Pro Day Tour: Back in Mold of Grant Impresses

The Packers sent a scout to at least five pro days on Friday. Among the players they watched: a record-setting running back, an under-the-radar defensive back who didn't play last season and enigmatic linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

Do the Green Bay Packers need a running back?

Ryan Grant is 29 and a free agent.

James Starks, a sixth-round pick in 2010, might not have taken a step back this past season but he surely didn't take a step forward.

Alex Green, a third-round pick in 2011, is coming off a torn ACL.

Brandon Saine impressed as a rookie but went undrafted in 2011.

So, the Packers' cupboard of running backs is anything but empty. The Packers obviously could re-sign Grant, or they could go another direction and get a running back that's been compared to Grant — Temple's Bernard Pierce.

Pierce fits the mold of the Packers' running backs at 6-foot and 218 pounds. With a Green Bay scout in attendance, Pierce ran a sizzling 4.34 in the 40-yard dash, a source told Packer Report. That potentially will get him into the second round.

A junior entry, Pierce played in 34 games (24 starts) and rushed for 3,570 yards and 53 touchdowns. In 2011, he rushed for 1,481 yards and a school-record 27 touchdowns. His 152 points broke the Mid-American Conference record set by Marshall's Randy Moss in 1997.

"I don't think people realize how good of a running back he is," legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno said last year. "He's a hell of a running back. He's tough and has great acceleration and good eyes, he anticipates things. As soon as he has an opportunity and he's ready to break through a hole or go outside, he has enough speed to do it. He's a tough kid, not the fastest guy in the world, but he sure uses his eyes and courage to his advantage. He's been big-time for two years now."

The Owls' other draft-worthy prospect that would interest the Packers is fullback Evan Rodriguez. A fullback-tight end combo, he'd suit Green Bay's offense. Rodriguez, who stuck with his Combine time of 4.53 seconds, led the team with 35 catches for 479 yards and two touchdowns as a senior.

Of Temple's other prospects, guard Derek Dennis doesn't fit the scheme and linebackers Adrian Robinson and Tahir Whitehead probably aren't big enough at around 235 pounds.

Arizona State

Enigmatic middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict wasn't going to work out for scouts until March 30. But at the urging of scouts who made the trek to Tempe, Burfict did everything but the 40-yard dash, according to a source at the workout.

Even while not fully prepared, Burfict had an impressive day and began to ease the concerns of scouts after Burfict ran a plodding 5.0 in the 40 at the Combine.

"He's a football player," the source said. "Coming forward, he's a load."

Publicly, the Packers are happy with their investment in A.J. Hawk, but Hawk wasn't involved in a turnover-producing play all season and the defense suffered in part because of his inability to play in space. That could make Burfict (6-1, 248) a good value pick if he's on the board at the end of the third or fourth round. Burfict's emotions have gotten the better of him, but a veteran Packers locker room could be the solution.

The Sun Devils' other top prospect is cornerback Omar Bolden, who missed most of 2009 and all of 2011 with knee injuries. He proclaimed himself 100 percent healthy but looked a litlte stiff in drills, which probably shouldn't be surprising.

Two big receivers had big days: Gerell Robinson (77 catches, 1,397 yards, seven touchdowns) and Mike Willie (36 catches, 455 yards, three touchdowns). A real interesting player is under-the-radar safety Clint Floyd finished third on the team in tackles, led the team with four interceptions and was second with two forced fumbles. He ran the 40 in 4.6 and was excellent in position drills. To show his athleticism, he'll catch passes from star quarterback Brock Osweiler on March 30.

West Virginia

There's not a more interesting player in the draft than Bruce Irvin, with the former high school dropout developing into one of the most-feared pass rushers in the game with 22.5 sacks during his two seasons in Morgantown.

Question is, can he ever be anything more than a designated pass rusher? And if not, how early can you draft a part-time player, no matter how good he is at rushing the passer? The 6-foot-3 Irvin, who bulked up to 245 pounds for the Combine, started just six games in his career, when he played at about 225 or 230 pounds. Irvin stuck with his 4.41 clocking at the Combine — the fastest of any defensive lineman or linebacker — and looked smooth in coverage drills as a linebacker, a source in attendance told Packer Report.

A couple late-round prospects of note are inside linebacker Najee Goode (6-0, 244) and defensive end/outside linebacker Julian Miller (6-3, 256). Miller had 24 sacks over his final three seasons, including six as a senior, when he was moved to defensive tackle. Goode piled up a team-high 87 tackles as a senior. Goode did some work at safety, as well, on Friday.

Oregon State

If Brandon Hardin didn't get reacquainted with scouts at the East-West Shrine Game, he certainly did at the Beavers' pro day.

Hardin, who missed all of his senior season with a broken shoulder sustained at fall camp, ran a blistering 4.36 in the 40 with a 35.5-inch vertical leap and 24 reps on the bench. With that, the 6-foot-3, 217-pounder has the best size-speed-strength numbers of any safety in the draft. Oh, and he's smart, too: Hardin could have returned to school but had earned his degree in business administration.

A cornerback for Oregon State, he picked off one pass in 38 career games (15 starts). In 2010, he showed his hitting ability by forcing three fumbles, which is why scouts like him at safety — and why he played safety at the East-West game.

Missouri State

Receiver Jermaine Saffold (6-0, 192) might not get drafted but he'll earn a shot somewhere. According to a source, he ran 4.27 with the wind and 4.44 against it, which averages a 4.35, and posted a 36-inch vertical. He set school records with 913 receiving yards as a senior and 2,221 yards for his career, and tied the school record with eight touchdown catches in 2011, as well. Those aren't big numbers, but Missouri State wasn't a juggernaut, finishing 2-9 while being outscored 408-222.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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