— From Wall Street to Lucas Oil Stadium, the markets have been bearish of late.
But a number of other NFL draft prospects did hear the bells of ringing cash registers at the NFL scouting combine, so sports did not imitate life completely.
The two biggest stories of the combine were from players who lost, however. Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith at one point was a candidate to be the first overall selection, but no more.
Smith interviewed poorly, refused to work out, and then went AWOL, leaving the combine without informing officials of his plans. Now NFL teams have seen why Nick Saban suspended Smith for the Sugar Bowl. Despite his talent, Smith might not be a top 10 pick now.
In a league searching for selfless, team-oriented, hard-working offensive linemen, Smith’s value has been severely compromised.
Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree also didn’t impress many teams with his interviews, and medical testing revealed he has a stress fracture in his left foot. Crabtree subsequently was not able to work out for teams.
Failing to work out was particularly significant for Crabtree because he would be considered a top five pick if he could run an impressive 40-yard dash. If he is not able to work out before the draft, it is unlikely any team will take him that high, as some suspect Crabtree’s speed is only pedestrian.
What’s more, he will have to have a screw surgically inserted into his foot, and that could impact his rookie season.
Crabtree and Smith weren’t the only mighty who fell. Ohio State running back Beanie Wells ran a 4.59 40 yard dash — not exactly what NFL teams were expecting from a potential top 10 pick. Scouts said he also looked a little rigid in positional drills and his hands were just OK.
It is possible Wells lost the top running back spot to Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno.
Wells’ college teammate James Laurinaitis also did not fare particularly well. He wasn’t terrible in position drills, but he did not test like an elite athlete. Laurinaitis ran a too slow 4.80 40-yard dash.
Oklahoma State’s Brandon Pettigrew was supposed to be the draft's top tight end, but was unimpressive in almost everything he did, including his 4.87 40-yard dash. It is not inconceivable that he could be leapfrogged by another tight end in the coming months.
South Carolina tight end Jared Cook certainly showed better at Lucas Oil Stadium and could be the Dustin Keller of 2009. Cook took the triple crown among tight ends — best 40 time at 4.5, best vertical jump at 41 inches and best broad jump at 10 feet, 9 inches.
He definitely gave his draft stock a healthy boost, as Keller did one year ago.
Connecticut running back Donald Brown may have moved into the first round with his performance, which one scout described as “sensational.” It included a 41.5 inch vertical jump, a 10 foot, five inch broad jump and a 11.30 second 60 yard shuttle — all bests for running backs.
Brown could have made himself the third back on the boards.
Aaron Curry didn’t jump ahead of any linebackers, but the Wake Forest product confirmed he clearly is the best linebacker prospect. Curry outclassed the competition in almost everything he did.
Curry ran 4.56 40 yard dash, broad jumped 10 feet, four inches and high jumped 37 inches — all best among linebackers, and showed excellent athleticism in positional drills.
As a rule, the defensive backs were not very impressive. But two sleepers did emerge.
Ladarius Webb played safety at Nicholls State, but he showed the speed and athleticism to play corner in the NFL. He had the best 40-yard dash, three cone drill and 20-yard shuttle among corners.
Notre Dame’s David Bruton was easily the best testing safety with a 10.96 60-yard shuttle and an 11 foot broad jump, both tops at his position, a 41.5 inch vertical jump and a 6.60 three cone drill, both of which tied for best among safeties and a 4.46 40-yard dash.
No one expected that from Bruton, who tested better than he played at Notre Dame.
He was one of a group that showed you can make money even when the market growls.
Q: With Dallas having all the talent in the world, all they need to win is someone who can actually drive the bus. Tony Romo is not it. Paying him his remaining contract just so he can screw up the team's chance again is too risky. They need someone who could earn the locker room's respect. They need leadership. Should Cowboys pursue Brett Favre?
— Tim Zim, Fort Worth, Texas
A: I respectfully disagree with your assessment that Tony Romo is not someone who can drive the bus. I think he is one of the better quarterbacks in the game, and he’s going to get better. If the Cowboys let him go, teams would be lined up from New York to San Francisco to get him.
He did not have the greatest year in 2008, but remember he is a young quarterback with considerable potential. Favre is an old quarterback whose best days are behind him. There is not a single general manager in the NFL that would take Favre over Romo — guaranteed.
Q: Hey Dan, which new coach will have the best season next year? I’d love it if Raheem Morris shocked the NFL like John Harbough did.
— Gus, Pensacola, Fla.
A: Given the successes of Mike Smith, John Harbaugh and Tony Sparano, it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that a “no name” first time head coach like Morris could not “shock the NFL,” in your words.
Then again, I’m not sure how much shocking a coach that takes over a 9-7 team can do. It would be more shocking if Todd Haley, Jim Schwartz, Steve Spagnuolo, Mike Singletary or Eric Mangini were to guide their teams to the playoffs.
The first-year coach who I think might have the best season of all, however, is Jim Mora in Seattle.
Q: Should the Chiefs lose LJ, and what would he be worth in the way of a trade?
— Stan, Greenville, Texas
A: Since Larry Johnson does not want to be in Kansas City, the Chiefs probably would be better off purging him, seeing they are starting over with Scott Pioli and Todd Haley.
But LJ is guaranteed $3.5 million for the 2009 season. What’s more, trading him would result in a cap hit of $8.8 million. Cutting him is an even less appealing option, as it would result in a cap hit of a whopping $12.55 million.
The Chiefs’ best option might be to suck it up and see if they can’t live with Johnson. He still has value as a runner.
Q: Hi Dan. Can you explain why more teams don't try to trade down in the NFL draft? So many mid and late round picks are really talented players. Wouldn't it make sense to trade one first round pick for perhaps three later picks? I notice first rounders don't really make much difference for some (Lions).
— James Woods, Penn Valley, Calif.
A: I think the reason more teams don’t trade down is there aren’t enough teams that are willing to pay the price to move up.
But I know a number of general managers have told me they almost always are open to the idea of moving down. It makes sense because there often isn’t that much of a difference in the quality of the player, you get extra picks, and the price of the contracts and salary cap hits are more reasonable.