INDIANAPOLIS—The braintrusts of the NFL’s 32 teams have gathered at Lucas Oil Stadium to find the next wave of rookie difference-makers, but the experts say this year’s scouting combine isn’t likely to produce a quarterback the equal of Andrew Luck, RG3 or Russell Wilson.
“No. 1, it’s how the quarterbacks do,” draft guru Tony Pauline said of the top storyline of this weekend. “The quarterback play at the Senior Bowl was very inconsistent. Geno Smith will be throwing at the combine. Sunday is always a big day. This year it’ll be an even bigger day because there are so many questions about the quarterbacks, as opposed to last year.”
Last year’s combine produced three star passers – Luck, Robert Griffin III and Wilson – that would take each of their teams to the playoffs. West Virginia’s Geno Smith is thought to be this year’s top quarterback prospect, but nobody is putting Smith in the same league with Luck or RG3, and some are expressing concern that Smith is little more than a system quarterback.
“No. 2 will be the medicals. How is Matt Barkley’s shoulder? He’s not going to throw until his pro day. The next big issue is the speed of the receivers. How fast they run will dictate where they’re selected in April,” Pauline said of the other top storylines in this combine.
The Packers would include neither a quarterback nor a wide receiver as a priority need in this year’s draft. The Packers’ needs would seem to be on the two lines and at running back.
“Good year for defensive linemen,” Pauline said. “Good year for guards. You could have two, maybe three guards go in the first round this year.”
The Packers have the 26th pick of the draft. Who might fill a need that might be available at that spot in the first round? Guards might include Chance Warmack, 6-2, 325, of Alabama (pictured), and Jonathan Cooper, 6-3, 324, of North Carolina.
“If Warmack is there, it’s going to be because of medical red flags. Cooper could be there,” Pauline said. “Cooper is a less powerful version of Maurkice Pouncey. Cooper played 20 pounds lighter because he was in a zone-blocking scheme. He’s one of the best zone blockers of the past few years. He’s Jonathan Ogden-like in his ability to pull across the line of scrimmage and get out in front of the block.”
Barrett Jones, 6-4, 300, of Alabama, is the draft’s top center prospect.
“He’s not a great athlete, not real powerful, but a sound technician. He was fantastic in the national title game. He does have a foot injury and has a boot on it and probably won’t work out. The other center, Travis Frederick of Wisconsin, is a big, powerful, versatile lineman. He was great as a guard as a sophomore, and then moved to center last year. He’s a more powerful version of Peter Konz. Frederick is a second-round prospect that could move into the late part of round one if he works out well. He’s better than Kevin Zeitler,” Pauline said.
The left tackle headliners are Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma. They’ll go early, but Alabama’s D.J. Fluker, 6-4, 355, could be available to the Packers, and Virginia left tackle Oday Aboushi, 6-5, 310, could push his way into the bottom of round one. Fluker is a power run-blocker who fits at right tackle; Aboushi is a terrific pass-blocker for a team in need of a blindside protector.
Defensive line prospects at the bottom of round one?
“Jesse Williams is athletic and has an incredible amount of upside,” Pauline said of a 6-3, 320-pound prospect that played nose tackle at Alabama but projects to defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.
Pauline also likes UCLA’s Datone Jones, 6-4, 280.
“He’s sort of a man without a position, but he has a frame that should be able to add weight. He’s an incredible athlete who has to get bigger and stronger,” Pauline said.
Then there’s Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, who announced earlier this week that he will be unable to participate in workouts this weekend due to a hamstring injury.
“That’s the guy I pegged for (the Packers),” Pauline said. “He’s not a guy that’s going to turn the corner, but if you’re looking for a guy that can grind it out and pound and carry it deep into the game, in my mind he would be a great complement for Aaron Rodgers. He’ll keep people tight to the box or Lacy will chew them up inside. He’s pretty much a straight-line, downhill back.”
In the sleeper category, Pauline likes Washington State wide receiver Marquess Wilson, 6-4, 185, and Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera, 6-3, 237.
“Big, dominant pass catcher,” Pauline said of Wilson. “His game fell off last season. He had problems with Mike Leach and was left out of the program. He’s a last-day draft pick that could be a very good player at the next level.”
Rivera is a pass-catching tight end who “gets into the secondary and creates mismatches. He’s basically a wide receiver in a tight end’s body,” Pauline added.
All of that will be on display for the scouts to decide this weekend.