking to upgrade at wide receiver or find that game breaker to round out the receiving corps is more homework and paying closer attention to the drills on Sunday. Unfortunately for Cal’s Keenan Allen, a projected first-round draft pick, he won’t be able to show what he’s capable of on the Lucas Oil Stadium field because a sore knee is keeping him out of the workouts. So he had to make his impressions during the 15-minute interview with the teams.
“Last night I drew up a couple of plays. They asked me to draw my favorite plays from past years so I’ve been doing pretty good with the board,” said Allen, who caught 98 passes for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns as a junior in 2011. “The 49ers grilled me real hard on it, the Miami Dolphins and the Denver Broncos. (Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin) actually drew up his own play and asked what I actually thought of the play and had me draw up a couple of coverages.”
Had he not been dealing with the knee injury and forced to wait until his Pro Day on March 14th to run the 40-yard dash and show how he can run routes and catch passes, Allen would have had a lot of eyes on him during those drills. He still got to be measured, weighed in and checked out by the medical staff along with meeting individually with the teams.
Allen, who pointed to Calvin Johnson and Anquan Boldin as two current NFL receivers he emulates, left that meeting with Philbin and the Dolphins impressed with how things are run with the franchise and with what type of a coach Philbin is at this level.
“I thought it went real well,” he said. “I like the coach a lot. He liked me a lot. The connection was there.”
All of these prospects are focused on making connections this week with a team that will want to add them to the roster and advance their career. They are well aware of the scrutiny that is given to wide receivers and have been coached and prepared to do whatever it takes to stand out from the crowd.
Coaches and general managers around the league acknowledge how the high scoring offenses and improved caliber at the skill positions has impacted the way they evaluate prospects. The basic premises applied to the wide receiver position remain – get open, catch the ball and score – but some of the other nuances have increased in importance.
“Obviously, with the new rules and the way it is you need guys that can make big plays,” said Denver Broncos team president John Elway, who was a Hall-of-Fame quarterback for the Broncos from 1983-98. “That’s where with receivers you need guys that can not only make big catches but it’s about what they can do after they catch the ball, so run after catch is huge and you’re always looking for electric guys that can break a game open. With the way the game is going those wide receivers are that much more important.”
With Allen not participating this weekend that just might open the door for Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson to leap frog into that top spot among all of the receivers by the end of the Combine. He only played one year for the Vols after going the junior college route at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.
When the season began it looked like Patterson’s playing time was going to be limited with Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers, but Rogers was dismissed from the team and wound up at Tennessee Tech. He took advantage of his opportunity by catching 46 passes for 778 yards and five touchdowns and compares himself to Julio Jones in terms of skill, identifying speed, catching and scoring as his three biggest strengths.
“As a college player I wanted to go in and just be the best at my position and hope that my dreams come true and I can be in the NFL,” Patterson said. “I’m going to go in Saturday and Sunday and give it my best and make sure I do everything right so the teams get a good look at me. I know I can help myself a lot, I know what I can do so I’m just going to go in and give it my all.
Allen and Patterson measured very close, with both of them coming in at 6-foot-2. Patterson weighed in at 216, a full 10 pounds heavier than Allen and their grades on the official NFL Combine website are also close (90.6 for Patterson and 86.3 for Allen). Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins (6-1, 214) is right in between them with an 87.8 and West Virginia’s Tavon Austin is right on the cusp of being projected as either a late first-round or early second-round pick.
There is a big difference when it comes to Austin and the physical stature he brings to the field at 5-8 and 174. He could be the fastest of the group and has his sights set on running a 4.4 or under in the 40 and his claim to fame is the one-man show he performed at home against Oklahoma last season. He put up 572 all-purpose yards, including 344 on the ground at running back and plans to open some eyes here.
“There are two things I want to show the scouts,” Austin said. “I want to show the scouts that I’m strong, so I want to bench press the 225 pounds at least 15 pounds and I’ve got to do well in the 40. I clocked a 4.29 as my best time and my size definitely shouldn’t be a problem at all. I haven’t missed a game in eight years so I think my durability should be pretty good.”
Between what he shows in the weight room and on the field and what he already has shown on film and to the doctors, Austin will have answered just about every conceivable question there is. All he has to do is look at the recent successes of Percy Harvin and T.Y. Hilton as examples of what a speedy receiver with his size and ability can do at the next level.
All of the receivers here at the Combine have the same goal, and as you listen to Elway and the other front office people and coaches, it’s easy to see why this position is getting the most attention.