Pro days propelling top quarterbacks

Cam Newton made significant strides in the time between the combine and his pro day. AP Photo/Todd J. Van Emst

In a completely off offseason damaged by labor problems, pro day workouts are one of the few things functioning well in the NFL these days.

To no one's surprise, the quarterbacks who are working out are helping their stock. Auburn's Cam Newton probably secured a high first-round grade on most draft boards with a good throwing workout at his pro day, improving his mechanics from the combine in Indianapolis. Andy Dalton of TCU threw well last Friday. Ryan Mallett of Arkansas lit it up at his pro day.

Thursday is going to be a big day because Blaine Gabbert of Missouri is going to throw. He only ran a 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, electing to save his throwing for his pro day, where he'll have his receivers and a controlled environment. If he does well, he might challenge for a top-five selection.

Alabama's Mark Ingram, a running back, helped his cause by running a 4.5 40, improving on his 4.62 40 time at the combine.

With only 48 position players not running at the combine, a lot of the mystery has been removed from pro day workouts because scouts and general managers aren't as pressured to find out exactly how fast draft choices are. That makes for a clean evaluation process.

From the inbox

Q: I've heard on several reports that benefits for retired NFL players is one of the key points in this year's talks. How about taking the money saved by the rookie wage scale and using it on pension and benefits? If Sam Bradford has $50 mil guaranteed, imagine how much $30 mil out of that could do for retired players.

Gurinder in British Columbia

A: That is a concept both sides support. The savings from the excess money given to first-round rookies will be distributed two ways. Some will go to veterans in a form of a performance pool. The rest will go to retired players in some form. Owners are still asking for five years on first-round contracts and four years on second-round contracts and beyond. That won't sell because you can't ask a running back taken in the first round to have a five-year contract at lower money and then not have much left in the tank to get something in the sixth year or later. Most backs are beat up and on the decline after five years in the league.

Q: We have watched Ryan Mallett for two years here at Arkansas. He displayed pocket awareness and playmaking moxie while facing top defensive linemen from the SEC. We are puzzled as to why people in the national media are trying so hard to find reasons why he should not be picked high in April's draft. Do you believe that his great passing display at the combine and the even better workout at Arkansas' pro day will show the experts what we have known here at Arkansas all along?

Wes in Hot Springs, Ark.

A: I love his throwing, but what scares off teams is his maturity. That may be unfair, but that's the story. I've heard more positives than negatives, but it's the way he handles himself that could make him a steal in the second round. I don't buy a lot of the character rumors that have dogged him since coming to Arkansas. Sure, he probably made some off-the-field mistakes after his Michigan days, but I don't know of a documented problem after that. I heard he's great on the chalkboard talking about plays. But quarterbacks have to not only be leaders on the field, they also have to be the face of the franchise.

Q: Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford or Josh Freeman? After watching these guys for two years, which one would you prefer?

Frankie in Stratford, Conn.

A: Great question. I'd go Freeman, Sanchez and then Stafford. I love Freeman's potential. Sanchez deserves credit for getting his team into two championship games, but Freeman has so much more upside than Sanchez. Stafford has the best arm of the three, but he has been held back with injuries the first two years. If he can put together two healthy seasons, then it might go Freeman, Stafford and then Sanchez.

Q: The Chiefs are not known for making big splashes in free agency, but they have a huge need at No. 2 wide receiver. Do you see the Chiefs possibly making a play for a receiver like Sidney Rice, James Jones, Braylon Edwards, or Steve Breaston in free agency?

Michael in New Brunswick, N.J.

A: No, I don't see that happening. Dwayne Bowe has No. 1 talent, and if they brought in a $10 million-a-year receiver, it would throw off their salary cap. Breaston could be a good fit, but I think he would be too costly for their tastes. When you think Chiefs, you have to remember the Patriots in the Bill Belichick-Scott Pioli days. The only receiver who got big money was Randy Moss, but they picked him up for a draft choice and let him play before giving him a big contract. Pretty soon the Chiefs have to give Bowe a contract. I see them drafting one before paying a big-name receiver.

Q: Given the wide range of talent in this year's draft class, if you were the Bills' GM, who would you want to take with the third overall pick?

Alan in Portland, Ore.

A: If I were the Bills' GM, I'd draft Cam Newton. Chan Gailey can design a good offense for him to develop, even if he's only a 54-percent thrower as a rookie. Gailey likes to work with mobile quarterbacks, and you're not going to find one more talented than the 6-foot-5, 248-pound Newton. Sure, the Bills can draft a defensive player, but I think their talent is better suited for a 4-3 than a 3-4. If they keep drafting for a 3-4 scheme, they are going nowhere. This is a quarterback-driven league and the Bills have had only two first-round quarterbacks selected in their history. It's time to step up and take a Newton.

Q: I was wondering what you are thinking the Rams are going to do for receivers in the offseason. I have heard a lot about them trying to get Julio Jones in the draft. Will that happen? Also I have heard some rumors about Sidney Rice?

Drew in St. Louis

A: They would hit the jackpot twice if Jones were available to them at No. 14. They hit the jackpot at quarterback with Sam Bradford. I can't see Jones slipping to No. 14, though. You know they are going to re-sign Mark Clayton at some point. Rice would have fit in Pat Shurmur's offense, but Josh McDaniels' offense requires a little more quickness. Rice is a big-play receiver, but he's not fast. Maybe they would consider trading up to get Jones if he drops below the eighth pick.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.