I can't tell you how many hours of the NFL Scouting Combine I watched over the last five days, but I'm sure it is past the limit for a person to be deemed sane.
While you can't get too carried away with forty times and bench presses - what you do on gameday is far more important - you can't ignore the combine altogether. It is a good measuring stick and a chance to evaluate players in an apples-to-apples comparison.
So instead of pouring through mind-numbing hours of combine tape on your DVR, we've identified the players that either solidified their draft stock or impressed enough to move up draft boards. We break them down by position, including a sleeper that impressed for each.
The Best: With most of the top quarterbacks electing not to throw, it was difficult to select a standout quarterback from the combine. They all had their highs and their lows, but Jarrett Brown helped his draft stock the most overall. Brown measured in at just a shade under 6-foot-3 which is the size you are looking for at the next level. He ran the fastest forty time of all the quarterbacks, which is not as critical for NFL quarterbacks as it is at the college level, but it certainly helps. And more importantly, he threw the ball very well in drills.
Tim Tebow worked the intangibles and fitness angles to his advantage. Of course it all boils down to how well he does at Florida's March 17th Pro Day, where he'll be unveiling his new and improved throwing motion.
Sleeper: The one guy that I made a point to watch was Northwestern's Mike Kafka, and he did not disappoint. He threw the ball well, which, combined with his size and athleticism, should put him in the group of quarterbacks that will hear their name called on draft day.
The Best: In my opinion the running backs as a whole performed the best of any positional grouping. They all caught the ball well, and for the most part, showed good footwork in field drills. The three that solidified their positions as the elite running backs in his draft class were Jahvid Best, Toby Gerhart and Ryan Mathews. All three ran the forty times that they are capable of running. Best has to start being mentioned in the same breath as C.J. Spiller as the top back in the 2010 draft. He showed comparable speed to C.J. Spiller, and if you watch the tape, Best is a better pure running back.
Gerhart answered any lingering questions about his athleticism by running a solid forty time (note the 4.53 most are quoting hand-timed, his official time was not released) and showing good footwork and change of direction in cone drills.
The competition for the best all-around back (power and speed) is between Jonathan Dwyer and Ryan Mathews. Mathews edged Dwyer at the combine. He looked healthy, in shape, ran well and looked very good in drills.
Sleeper: It is hard not to come away impressed with Ben Tate. This draft is loaded with big backs and Tate separated himself from the pack with his performance on the bench and 40-yard dash. The other big back that I came away impressed with is Joique Bell. Bell was competent in all areas, but I was most impressed with his footwork in cone drills.
The Best: Golden Tate had a couple drops, but he likely did the most to increase or at least solidify his draft stock by running well. Tate was fourth among receivers in the 40-yard dash with a solid 4.42. His forty time confirms what we already knew: Tate is a dangerous receiver after the catch.
Sleeper: Blair White didn't blow anyone away with his 4.5 forty time, but that is a solid time for 6-foot-2 and 200+ pound receiver. Most impressive was White's ball skills. He catches the ball effortlessly with his hands. He ran two clean gauntlet drills and looked the most comfortable of all the receivers in doing so. He's not a burner, but a solid all-around receiver. Marcus Easley also impressed at the combine, running a solid forty time (4.46) and showing good ball skills.
The Best: There wasn't a tight end that stood out in my opinion. Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham looked off after missing a season rehabbing from knee surgery. Dorin Dickerson's speed, while impressive, didn't come as a big surprise. Tony Moeaki always "looks" good. Dennis Pitta looked solid and appeared like the most complete tight end of the bunch, but in a nutshell no one stood out.
Sleeper: Miami's Jimmy Graham ran a surprising 40-yard dash, finishing second among tight ends with a 4.56. He showed excellent ball skills and looked very fluid in pass catching drills. Despite only playing one year at Miami, you can see the building blocks for a top-level NFL tight end.
The Best: The top end lineman did not disappoint. Bryan Bulaga, Mike Iupati and Russell Okung were as good as advertised. Bruce Campbell had analysts drooling over his physique and athleticism. The most impressive, however, was Oklahoma offensive tackle Trent Williams. He ran a 4.88-second 40-yard dash, second only to Campbell. But it was the little things he showed in pass protection drills that stood out. Williams showed excellent footwork and technique throughout the day.
Sleeper: Tony Washington stood out immediately. He has incredible size and moved very well for a 6-foot-6 and 311-pound lineman. You can bet scouts are scouring for more tape on Washington.
The Best: It is a bit of a cop-out to pick Ndamukong Suh as the best performer from the defensive line group, but he certainly did nothing to sway the opinion of those that thought he was the top defensive tackle on the board. Gerald McCoy, on the other hand, gave those in Suh's camp a bit of ammo after only posting 23 reps on the 225-pound bench.
The guy that really improved his draft stock was defensive end/outside linebacker Jerry Hughes. Hughes is a classic tweener that will likely be asked to move to outside linebacker, especially in 3-4 schemes. Hughes played with his hand on the ground during most of his time at TCU, so it was tough to gauge how he would translate at linebacker. However, Hughes showed some of best backpedal and change of direction of any of the defensive end converts during drills. And he ran 4.69 forty, which puts him in the top ten of the linebacking group.
Sleeper: Thaddeus Gibson moved himself into a mid-round pick with his performance at the combine. Gibson was a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker at Ohio State, but like Hughes, he showed the ability to be a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level.
The Best: The most physically impressive linebacker at the combine was Sean Weatherspoon. He ran well, was impressive in field drills and let's be honest, looked like a beast in his white tights. Weatherspoon finished near the top in nearly every category: 9th 40-yard dash (4.68), 2nd bench (34 reps), 4th vertical jump (40") and 6th 60-yard shuttle (11.59). He was equally impressive in agility drills.
Sleepers: Sean Lee was another one of our watch listers that impressed. We wanted to see how Lee moved in field drills and he showed no lingering effects from his knee injury in 2008.
The Best: Without question, no player silenced the critics more, including me, than Taylor Mays. I've questioned whether or not Mays is as fast as he was being billed. I'll take my plate of crow well done please. Mays officially ran a 4.43, the fastest time among defensive backs. More impressive was the burst he showed off the line. While his performance during field drills had mixed results, you simply can't ignore his size and speed.
Eric Berry was Eric Berry. As far as pure athletic ability he was at the top of the heap in all phases on Tuesday. Just like he's been on Saturday's the last three years at Tennessee.
I also liked what I saw out of cornerback Amari Spievey. He clocked in at a hand-timed 4.47 in the 40-yard dash and showed great hips/change of direction in field drills. Spievey is one of the bigger corners in the draft, making his performance all that more impressive.
Sleeper: The list of mid-to-late round corners that impressed is long. Brandon Ghee (4.45 40-yard dash), Chris Cook (4.46 40-yard dash, 11' broad jump), Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (4.47 40-yard dash), A.J. Jefferson (44" vertical) and David Pender (4.47 40-yard dash, 39" vertical) all improved their draft stock with their athletic prowess.
Over the next few days we'll be adjusting our player rankings based the results from the combine. Don't expect major shake-ups, but there are certainly players that deserve a boost and others that will be knocked down a peg or two. Once complete, we'll take a fresh look at our mock draft and will be making some adjustments here as well. Stay tuned.
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