NFL draft prep: Risers and fallers

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NFL draft prep: Risers and fallers

We’re just a few weeks away from the NFL draft, and with prospects currently visiting and working out for teams, there have been some risers and fallers on my board.

Here’s a look at my current stock report:

*Denotes juniors

Risers

Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The 6-foot-2, 214-pound Carr is one of my favorite prospects and is the most NFL-ready signal-caller in this year’s draft. He’s been extremely impressive during the draft process and has aced all of his tests.

One obstacle, however, stands in his way -- and it’s out of his control -- the perception others have about his brother David and how their careers will be intertwined. That kind of thinking is the harsh reality of this evaluation period. NFL decision makers have to do their due diligence and investigate every possible flaw that will affect their ROI (return on investment), and while the Carr brothers are similar in style (but different in makeup), the situation will determine the success of Derek -- not his bloodline.

With that said, teams will realize that, and don’t be surprised if Derek is the first quarterback selected in the draft.

*Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Robinson has tremendous athleticism and play-making ability, but the 4.60-second 40 that he generated at the scouting combine didn’t sit well with scouts. Luckily, the combine is just one part of the draft process, and prospects have a few opportunities to showcase their skills.

Robinson redeemed himself at Penn State’s pro day, reportedly did very well during positional drills and was timed at a 4.48 and 4.50, which will dismiss any of the concerns teams had about his straight-line speed.

As we approach May 8, the talk won’t be about how far Robinson will be pushed back by the talented crop of wide receivers in this year’s class, but instead how many receivers did he surpass with his strong pro day display. Expect Robinson to be a top-40 lock.

Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Blessed with great size, arm strength and accuracy, the 6-foot-5, 224-pound Mettenberger has future star written all over him. And just five months removed from ACL surgery, Mettenberger threw the ball for the first time since he tore the ACL in his left knee on Nov. 29 at LSU’s pro day last week.

The fact that Mettenberger was on the field and participating so soon after surgery will work in his favor on draft day. Teams in attendance were pleased with his performance, and the impression he made could ultimately propel Mettenberger to being an early Day 2 selection.

Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
In a similar position as Mettenberger health-wise, the 6-foot, 207-pound Murray, who also tore his ACL in late November, had an impressive performance at Georgia’s pro day this past Wednesday. Murray, who, like Mettenberger, is five months removed from major knee surgery, completed 48 of the 54 passes he threw in front of the assembled NFL evaluators and showed no ill effects with his knee.

Before he tore his ACL, there were mixed reviews on Murray mainly because of his size and arm strength. But as far as intelligence, competitiveness and leadership skills, he ranks off the charts. Once he returns to full health, Murray will prove to be one of the biggest steals from this class.

*Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
He’s not one of the highly touted receivers in this year’s class, but the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Latimer is quickly becoming one of the most intriguing receivers after his pro day workout.

Only able to participate in the bench press at the combine -- where he led all wide receivers with 23 reps -- due to a broken bone in his foot, Latimer had a sensational day at Indiana’s pro day and posted a 4.44 and 4.45 in the 40 and a 39-inch vertical.

Prior to his pro day performance, I had Latimer as a fifth-round prospect, but with the interest he’s currently receiving, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were a Day 2 pick. Many teams want to take a closer look at him before the draft, and as we all know, it only takes one team to fall for a player and select him higher than expected. Latimer is one to watch.

5 previous risers still rising:
Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
*Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
*Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois

Fallers

*Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Has the draft process brought out the real Bridgewater? And was his play at Louisville an illusion helped by the cupcake schedule he competed against? That’s a question NFL executives are pondering.

There were many who were put off by Bridgewater’s decision not to perform at the combine, and after his disappointing showing at Louisville’s pro day, teams selecting in the top 10 and in need of a quarterback will have pause when considering the 6-foot-2, 214-pound quarterback.

It’s unclear when Bridgewater will come off the board, and it’s possible that he could experience a Geno Smith-like fall in the draft, but for this once well-thought-of prospect, nothing has seemed to go his way this offseason.

*Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
It’s been reported that the 6-foot-7, 322-pound Kouandjio has been downgraded by a handful of teams over concerns of an arthritic condition in his left knee. He had ACL surgery on the knee when he was a freshman.

Since his lackluster performance in Indianapolis, Kouandjio has steadily fallen on my board. However, he recently had a solid workout in front of a number of scouts at Alabama’s second pro day and showed improved athleticism.

If healthy, Kouandjio has a chance to be a very good tackle at the next level, but if there’s concern over the condition of his knee or uncertainty about longevity, selecting him in the early rounds is a major risk.

Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami
Certain players look like they were born to play football, and the 6-foot-7, 339-pound Henderson definitely has the size and skillset to be a dominant player.

But off the field, he’s a wild card. During his career at Miami, Henderson was an underachiever marred by disciplinary action and injuries, and while his workouts this offseason have been encouraging (5.04 in the 40, 28-inch vertical and 23 reps on the bench), the distractions he causes can’t be overlooked.

In terms of ability, Henderson could be a Day 2 selection, but for a team to invest that high of a selection in a player who lacks passion for the game is a no-win situation.

Chris Steuber has covered the NFL and NFL draft for multiple media outlets since 1999. He also served as director of player personnel for the Georgia Force of the Arena Football League from 2010-12.

Eagles Injury Update: Mathews and Matthews to return to practice

Eagles Injury Update: Mathews and Matthews to return to practice

If you're searching for some good news following the Eagles' dismal 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday afternoon, here it is. 

Jordan Matthews (ankle) and Ryan Mathews (knee) are going to return to practice this week, head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. 

Ryan Mathews, who suffered an MCL sprain against Seattle, has missed the last two weeks. The Eagles averaged just 77 yards rushing in those two losses, going with Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner. 

Jordan Matthews, who has been the Eagles' best and most consistent receiver this season, suffered an ankle sprain against the Packers and was inactive on Sunday against the Bengals. It was the first game he ever missed in college or in the NFL. 

Wideout Dorial Green-Beckham, who injured his midsection and got X-rays during the game, has an oblique contusion, according to Pederson. Green-Beckham is sore and will be held from practice on Wednesday, but Pederson expects him to be "OK" for the Washington game on Sunday. 

Pederson said right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai is "coming along," but isn't yet ready to return. 

"He's going to do a little more this week, not from a practice standpoint but from a rehab standpoint, and he's doing good," Pederson said. "But we'll see where he is again later in the week."

In Vaitai's absence, left guard Allen Barbre has shifted from left guard to right tackle and Stefen Wisniewski has replaced him at left guard. 

Doug Pederson admits 'not everybody' played hard in loss

Doug Pederson admits 'not everybody' played hard in loss

Doug Pederson’s press conference was humming along as expected on Monday morning, the day after the team’s 32-14 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati. 

Like he did minutes after the game, Pederson again expressed the idea that the Eagles didn’t lose for lack of effort. 

“I didn’t see any quit in the guys,” he said several different ways throughout the 19-minute session with reporters. 

The effort’s there. There’s no quit. 

Those are the types of responses we’ve become accustomed to hearing from Pederson over the last couple of weeks after embarrassing losses. And it looked like that was how Monday was going to end, with that same message being repeated ad nauseum. 

Until Pederson made a shocking admission. 

Could he honestly say every one of his players played hard against Cincinnati?

“Not everybody,” he said. “Not everybody, and that's the accountability that I talk about. You know, I hold coaches accountable for that. I hold myself accountable for that because it all starts with me and I pride myself each week to make sure the guys are ready to go. 
 
“But at the same time, it comes down to a mentality by each individual player. You know, this is a business where we have to be ready to go every single weekend because every team in the league -- I mean, there's some teams that are better than others, obviously -- but for the most part, anything can happen each weekend.”
 
Not everybody. The admission of that fact is far more shocking than the reality. Fans who watched Sunday’s game will probably be able to pinpoint several plays where one or more Eagles might not have given full effort. 
 
But for a first-year head coach to come out and admit it in public is rare. Perhaps Pederson felt emboldened to say something because he’s been assured of his status within the organization (see story). On Monday, he said he “for sure” thinks his job is secure after this season based on reassurance from Jeff Lurie and Howie Roseman. 
 
While Pederson said it publicly, the conversation between him and his players about accountability will continue. It seems unlikely Pederson will take it a step further by cutting or benching players, but his team will definitely hear the message its head coach put out on Monday. 
 
While Pederson commented that “not everybody” played hard, it seems like he’s convinced that portion of the team is the minority. Overall, he’s still convinced that guys are buying in. The reason he gave was the feedback he’s been getting back from his leadership council (a group of veteran leaders he has depended on throughout the season). 
 
Earlier in the press conference, Pederson was asked about one play in particular, when Zach Ertz failed to block Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict as Carson Wentz scrambled for a 10-yard gain in the first quarter. The video shows Ertz making an effort to avoid the linebacker.
 
“Looking at the tape and watching where Carson was scrambling of course he was heading toward out of bounds and I think he just pulled off at that point,” Pederson said. “That’s all I can say. But I’m definitely going to ask him why.”

With a 5-7 record, the Eagles’ playoff chances are all but completely gone, so the last quarter of the season will be about effort, pride and finding out who wants to be back on the team in 2017. 

To end his press conference, Pederson was asked if this Eagles team needs to be “loved up” or if it’s time for some tough love.  

“I think it's both. I think it's both,” he said. “I think there's a level of that tough love. There's got to be that accountability that I was talking about. You know, I implore and I challenge the leaders of the football team to stand up and really not only hold themselves [accountable] but the rest of the team. Listen, it's not a panic move or anything like that, but just, ‘Hey, let's just make sure we're doing things right.’ Everybody just do things right, do their jobs, do their assignments, you know, and good things are going to happen. 

“Obviously, again, it starts with me, and I've got to make sure that I'm doing it right and I'm holding myself accountable, and as you mentioned earlier with Jeffrey and Howie, if they're holding me accountable and all that, that's where it starts, and then I relay that message to the assistants and on to the team.”