USA TODAY US Edition
Workouts just part of evaluation of QBs
Showing off skills helps, but teams look at big picture
It’s not so much that the Saturday showcase for the fresh crop of NFL quarterback prospects provided a slew of definitive answers about the potential of future stardom.
Sure, as advertised, Jared Goff was light on his feet. Carson Wentz showed a quick release. Paxton Lynch spun the football with a lot of zip. But can they read exotic blitzes in a split second?
Who is best equipped to instinctively feel a rush and slide in the pocket to buy extra ticks?
What about pain tolerance and resilience to shake off the adversity of a few big hits?
See, it’s what we didn’t see during the workouts conducted in the sterile environment of cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium that will offer teams the best clues in shaking down the Class of 2016.
Playing quarterback is a mixture of courage, toughness, instincts, preparation, resourcefulness and a few other variables on top of physical talent.
Those intangibles are impossible to measure when the players are working out in undershirts and gym shorts and the tight spirals are thrown against air rather than ferocious defenses with headhunters in their faces and shutdown cornerbacks blanketing their best receivers.
Still, for decision-makers, the workouts provide another drop of data in the evaluation process. Now there’s an apples-to-apples comparison to document.
“What this tells you is, ‘I’m not interested in this guy,’ ” Bill Polian, the Hall of Fame general manager, told USA TODAY Sports. “You can see things, like height or mechanics.”
Polian, now an ESPN analyst, was in the media group that I was part of to observe the first group of quarterbacks. He was bullish on Goff but not impressed with the mechanics demonstrated by Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg. He was a bit neutral on Michigan State’s Connor Cook, surmising that he’s best suited for a West Coast style of offense because of a lack of arm strength.
That said, Goff and Wentz (the class of the second group of quarterbacks to work out) did little Saturday to alter their status as the top two QB prospects.
“It’s really just a cross-check,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said of the quarterback drills after Saturday’s session. “If a kid doesn’t have velocity and arm strength and you thought he did on tape, it’s really a good cross-check, because you have to see the quarterbacks in person. So that’s what it comes down to.”
Mayock pretty much saw what he expected from the top-rated passers. One of the most significant benefits for the teams will be reflected later, when they can compare the impressions from Saturday with what they see at pro-day workouts.
“All I’m looking for is potential red flags,” Mayock said. “And usually they aren’t out here. They’re only throwing about 30 passes.”
Still, with that, it was pretty apparent Goff, Wentz and Lynch hardly had the sizzle that Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota possessed during the workout I witnessed at last year’s combine.
Winston and Mariota, Heisman Trophy winners who went 1-2 in the draft, were clearly the best two quarterbacks in the stadium last year. That was the expectation. But to see them in that environment with other hopefuls, it was obvious that no one else was close to their level.
This time, with the Cleveland Browns likely getting first dibs on the first quarterback off the board with the No. 2 overall pick in a few weeks, there appears to be more gray area. And a lot less buzz. A year ago, Winston’s magnetic enthusiasm was on full display during a spirited combine session in which it seemed that, beginning with a pep talk from the quarterback at the start of the session, the bulk of players in his group urged each other on and enthusiastically reacted to moments throughout the workout.
There was little, if any, of that in Saturday’s low-key sessions.
Still, Lynch, the 6-7 Memphis product, carried himself with upbeat body language that pretty much matched the vibe he reflected during his media session Friday — even as the handful of high overthrows fueled questions about his consistency.
That’s one small fraction of a much larger puzzle. The foundation comes from the videotape from college games, and the puzzle will be filled in further with chalkboard sessions and interviews with teams, pro-day and private workouts, and then some.
Make-or-break time will come soon enough.
Remember, Jeff George had an amazing combine workout. Ja Marcus Russell tore it up at his pro-day workout. Both of those No. 1 overall picks wound up as big-time busts.