Many of you who are ATQ regulars know that I've never been a big fan of any specific NFL team. However, one of the things about the NFL is that there are many reasons that people watch: to root on their favorite team, to check on their fantasy players, etc. My reason is that I like to see how former Oregon Ducks stack up at the next level. So I love watching TJ Ward lay a hit, LeGarrette Blount hurdle somebody, or Jonathan Stewart rumble to the endzone. That said, one of my favorite times for the NFL is the offseason, where I can watch the beginnings of their careers for the most recent Ducks, and see where they are drafted.
One of the most remarkable things about Oregon's run to the national title last season is that it contained very little in the way of major star power, at least in terms of guys moving to the NFL in the immediate future. That said, there are no shortage of storylines as far as Ducks looking to move to the next level. Where will Kenny Rowe fit at the next level? Can Drew Davis find a home when his most valuable asset isn't catching the football? Will Javes Lewis' questionable decision to enter the draft end up paying off?
The college players judged to have the most pro potential are invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, and three Oregon players secured invited this year: Brandon Bair, Jeff Maehl, and Casey Matthews. At the combine, these players will be put through a battery of tests to measure pretty much everyting, from speed (40 yard dash) to strenghts (225 lb bench press) to intelligence (interviews and the Wonderlic test).
Maehl comes into the combine with impressive college numbers, but at 6'0" and inconsistent 40 times ranging from 4.45-4.6, he hasn't shown the measureables that wow NFL scouts. Most experts peg Maehl as a late round pick, but a good combine, showing the speed to match his hands could vault him into the middle rounds.
Bair has questions to answer as well. Is he quick enough to play end? Is he strong enough to play tackle? And how much value is there in picking a player who will be 26 years old as an NFL rookie? Bair needs to give teams some indication that he can find a permanent position in the league. He needs a good combine to ensure that he'll be drafted.
However, perhaps the most interesting player in the draft for Oregon is Casey Matthews. Matthews is Oregon's biggest NFL prospect, and his family lineage would suggest NFL success. Its a fairly weak year for ILBs, and most services have him ranked in the 2-5 range at his position. There is no question that Matthews will be drafted, and he won't even have to wait until the last rounds to see his name called. However, he is the one guy that has the potential to vault him up into round two at the combine.
Matthews is very athletic, but there are a number of questions about his size and strength. At 6'2", 237, Matthews needs to show that he will not be restricted to the inside of a 4-3 in the NFL. Showing that he could potentially play in a 3-4 scheme would greatly improve his value to many teams. To do this, he needs to show improved strength to show that he could pass rush and get off blocks in the NFL. If he can do that, the second round becomes a major possibility.
Watch NFL Scouting Combine Feb 24 - Mar 1