Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti, still recovering from a late-season ACL injury, had just one chance to put on a strong workout showing in front of NFL scouts, coaches and personnel at the NFL Combine and he made sure to leave a solid impression. Unable to participate in running and jumping workouts with the rest of the linebackers in Indianapolis, Mauti made sure to leave his mark in the bench press workout.
Mauti did 28 reps on the 225-pound weights, the third best score among linebackers at the NFL Combine. Georgia's Cornelius Washington led all linebackers with an astounding 36 reps, but the only other linebacker with more reps than Mauti besides Washington was Connecticut's Sio Moore.
Mauti had more reps on the bench press than Florida's Jelani Jenkins (27) and Jon Bostic (22), Missouri's Zaviar Gooden (27), Iowa State's A.J. Klein (20), Georgia's Alec Ogltree (20) and Khaseem Greene of Rutgers (17). He even beat out one his own linebacking mates from Penn State, Gerald Hodges (22).
Mauti entered the combine graded to be a potential late third round pick, his stock dropping slightly following his second ACL injury last November against Indiana. While his physical skills may have taken a beating, it is his instincts, mental toughness and leadership tendencies that will continue to ensure Mauti is not forgotten by NFL teams.
Mauti sent each NFL franchise a hand-written letter before the combine to formally introduce himself and address where he was in terms of preparing to play in the NFL.
"It wasn't really for the media to find out," Mauti said in a report from The Patriot News. "I wanted to do that just for them to kind of hear from the horses mouth, where my mindset was and what I planned on doing because there were a lot of rumors flying around and a lot of misinformation and I just really wanted to let them hear from me and where my mind was at about getting back into football."
If there is one area Mauti may have been able to impress in away from the workout bench, it may have been the one-on-one interviews. The combine is much more than the workouts televised by the NFL Network. Teams get a chance to interview many prospects and test their state of mind and personality, as well as quiz them along the way. Given Mauti's track record, this should have come as a breeze.
Once the NCAA handed out hefty sanctions against Penn State's football program last summer Mauti immediately became the voice of the team in the face of adversity. He also backed up those words with his inspiring play on the field by giving everything he had in his return to the gridiron. Mauti earned respect throughout the Big Ten and beyond for his character on and off the field and despite not having some of the elite physical traits NFL teams will be looking for in April, he still may find himself playing a role on a team in the fall.
What role that becomes is still up in the air as NFL teams may be hesitant to take a gamble on a player who has already recovered from separate ACL injuries one each leg. According to The Patriot News, the Detroit Lions feel Mauti could be a special teams player at best. Given his lack of speed, that appears to make sense. Mauti could very well break in to the league playing a role on special teams but his instincts and work ethic will not keep him from aspiring to play a role in a defense.
Mauti's overall skill is one that will keep him on a depth chart at the linebacker position in some capacity and there is still a good chance he could one day become a starting linebacker in the NFL. Mauti is graded out to be an eventual starter in the NFL, and as long as he can stay healthy he should be able to join other former Nittany Lions such as Sean Lee, Paul Posluszny and Navorro Bowman playing defense on Sundays to come.
Last year there were 30 linebackers chosen in the NFL draft, including Penn State's Nate Stupar (7th Round, Oakland Raiders). Since 2010 there have been 104 linebackers drafted by NFL teams. National Football Post currently ranks Mauti as the 12th best outside linebacker on the board (Hodges is 14th), so the odds appear to be in Mauti's favor for draft pick, and the chances of hearing his name on day two of the draft may still be there.
Mauti will have at least one more opportunity to work out in front of scouts and coaches next month. Penn State is hosting a pro day on Monday, March 11. Whether or not Mauti will be able to participate in any additional workouts at that time remains to be seen.