NFL

Combine predictions I'd like back

Alex Marvez and Laura Okmin on Matt Barkley's demeanor at the NFL combine.
Alex Marvez and Laura Okmin on Matt Barkley's demeanor at the NFL combine.
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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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It takes a real man to admit he’s wrong.

When it comes to the NFL Draft — my assumed area of “expertise” — I’ve been wrong many, many times.

Yes, I’ve had my good moments. Even when everyone left me on an island, I never wavered on Cam Newton being a better pro prospect than Blaine Gabbert in 2011. In the face of laughter, I had Ryan Tannehill pegged as a top 10 pick before the end of the 2011 college football season. I was also one of the few draft pundits who didn’t react to Mario Williams being taken over Reggie Bush as a crime against humanity.

But with the good, there’s the bad. And I’ve had my share of low NFL Draft moments over the years.

Russell Wilson? I didn’t think he’d be ever be a legitimate NFL starter. Multiple scouts told me he was just too small and didn’t have the arm to make the leap. When I gave my Seahawks 2012 NFL Draft grade out last year, I went with a “C.” Why? Because I thought the third round pick of Wilson was a wasted selection. Umm … Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

I thought Titus Young would be the next Wes Welker. Less than two years after being drafted, Titus Young is effectively out of the NFL.

Remember Vernon Gholston? Former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum was not the only one who fell hard for 2008’s “Workout Warrior.” I had him graded as a top-five pick. He “slipped” to No. 6 overall. He then went on to record zero sacks in 45 career NFL games.

Before the Combine, I made some statements. Guess what? I was wrong on a few. Consider this my mea culpa.

1. What I said: The media is going to eat Manti Te’o alive.

Why I’m wrong: Despite a mob of 200 reporters and a barrage of questions about the fake girlfriend Internet hoax that captivated the nation, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o handled himself very well in his media session. If anything, he left reporters very impressed with his honesty and composure.

Alas, none of that will matter if NFL teams don’t think he can play middle linebacker in the NFL. Te’o may have acquitted himself well in his 15 minutes under the spotlight at the podium, but he didn’t perform very well during his workouts on Monday afternoon.

Te’o ran the 40-yard dash in 4.82 seconds. Consider that Dontari Poe, the Kansas City Chiefs’ 330-pound defensive tackle, ran a 4.87 40-yard-dash a year ago, and there’s reason to be concerned. Luke Kuechly, the No. 9 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, ran a 4.6 40-yard-dash at last year’s Combine. They play the same position. Those two-tenths of a second actually matter. A lot. If Ravens coach John Harbaugh’s reaction to Te’o’s second run was any indication, Monday wasn’t a great day for the Notre Dame linebacker.

Te’o dropped 12 pounds in the summer between his junior and senior seasons, going down to 240 pounds. He lost a few more for the Combine. He got better in the pass coverage aspect of his game, snagging 7 interceptions, but the expectation was that he’d get considerably quicker too. If he ran a 4.82, down 15 pounds, then what was he running beforehand?

General managers I spoke to in Indianapolis all indicated the same thing — they were far less interested in the “Catfish” incident than they were with his shoddy play in the BCS Championship Game versus Alabama. The Heisman runner-up recorded just 3 tackles and was eaten alive by the Crimson Tide offensive line. Does one game really matter that much, you ask?

“We look at all the games, of course, but that one stands out because of all the pro talent on Alabama’s roster,” an NFC scout said Saturday.

The hope for Te’o this week was that people would finally move from away from discussing the fake girlfriend hoax and start talking about football.

Well, they will now.

And the results may not be very pretty.

2. What I said: Matt Barkley won’t be a first round pick.

Why I’m wrong: I thought the shoulder injury and some very poor tape from the 2012 season would knock Barkley out of the first round. Though he didn’t work out in Indianapolis, Barkley blew teams away in his interviews. In a conversation Friday night, one NFC general manager said, “He has the ‘it’ factor. He walks into a room and he owns it.” Another general manager indicated that Barkley’s started all four years at both the high school and college level. “There’s no such thing as over-valuing that kind of leadership and experience being ‘the guy’ day in and day out,” he said.

In his media session on Friday, Barkley left everyone impressed. When pressed on the widespread assumption that he didn’t possess an NFL caliber arm, Barkley said, “I would disagree,” and said he made every type of NFL throw during his time at USC. “I plan to start right away,” he continued. “My goal is to be playing in September."

“Come my Pro Day, I’ll be ready to go. I won’t miss a beat. I don’t think I’ll be playing catch-up throughout the process.”

Barkley then said he believes he is the top quarterback in this draft.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who coached Barkley in college at USC, was asked about Barkley — the NFL quarterback — too.

"I don't think there's anything that's stopping him from being a starter right away," Carroll said. "Now that quarterbacks can come in and make their way into the league and do it in such quick order, Matt will be able to do it too. He's so well-equipped. He's so mature, he understands what it takes to play that position on this kind of a big stage. He did it when he was 17 or whatever. He won't have any problem doing this. He's as well-prepared as you can get."

Barkley insisted he can make every NFL caliber throw and could do so in cold weather environments. “I love this cold weather in Indy,” he said on Friday. “I’ve played in cold weather. It doesn’t faze me.”

Late Saturday afternoon, an NFC assistant coach who met with him said of Barkley, “It’s not a quarterback-rich draft, per se, but teams are always in need of quarterbacks they feel they can trust. You meet this kid and you walk away impressed.”

Barkley will throw for teams at his Pro Day on March 27 in Los Angeles. Though it may seem crazy, Barkley improved his stock dramatically without picking up a football all week.

I had Matt Barkley ranked as the 47th overall player on my top 50 Big Board before Indy. He could be in the Top 20 after the things I heard from NFL sources the past few days.

3. What I said: Alex Smith is going to be the 49ers backup quarterback on opening day.

Why I’m wrong: I learned a lesson this week in Indy. It’s one I’ve been told a million times, but still refuse to listen. You can’t believe anything you hear. On Thursday, 49ers GM Trent Baalke made it abundantly clear that his team loved Alex Smith, even if it was in the backup quarterback role. On Friday, Jim Harbaugh said it was “unlikely” Alex Smith would be released and went as far as saying that he believed his team had the best quarterback situation in the league.

I bought in. Hook. Line. Sinker. The logic was there. In Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s offense, the quarterback is always a tackle away from being out of the lineup. Quarterbacks are put in harm’s way when they run outside the pocket. Due to the new CBA, Colin Kaepernick can’t renegotiate his rookie contract. The 36th overall pick in 2011, he’ll make just over $1 million in 2013. Alex Smith, his backup, is due $8.5 million. I was duped into thinking that spending less than $10 million on the quarterback position — especially when you have a league-high 14 draft picks in the 2013 NFL Draft — would be better than getting rid of Smith for a few extra picks.

Well, I was wrong. Apparently, I was too gullible. Jay Glazer reported on Tuesday that the 49ers have agreed to send Smith to Kansas City in exchange for draft picks.

Is San Francisco ready for Scott Tolzien to be the backup? Is he the guy? Or will the 49ers draft someone new? Could they bring in another veteran?

I don’t know if I love the idea of trading Alex Smith. When you’re a few snaps away from winning the Super Bowl, have a great locker room, two quarterbacks who seem to get along, and run an offense that always seems one bad hit away from an injured quarterback—is that not worth $8.5 million?

4. What I said: Cordarrelle Patterson is going to leave everyone lifting their jaws off the Lucas Oil Stadium floor.

Why I’m wrong: Patterson had a strong week at the Combine, but he didn’t have the slam-dunk performance I expected he would. I envisioned everyone leaving Indianapolis convinced he was the top wide receiver in this draft. He still might be, but there are several other names vying for that honor, as well.

Make no mistake — there is no Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, or Julio Jones in this draft. There may not be a Justin Blackmon.

I came into the weekend thinking Patterson would dominate all the areas of testing. In truth, I came away more impressed with his Tennessee teammate, Justin Hunter. Patterson clocked a 4.42 40-yard-dash, 37-inch vertical jump, and a 128-inch broad jump. Hunter, the less hyped but potentially more effective wideout, clocked a 4.44 40-yard-dash, a 39.5 vertical jump, and a 136.0 broad jump.

I thought Patterson would be the Tennessee wideout to blow everyone away.

It was Justin Hunter.

5. What I said: West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin will record the fastest 40 time at the Combine. He, too, will be a first-round pick in April.

Why I’m wrong: I wasn’t way off on this one. Austin had a very impressive weekend, backing up his statement that he was the “best” all-around player in the 2013 NFL Draft, with a 4.34 40-yard dash.

The fastest guy, though, wasn’t Austin. It was Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, who ran an insane 4.27.

I still think Tavon Austin will be a first-round pick, though. In fact, he may be the first wide receiver taken.
 

Tagged: 49ers, Seahawks, Panthers, Jaguars, Alex Smith, Cam Newton, Titus Young, Justin Blackmon

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