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-- Entering the combine, Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was a good candidate to steal the show. To the disappointment of many, a foot injury prevented him from getting medical clearance to participate in most drills.
Seferian-Jenkins is the closest thing to Rob Gronkowski we’ve seen since the New England tight end ascended to NFL stardom. The Washington tight end has the size, strength, and athleticism to develop into a special player. The combine presented an opportunity for him to showoff his attributes, but his injury obviously prevented that from happening.
With North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron having a strong combine workout, Seferian-Jenkins isn’t likely to be the first tight end taken in this draft. In addition, rumors have him needing six to eight weeks to recover from his foot injury, which is reportedly a stress fracture. This could prevent him from partaking in any workout prior to the NFL draft.
His injury will heal, so I still expect him to emerge as this draft’s best tight end three, four years from now. Nevertheless, most teams want a player that can immediately contribute, and they aren’t likely to see Seferian-Jenkins as that guy. This all but makes him a long shot to hear his name called on the first day of the draft.
-- Another player with injury questions is Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. Ian Rapport of the NFL Network tweeted that Kouandjio failed several teams' physicals from failed arthritic knee surgery.
The failed surgery was enough to drop his draft stock out of the first round, but Kouandjio also participated and struggled at the combine. He tested poorly in his workout and displayed poor fluidity in individual drills.
The disappointing combine comes following an awful performance in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, where Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker exposed his weakness against athletic edge rushers.
-- Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is in the news for becoming the NFL Draft’s first openly gay prospect. The media arrived in Indianapolis to continue their coverage of his journey to the draft. Much of the attention is on whether the NFL is ready for an openly gay player. Others are examining whether his sexual orientation will hurt his draft stock. In regards to the latter, it shouldn’t. Sam wasn’t at the combine to answer those questions, though. He was there to workout in front of NFL scouts, coaches, and general managers. His workout was a disappointment.
Many teams are interested in converting Sam to an outside linebacker. During senior bowl week, he had difficulties with this transition. The same problems persisted at the combine, where he simply looks uncomfortable playing in space. His lack of versatility will hurt his draft stock.
His workout numbers only reinforced his lack of athleticism. His 4.91 in the 40 was woeful, though he did post a 1.72 10-yard split, which isn’t bad. He also struggled in his other workouts, namely the broad and vertical jumps. Despite the poor combine showing, someone will draft Sam. He does a good job of getting off blocks, rushing the quarterback, and he’s the reigning SEC defensive player of the year. He’s just not a three-down player, though.
He reminds me a little bit of Green Bay defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Niamila. Sam is about 20 pounds heavier than Gbaja-Niamila, but they’re similar in terms of what they can and cannot do. Gbaja-Niamila could not play in space nor could he defend the run well. He was an imposing pass rusher, but opponents would run at him, making the Packers pay for having him in their starting lineup. Sam could be a little stronger versus the run, but he’s still not likely to be a three-down player.
In 2007, Green Bay regulated Gbaja-Niamila to sub-package duties. He played mostly during passing situations and his sole responsibility was to rush the passer. He responded with 9.5 sacks. The role the Packers used Gbaja-Niamila in ’07 is the type of role in which Sam can make a living as an NFL player, as his combine performance suggests he’s not athletic enough to standup and play linebacker. Therefore, let him play with his hand in the dirt and rush the passer during passing situations.