By Russ Lande
BATON ROUGE, La. -- There was no media circus or former president at Wednesday's LSU pro day, but there were many NFL people in attendance with eight general managers, four head coaches and numerous offensive coordinators. They were not disappointed. It was not just a day for LSU's star players to put their best foot forward, but it gave some lesser known prospects the chance to make a statement. Additionally, LSU's pro day once again proved why players should always work out at the combine.
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When quarterback Zach Mettenberger tore his left ACL against Arkansas on Nov. 29 and had reconstructive surgery on Jan. 2, few expected him to throw at his pro day without restriction, but he did. I do not believe anyone that attended will tell you Mettenberger had an outstanding workout when compared to other highly regarded quarterbacks in recent years. However, when you take into account that it is has been just over four months since he suffered the injury, he performed very well.
I missed charting about four or five total passes, but I was able to evaluate 93 of his throws. On passes less than 10 yards, he was accurate on 18 of 19 throws with two of the accurate throws not being ideally placed; on passes 10 to 19 yards he was accurate on 27 of 34 throws; and on throws over 20 yards he was accurate on 32 of 40 throws, although nine of those accurate deep passes were not in the ideal spot. It was shocking how well Mettenberger was able to roll out and make strong and accurate throws so soon after his injury. He did not display any issues with his knee, and you would not have known he was coming off an injury if not for the knee brace. Throughout his workout he displayed a plus arm and was able to make intermediate and deep throws with a rare combination of zip and accuracy. Throwing both touch and rip throws, he flashed the ability to be outstanding leading his receivers, which is vital for a big pocket passer like Mettenberger. I definitely was a bit surprised by his lack of premier accuracy throughout, because when I charted six of his games from 2013, he finished second to Jimmy Garoppolo in overall accuracy.
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While Mettenberger was a big story, there were two others who stole the show. Receiver Odell Beckham did not do any of the combine testing drills, as he stood on his results from there, but during the positional drills he looked like a superstar and convinced me that he should be selected in the top 10 ahead of Texas A&M's Mike Evans. Exploding off the ball into his routes, Beckham never seemed to slow down, even getting in and out of his cuts. He changed directions remarkably fast and showed a burst out of his cuts that is rare amongst NFL receivers. Unlike many fast, explosive receivers, Beckham displayed outstanding body control, precise route-running and the ability to get his head and hands around quickly when coming out of his cuts. Not only did he catch every pass that was within his catching radius, but he made a number of highlight-reel catches on off-target passes, both high and low. After his display, there was a buzz going around that he is worthy of being a top-10 selection.
Although Jarvis Landry did not blow people away like Beckham did, he had a strong all-around day and eased concerns about his quickness and speed. After running in the high 4.7 range at the combine on a tweaked hamstring, Landry helped himself right of the bat by running in the high 4.5/low 4.6 range. This is another example of how it is always better to work out at the combine, as you will have another chance at your pro day to perform if you do not shine in Indianapolis. If Landry has skipped working out at the combine and then run in the high 4.7s at his pro day, there would likely be no second chance for him to improve on it. After Landry finished the combine testing (at 196 pounds, he vertical jumped 30 ½ inches, broad jumped 9 feet, 5 inches and timed at 4.63 in the short shuttle and 7.56 in the three-cone), he proved during the positional workout why many NFL people have told me he is going to be a steal if he lasts until the third round. He displayed quickness and a short-area burst, running perfect routes and making some great catches, although he did drop two balls. He was so smooth and fluid running such great routes that he eased any concerns about his speed, which is why I believe he will be a second-round pick.
Backup receivers James Wright and Kadron Boone are not likely to be drafted -- neither was highly productive catching passes at LSU -- but both helped themselves. Boone displayed good acceleration and speed and flashed the hands to pluck the ball away from his body. Despite catching nearly every ball thrown his way, he did let some passes get into his chest and fought the ball a little before securing it. He did however look stight in the hips, which hindered his ability to get in and out of his cuts smoothly. Wright was not really on many people's radar prior to Wednesday either, but after his performance you can be sure teams will be grinding the film to evaluate all 25 of his career catches (and those passes that he may have dropped) after a strong workout. Although he needs to do a better job of getting low and running routes with better pad level, so that he can be quicker in and out of his cuts, he displayed quickness and burst in his routes and caught the ball well. He consistently was able to adjust to catch slightly off-target throws and made one spectacular grab on a low pass.
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In the backfield, fullback J.C. Copeland is a big, thickly built back who checked in at just less than 6-feet and 268 pounds. Although he lacks top speed and is stiff, he has quick feet for a fullback his size, caught the ball very well and displayed enough athleticism to challenge to make an NFL roster on a team that still uses a big, traditional fullback.
The star of the backs, though, was running back Jeremy Hill. At nearly 6-foot-1, 234 pounds, he ran decently with a 4.57 and a 4.63 in the 40 and really shined during the positional workout. He ran sharp routes, displaying quickness and agility usually reserved for smaller backs. His ability to change directions quickly and with such body control was impressive. In addition to proving his athleticism, Hill put his soft hands and natural receiving skills on display and proved to NFL teams that he can contribute as a three-down back, which should assure him of being selected by the end of the second day of the draft.
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Although the big uglies rarely get much attention on the field except for being called for penalties, guard Trai Turner had an outstanding workout. A productive starter during his LSU career, Turner showed that he has the feet, flexibility and all-around athleticism that is hard to find in a 300-plus-pound offensive linemen. Turner is able to bend his knees and sink his hips to block with leverage, and he further impressed by maintaining that base through each blocking drill. It is hard to find interior linemen with the strength and athleticism to excel in any blocking scheme, but there is no doubt in my mind he can do it. Although Turner's on-field play at LSU was representative of a second- or third-rounder, his pro day gives him a chance to slip into the bottom of the first round, similar to Kevin Zeitler a few seasons ago.
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After the offensive players were doing putting on their exhibition, the defensive players had their chance, but they did not have the goods to compete. Those who did decently were linebacker Lamin Barrow, safety Craig Loston and defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson. Barrow stuck with all of his combine numbers except the short shuttle, which he ran in 4.29. He was decent in the positional drills, moving smoothly most of the time, but he struggled a bit changing directions and did not display the explosiveness expected.
Loston had a good all-around workout, but he did not do anything special. He was fluid and precise in the drills, was able to change directions well and generally caught the ball with ease. He did not, however, display the quick-twitch athleticism or speed to make confident he would be able to cover NFL tight ends or get out to the sideline in time to help with over-the-top coverage.
Both defensive tackles Johnson and Ferguson performed well in their positional drills, but the drills were short and did not show a ton. Ferguson displayed better body control, agility an athleticism than Johnson and moved through the drills with more quickness. Ferguson was nearly 6-foot-3, 302 pounds, and ran in the 5.1s in his 40s, vertical jumped 29 ½ inches and broad jumped 8 feet, 3 inches. Although he has not received as much national attention as Johnson, his workout was the more impressive of the two. Johnson, who stood on his numbers from Indy, displayed excellent strength and power in the club drills and clearly is a little quicker moving forward than Ferguson. However, in the drills he looked stiff and struggled to get low to move around with good base. In the end, Johnson did not hurt his draft stock, and Ferguson probably got people's attention by displaying a little more athleticism during the workout than he did on the field at LSU.
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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 Ten Network. He is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and former scouting administrator for the St. Louis Rams. You can follow him @RUSSLANDE.