By Russ Lande
It may sound odd, but the expression most used to describe Missouri's pro day was "organized circus." The entire Missouri football department deserves kudos for keeping everything running efficiently and on time despite the craziness surrounding the day. A few years ago, when the Tigers had two players, Blaine Gabbert and Aldon Smith, selected in the top 10, there were more NFL people in attendance, while this year's showcase counted significantly more attendees overall from NFL people, to media and players' friends and family.
It is not uncommon for the big networks -- ESPN, Fox Sports1 or the NFL Network -- to deliver live coverage of a pro day for a likely top-10 or 15 draft pick, but all were in attendance at Missouri, where only Kony Ealy has a chance of being selected in the first round. This points to the continued interest in Michael Sam. While coverage focused on Sam and Ealy, more than 10 other players were on the field, too, trying to improve their draft stock.
Before we delve into the rest of the cast, let's talk about Sam and Ealy, who checked in at 6-foot-2 and 263 pounds and 6-4 and 265 pounds, respectively. Both men improved significantly on their 40 times by running more than two-tenths of a second faster. Because they ran on fieldturf indoors, just as at the combine, the times will not have to be adjusted. Sam only ran one time after tweaking his right hamstring when he stumbled at the beginning of his 40, but he still ran a 4.69 on my stopwatch. Ealy checked in with a 4.69 and a 4.70 on his two attempts. Additionally, Sam improved his vertical jump to 30 and his bench press to 19 reps, while Ealy hit 32 on the vertical and 10 on his broad jump.
Although those numbers have value, their positional workouts were more important. A number of scouts told me they found it interesting that no defensive line coaches were in attendance and Ealy and Sam were put through a defensive line workout by a scout. Once they completed that, they went through a much longer workout as linebackers, which was watched by two defensive coordinators and Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.
Similar to his combine performance, Sam's positional workout was mixed. It's clear he worked hard to prepare and he knew exactly what he had to do in drills and was precise executing them. However, he still looked stiff and robotic when bending his knees and changing directions. I do not believe he could make the switch to playing linebacker full time, but could handle playing a rush-linebacker or inside linebacker position in a 3-4 defense. While Ealy was not elite, it was clear he is the smoother and more athletic of the two. He has the hips and balance to move easily when under control, but was uncomfortable with the drills at times, which led to him slipping and stumbling during the positional drills more than twice.
Overall I have no doubt Sam will be a Day 3 selection after combining what I saw on film with what I observed at Missouri. Ealy showed he is a good athlete, but film illustrates his lack of explosiveness, which I why I believe -- and a number of scouts I spoke with concurred -- Ealy's best chance of NFL success is as a power/base defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. He is not a player who should be drafted in the first round.
Despite the media focus on Sam and Ealy, a number of other Missouri players helped themselves during the pro day. There may not be a better story in college football than running back Henry Josey, who was a starting tailback and the fourth leading rusher in the nation in 2011 when he suffered a catastrophic knee injury. NFL personnel told me it was one of the worst knee injuries they have ever seen. Josey worked his way back to the field this year and had strong showing at the combine with an excellent workout at the pro day. While he did not do any of the timing drills (he stood on his numbers from the combine) he proved his explosiveness with a 35 ½ inch vertical and then shined throughout the positional workout. Displaying quickness and agility when changing directions, a burst out of his cuts and outstanding hands catching passes, Josey convinced many in attendance that he could be a third-down back and returner in the NFL.
Receiver L'Damian Washington did not have a particularly strong day, but fellow receiver Marcus Lucas, 6-3 and 217 pounds, did despite not running a 40. Quick off the ball, Lucas accelerated to full speed quickly, ran excellent routes and made one highlight-reel catch after another. For a player who was more likely to get a chance as a free agent, his performance today likely put his odds of being drafted at more than 50 percent.
Tight end Eric Waters and cornerback E.J. Gaines, had good all-around workouts. Gaines' performance was expected, as he was a consistently productive cornerback for the Tigers while matching up against the opponent's best receiver. During the positional workout, he displayed a quick and compact pedal, good body control and ball skills, but was a little tight changing directions and lacks ideal size at 5-9, all this after running two sub-4.50 40s (4.47 and 4.49 on my watch). When I combine Gaines' production at Missouri with what I saw in his workout, I expect him to be a fourth- or fifth-round draft pick.
Waters, however, was not expected to shine after only catching eight passes in 2013, but he is a good, natural athlete. At 6-3 and 250 pounds, Waters ran 4.65 and 4.63 on his 40s, vertical jumped 39 inches and broad jumped 10-foot-2, all this before he displayed smooth athleticism running routes and good hands plucking the ball away from his body throughout the workout. I will still be surprised if he is drafted because of his lack of production, but he showed he is an ideal developmental project as a receiving tight end.
Alternatively, quarterback James Franklin did not have a good day throwing the ball. Normally, quarterbacks do better throwing to the receivers they have thrown to throughout their career than they do at all-star games or the combine, but if I didn't know any better, I would think Franklin hadn't thrown to these receivers before. He was off-target too often, consistently throwing behind, late or over-throwing his receivers. Based on Franklin's performance and injury history, I would be shocked if he were drafted, but with his athleticism, strong arm, outstanding character and intangibles, he will get an opportunity as an undrafted free agent.
Russ Lande writes about college scouting and the NFL draft for Sports on Earth. He is GM jr. scouting and college scouting director for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes and the Big 10 Network. He is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and former scouting administrator for the St. Louis Rams. You can follow him@RUSSLANDE.