Many in the sports world are watching college basketball on TV these days, but for the pavement-pounding scouts from teams across the NFL, this is March Madness for another reason: It's the time of year to rack up the frequent flier miles, tour campuses around the nation and organize the schedules of scouting departments.
Several big-time college programs were in full force this past week hosting pro days, the annual on-campus event where NFL draft hopefuls show off their strength, quickness and generally hope to impress scouts with drills that may or may not have a lot to do with football.
Arkansas (March 14), Florida State (March 19), Fresno State (March 17), Georgia (March 16), Georgia Tech (March 15), LSU (March 15), Penn State (March 17), Tennessee (March 17), Virginia (March 18) and West Virginia (March 18) were a few of the bigger programs that hosted NFL scouts this week.
But, with QB Tim Tebow on the radar, no one attracted more attention (at least from the media) than the Florida Gators, who held their pro day on Wednesday with Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman in attendance. In fact, Spielman was spotted talking to Tebow about his new throwing mechanics.
The quarterback unveiled a new, more compact throwing motion in Gainesville. He was heavily scrutinized for dropping the ball down by his hip before releasing it, which elongated his release time and gave defensive backs a chance to break on the pass. That seems to be much less of an issue after his performance this week. While some people worry about that component of his game, Tebow impressed as a true athlete at the NFL Scouting Combine. At his pro day, he limited his workout to showing off his new throwing motion. With his attitude, athleticism and work ethic, Tebow's stock seems to be rising again after a Senior Bowl-era plunge in January, when some NFL coaches and scouts got their first in-person look at his raw throwing mechanics.
However, this was much more than the Tebow (prospect profile) show. Another Florida prospect that could get selected before Tebow is offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey. The 6-foot-4½, 306-pound offensive lineman (prospect profile) can play guard and center and could be a player the Vikings consider with their late first-round draft choice, depending on the other options off the board at the time. In fact, Tebow provides a nice decoy if that's the case.
"Looked great. Very solid late first-round pick," NFL Network's Mike Mayock, who was in Gainesville, wrote about Pouncey. "Immediate starter who won't be overwhelmed."
Fresno State also held its pro day on Wednesday, where it featured RB Ryan Mathews (prospect profile), who is expected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick, and the Vikings have taken an interest in other running backs in the first two rounds. Matthews' stock appears to be on the rise as a do-everything back.
Penn State joined the Wednesday fray of pro days, and the main interest there for Vikings fans was defensive tackle Jared Odrick (a href= http://profootball.scout.com/2/947789.html>prospect profile, another player whose draft value appears to be settling in late in the first or early in the second round.
In a busy mid-week schedule, Tennessee also had its pro day. The Vikings weren't believed to be attending that one, maybe because the Volunteers' top two prospects, S Eric Berry and DT Dan Williams, are both expected to be drafted before Minnesota's initial selection at No. 30 rolls around.
Earlier in the week, it was Georgia on the Vikings' minds. The Georgia Bulldogs held their pro day on Tuesday, with two defensive tackles that could go in the middle rounds. Geno Atkins (prospect profile) is an undersized lineman that Stueber expects to be a second-day pick (second or third round) and Jeff Owens (prospect profile), whom Stueber has ranked a couple rounds later.
Georgia Tech held its pro day on Monday and its top prospect, DE Derrick Morgan (prospect profile), is also the top-ranked defensive end, according to Scout.com. But there was another Yellowjacket, running back Jonathan Dwyer, that was getting a concentrated look-see by the Vikings, according to Scout.com's Ed Thompson. Dwyer is most likely a second-round pick.
Monday was also the day for LSU prospects to work out, and there were plenty of options there, from potential first-rounders all the way through the draft on both sides of the ball.
Later in the week brought other possibilities to scouts. Virginia and West Virginia both held their pro days on Thursday.
Virginia has two prospect that could be second-day picks – cornerback Chris Cook (prospect profile) and fullback Rashawn Jackson (prospect profile). The Vikings reportedly have a private workout scheduled with Cook, who might also be looked at as a safety, but they were also reportedly expected to be at Virginia's pro day and they didn't attend, according to what a source told Scout.com draft analyst Chris Steuber.
As for West Virginia, offensive tackle Selvish Capers (interview) could be a second-day pick, but quarterback Jarrett Brown (prospect profile) has worked his way into consideration for the second day as well after a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and a solid follow-up performance at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Finally, Friday brought out the Florida State prospects, the most intriguing of those to Vikings fans being CB Patrick Robinson (prospect profile), whose draft stock matches right around where the Vikings select at the end of the first round.
It was a mind-dizzying week of pro days, but in the end it provides some good weekend hours to soak up the analysis on the prospects scouts just got done viewing in their own March Madness.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings notes: Pro day prospects to watch
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