NFL Combine: Five takeaways on draft prospects from first day

By Dane Brugler, The Sports Xchange  |  Feb. 24, 2016 at 10:25 PM
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NFL Combine: Day 1

INDIANAPOLIS -- The first day of the NFL Combine is quiet on the field but loud in the interview room as the specialists, offensive linemen and running backs strolled through Lucas Oil Stadium to speak with the media.

Here are five observations from the first day:

--Talented tackle Tunsil wants to be a Tennessee Titan

"Hopefully, they draft me."

The favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick, Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil made no mistake about his goal on draft day - he wants to be a Tennessee Titan.

"They're a pretty good franchise," Tunsil said. "They had a little down season. Hopefully, they draft me and I can help them win games."

Tunsil, who measured at 6 feet 5 and 310 pounds with 34 1/4-inch arms, added that Ole Miss was close to Nashville and it would be great to play "right up the road." He admitted that he didn't know much about the organization but hoped to learn more soon.

Tunsil said it has been his lifelong goal to be the No. 1 overall pick. And he's not lacking in confidence about why he should be.

"I have great feet, great frame. I just think I'm the best. You've got to have that swagger about yourself. You've got to be confident."

--Left tackles protect their quarterbacks on the field ... and off the field.

Michigan State's Connor Cook is a hotly debated quarterback prospect for several reasons, including his demeanor in the huddle and ability to acclimate himself to a NFL locker room. According to several around the league, he rubbed some the wrong way with his "Hollywood" and "smug" attitude. But according to Michigan State left tackle Jack Conklin, those concerns are "overkill."

"Connor was a leader on our team, no doubt," Conklin said. "Talk to anybody at Michigan State and you'll get the same answer. I think this is going to be a stage for him to prove to people he's a leader."

Although scouts have different questions about North Dakota State's Carson Wentz, his left tackle, Joe Haeg, was proactive in praising his quarterback, calling him "amazing," "a servant leader" and a "master of his craft."

"He's just someone that tries to lift the level of play of everyone around him," Haeg said.

Haeg and Wentz both arrived in Fargo at the same time five years ago, redshirting together in 2011. But he could tell back then that Wentz was headed for big things.

"Even when we were redshirts, he was someone that was tearing up our defense as a scout team quarterback," Haeg said. "You can ask Coach Klieman (former Bisons defensive coordinator, now the head coach) -- he always says it too -- that 2011 year when we were both redshirts, Carson was the best quarterback our defense faced."

--Ronnie Stanley is hoping to dispel the false rumors about his "lackadaisical" effort

There is no questioning his talent. Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley is one of the most physically gifted offensive tackles to enter the draft in recent years. However, some scouts have received the vibe that he lacks the necessary fire needed for the NFL. Stanley is hoping to put those negative rumors to rest.

"I don't think many people know how important football is to me and how big of a role it's played throughout my life," Stanley responded when asked what he was hoping to prove to NFL teams this week.

A former basketball player, Stanley does play with finesse at times on tape and doesn't show the same aggressive mentality on each snap. It is a legitimate concern among several around the league, especially because he is a prospect that teams will consider in the top-10 picks.

"I've just heard negative things," Stanley said. "That I'm a laid-back guy that just relies on his talent, doesn't really love the game like he should. So I'm really trying to show those people what football means to me."

Stanley tipped the scales at 312 pounds on Wednesday and measured 6 feet 5 3/4 with 35 5/8-inch arms -- all outstanding numbers. He needs to fine-tune his strength, mechanics and effort before he's ready for NFL snaps, but he is a dancing bear with his athleticism and his upside drives up his value. How Stanley interviews could have an impact on his landing spot on draft day.

---Before you fault underclassmen for leaving early, best to understand their reasons

It happens every year. Underclassmen unexpectedly declare for the NFL when fans and media never even considered it a possibility. And that leads to the "he made a bad choice" articles and comments. But it's best to understand each situation and scenario before dishing out the criticism.

Take Auburn running back Peyton Barber. His reason for leaving the Tigers sheds new light on why he made his choice.

"There are some things I'm going through with my family, my mom, she is homeless right now. Doing it for her," Barber revealed Wednesday. "Right now, she is staying with my sister. Staying in an apartment back home."

Barber led Auburn in rushing last season with 1,017 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 78.2 yards per game. But as only a redshirt sophomore and one year of production, most expected him to return to school in 2016.

Time will tell if his NFL career takes off, but fair to say he made the right choice for him.

--Jonathan Williams and other possible top-100 running backs not yet ready to work out

Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams was rated as the No. 1 senior at his position during the summer, but a foot injury in August put him on the shelf for the 2015 season. He was limited at the Senior Bowl and will be at the NFL Combine.

Williams plans to bench press, but will wait until his pro day on March 16 to do the agility drills. That date will be exactly seven months removed from the injury, which was the precise goal that he and his doctor planned.

Although 2015 was basically a lost year for Williams, he is confident the injury won't plague him moving forward.

"Whoever drafts me will be happy for years to come," he said.

Utah running back Devontae Booker is also competing to be the first senior back off the board, but like Williams, he won't be a full participant at the Combine. Booker, who was unable to participate at the Senior Bowl, suffered a bone bruise and slight meniscus tear in his left knee in November, which required surgery and ended his college career.

Indiana junior running back Jordan Howard will not be a full participant this week in Indianapolis. Despite feeling "100 percent," he plans on doing only position drills and the bench press at the Combine. Howard will wait until his pro day on April 1 for the 40-yard dash and other agility drills.

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