- Gary Laney, Reporter, GeauxTigerNation
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Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites will look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins Friday in Indianapolis. Today: Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.
Perhaps it says something about LSU's offense in 2012 that among a record 13 players invited to the NFL combine from the Tigers, only two are offensive skill players who are generally considered, at this point, marginal talents. Running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford are the only skill players invited to Indianapolis, which is understandable when one considers LSU was 10th in the SEC in total offense. It's also a sign of youth. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, fullback J.C. Copeland, running back Jeremy Hill and all of LSU's primary threats at wide receiver will return in 2013.
RB Spencer Ware (Scouts Inc. position rank: No. 17)
Strengths: It was no wonder Ware was LSU's primary back for the first half of the 2011 season. He's a Les Miles type, a physical runner who finishes plays with a strong leg drive and punishing blows to tacklers. As his turn in a lead role disappeared during 2012, he adjusted to being the Tigers' best pass-catching option out of the backfield. His ball skills might surprise people at the combine.
Weaknesses: On the downside, Ware is not the fastest running back -- and part of the reason he has so many violent collisions with tacklers is he simply does not have the elusiveness to avoid them. He served a one-game suspension for violating LSU's drug policy in 2011.
Comparison: Ware shares the body build and physical running style of the player he replaced as the starter in 2011, Stevan Ridley. If he wants to follow Ridley's success (1,263 yards for the Patriots in 2012), Ware may need to trim down and run a surprising 40-yard dash at the combine.
RB Michael Ford (Position rank: No. 22)
Strengths/weaknesses: Ford was LSU's leading rusher during 2011 and its third-leading rusher during 2012 despite having just three career starts. The reason? While different power backs (Spencer Ware, Kenny Hilliard, Jeremy Hill) would rotate in and out of the feature-back role, Ford was always there as the change-of-pace guy, the sub-4.5 40-yard dash runner who could beat defenses to the edge (which was often the predictable play call while Ford was in games). He also impressed as a kick returner during his last season. At 5-foot-10, 215 pounds, he's not your typically built scat back either. Many around LSU expect him to thrive at the combine given his "workout warrior" mentality. He's built like Adonis and runs like Mercury.
Weaknesses: If Ford has a problem, it's that he was never known for being a punishing between-the-tackles runner and, even as LSU's speed back, that did not transition to a big role in the passing game.
Comparison: Ford enters the combine as a marginal draft figure. In that regard, he could follow in the footsteps of Jacksonville's Richard Murphy, who was a non-starter at LSU but has worked his way to a role with the Jacksonville Jaguars after starting as an undrafted free agent. There's one possible difference: If Ford performs as well as many think he will in physical testing at the combine, he might not have to go the undrafted route.
Alabama wasn't packed with draft-eligible skill players on offense in 2012. Many of the Crimson Tide's playmakers were freshmen and sophomores. When AJ McCarron decided to come back for his senior season, the buzz on draft boards fell primarily on the well-formed shoulders of tailback Eddie Lacy.
RB Eddie Lacy (Position rank: No. 1)
Strengths: Speed, strength, agility. Lacy has them all. The 5-foot-10, 220-pound back is a bouncer with the feet of a ballerina. His final two games against Georgia and Notre Dame showed how elusive and hard to tackle Lacy can be.
Weaknesses: Lacy has all the traits of a stellar running back when he's healthy. The problem is staying 100 percent. A turf-toe injury and other leg ailments kept the junior tailback from really breaking through at Alabama until late in his career. A hamstring injury will keep him from workouts at the combine.
Comparison: His powerful running style and sturdy frame remind some of former Baltimore Ravens great Jamal Lewis. But a more apt comparison might be a poor man's Adrian Peterson; both are big, strong backs who can also hit the hole and run by tacklers.
TE Michael Williams (Position rank: No. 14)
Strengths: Williams has his niche as a blocking tight end. He was arguably the best at his position in college football in that respect, using his big frame and strong hands to take on defensive ends and linebackers. He blocked for two Heisman Trophy-caliber backs in Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram before Eddie Lacy took the reins in 2012.
Weaknesses: In order to rise up draft boards, Williams must show he can do more than block for others. He needs to prove that he can catch the football and stretch the defense. At 6-foot-6 and 269 pounds, he's a big enough target, and his hands aren't bad. For Williams, it comes down to creating separation, something he wasn't able to do much of at Alabama.
Comparison: Pick a No. 2 tight end on any NFL roster and you've likely found someone with Williams' same set of skills -- an above-average blocker with just enough aptitude in the passing game to get on the field on short-yardage situations.
-- Alex Scarborough, TideNation
Florida has just one offensive-skill-position player participating in the NFL combine this week, but it was the Gators' best one. Mike Gillislee (1,152 yards) is coming off the first 1,000-yard season by a UF running back since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. The 5-foot-11, 209-pound Gillislee was at his best in big games, too. He ran for 83 yards and two touchdowns at Texas A&M, for 146 yards and two touchdowns against LSU, and 140 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State.
RB Mike Gillislee (Position rank: No. 6)
Strengths: Gillislee is a one-cut runner with good acceleration through the hole. He's a north-south runner, as well, and doesn't waste a lot of energy trying to juke guys or cut to the outside once he gets through the hole. He's not particularly big, but he's able to run through contact. He lost only 35 yards on 244 carries. Gillislee wasn't used much in the passing game (16 catches), but he has good hands and can be effective as a receiver. He has proven to be a good pass blocker, too.
Weaknesses: Even though he played in every game, there's still some concern about Gillislee's durability. He dealt with a chronic ankle issue as a sophomore and junior -- and was banged up a bit as a senior, too (groin, ribs). He's not really a breakaway threat, either. His longest run was a 46-yarder. He had longer runs earlier in his career, but that came in mop-up action against scrubs.
Comparison: Gillislee's running style most closely matches Errict Rhett, UF's all-time leading rusher (4,163 yards), but Gillislee obviously wasn't as productive. Rhett was essentially the same size (5-11, 210 pounds) and was a one-cut runner, too. His production came in Steve Spurrier's Fun 'N Gun offense. Had he played in a pro-style attack as Gillislee did, he would have had a chance to surpass Emmitt Smith's single-season school record (1,599 yards in 1989). Rhett was a second-round draft pick by Tampa Bay in 1994 and went on to rush for 4,143 yards and 29 touchdowns in seven seasons.
-- Michael DiRocco, GatorNation
Although Georgia will be one of the best-represented schools at the combine, just two of the Bulldogs’ 11 participants will be from the offensive side of the ball. Receivers Tavarres King and Marlon Brown will participate in team interviews this week in Indianapolis and King will take the field for workouts on Sunday.
WR Tavarres King (Position rank: No. 15)
Strengths: King strung together two of the best back-to-back seasons by a wideout in program history between 2011 (47 catches, 705 yards, 8 TDs) and 2012 (42-950, 9 TDs). Overall King had an outstanding senior season in which he ranked among the top deep threats in the SEC.
Weaknesses: There were times when he did not react quickly enough to throws from quarterback Aaron Murray.
Comparison: Terrence Edwards. Like King, Edwards was one of the program’s most prolific wideouts thanks in part to his ability to catch the deep ball. The two players are also similar in size (approximately 6-foot) and build. Unlike Edwards, who went undrafted, King most likely will be picked somewhere in the middle rounds. Edwards played just half a season in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons, but has found a home in the CFL -- where he has played for the past eight years, including five 1,000-yard seasons.
WR Marlon Brown (Position rank: No. 48)
Strengths: Brown totaled 27 catches for 469 yards and four touchdowns during the eight games in which he was healthy as a senior.
Weaknesses: Durability is the biggest concern with Brown. He dealt with injuries big and small as a Bulldog, including the torn ACL that ended his collegiate career during the Ole Miss game in November. That injury will prevent Brown from participating in the combine workouts.
Comparison: Kris Durham. Like Brown, Durham often was injured during his college days, but a solid senior year helped him claw his way onto the Seattle Seahawks’ draft board in 2011. Both players are similarly rangy -- Brown is listed at 6-foot-5, Durham at 6-6 -- as well. Durham played with his former college roommate, quarterback Matthew Stafford, with the Detroit Lions last season.
-- David Ching, DawgNation
Texas A&M's best draft-eligible talent wasn't at the offensive skill positions, but the Aggies offer some nice players who will hear their names called at some point during the NFL draft. Perhaps the Aggies' two best offensive players were redshirt freshmen in quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans, both of whom appear to have NFL futures in the long run. Meanwhile, these two players who produced impressively during their careers at Texas A&M, are worth keeping an eye on:
RB Christine Michael (Position rank: No. 9)
Strengths: Size and power. Michael, physically, looks like an NFL running back because of his frame. He's just a shade under 5-foot-10 but weighs a solid 221 pounds. He runs hard and has good vision and was productive when on the field throughout his career.
Weaknesses: Durability is a question mark. His 2010 and 2011 seasons were both cut short by injuries (broken leg in 2010; torn ACL in 2011). Also, there might be question marks about him off the football field since he was suspended a game in 2012 for violating team rules and generally saw his playing time diminish significantly under coach Kevin Sumlin. He did not play in the AT&T Cotton Bowl.
Comparison: His frame and chiseled body is much like Cincinnati Bengals running back Benjarvus Green-Ellis. Neither are blazing fast but probably play faster than their 40-yard-dash times would indicate -- and neither were huge factors in the passing game coming out of college.
WR Ryan Swope (Position rank: No. 28)
Strengths: Swope flat-out produces. He broke school records at Texas A&M for catches and yards in a season as a junior and left school as the Aggies' career leader in catches. He has good speed and is reliable. A tough-minded player, Swope has been fearless going over the middle to catch the football.
Weaknesses: His size isn't ideal. He's about 6 feet, 204 pounds. A running back coming out of high school, he carries good weight to take hits -- but is not built like a prototypical NFL receiver. He's not slow and should run a good 40 time, but he might not possess the blazing top-end speed others at his height might have.
Comparison: His size is much like that of New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz, who also spends time lining up in the slot as Swope did at Texas A&M. He might not be as explosive as someone such as Cruz, but Swope is shifty and can make plays in the open field.
-- Sam Khan Jr., GigEmNation