Market movers, losers
Stock tips on college players muscling for position in upcoming draft
By John Mullin
Tribune staff reporter
February 25, 2007, 10:15 PM CST
INDIANAPOLIS -- It seems appropriate that the annual rite of evaluating hopefuls for the upcoming NFL draft is called the scouting combine.
A combine is actually a large farm machine that harvests and mulches, and some would argue that's exactly what goes on here.
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Credit Notre Dame offensive tackle Ryan Harris with bringing a touch of perspective to the players' portion of the weekend's prodding and poking.
Asked if he might not be big enough to play tackle in the NFL, the 305-pound Harris said, "I think there's a lot to be said for how you play as opposed to how you look."
Here's a look at some whose stock got a boost or took a hit at the combine:
Greg Olsen, Miami tight end. Coming from the school that produced top-tier NFL tight ends Bubba Franks and Jeremy Shockey, Olsen became an instant story when he posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.45 seconds after measuring 6 feet 5 inches and 252 pounds. It wasn't quite the jaw-dropper that Maryland tight end Vernon Davis was last year (his 4.39 time helped him go No. 6 in the draft to San Francisco), but Olsen planted himself in the first two rounds in the minds of talent evaluators with his showing.
Brady Quinn, Notre Dame quarterback. It probably isn't fair because he hasn't played a game in almost two months, but Quinn is in danger of becoming this year's Matt Leinart. Last year the USC quarterback tumbled from a possible No. 1 overall pick all the way to No. 10.
One NFL coach said he thought Quinn had become something of a victim and Quinn's frustration was apparent when he was queried about reports of his stock dropping as his Notre Dame career fades further in the background. He chose not to work out at the combine, but neither did LSU's JaMarcus Russell, who looked a touch doughy at 265 pounds but has seen his stock go up nonetheless. Quinn did open scouts' eyes by bench-pressing 225 pounds 25 times, the highest quarterback total in the memories of combine organizers.
Laurent Robinson, Illinois State wide receiver. Robinson distinguished himself in Sunday's workouts, first by wearing what appeared to be his "lucky" Redbirds shorts, making him the only receiver in red. Then he turned in a 40 time of 4.38 seconds, particularly notable for a tall (6-2) wide receiver weighing 195 pounds. Robinson did not drop a pass in his workout session and repeatedly had to field balls thrown behind him by quarterbacks—including Ohio State's Troy Smith—who were clearly surprised by the speed of the big receiver.
Darius Walker, Notre Dame running back. Walker, who could have returned to South Bend for his senior season, is trying to move up into the second tier of running backs behind top dogs Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma and Marshawn Lynch of California. The Sporting News has Walker ranked as the 21st running back, and his 40 time of 4.56 likely didn't give him the boost he was looking for.
Joe Thomas, Wisconsin offensive tackle. Maybe not so much a case of stock rising as stock just getting stronger for an offensive lineman already in the top tier. Thomas is expected to go as high as No. 3 overall to the Cleveland Browns, one of three teams (along with Oakland and Detroit) to interview him early at the combine. He is a prototypical left tackle at 6-6, 310 pounds, he helped himself by doing all the workouts and drills and he long ago proved he is a tough guy. Thomas was a high jumper in middle school and somehow once completely missed a landing mat. "That was rough," he conceded. "They made those small, little mats … and I just missed it."
Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech wide receiver. Like Thomas, it didn't seem Johnson's stock could get any higher. But then came Sunday. Projected as the possible No. 1 pick in the draft, Johnson wasn't planning to run Sunday. He changed his mind, however, after spotting several familiar faces among the NFL coaches and executives watching. It was a wise move. His scorching 4.35-second 40 proved to be the third-fastest receiver time of the day. So determined was he to wait for his March 15 pro day, Johnson didn't even bring his running shoes to the combine. He had to borrow a pair from a friend, East Carolina quarterback James Pinkney.
Lovie Smith, Bears coach. Smith came out of the combine still the lowest-paid head coach in the NFL, but he had to be heartened by the support he received from peers. More important was the progress suggested in the report of the narrowing gap between his contract demands and the Bears' offer, which was estimated as wide as $2 million last week and now is believed to be no more than $1 million.
The Bears. The question of the early weekend was not who ran what time in what 40, but rather, "What's going on in Chicago?" Smith's contract negotiations dominated discussions, with more than just Smith's fellow coaches wondering what the Bears could possibly be thinking, not paying something close to the going rate of $5 million per season on an extension. If the Bears refuse to go where Smith and agent Frank Bauer believe they should be, Smith could join some of his players next off-season as a free agent.
The Los Angeles Times and Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this report.
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