published Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

NFL combine huge for three SEC pass-catchers

South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (1) dives for extra yardage past Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins (43) after catching a pass in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)
South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (1) dives for extra yardage past Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins (43) after catching a pass in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)
Photo by Associated Press.
  • photo
    Georgia tight end Orson Charles, right, makes a 33-yard touchdown catch and run against Coastal Carolina in the third quarter during a NCAA college football game at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, in Athens, Ga. Georgia defeated Coastal Carolina 59-0. (AP Photo/Erik S. Lesser)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

  • photo
    SU wide receiver Rueben Randle (2) rushes downfield as teammate Alfred Blue (24) stops Tennessee linebacker LaMarcus Thompson during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

One may be too fat. One may be too small. And one may be too quick to throw in the towel.

Three pass-catchers who elected to bypass their senior seasons in the Southeastern Conference will be among the most scrutinized players as the NFL combine begins today in Indianapolis and runs through next Tuesday. South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery, Georgia tight end Orson Charles and LSU receiver Rueben Randle must be at their strongest and fastest before the slew of scouting directors, and their combine performances could be the difference in being first-round selections in April or third-round picks.

Jeffery was viewed as a sure-fire top-10 pick after amassing 1,517 receiving yards on 88 catches as a sophomore in 2010, which was the second highest single-season yardage total in SEC history. The 6-foot-4, 233-pounder came nowhere close to replicating those numbers last fall with 762 yards on 48 catches, and he enters the combine amid concerns he is too heavy.

"When you're that size, you don't have to separate with your feet all the time, but you have to be able to do it a little bit better than he does," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. "He's gotten too big, and I don't know whether that's trying to get too strong or he's not disciplined enough in his diet. Whatever it is, he reminds me a lot of Mike Williams coming out of USC.

"I think Alshon Jeffery has first-round natural talent, but I think he'll probably wind up coming off the board in the second."

Fellow ESPN analyst Mel Kiper also excludes Jeffery from his first-round projection, but a stellar combine could get him back in the mix for potential need-based destinations such as Chicago (with the 19th overall pick), Cleveland (22nd) and Houston (26th).

"He's got the size and he certainly has the hands, but the speed is a big issue," Kiper said. "People are just waiting to see how fast he is."

Charles totaled 49 catches in his first two seasons at Georgia and nearly matched that this past year with 45 receptions that yielded 574 yards and five touchdowns. The Bulldogs have had several drafted tight ends in recent years with Randy McMichael (2002), Ben Watson (2004) and Leonard Pope (2006) -- Watson going to New England in the final pick of the first round.

McShay lists the 6-3, 241-pound Charles in the top tier of tight ends this year with Stanford's Coby Fleener and Clemson's Dwayne Allen, and he expects all three to get selected within the first 40 to 45 picks.

"Orson Charles is going to have a huge combine," McShay said. "When you watch them on tape, you can make the argument that he's the third best of that group, but you just look at the explosiveness and what he can potentially do at the combine. He's a bit undersized at 6-3, and I think there is a lot of pressure on him, but if he performs to the level that I'm told that he can perform, he has a chance to really improve his stock and turn a lot of heads."

The 6-4, 207-pound Randle is pegged by Kiper to slip into the first round as the 30th pick overall to San Francisco. He had 53 receptions in 2011 for 917 yards -- only Jarius Wright and Da'Rick Rogers on the pass-happy offenses of Arkansas and Tennessee compiled more -- and scored eight touchdowns.

Randle was, however, nonexistent in the two games against Alabama, collecting two catches for 19 yards in the win at Tuscaloosa and three catches for 13 yards in the loss at New Orleans.

"I don't like the fact he quit in the national championship game," McShay said. "He wasn't getting the ball and was getting frustrated, and he was letting everyone know about it. It just seemed like he was done, and to me that's a little thing that bothered me when I studied him. I think he's a second-round talent."

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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