Pro-day passing stats mean squat

Andrew Luck. (RICK SCUTERI/Reuters file photo)

Andrew Luck. (RICK SCUTERI/Reuters file photo)

JOHN KRYK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:50 AM ET

Stanford's Andrew Luck completed 46 of 50 passes at his pro day workout. Three were dropped. And it was a windy day to boot.

"No wonder he's going to be the No. 1 pick!" we heard.

And Luck isn't the only top NFL quarterback prospect who was practically perfect this month in showing off his arm to NFL coaches and talent evaluators at his pro day.

According to reports, Baylor's Robert Griffin III was 78 of 84 with four drops. Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill was 65 of 68 with two drops. Oklahoma State's Brandon Weedon, 42 of 52 with several drops.

And on and on. Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, 59 of 63. San Diego State's Ryan Lindley, 67 of 73. Boise State's Kellen Moore, 52 of 53.

Arizona State's Brock Osweiler was 66 of 75 -- and that, of course, included several drops.

Impressive as hell, right?

Well, not really.

On Friday we asked two of the more respected NFL talent evaluators to weigh in on the subject, plus a former longtime NFL quarterback, and -- yeah -- the glistening pro-day numbers don't exactly impress them.

"I can't speak for coaches and scouts. I can only tell you that I think that those kinds of numbers for a pro day are close to being meaningless," said Greg Cosell, senior producer at NFL Films for 33 years, whose analyses of draft-eligible players are considered by many to be the benchmarks.

"Obviously, if a quarterback who is being thought of relatively highly comes out and misses guys consistently, then you'd say, 'Wow, that's a concern.' ... But any quarterback who would be a top-quality NFL prospect, to me, would be expected to come out in shorts and a T-shirt, throwing to receivers he's comfortable with and (complete that many)."

Cosell said one of his good friends, former Eagles QB great Ron Jaworski, once told him that in practice he could complete timing passes while blindfolded.

At such practices, and at pro-day workouts, there's no one rushing the quarterback, and no defensive back covering the receiver.

Perhaps it's understandable that in our evermore statistics-obsessed sports culture, and in a sport as wildly popular as the NFL, that it would come to this -- people breathlessly waiting for pro-day workout numbers to hit the Twittersphere. The average Joes and most reporters (raises hand) possess neither the acumen nor the all-22 game-film cutups with which to properly and knowledgeably make pre-draft comparisons of the top prospects.

Ta-da! Enter the pro-day passing stat. It's a seemingly easy way to quantify and compare how the top prospects are progressing as the April 26-28 draft nears.

Yet not every college even keeps count; Michigan State's sports-information department informed me Friday that no one there kept track of Kirk Cousin's passing numbers two weeks ago, although reports said he tossed 66 balls.

We're betting he completed upwards of 60.

Such impressive numbers are hardly new. Speaking of Spartan quarterbacks, Jim Miller played in the NFL for 12 years, with eight teams. He says he remembers throwing only one incompletion at his MSU pro day in 1994.

Miller brought up Tannehill as an example of how observers sometimes get wowed by the buzz, and the pro-day passing numbers, which take attention away from factors that should garner much more introspection.

"Last year in (Tannehill's) three biggest games, he threw nine picks," said Miller, now a TV and radio analyst. "I mean, fine, I know he can throw a football. I know he can move, and all that. But where's the decision-making?

"That's not to say he doesn't have the tools you can develop. But you really have to ask him the question: 'What were you thinking on this particular play? Why did you think you could throw it through that linebacker to your receiver?' You've got to be a great decision-maker in the NFL."

Pro days have been a big media deal only in recent years. One former NFLer told me Friday that there wasn't even a single set-aside day when NFL scouts visited his campus back in his draft year, 1980. They'd come on different days, to scout different players.

Rob Rang, senior NFL draft analyst for CBSSports.com, agreed when we suggested to him that the value of pro-day completion percentages is further eroded by the fact that most quarterbacks prepare for their pro days for weeks in advance, developing precision on an array of staple routes from the NFL passing tree -- and usually with familiar receivers.

"I've gone to several pro days over the past 12 years," Rang said. "The only QB workout I've gone to where every pass wasn't scripted was at USC a few years back, when (Mark) Sanchez was asked by the Detroit Lions to throw a few extra passes after his scripted workout was finished.

"Any draftable quarterback should be able to complete the vast majority of his (pro-day) throws. Obviously, someone has to catch the ball, but at least 90% of the passes should be on target."

So if NFL coaches, scouts and other player-personnel evaluators know that QBs aren't going to misfire more than a few times, then why do they even bother attending the pro days?

There's at least one good reason, Cosell said.

"I think you can tell it from film, but you can tell it better if you're standing next to him -- that is, you can always tell (in person) when the ball comes out of the quarterback's hand if there's snap. If there's velocity," Cosell said. "And you want to see that.

"You often hear people say that arm strength is over-rated. I don't believe that. Now, do you have to have an absolute cannon to play in the NFL? No. But I believe in the NFL that there are times in every game when you've got to make throws that require arm strength and velocity. And if you can't make those throws, then you have limitations as a passer.

"You can see that better, live, standing next to a guy. You can see how it comes out of his hand."

Don't be surprised if, some year soon, someone comes up with a statistical barometer for THAT.


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