The combine will be dominated by SEC talent this week, but no program has sent more players over the last four years than LSU. Les Miles has built a consistent winner by developing and playing kids right away in his program. The payoff for the players is that they will not be discouraged to leave early should they choose too and receive the support of the football program in preparation for the next level.
I believe this is the strongest recruiting tool LSU has right now and it proved to be the case once again this season as Les Miles’ 2014 class closed strong to finish No. 2 in the country. Think about it this way, you can play in the best league in one of the best venues with great tradition, and for the ultimate players coach. Oh, and by the way, you can get to the NFL faster in Baton Rouge than any other school in college football; sign me up!
The SEC will send 71 players to the combine and much of the focus will be on Michael Sam of Missouri. His handling of the media and questions from front-office personnel will very much help executives decide if their locker room is ready to embrace him as a teammate.
I think Sam will do well in that aspect, but can he improve his stock on the field?
Sam needs to show great lateral movement and backpedaling skills. He could run a great 40 time, but I promise you most guys want to see his shuttle time and how he can move in coverage.
It’s hard to pin down just five guys who can improve their stock this week because all 71 hope to gain something from the combine. With that said, here is a list of five guys that I will have my eye on that can improve their stock in Indianapolis, assuming they participate in all the activities.
1. Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida - Purifoy has first-round talent, but some still see him as a second-round pick. He has suffered from a few injuries in his career, but has shown great versatility. He can cover in man-to-man as well as blitz off the edge effectively. He will need a great 40 time should he run to solidify him as a first-rounder. Florida’s pro day is late in the spring by design to give players time to improve.
2. Antonio Richardson, Tennessee – Richardson’s size and productivity jumps off first at potential NFL teams. Richardson did struggle at times with speed rushers which means he could be a cross-training candidate. He has been projected as high as No. 17 but will more likely go in the second round. I think the bench press will be key to his status. Many think he lacks upper body strength, so he can dispel that with 20-plus reps on the bench.
3. Chris Davis, Auburn - Davis will long be remembered to the nation as the guy who broke Alabama's heart. That aspect may be the key to improving his draft status, because the Tigers secondary struggled last season. He is rated around 20 at the cornerback spot, but I think a sub 4.5 40 could help his case. He has already worked at the Senior Bowl so many scouts have seen him up close.
4. Jeoffrey Pagan, Alabama - Pagan is a guy that could be a true sleeper if he can show an explosive first step. Right now he is a fringe top 10 defensive end that fits a 3-4 defensive scheme in the mid-round selections. Pagan could improve his stock with a great 40 time and shuttle time. If a 4-3 team started to show some interest, that would help his stock. His productivity in terms of numbers is not where you would hope for a high pick, but some of that could be the system he played in.
5. Anthony Johnson, LSU - The defensive tackle spot is pretty deep with talent. But in my opinion this guy could be a huge steal. He is rated as the eighth-10th best at his position with big names in front of him. I have seen this kid in person for three years and he has first-round talent. I also saw Stephen Tuitt of Notre Dame in person and I will take the "freak." LSU defensive tackles may be taking a hit because of past guys who have not dominated, but Johnson can be the guy in my opinion. Interview sessions with pro executives and his bench press will be important.
Five others to watch
- Chaz Sutton, South Carolina
- Chris Boyd, Vanderbilt
- Alfred Blue, LSU
- Chris Smith, Arkansas
- Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
This and that
The debate continues over the "10 second rule" and whether or not it will pass. According to my buddy Pete Roussel of CoachingSearch.com, we are going to hear from the number one proponent of the rule Nick Saban, and he will be armed with information to state his case. Whether that's true or not, why create a rule that we don't need? Are we going to start putting caps on player size too? This whole thing is silly and I cannot wait until March 6 to see what happens.
The SEC, once again, led the country in attendance. And with expansion coming at Texas A&M, the numbers are expected to grow. South Carolina has seen improvement ever year over the last four, showing the passion for winning. In the last four years the Gamecocks won the East, followed by three straight 11-win seasons. Conversely the Florida Gators are in a steady decline behind one of the country's worst offenses over the last four years. I realize the Gators went 4-8 last season, but fans are fed up with boring football and crave the Tebow years of offense.
While much of the offseason discussion has centered on coaching movement, recruiting and rules changes, this is still an important time of the year. This is the first time that the current roster of players has been without the coach's supervision since July, and some are not handling it very well. Last week's incident was at Tennessee involving star linebacker AJ Johnson and alcohol. This week veteran running back Dee Hart is in trouble at Alabama. With the talent the Crimson Tide have in the backfield; this may not end well for Hart. This is the time of year that coaches need their leaders to step up and police the team. If they don't, the coach's phone is likely to ring very late on the weekend.