Pro days are underway across the country. For many college players who were unable to get an invite to the National Scouting Combine, it's a chance to get noticed. Periodically CowboysHQ.com will take a look at players who have distinguished themselves during the pro day process and what that might mean to the Dallas Cowboys, and the rest of the NFL, on Draft weekend.
The Dallas Cowboys have been up in Prescott's grill for most of the scouting season. The Cowboys met with Prescott at the Senior Bowl. The Cowboys met with Prescott at the Scouting Combine. The Cowboys attended Prescott's pro day last week and scheduled a private workout with the projected third-round pick. Scouts like Prescott's dual-threat ability. In his final two years at MSU he was among the country's leaders in total yardage (passing and rushing). He has a strong arm and being a senior scouts see him as a physically mature player with good decision-making skills in the pocket. He's drawing comparisons to Tim Tebow and that might not be the best thing for Prescott. His head coach, Dan Mullen, was Tebow's offensive coordinator at Florida. Tebow and Prescott are similar physically and in leadership skills. Plus, they're similar in how accurate they were in college. Tebow was 66.4 percent as a passer at Florida, while Prescott was 62.8 percent. Of course, you know that Tebow's accuracy took a deep dip in the NFL (47.9 percent). Will the same happen with Prescott? Scouts seem to think he has a higher ceiling than Tebow. But they also believe Prescott is a work in progress, just like Tebow. I think the Cowboys are intrigued because of Prescott's dual-threat ability. General manager and owner Jerry Jones remains entranced by those types of players, even though it really doesn't fit head coach Jason Garrett's overall offensive philosophy. But if the Cowboys are intent on using a mid-draft pick to find a quarterback they can develop, Prescott is certainly worth the examination. Of course, all of the above takes a back seat to Prescott's arrest for DUI in Starkville over the weekend, just a couple of days after his pro day. Prescott's rep will take a ding because of this, but how much remains to be seen. But the timing for Prescott, with the draft looming in a month, is about as bad as it gets. The Cowboys will stay interested, I think, especially if Prescott's value takes a drop and the Cowboys think they'd be drafting a player with third-round value in, say, the fourth round.
Speed and quickness can kill at every position, but it means more at some than others, and that is the case for Burns' two potential NFL positions — defensive back and return specialist. Burns didn't get a Scouting Combine invitation last month, so he had to have a great pro day to get teams interested and that's just what he did. He showed off the straight-line speed with 40 times of 4.4 and 4.38. But it was his quickness in the three-cone drill that really had people talking. His time of 6.6 seconds would have been one of the best at the Combine at any position had he been in Indianapolis. The cone drill measures change-of-direction quickness, an important part of being a defensive back or a specialist. Last year Burns was one of the nation's top returners, earning Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year and All-American kick returner honors on five different postseason teams. He also claimed honorable mention honors as a defensive back in the Big 12. So he fits a profile for the Cowboys — a talented, quick player who can help the team at multiple positions. He has a share of K-State's career record for kickoff returns for a touchdown (4) and ranks second in all-time kickoff return average (30.8). He will get a look from several teams in part because of how K-State's Tyler Lockett impacted the Seattle Seahawks as a wide receiver and kickoff returner as a rookie last season. Many consider Burns to be a fifth-round value and some were surprised he didn't get a Combine invitation. His pro day certainly helped his value. The Cowboys have two fourth-round picks and they could use cornerback depth with added value in the return game.
This might seem like an odd choice. Henry is going to be drafted. Some, like me, believe he is going to be taken in the first round. At 6-foot-3, 247 pounds Henry cuts a huge shadow in any backfield. As you might imagine he's not lacking for publicity. But he did something at his pro day that, to me, solidified his reputation among scouts and player personnel directors. He caught passes. That sounds like a news flash, doesn't it? Henry catches passes. Most running backs do. But Henry wasn't planning to do much at his pro day. He was planning to let his combine numbers stand. But when Alabama was short receivers for quarterback Jake Coker to throw to, Henry volunteered to step in and help. According to reporters in attendance scouts were impressed with his route-running and pass-catching ability, almost to the point where it was a revelation for some. I don't imagine that many NFL teams are going to utilize Henry as a 30- or 40-catch per season type of player, but just the mere fact that you can throw to Henry out of the backfield will give opposing defenses pause. I still have questions about what Henry will do his rookie season after such an immense workload last year at Alabama. But I think he solidified himself as a first-round pick with his pro day performance, which takes him out of Dallas' wheelhouse in the second round. I think it's a trade-down scenario if the Cowboys want Henry. ... and it's worth noting that Henry says he's been invited to Valley Ranch for a pre-Draft workout.
The Cowboys seek to accumulate talent up front this offseason, and I suspect they'll grab at least one pass-rusher, either interior or exterior, by draft's end. Ward, at 6-foot-5, 298 pounds, looks like an interior guy in the Cowboys' 4-3 defense (he would be an outside end in a 3-4). When you compare his pro day numbers to the numbers he put up at the Combine he didn't provide much improvement. But he's been building momentum for the past two months, starting with an attention-grabbing week at the Senior Bowl. The key to Ward's value is his athleticism. He has the ability to dunk the basketball, can get off the line of scrimmage quick and has the strength to fend off offensive linemen. But he's a project player. He played wide receiver and safety in high school. He played two years at Globe Tech, a junior college in Manhattan, and then two years at Illinois. He has a limited track record at his position and scouts are in agreement that he needs time to refine his pass rush skills, as he tends to get lost if his initial push doesn't work. Ward's valuation is all over the map right now, but he feels like a third-day selection to me. For the Cowboys that would mean using one of their two fourth-round picks, or one of their four sixth-round picks, to take him. I think they would be getting an intriguing player who needs good coaching and possesses a higher-than-average ceiling for a player taken on Day 3.
QB Jason VanderLaan, Ferris State
Ferris State is a Division II school in Big Rapids, Mich. I know this because I've been there. For top players at Division II or III schools, you have to be special and you usually must go to a Division I pro day to get an evaluation. Such was the case for Bulldogs quarterback Jason VanderLaan, who crashed Northwestern's pro day last week. I normally don't include DII or DIII players in our pro day premium, but VanderLaan is worth noticing. He's the only player in college football history — at all levels — to put up four straight 1,000-yard passing and 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He's also the top rushing quarterback in college football at any level with 5,935 yards. He put up 14,193 yards in total offense for his career. At 6-foot-4, 244 pounds, the 2014 Harlon Hill Award winner has the measureables that NFL scouts are looking for at the position. The problem, of course, is that teams are going to look at the competition he faced — he did play in one of Division II's toughest conferences, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference — and downgrade him as a result. That's why attending that Northwestern pro day was important. VanderLaan got the chance to throw, but he also showed his willingness to work at other positions. The New England Patriots, who were at the pro day, worked VanderLaan out as a tight end. So the versatility is key here. Throw the passing out of it. VanderLaan is a 244-pound back that can rush effectively, has the size to block and the potential to catch passes. We call that an H-back. It's unlikely he'll be drafted, but he's worth tracking as an undrafted free agent. Someone will give him a chance.
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