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On the Clock: Players under most pressure at Pro Days

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Peter Schrager

Peter Schrager is the Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com and the national sports correspondent for FOX News Channel's "FOX Report Weekend." He's the co-author of Victor Cruz's New York Times' best-selling memoir "Out of the Blue" and lives in New York. Feel free to e-mail him at peterschrager@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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For those in NFL draft circles, the date March 7, 2008 lives on in infamy. Among Jets fans, it’s a day probably better off forgotten.

That Friday in Columbus, Ohio State junior Vernon Gholston put on a Pro Day performance like few had ever seen before. Scouts and NFL personnel in attendance were wowed when the 6-foot-3, 270-pound defensive end blazed a 40-yard dash timed at 4.59 seconds and soared 42 inches in his vertical jump. Gholston’s draft stock skyrocketed, draftniks went gaga and the rest is NFL Draft history.

Six weeks later the Jets made Gholston, an above-average player at OSU, the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, signed him to a multi-year deal that guaranteed him $21 million ... then watched as he recorded just 13 tackles in his rookie year. Unable to get on the field (even on special teams), a completely healthy Gholston observed more games than he played in ‘08. In his sophomore season in ‘09, Gholston was inserted into the starting lineup on opening day when starting LB Calvin Pace was levied a four-game suspension. Gholston recorded three tackles in Houston, and made just 14 more over the Jets’ next 15 games. He was inactive for two of them despite, yet again, being physically able to play.

In two years in the NFL, Vernon Gholston has a grand total of zero career sacks.

NFL DRAFT RANKINGS

 
Sam Bradford
Who are scouts drooling for this offseason? Check Scout.com's top 20 draft prospects.
 
But man, that was some Pro Day.

Someone will have a Gholston-like Pro Day this month. Whether it’s a small school star like The Citadel’s Andre Roberts or an established name like Texas wideout Jordan Shipley, an expected mid-round draft pick will make early-round money after a stellar day on his home field in front of a host of scouts and NFL personnel men. For the first-round guys, it’s all about living up to scouts’ expectations and erasing any potential lingering doubts. Matt Stafford did just that at his Pro Day in Athens last spring.

Over the next four weeks, college teams across the country will be hosting Pro Days. For some scouts and GMs, the Pro Day actually makes for a better scouting environment than February’s NFL Combine. Instead of the meat market circus that is found in Indy, scouts have time to prepare for each player and actually focus on key skill sets.

Alas, two top players won’t be participating at their team’s Pro Day workouts this month. Both happened to play at schools in the Sooner State. Well, it’ll be later rather than sooner for those scouts hungry to see Sam Bradford and Dez Bryant work out. Neither player’s seen action since October as Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford is rehabbing after shoulder surgery and Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, the consensus top wideout in this year’s draft class, will skip Oklahoma State’s Pro Day in Stillwater this week, citing a lingering hamstring issue. Both players have individual workouts for scouts planned on March 25.

Though Bradford and Bryant won’t be participating in their schools’ Pro Days this month, several top college stars will. Here are five players with the most to gain at their upcoming Pro Days:

POLL

  • Who is the best franchise QB in the draft?
    • Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame
    • Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
    • Colt McCoy, Texas
    • Tim Tebow, Florida
    • None of the above
1. Colt McCoy, Texas QB (Texas Pro Day: March 31 in Austin): The Maxwell Club’s 2009 Player of the Year recently said his throwing shoulder is at full strength and good to go for the Longhorns’ Pro Day. Most draftniks have McCoy as the third-rated quarterback in the 2010 Draft and a likely second-round draft pick. With a stellar performance on March 31, he could sneak into the latter half of the first round. Size and arm strength are the main critiques on McCoy. Another guy with questionable height and arm strength that scouts had doubts about coming out of college? Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees.

2. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame QB (Notre Dame Pro Day: April 9 in South Bend): Unlike Bradford, the golden-armed Golden Domer still has a solid month before his team’s scheduled Pro Day. Early word out of Indianapolis was that Clausen wouldn’t be back from offseason toe surgery until summer. That’s apparently not the case; Clausen says he’s good to go for April 9. With a stellar performance -- paired with perhaps a less than convincing one out of Bradford -- Clausen can still sneak into the top five of April’s draft.

3. Terrence Cody, Alabama DT (Alabama Pro Day: March 10 in Tuscaloosa): It was an up-and-down Combine experience for Alabama All-American DT Terrence Cody. He first impressed scouts by dropping 16 pounds from the Senior Bowl and weighing in at a more manageable 354 pounds on Day One. But then he left scouts confused by opting not to participate in the bench press. What was Cody hiding? Did he lose muscle -- and not fat -- when he dropped all the weight? Cody can answer several lingering questions with a solid Pro Day performance. I know I am in the minority on this one, but I think Mount Cody is still a surefire first-round pick. Hell, I think he still may go No. 9 overall to Buffalo (see below).

4. Joe Haden, Florida CB (Florida Pro Day: March 17 in Gainesville): Tim Tebow is not the only reason scouts will have their eyes on Gainesville on March 17. Perhaps no player caught more flack for his Combine performance last week than Haden. The consensus top-rated cornerback in the 2010 Draft, the mohawked junior ran a 4.57 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, leaving scouts less than overwhelmed. Of course, he then went out and flat-out dominated all of the defensive back drills. Haden can erase all lingering doubts with an impressive performance in Gainesville.

5. Brandon Spikes, Florida LB (Florida Pro Day: March 17 in Gainesville): Though the media has the date circled and has been all but salivating over the thought of it, Tebow’s workout could end up being the third biggest priority on many scouts’ lists in Gainesville. After Haden, there’s Spikes -- the All-SEC four-year starter who had a less-than-stellar Indy showing. Can Spikes stay healthy? Does he have an NFL body? Are the physical tools there to ensure he’s worthy of a first- or second-round pick? Some of these questions will be answered on what is shaping up to becoming a much anticipated Wednesday March afternoon.

A Guy You’ve Never Heard of That You Should Probably Get to Know, Volume 1

Jared Veldheer, OT, Hillsdale: Last year’s “A Guy You’ve Never Heard of That You Should Probably Get to Know, Volume 1” subject was Johnny Knox of Abilene Christian. Knox went on to have a breakout year in Chicago, emerging as Jay Cutler’s top deep target and finding his way onto the NFC’s Pro Bowl squad for his work on special teams.

Jared Veldheer of Hillsdale

Meet Jared Veldheer, Hillsdale OL
Scott Boehm

This year’s choice comes from D-II school Hillsdale College. Where? Well, Hillsdale College is a small school in Hillsdale, Michigan best known for a Margaret Thatcher statue erected in 2008.

They may be putting up a statue of Jared Veldheer in the near future. The four-year starter at left tackle is an athletic freak who has a lot of scouts licking their chops. At 6-8, 312 pounds, Veldheer has an O-lineman’s body with tight end speed. At February’s Combine, he ran a 5.09 40-yard-dash. It was actually a few tenths of a second slower than most scouts expected. Veldheer met with all 32 NFL teams in Indy and will be working out for scouts at Hillsdale’s first ever Pro Day on March 18.

Veldheer’s an intriguing late first-round, early second-round prospect. In what’s shaping up to be an OT-rich draft class, top guys like Russell Okung, Bryan Bulaga, Anthony Davis, Charles Brown, Trent Williams and Bruce Campbell may fly off the board earlier than expected on April 22. Veldheer, along with guys like UMass’s Vlad Ducasse and West Virginia’s Selvish Capers, is right at the top of that second tier. Like was the case for expected mid-second round choices Sam Baker and Duane Brown in the 2008 Draft, there’s a chance teams get antsy after seeing the top-tier OT prospects fly off the board and spend first-round picks on second-round graded tackles. With late first-round teams like Dallas, Green Bay and Minnesota likely all in the market for an offensive tackle, there’s a chance the unknown Veldheer could slide into the first round on draft day.

In Veldheer, you have a raw prospect blessed with incredible physical skills who might not have had the top-flight coaching or experience against NFL talent that his peers have had. But he’s a four-year collegiate starter with unlimited potential. Veldheer is a biology major, set to graduate this spring. I can think of worse guys to be guarding a franchise quarterback’s blindside.

Mock Draft 3.0 Placement: Second Round, No.39 to Oakland

"On the Clock" Team of the Week: Buffalo Bills

Each week, we’ll take an in-depth look at an NFL squad and their draft outlook for 2010. This week? We tackle a team that needs help just about everywhere -- the Buffalo Bills.

Bills at a glance

 
Buffalo Bills
Looking for more dirt on the Bills? Get the inside slant, stats, scores, schedules and more scoops right here.
 
Since the final week of the 2009 NFL season, the Bills have hired a new coaching staff, a new GM, moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive scheme and parted ways with two of their top wide receivers (T.O. and Josh Reed). Brad Butler, their starting right tackle, unexpectedly retired at the age of 26, they opted not to retain Ryan Denney and failed to sign any top free agents in the first few days of free agency.

And oh yeah, the Bills haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999 -- the longest current drought in the NFL.

So where do new coach Chan Gailey and GM Buddy Nix go with the No. 9 overall pick? It’d be easy to say “Draft a quarterback” and move on, but that might not be the case. First off, both Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen could be off the board by the time Buffalo’s on the clock. Secondly, Buffalo needs help everywhere, and in an offensive tackle/defensive tackle-rich draft the value move might be grabbing a lineman. Third, and perhaps most importantly, Gailey and Nix might be better off going with their current troika of quarterbacks -- Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm -- than spending first-round money on a rookie.

"Every team in this league that doesn't have an All-Pro quarterback or somebody that got votes for All-Pro is looking to improve that position," Gailey said earlier this week. "So we'll evaluate (our) guys and continue to evaluate them. And we'll evaluate what's available. If we can improve our situation, we'll try to improve it."

When asked about Brian Brohm “fitting” Gailey’s system, the longtime coach responded, “I don't try to fit guys into what I do, I fit what we do into the best players we have. If Brian Brohm is the best player, if he's the best -- we'll adapt and adjust to what he does best. I think that's what you have to do in this league."

My gut? Buffalo goes with either Bradford or Clausen if one of them slips to No. 9. If both are off the board, they’ll look to grab either Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga or Anthony Davis out of Rutgers. If both of those young men are off the board, don’t be shocked if Buffalo pulls the whammy card and shocks Radio City Music Hall by plucking the oft-criticized Terrence Cody with a Top 10 pick. Weight issues be damned, Cody is the ideal two-gap NT in a 3-4 defense. Currently, Buffalo has no one on the roster who fits that role. Kyle Williams, though solid as one of two DTs in a 4-3, most likely isn’t a 3-4 NT. Cody, a dominant force that singlehandedly clogged the middle for Alabama’s BCS title team, absolutely is. Put it in the books now. With a decent showing at his Pro Day, Cody could find his way onto the Buffalo roster in April.

On Day One; not Day Two.

Reader Email of the Week

Peter,

You sure seem awfully confident in your latest mock draft. All of you mock draft guys are like weathermen on TV. You hype up players, peg them to certain teams and then when things don’t work out as planned you just turn your heads and look towards next year's draft. You had a Mock Draft up for this year a day after last year's draft ended. Yet, there was no article detailing all of the mistakes you made. Be a man. Come forward and admit to a few players you were wrong about in recent drafts. -- Jeff T., Kirkland , Washington


Jeff,

Love the weatherman analogy. If Todd McShay is the Sam Champion and Mel Kiper the Mr. G of draft pundits, I’d like to think of myself as this guy. As for regrets? Well, I’ve had a few.

Some notables? I thought Alan Branch would be a Top 10 pick in ’07. He went No. 33 overall. In the following year, I had DeSean Jackson going 17th overall to Detroit. He ended up going 49th overall to Philly. And most recently, I had Kansas State gunslinger Josh Freeman slipping all the way to the bottom of the second round. Of course, he went 17th overall to Tampa Bay.

And I also really liked JaMarcus Russell. A lot. I thought he was going to be a stud.

Oops.

Now, on to the traffic and sports!
Tagged: Anthony Davis, Anthony Davis, Kyle Williams, Falcons, Bills, Bears, Colts, Raiders, Saints, Jets, Buccaneers, Texans, Drew Brees, Josh Reed, Ryan Denney, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Williams, Brad Butler, Trent Edwards, JaMarcus Russell, Sam Baker, Duane Brown, Brian Brohm, Vernon Gholston, Johnny Knox, Josh Freeman

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