Impressive Griffin makes Rams' No. 2 pick a very valuable asset
RG3's impressive combine has put the Rams' No. 2 pick in even higher demand
WR Stephen Hill a pleasant surprise; Justin Blackmon was smaller than expected
Five Things Mike Mayock Thinks He Thinks; best quotes, tweets of week; more
INDIANAPOLIS -- I met with both star quarterbacks at the combine Saturday night and came away impressed, as anyone would be. Anyone. It's impossible to not like Stanford's Andrew Luck and Baylor's Robert Griffin III. Luck is humble; you can tell he's uneasy saying nice things about himself, or things designed to paint him as the Next Big Thing in the NFL. Griffin's humble too, but charismatically so; he has no problem telling you anything you want to know about him.
Two moments I liked.
1. I was asking Luck, in his agent's hotel room, about a lot of things educational -- his reading habits, his college experience, living in Germany and England in his formative years, the fact that his Stanford coach, David Shaw, told me that out of high school Stanford was competing with Rice and Northwestern and not the football factories for Luck.
And so Luck could tell what road I was going down: Smart kid, apple-polisher, would always have the architecture degree to fall back on if the football thing fell through. And almost like he could read my intentions, he swatted them away. Not in a derisive way, but just to make sure I understood him. "Yes, school's important,'' he said. "But football's always been more important. The more I play, the more I love it. I've gotten to the point where, the more you learn about the game, the less you know. I love it. I want to learn more about it all the time. So, yes, academics were important in our household. Both of my parents were lawyers. They went to school forever. Stanford, Silicon Valley, the opportunities they presented were a big plus. But on top of that, coach [Jim] Harbaugh was so infectious. The staff was so good. If I didn't think we could win there, I wouldn't have gone.''
2. I met Griffin at the Athletes Performance Institute suite at the Omni Hotel downtown before he went to do his interviews with teams Saturday night. I wondered how he'd adjust from being a big college star to being the center of the universe in his NFL city. "You'll be a savior if you go to a place like Cleveland,'' I said. Griffin smiled. "The word 'savior' was thrown at me when I got to Baylor,'' he said. "My situation there started out a little crazy. We played a high school playoff game at Baylor's football stadium when I was a senior. It was actually just before I enrolled at Baylor when I graduated high school early. We win the playoff game, and after the game, there are maybe 1,000 fans in Baylor stuff in the stands, with signs like, 'We can't wait for you.' So that's been pretty much what I've dealt with even before I got to Baylor. I think I've been pretty prepared for that.''
Now for some news and notes I picked up in three days at the combine:
There hasn't been a second pick in the draft this compelling since 1998. Throw away the draft trade value chart. It's meaningless when there's a player creating the buzz of Griffin. Same thing with Ryan Leaf 14 years ago. Forget what Leaf became; he and Peyton Manning, at one point after the college football season, were 1 and 1a on draft boards for any quarterback-needy teams. San Diego was picking third that year and Arizona second. The Cards put the pick up for auction. To move one spot, San Diego sent two first-round picks, a second- and three-time Pro Bowl running back/returner Eric Metcalf.
The Rams will drive a hard bargain. Cleveland (fourth overall pick), Washington (sixth) and Miami (eighth) will be in the derby to move up; Seattle (12) and a couple of mystery teams could be too. Add the fact that the money involved (four years, about $22 million) is likely to be less than the money paid to the top (current) free agent Matt Flynn, and the market for Griffin will be hopping.
"The whole paradigm has changed in several ways,'' said Rams COO Kevin Demoff Saturday night. "Griffin could be cheaper than Flynn. The fact that you can get a potential franchise quarterback for what the top picks are paid now makes it easier to justify trading a lot for it.''
So the Rams hope.
Demoff thinks there will be three distinct windows to get a deal done. The first, and I think most unlikely, is before the free agency period opens March 13; before Griffin gets hotter at his March 21 Pro Day, a team may choose to try to blow the Rams out of the water with an offer. The second would be after the Pro Day, when all the teams' decision-makers are in one spot, Palm Beach, Fla., at the March 24-28 league meetings. The third: in the days or hours before the April 26 first round.
"You can't tell what the musical chairs will do,'' said Demoff. "Maybe someone will get left out and need Griffin. You don't know.''
The Rams have to hope that two top-10 teams in the first round want to compete for the pick. Without that, they won't be able to maximize value. The Rams will trade the pick, for sure. But the size of the ransom will depend on the seriousness of the competition.
Stephen Hill (who?) was The Man this weekend. The Georgia Tech receiver said he wanted to be the 6-4 player who plays like he's 5-10 -- a quick guy in and out of cuts who can get off pressure at the line of scrimmage. Hill did more than that. He ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash and made the most impressive catch of the day Sunday, when the wideouts worked inside Lucas Oil Stadium, a diving catch in which he laid out and caught the ball at the end of his fingertips. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, his speed -- tied for the fastest 40 of the weekend -- surprised scouts. His 2011 season was odd. He didn't have a 100-yard receiving game in his last nine games; only twice did he catch more than three balls in a game. In three seasons, he caught only 49 passes ... but he did average 25.5 yards per catch in his career. Now he'll spend the two months before the draft trying to prove he can be a complete receiver instead of just a sideline-streaker.
The receiver order: Looks like Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd of Notre Dame will be the only wideouts in round one, unless Hill sneaks in there. Reuben Randle of LSU and Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu (the Bucs and new coach Greg Schiano want him) could go 4-5 unless Baylor's Kendall Wright overcomes a lousy combine.
The quarterback order: After Luck and Griffin, Ryan Tannehill is the hot guy -- though Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State, Brock Osweiler of Arizona State and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, who threw well at the combine, are more pro-ready right now. Tannehill could go as high as eight to Miami, to be reunited with his former college coach at Texas A&M, Mike Sherman, on Joe Philbin's new Dolphin coaching staff. Among coaches I spoke with over the weekend, Tannehill's got some gaps in his game and could be picked higher than he should go, the same way Christian Ponder and Jake Locker went higher than most football people expected last April.
Remember "Seinfeld,'' a show about nothing? I'm not the biggest combine fan; I think the effects of it are overrated, and the most important things that happen here -- the medical exams and the interviews of players by individual teams -- aren't televised. We marvel sometimes at the athleticism, for example, of a player like Andrew Luck who's supposed to be a pocket quarterback. When on earth will the standing broad jump that he did (apparently, well) Sunday ever come into play? Have you ever seen a player with both feet on the ground leap as far as he could from a crouch? Most of this exercise has little to do with the reality of playing football. And so on Sunday, I went into an NFL Network television truck to watch, as Kramer and George and Jerry and Elaine did for so long so well, a show about nothing, televised by 16 cameras all over the field at Lucas Oil Stadium. And I have to say I came away impressed with how smart TV people and TV/technology experts can make something out of the combine.
"We need to always ask the question, 'What does it mean?' '' said Mark Quenzel, NFL Network's senior vice president of programming and production. "We're trying to constantly figure out the significance of what we're watching, and what makes it so tough is none of the important people, none of the 32 teams, wants to talk about it. They're all holding their cards close to the vest.''
The visuals are often good and the commentary interesting, as on Sunday when Rich Eisen pointed out that Andrew Luck was standing on the sideline he'd likely be standing on for years with the Colts once Indy drafts him; or when Michael Irvin talked about the way he judges receivers; or when Mike Mayock pointed out, when discussing 28-year-old Brandon Weeden, that it wasn't till Kurt Warner was 27 that he got out of the grocery store to have a real chance at playing in the NFL. That's all good stuff. The combine telecast is best when smart people like Mayock and Mike Lombardi and Charlie Casserly talk over the combine like it's wallpaper. It's there, and it's pleasant to look at, but if you don't have content piece after content piece, you're going to be changing the channel to "F Troop" after the quarterbacks throw.
Everything else, in dot dot dot fashion. Longtime Jets special-teams coach Mike Westhoff told me this is the best kicker/punter crop he's ever seen at a scouting combine ... I can't see Trent Richardson going very high, and I can't see more than Richardson among the backs going in the first round ... I heard Albert Breer say only the Colts medical officials, and not owner Jim Irsay or football people, could watch Peyton Manning throw. That's not the impression Bill Polian had before he got fired by Irsay. But at the end of the day, if the Colts are serious about keeping Manning, they'll find a way to learn what they need to learn ... There's still much skepticism that Manning can throw well enough before the start of free agency -- when at least one team might cross Manning off its list and sign a Matt Flynn, let's say. There's no way I'd sign Manning unless I saw him throw the ball at 80 or 90 percent of the way he used to ... Best guesses for Manning, if he can throw well and is released, in order: 1. Miami, 2. New York Jets, 3. Washington, 4. Seattle, 5. Arizona ... I can't see the Texans franchising Mario Williams at $22 million for 2012, unless they're sure they've got a sign-and-trade partner that can do a long-term deal for Williams for significantly less than that per year ... Rex Ryan looks like he's losing weight. Odd, too, to see Ryan sitting alone, reading the paper for a few minutes Sunday at a Starbucks without being bothered ... The Dallas training camp will be in Oxnard, Calif., and not San Antonio this year ... Water's getting a little sharkier: The NFLPA registered 235 new agents this year. Who are they going to represent, exactly? ... When De Smith talked to about 900 agents in Indy Friday, he told them they had to redouble their efforts to push clients to get their degrees and take care of their money for post-retirement. He told them they'd have $50 billion coming in for players in the 10 years of the labor deal, but their jobs with their players weren't done when the contracts are ... The Athletes Performance Institute people who train players for the combine and for their rookie seasons also do media training, and interview training for players when they meet with teams. But one of their clients this year didn't need it: Robert Griffin III. "After spending time with Robert Griffin III,'' said Peggy Iralson of API, "I notified his agents it was clear he didn't need that training. He was already game-ready for interviews and a brand of his own.'' ... Griffin really enjoyed his time with Andy Reid in the 15-minute interview segment they had ... Talked to Oliver Luck Sunday. He credited Jim Harbaugh for making Andrew Luck's Stanford team balanced academically and athletically. "Jim did a phenomenal job coaching smart kids,'' Oliver Luck said. "Lots of these kids, obviously, are very bright high-achievers from white-collar families. Jim was fine with that, but he made them realize that to win football games they had to be able to be blue-collar lunchpail football players who could run power off the bus.'' ... The Seahawks like Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler. If they don't end up with Peyton Manning or Matt Flynn, I bet they end up with one of those two quarterback projects ... I think Denver picks a quarterback in the first two rounds ... I think New England's a candidate for the fifth straight draft to take a corner in the top two rounds ... The hip rehab of New England cornerback Ras-I Dowling is going very well. He'll be ready for most if not all of his offseason work ... The Jets would think seriously of Trent Richardson at 16.
Now for something completely different. And finally, I promised on Twitter to enlighten you about Kiperization in this column. Griffin told me at Baylor they had a saying for NFL prospects in their last game or two before graduation, a saying with ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper in mind. If a player was dogging it, or not giving full effort, he'd get chided for "Kipering.'' And so in the Baylor bowl game against Washington, with Griffin already having collected the Heisman and with visions of the NFL dancing in his head, Baylor had a 4th-and-1 play. A running play was called. The back took the ball and sprinted through the hole. Griffin followed him. At one point, Griffin leaped over a defender to block a safety, and the block sprung the ball-carrier for a touchdown. Griffin was thrilled, because no one could accuse him of Kipering. "That's one of the plays I'll always remember about Robert,'' said his coach, Art Briles.
Tomorrow: The NFL alum who won an Oscar, and the surprise agent for Andrew Luck.
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