With the NFL Combine over, the Stanford football team’s pro day in late March and the NFL Draft not until April, you’d think this would be a good time for head coach David Shaw to focus on the 2012 Cardinal, not the players moving on to the NFL. But instead, his phone–and the phones of everyone else on the coaching staff–have been ringing constantly.
Shaw, who spent nine years in the NFL before coming to Stanford, said he and the rest of the Cardinal coaches have been spending a lot of time talking to NFL general managers and coaches over the last few weeks.
“There’s a lot of communicating going on [between NFL personnel and] me, our offensive coordinator, our defensive coordinator and our run game coordinator,” Shaw said on Thursday. “All of us have a lot of NFL experience a lot of NFL ties, and they know that when they call us we’re going to tell them the truth. And it just so happens that we’ve got a lot of good players going in this draft that guys are excited about.”
When NFL coaches call, they’re often looking for information they can’t get from tapes, intangibles like a player’s locker room presence and their ability to learn new systems quickly.
“[NFL coaches] want to know what they don’t see on film,” Shaw said. “They want to talk about character, they want to talk about toughness, they want to talk about practice and they want to talk about how well does a guy learn.”
Shaw said coaches were “salivating” over quarterback Andrew Luck as well as linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, all of whom are expected to be selected in the first 20 picks of the draft. Shaw also noted that there’s been a recent flurry of interest in several other players, especially tight end Coby Fleener.
Fleener’s stock has been shooting up draft boards and mock drafts over the past several weeks, and Shaw said that he’d be “shocked” if Fleener wasn’t picked in the first round in April’s draft.
“I’d be surprised if he goes past 26 or 27,” Shaw said, pointing to picks that are currently held by the Houston Texans and New England Patriots. Shaw added that the recent dominance of big, speedy tight ends like Vernon Davis, Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski has made Fleener an especially interesting prospect.
“With what happened in the playoffs, when you got the Niners’ tight end running by people, you got the Saints’ tight end running by people, you got the Patriots’ tight ends running by people, and then you turn on Coby’s film and that’s all he does: run by people,” Shaw said. “Just this playoff run I think has bumped Coby’s value up a lot in this draft.”
“It’s not like you have to project it,” Shaw continued. “You saw him in a pro-style offense, you saw him average 20 yards a catch, you saw him score a whole bunch of touchdowns and you saw him run past defensive backs, not just linebackers.”
In addition to Fleener’s rising draft stock, Shaw also said that safety Delano Howell had been another point of interest from NFL staffers recently.
“Here’s a guy that missed a lot of time but still got voted as an all-conference safety, because when he’s on the field he’s an impact player,” Shaw said. “He’s a guy that you can envision playing special teams, a guy you can envision being your third safety early on, and eventually being a starting safety and a core special teamer.”
Finally, Shaw stumped for wide receiver Chris Owusu, who impressed at the NFL combine by running a 4.36 second 40-yard dash, the second-fastest time among all players. Although Owusu’s draft stock is somewhat unclear due to his issues with concussions throughout the course of his career–including three in less than a year–Shaw said he had no trepidations about Owusu’s ability to play at the next level.
“Not anymore, not after listening to the doctors, and not after listening to all the tests that Chris has passed,” Shaw said. “You start getting nervous when a guy doesn’t get hit very hard and gets a concussion, and Chris hasn’t had any glancing blows. These have all been legitimate, big-time hits where he’s gotten a concussion, and it’s always cleared up. The doctors have said that there are no lingering effects, there’s no diminished capacity and there’s nothing there that’s a result from the hits that he’s taken.”
“One of the biggest hits he took was against USC, and that wasn’t a concussion, it was a shoulder injury,” he continued. “It shows you that the guy can still take a big hit and not have it be an effect on his head.”
For now, Owusu, Fleener, Howell and others will have to wait until March 22 to impress the NFL scouts one more time, when the Cardinal hosts its pro day on the Farm. After that, the NFL draft begins Thursday, April 26th and concludes on Saturday, April 28.