Commentary

Pro day provides boost for USC stars

Updated: April 2, 2009, 12:20 PM ET
By Todd McShay | Scouts Inc.

LOS ANGELES -- Scouts typically flock to pro day workouts on the USC campus and Wednesday's session was no different, as NFL talent evaluators lined up to see some of the biggest names in the 2009 draft class take part in what is always one of the best-run pro days during the pre-draft process.

This year's crowd was the biggest in memory, mostly because it allowed scouts a chance to evaluate QB Mark Sanchez and MLB Rey Maualuga, both of whom are looking to move up the first-round board and both of whom put on impressive shows.

Sanchez does not quite have the same eye-popping arm strength as Matthew Stafford of Georgia, but he threw the ball as hard during his workout as we have ever seen. The first part of the workout was clearly tailored to his strengths and did not require him to drive the ball down the field regularly, but Sanchez was dead-on accurate and showed great footwork, mobility and the ability to reset his feet and hit his target when on the move.

To see the breakdown of the rest of Sanchez's workout and find out how USC's impressive trio of linebackers fared in their final showcase in front of NFL scouts, become an ESPN Insider. Insider

As he was wrapping up the initial portion of the workout the Detroit Lions' brass stepped in and asked him to do a little more, and Sanchez obliged without any hesitation. He focused on more deep throws the second time around and ended up with around 100 pass attempts on the afternoon. Sanchez was understandably tired when it was all over, but his overall showing was exceptional.

The Trojans also did a better job than we have ever seen of trying to re-enact game scenarios, asking him to come back across the field with his reads, sending pass-rushers after Sanchez and forcing him to check down, react to pressure and show that he knows where his receivers are supposed to be.

The end result is that Stafford clearly has the stronger arm but Sanchez had a better pro day showing. Sanchez simply is more consistent with his footwork and overall mechanics. That's likely not enough to put him ahead of Stafford on draft boards, but it will certainly cause NFL decision-makers to think harder about things. Sanchez really couldn't have asked for more out of his pro day.

Here's a look at the other big names who took part in workouts and how the day panned out for them:

Maualuga -- The drama around Maualuga's workout built throughout the afternoon. He didn't run the 40-yard dash early on with his teammates in order to make sure the hamstring he injured at the combine would hold up throughout position drills. Maualuga had a good-but-not great showing in drills, looking a bit stiff in his coverage drops, but that is to be expected form a middle linebacker his size. He did weigh in under 250 pounds, though, and eased concerns that he might have gained weight while nursing the injury.

It was his 40 that was the most anticipated part of the workout, however, after Maualuga clocked in at 4.91 seconds on his lone attempt at the combine. Maualuga finally ran by himself at the very end of the workout with everyone gathered around and he did not disappoint. His times ranged from 4.59 to 4.71 according to the scouts we talked to, re-affirming his straight-line speed and burst and answering any lingering questions.

The day ended with USC coach Pete Carroll jogging to scouts to get the times, conferring with Maualuga and then turning to the assembled throng and saying, "That's it, guys," as if to tell everyone they had gotten what they came for.

OLBs Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews -- Cushing displayed impressive quickness and explosiveness but showed tightness in his hips during coverage drills. That is a bit of a concern because he came off the field a lot on third down in college and there are questions about whether he will be a three-down linebacker at the next level.

Matthews, on the other hand, was very smooth and showed good ball skills during coverage drills. He is clearly the better of the two when dropping, while Cushing is more effective at the point of attack. Regardless, all three linebackers have high grades and all should be off the board in the first 25 picks.

CB Cary Harris -- He tweaked his knee and wasn't able to do most of the workout today, and also failed to finish at the combine after suffering a hamstring injury on his first 40 attempt (4.66), which is too bad because Harris is a good player. He's not cut out for these workouts, though, and a couple of minor injuries have robbed him of the opportunities to show his wares. However, some team will get a steal in the middle rounds with Harris, who is instinctive and can tackle extremely well. He's a great fit for Cover 2-heavy defenses.

WR Patrick Turner -- He caught the ball well during Sanchez's workout, at one point making an unbelievable one-handed grab, and ran a personal-best 4.58 in the 40. It was a good overall showing, but still not enough to overcome his inconsistency and the trouble he has getting into and out of his breaks. Harris still projects as a late-round pick.

Todd McShay is the director of college scouting for Scouts Inc. He has been evaluating prospects for the NFL draft since 1998.