Combine interviews important for Waller

Former Georgia Tech wide receiver Darren Waller will take part in the NFL draft combine later this month in Indianapolis. Waller said that teams have asked him about his interest in playing tight end. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Former Georgia Tech wide receiver Darren Waller’s best chance to play in the NFL may come at tight end. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The most important aspect of former Georgia Tech wide receiver Darren Waller’s time at the NFL draft combine won’t be anything he does on the Lucas Oil Stadium field, according to draft expert Tony Pauline.

Instead, Waller can help himself the most by representing himself well in meetings with scouts, coaches and executives. Pauline expects that Waller, who is in Indianapolis for the combine with former Tech wide receiver DeAndre Smelter, will be grilled about his two suspensions and his production.

“You’re a dominant physical presence,” Pauline said. “Why weren’t you dominant on a consistent basis on the field? He’s going to have to answer a lot of hard questions. They’re going to have to decide, is he going to be Demaryius Thomas or is he going to be Stephen Hill?”

A rather incisive question, that. Waller, like Thomas and Hill, fits the same physical mold that Thomas and Hill did coming out of college. Thomas was drafted 22nd overall in the 2010 draft. Hill was chosen 43rd overall in the 2012 draft, thanks in no small part to a head-turning performance at that year’s combine.

This past August, Hill was cut after two seasons with the Jets and spent this season on the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad. Thomas will be one of the most highly sought-after free agents in March, provided the Denver Broncos don’t put the franchise tag on him or give him an extension.

Waller caught 51 passes for 971 yards and nine touchdowns in three seasons at Tech. (He didn’t catch a pass in his freshman year, mostly playing special teams.) He caught 20 percent of the passes (10 receptions), gained 19 percent of the yards (187) and scored 22 percent of the touchdowns (two) in the final two games of his career (the ACC championship game and the Orange Bowl).

At Shrine Game workouts in January, Pauline had a mixed reaction to Waller, saying that at times he was “just manhandling the opponents, just beating them down in physical battles,” but also dropped easy passes and didn’t appear as engaged. Pauline also mentioned that Waller could be looked at as a tight end because of his size and potential to put on more weight. (Waller was measured at 6-foot-6 and 238 pounds at the combine, an inch taller than his listed height at Tech.)

Pauline said he had Waller rated a fifth-round pick. The wide receivers will begin on-field drills Saturday.

Other observations from Pauline:

He sees guard Shaquille Mason as a late-round pick. After seeing him at the Senior Bowl, he said he had the “funkiest body type I think I’ve ever seen” – he described it as an underdeveloped upper body, skinny base and wide hips.

“You’re going to have to take a look at the film and say, ‘OK, he’s a good player. We’ve got to develop him physically,’” he said.

He doubts wide receiver DeAndre Smelter will be drafted, but will be signed as a free agent. He said he was a better receiver than Waller but not the same caliber athletically, and is coming off his ACL tear. He sees him as an end-of-roster receiver and special-teams player.

He was surprised that safety Isaiah Johnson didn’t get a combine invitation, saying he’s explosive with good size. Johnson is an “in the box type of safety, but he’s very good at it.” He rated him as a seventh-round pick.

He likes linebacker Quayshawn Nealy. “He’s small, but he’s fierce.” He thinks he’ll be signed as an undrafted free agent.

If you’re wondering, he has been reasonably accurate with his assessments. Prior to last year’s combine, he had Attaochu as a third- or fourth-round pick (Attaochu climbed during the draft process and was taken in the second round), safety Jemea Thomas as a seventh-rounder (he went in the sixth), linebacker Brandon Watts as a seventh-round/undrafted free agent (he was taken in the seventh) and defensive end Emmanuel Dieke as an undrafted free agent (which he was). He didn’t have a grade on defensive tackle Euclid Cummings, who signed as an undrafted free agent.

In 2013, he rated cornerback Rod Sweeting as a sixth- or seventh-rounder (he was an undrafted free agent) and projected A-back Orwin Smith as an undrafted free agent in 2013 (he went undrafted and unsigned, at least partly due to injury concerns, and was signed to the Green Bay practice squad that fall).

In 2012, after Hill’s strong combine showing, he said he had moved into the early part of the second round, which is where he was selected.


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