At North Carolina's pro day today, 19 prospects worked out in front of representatives from all 32 NFL teams. Three of those prospects – DE Robert Quinn, DT Marvin Austin and WR Greg Little – were suspended last year for NCAA violations. Today's pro day, as well as their performances at the Scouting Combine, will determine where they land in this year's draft.
Quinn is easily the best of the bunch. He's projected as one of the top 10 overall players in the draft. He's quick and relentless coming off the edge, with a huge bag of moves to pull from to beat opposing linemen. Many at the combine felt Quinn would be in the conversation as the No. 1 overall pick if not for his suspension.
Unless the Bears are planning on trading up 20 spots, Quinn is not an option. That's why Lovie Smith was most likely on hand today to take a hard look at Marvin Austin. Before his suspension for receiving improper benefits from an agent, many considered Austin a first-round talent. Yet teams remain nervous about his character, for good reason.
Austin was never regarded as a team-first player in his three seasons as a Tar Heel. He spent too much time celebrating and taunting. His losing out on his senior season is a huge red flag that only amplified the questions about his mental makeup.
At the combine, Austin seemed very remorseful and ashamed of his actions. He talked about what it was like having to explain his situation to his little sister and about not taking the game for granted.
"It's just something that made you sit back and think about the opportunity that you have in front of you," he said. "Take every day as if it's your last. Take every play as if it's your last, because it could possibly be your last. Just going through that situation has made myself, and I'm sure my teammates, grow a whole lot more. I think we'll be better professionals going to the next level.
"It was a young mistake. I got ahead of myself. I learned don't ever take the game for granted. This is a privilege. To be here is a privilege. There are a lot of guys who would kill to be in the shoes of all 300 guys here. Take advantage of it. Don't ever abuse the situation."
While he said all of the right things, no team can overlook the baggage he brings to the table. No team that is, except for Chicago. The Bears have long operated under the second-chance mantra. Many recent draft picks have come with checkered pasts, so if any team can put Austin's past transgressions behind them, it's the Bears. Especially when you consider the wealth of talent he displays on the field.
At 6-1, 309-pounds, Austin has the perfect size to play the 3-technique in Chicago's 4-3 scheme. He has a great first step, quick feet and a relentless motor. He is powerful enough to anchor at the point of attack yet fast enough to chase ball carriers down from behind. He's a hard hitter who consistently gets good one-gap penetration.
Austin was arguably the Scouting Combine's most impressive performer. Compared to those at his position, his 40-yard dash time (4.84) was the best, his vertical jump (30.5) was second best, his broad jump (9-4) was tied for third, he was third in the 3-cone drill (7.33) and no one beat his shuttle time (4.40). On top of all that, Austin put up 38 reps in the bench press, the second most of any player at the entire combine.
He is a freakish athlete whose style of play would fit perfectly for the Bears. His stock is rising though. Originally thought of as a late-second-round pick, many analysts have him landing in the early second or late-first round – although it's hard to picture someone with his character concerns going in the first. If Chicago chooses an offensive lineman in the first, they would sprint to the podium if Austin falls to them in the second.
He could end up being the steal of the draft.
Smith also was on hand to take a look at formerly suspended wide receiver Greg Little. At 6-2, 231-pounds, Little has the size to be the go-up-and-get-it receiver the Bears are looking for. He ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at the combine, which is good for a player of his size.
Yet Little carries the same baggage Austin does, and some scouts at the combine felt he was "less than honest" in his interviews with teams. If it's possible, Little is more of a head case than Austin.
That said he could be the most explosive receiver in this year's draft. He shows great balance and awareness when going after deep passes, and always catches the ball at its highest point. He's not a burner in the classic sense of the word but he has great game speed. In the open field, he is dynamic. His spin move is one of the best in the college game and he has a powerful stiff arm. He's extremely quick and makes defenders miss with ease.
His first two seasons in Chapel Hill, Little played running back, adding a bit of versatility to his game. He also returned kicks.
On film, Little reminds me of Kansas City's Dexter McCluster, albeit with much more size and less speed. His athletic ability is off the charts. He could be used in myriad different ways on offense, at running back, out wide, in the slot, at h-back and even tight end. The sky is the limit for this kid.
If he is able to get his head on straight, he could become of the most explosive players in the league. Chicago should strongly consider putting his past behind him and offering him a place on the team. He's projected as fourth-round pick, which would be a perfect place for the Bears to grab him.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.