Pasquarelli: Slim pickings
Dolphins GM dismayed by lack of running by backs
Pasquarelli: Thursday's buzz
Clayton: Outrunning history
Pasquarelli: Always in a rush
Clayton: Ready to go?
Combine notes: No first-rounder for Bills
Clayton: On the clock
Pasquarelli: Grossman ready to throw
Clayton: What to watch at the combine
Pasquarelli: No sweat
Kiper: Top 25 NFL prospects (Jan. 20)
2003 NFL Draft Combine
Kiper: Ranking sack artists, run stuffers
Kiper: Ranking possession WRs, more
Kiper: Ranking big, deep-threat WRs
Kiper: How RBs can improve
Kiper: How QBs can improve
Kiper's Mock Draft: QB Palmer solid at No. 1
PFW: Mock draft No. 1
Friday, February 21, 2003
Updated: February 26, 11:08 AM ET
Fargas sets blazing pace at combine
By Len Pasquarelli
INDIANAPOLIS -- For a combine seeking a star, and for several franchises trying to locate a potential first-round choice at the tailback spot, Southern California standout Justin Fargas provided both on Friday afternoon.
One of just nine running backs who actually participated in the 40-yard dash on Friday from the initial group of players at the position, Fargas tore up the RCA Dome track, posting two sub-4.4 times. In his first effort, Fargas ran between 4.28-4.33, depending on whose stopwatch you believed. To prove that time wasn't a fluke, he ran a second 40, and was clocked at 4.34-4.35.
There is another group of backs scheduled to run Saturday, but many have already said they won't participate in the sprint, and it's not likely that any of them could approach Fargas' blazing times. Even though the two times are unofficial -- the fastest official time at the combine was posted by Deion Sanders, at 4.29 seconds, in 1989 -- Fargas has clearly set the tone.
More important, Fargas may have established himself as the premier tailback prospect in a running backs talent pool that still has much to prove, and that has lacked a true first-round contender. On Wednesday, the Trojans standout did 27 repetitions of the standard 225-pound bench press, a feat that likely catapulted him into the second round.
His impressive times Friday, however, have dramatically boosted his stock.
"That kid made himself a lot of money today," said one AFC personnel man. "He made everyone sit up in their seats."
The ironic part is that, like most of the running back prospects, Fargas had all but decided to skip the 40-yard drill and just complete it for scouts at his on-campus workout next month. But when he arrived at the RCA Dome, for whatever reason, Fargas felt he could run fast on what has historically been a notoriously sluggish surface.
So he decided to gamble a little.
"I just figured, 'Hey, what the heck, I'll get another chance at my individual workout if I screw this up,' and I decided to let it rip," Fargas said. "I guess I just felt fast, you know, and went for it."
A former Michigan starter, who transferred to Southern Cal after injuries and offensive philosophy set him back early in his career, Fargas was hurt much of the 2002 season but posted monster numbers down the stretch. A few teams may be concerned about his past injuries, but some scouts noted on Friday that Fargas has a "live body," and not many miles on his legs.
The only question a few teams raised to ESPN.com was about what they feel are Fargas' thin legs. But he is well-defined physically, especially through his upper body, and there is no denying his potential.
"Now that he's done so well here, people will look for some warts, since that is the nature of the business," said one NFC college scouting director whose team is looking for a tailback. "Guess what? This guy doesn't have a whole lot of acne on him. We still want to see a lot more of him but, as far as we're concerned, he out-ran a lot of pimples with that performance."
Around the combine
Observations from one AFC college scouting director:
"One of the really intriguing guys for our team is (defensive tackle) Rien Long (from Washington State). I know a lot of teams are really mixed on him because they feel he's a little bit stiff. But you have to remember this: He hasn't had much exposure to the game. This isn't a kid who has been playing football his entire life, you know, so you have to project a bit on what you might be getting. He's huge (6-feet-6 1/8 and 302 pounds) and he uses his hands pretty well. You look at that long torso and figure that, when he matures and gets into an NFL (weightlifting) program, he's going to be able to hold more weight. He's young and he had 13 sacks last year. There is a lot of (crap) being tossed around about him. But we like him. We're not listening to the (critics)."
"(Offensive tackle Jordan) Gross of Utah was really solid (Friday) in the drills he did. People are worried he lacks some weight but, man, he is really light on his feet. And he sets up (to pass block) with a real, nice base. You don't see him get off-balance very often at all. The other thing is, his first blow is pretty strong, and he locks out pretty well. OK, so maybe he is a bit too mechanical, but his techniques are good enough, and he's a smart kid. He won't knock many (defenders) off the line in the running game, but he should be a terrific blindside pass protector in a couple years."
"As usual, the tight ends aren't getting too much attention, although every team now is looking for a (Jeremy) Shockey type of guy. I'll tell you what: There probably isn't a Shockey in this draft but, boy, there are some pretty nice players at tight end. The big guy from Tennessee (Jason Witten) has some competition for the top spot. I like (Bennie) Joppru (Michigan), and there aren't many players who improved as much as he did last season. But I really like (Iowa's) Dallas Clark. He just knows how to get open and you can't overlook a guy who averaged almost 17 yards at tight end. I'm anxious to see how quick he is in some of the drills."
"You want a sleeper-type guy as a pass rusher? OK, take a look at Calvin Pace (Wake Forest) and tell me what you think. No, you couldn't line him up at defensive end on first or second down. He's too light in the ass. But he just looks the part of a situational pass-rush guy. He's quick. He has that little twitch you want in a third-down rush guy. Just use him for maybe 15 snaps a game, don't let him wear down physically, and I think you could get yourself a decent player there."
"You watch some team take Arnaz Battle (Notre Dame) toward the end of the first day, OK? He started at quarterback in a big-time program. Then he switched to wide receiver and, while I don't think he's a burner, he made a ton of big plays. We feel like he might be able to play safety, maybe return punts or kickoffs, cover kicks on special teams. Hey, with teams looking to get more for less, and teams seeing what Pittsburgh is able to do with a guy like (Antwaan) Randle El, everybody wants a player like that now. Now a guy like (Seneca) Wallace, who played quarterback (at Iowa State), he's the same kind of kid. He's going to work out some at wide receiver just to see if he can do it. Hey, the more you can do, you know?"
"It looks like (Oklahoma cornerback) Andre Woolfolk has the size we all want in the position, just walking by him in the hallway, but there is some element missing there. Let's see what he does here this weekend. I know he hasn't played a lot of corner, and it's hard to ignore all that raw skill, but I want to see him start acting like a cornerback here soon. And not like a guy who used to be a wide receiver and is making excuses for not being quite as polished as the other (cornerbacks)."
University of Miami wide receiver Andre Johnson turned heads when he weighed in at an incredible 230 pounds. And with nary any fat on him at all. The 6-feet-2 Johnson is a monster, a player who closely resembles Cardinals wide receiver David Boston in terms of overwhelming size. Scouts stopped and stared when he walked down a corridor on Friday afternoon. Johnson won't run here but he has already passed the eyeball test. Michigan State star Charles Rogers, the top prospect at the position, was 6-feet-2 ½ and 204 pounds, another huge wideout.
Scouts agree that, from a physical stature standpoint, this might well be the biggest class of quarterbacks to attend the combine. Byron Leftwich, the Marshall star, weighed 241 pounds. Louisville's Dave Ragone was 249. Carson Palmer of Southern Cal is 237. Texas' Chris Simms is both tall and solidly built.
University of Hawaii guard Vince Manuwai, either the No. 1 or No. 2 prospect at the position depending upon who you talk to about him, put on a real show in the Friday afternoon drills. For a guy who is regarded as a tough in-line blocker, Manuwai is surprisingly light on his feet. He did the shuttle drill in the 4.2s, a time some corners would kill to get.
Teams were pleased to see Ohio State defensive tackle Kenny Peterson weigh in at 298 pounds, nearly 20 pounds more than the weight at which he finished the season. As noted in this space on Thursday, some teams feel Peterson has enough quickness to move outside and play end. But his big weight gain also means he should be able to anchor inside against the run.
Wisconsin center Al Johnson could emerge as the top snapper in the draft. He's a little tall for the position (6-feet-4) but plays with nice leverage and is smart enough to make the calls on the blocking adjustments.
Some of the 3-4 defensive teams have requested that University of Miami end Jerome McDougle also work out at linebacker. "I haven't played that much 'in space,' but I feel I could do it," McDougle said. "If that's what they want, as long as I get to rush the passer, that's fine."
Rex Grossman, QB, Florida: As noted above, the physical dimensions of the quarterback class are staggering this year, arguably the biggest group in terms of overall stature in several seasons. That's why it is so ironic that a simple half-inch could make all the difference in the world for one of the prospects at the game's most important position. But when University of Florida star Rex Grossman was measured at an even 6-feet-1 on Friday morning, there were more than a few teams who took interest. The consensus was that Grossman, who weighed 217 pounds, would be about 6-feet-0 ½. That extra half-inch might not seem like much, but from a psychological standpoint, it is huge for scouts. As ESPN.com first reported earlier this week, Grossman planned all along to participate in throwing drills on Sunday, but even before tossing a single pass, his stock is rising. Teams are also impressed by Grossman's obvious confidence. Asked about the reports he might be selected by the Green Bay Packers, and queried as to how it might feel to someday supplant Brett Favre, he barely blinked. "I wouldn't be fazed by following him," said Grossman. "And if a coach wanted me to play right away, even as a rookie, I would not shy away."
Dave Ragone, QB, Louisville: Maybe it's just a feeling scouts are getting, because the guy really hasn't done anything wrong, but Louisville quarterback Dave Ragone seems to be sliding in the estimation of most talent evaluators. He is coming off a poor season, one where he played behind an atrocious offensive line and took a terrible beating, and where his accuracy wasn't very good. The feeling is that other quarterbacks, like Grossman and Chris Simms (Texas) and Kyle Boller (California), have simply passed him by. Plus there is a very real perception that Ragone, who weighed in at 249 pounds, does not have the mobility many teams now covet at the position. Ragone won't be able to reverse much opinion here, because he has decided not to throw on Sunday, so he will need a good campus workout to move back up.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.