As expected, a number of top players opted either to not work out at all or to participate only in selective parts of the physical testing at the NFL combine. The times of most players who did run were quite impressive, while there were, as always, a few disappointments.
Keep in mind, some players who had excellent workouts didn't perform up to that level with the pads on during game situations. That's why the combine workout can be so misleading. The true football players may not perform up to the level expected, while others rise up the draft board when their play on the field didn't warrant such an elevation. What the combine should do is work toward separating players at a position who may have had a comparable grade going in.
|Purdue QB Drew Brees was strong in the short passing game but struggled some throwing downfield at the combine.|
Here's a position-by-position look at how some key players fared:
Michael Vick will be looking to wow the NFL brass, and particularly San Diego Charger GM John Butler, during individual testing. ... The second-highest-rated quarterback going into the combine, Purdue's Drew Brees, may have lost some ground. While he was solid in the shorter areas, he struggled some throwing the ball down the field. ... The workout of Florida signal caller Jesse Palmer was viewed by some as OK. ... Washington's Marques Tuiasosopo may be moving up the draft board following a strong workout that saw him throw the ball with accuracy. ... Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke from Florida State accounted for himself fairly well, throwing several nice balls; Weinke opted not to run. ... Georgia's Quincy Carter ran in the 4.5s and reportedly looked fairly impressive throwing the shorter passes, but, like Brees, had some trouble on the deeper aerials. ... Mike McMahon of Rutgers, fresh off strong performances at the postseason all-star games, wasn't able to keep the momentum going. I'm told he lacked the necessary touch, throwing every ball with the same velocity.
This turned out to be the L.T. show. LaDainian Tomlinson of TCU definitely elevated his draft position, maybe to the point where he becomes the first running back off the board. Tomlinson ran faster than people thought, clocking an impressive 4.38, and also caught the ball extremely well. The NFL brass I spoke with also raved about his showing during the interview sessions. ...
While Deuce McAllister of Mississippi opted not to run, he did come through with a solid performance during the positional drills, looking smooth overall. After an injury-plagued senior campaign, McAllister needs a strong individual workout to maintain his position in the early portion of Round 1. ... While Wisconsin's Michael Bennett clocked an impressive time of 4.39, I'm told his overall performance during the workout was less than spectacular. He didn't look like a natural catching the football, which was the question he had to answer after hauling in just four receptions for the Badgers this past season. Bennett should still be a first-rounder, but now he'll have some work to do in order to hold onto his spot as the No. 3 RB overall, behind Tomlinson and McAllister. ... Derrick Blaylock of Stephen F. Austin ran well, figuring to garner some consideration in the fourth-round area as a situational performer. ... Auburn's Rudi Johnson also came through with a fine showing as did teammate Heath Evans. In fact, Evans may end up being the first fullback to be taken off the draft board. He ran under 4.6, caught the ball well and looked very confident throughout the process. ... Evans and Kansas' Moran Norris figure to battle it out all the way until draft day to see who will be the first FB chosen. Norris' awesome strength was a real attention-getter. ... A big back who may have been a little too big was Texas A&M's Ja'Mar Toombs. The battering ram checked in at 281 pounds, hurting his chances of being an early-round selection.
|TCU RB LaDainian Tomlinson's showing at the Senior Bowl elevated his draft position, and now his combine performance has done the same.|
The big story here was the top players who didn't work out. That list included Michigan's David Terrell, N.C. State's Koren Robinson, Miami's Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne and Clemson's Rod Gardner. ... One player who would have liked to have been in that group was Oregon State's Chad Johnson. After enjoying a steady elevation up the draft board, Johnson ran a far-less-than-expected 4.58, not showing the burst during the 40 that was on display this past season at Oregon State. While this obviously didn't help maintain Johnson's position in the top 10 overall, what he now has to do is nail his individual workout and hope that his performance on the field overrides the sub-par 40. ... Texas A&M's Robert Ferguson continues to be viewed as a very intriguing prospect. The productive junior with ideal size ran in the low 4.5s, with some clocks possibly in the high 4.4s. ... I've saved the best for last. The player who most improved his draft position at the WR spot was without question UCLA's Freddie Mitchell. The exciting junior -- who proved to be a super blue-chip, big-play wideout in the Pac-10 -- clearly stole the show in Indy. Mitchell ran in the mid 4.4s, then came through with a top-drawer effort in the positional workout. I've been saying all along that if Mitchell showed true big-league speed at the combine or during an individual workout, he will elevate significantly from the later portion of Round 1. Folks, that's exactly what happened. Mitchell is now a potential mid-first-rounder if the momentum continues leading to April 21.
Like Mitchell, one of the best overall workouts was turned in by North Carolina's Alge Crumpler. He ran in the 4.7s, but more importantly showed excellent natural pass-receiving skills. He's now a sure-fire second rounder. ... Arizona State's super-talented junior Todd Heap didn't work out, but checked in at 252 pounds and is now ready to showcase his skills to the NFL brass during individual testing.
Overall, this group did a good job of maintaining or elevating their positions in the draft. At offensive tackle, it's still a battle between Florida's Kenyatta Walker and Texas' Leonard Davis to see who will be the first bookend taken off the board. Both figure as early first-rounders. ... Michigan's Jeff Backus solidified his position in the middle of the first round. ... N.C. State's Jarvis Borum garnered a great deal of favorable commentary based on his impressive speed for a big man. ... At guard, Michigan's Steve Hutchinson ran well, meaning he remains up there with the top 7- 12 players available in the draft. Remember, Hutchinson could also be a right tackle at the pro level. ... Notre Dame's Mike Gandy enjoyed a solid workout. ... At center, Nebraska junior Dominic Raiola remains the top pivot man in the draft after his fine showing. ... In the pivot, also keep a close eye on Texas A&M-Kingsville's Robert Garza. After a strong effort at the Senior Bowl, Garza flashed outstanding speed (5.04) and strength (37 reps). Look for Garza to be off the board in the second or third round.
Along with wide receiver, there is no question that defensive tackle is one of the stronger positions in the draft. Unfortunately, the NFL brass is going to have to wait until individual workouts to really size things up and get their final grades together. Florida's Gerard Warren, who figures to be a possible top-five pick and is clearly the top DT in the draft, opted not to work out. The same was true of Georgia's Richard Seymour and Miami's Damione Lewis. ... Seymour's partner along the defensive front, however, huge interior DT Marcus Stroud, did participate in the workout and came through with an impressive showing. Stroud is potentially immovable along the inside, so despite a few periods of inconsistency this past season, I would expect him to be off the board somewhere in the middle of Round 1. And it wouldn't shock me if Stroud went even a bit higher than that. ... Alabama's Kenny Smith reportedly did OK in the drills but ran a disappointing 5.2. He's now viewed as a late first-day or early second-day possibility. I would think the fourth round is a distinct possibility as of this writing. ... At defensive end, the big story was the tremendous performance turned in by Missouri junior Justin Smith. He didn't run but looked terrific in the workout. I'm told he wowed everyone with his quickness, ability to change direction, athletic prowess, effort and intensity. With Cal's Andre Carter checking in at just 249 pounds, Smith figures to be the first DE taken, meaning he could be taken off the board within the first 10 selections. ... Florida State's Jamal Reynolds ran a solid 4.7, while Nebraska's Kyle Vanden Bosch posted a sub 4.7 in the 40 and also looked outstanding during the workout. Vanden Bosch definitely elevated his draft position.
On the outside, Quinton Caver of Arkansas enjoyed a solid workout overall, running in the 4.7s. ... But the real talk centered around the showing turned in by Syracuse's Morlon Greenwood. He ran in the 4.6s, showed exceptional athletic ability and reportedly caught the ball like a wide receiver. Even though he showed a bit too much finesse at times with the Orangemen, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Greenwood was taken off the board in Round 2 or 3. ... Another outside linebacker who posted an eye-catching 40 was North Carolina's Sedrick Hodge. He ran a sub 4.5, figuring as a second-round possibility. ... Clemson junior Keith Adams reportedly struggled some during the workout, while his computer numbers were far from the prototype NFL linebacker. At just 5-foot-10 and 219 pounds, Adams posted a 40 time of 4.8. ... At middle linebacker, Georgia's Kendrell Bell ran well, as expected, posting a 40 time of 4.65. ... Even though he was tremendously productive over the last three years, Vanderbilt junior Jamie Winborn may have some ground to make up. He checked in at just 5-foot-11 and 229 pounds.
The top two cornerbacks, Fred Smoot of Mississippi State and Ken Lucas of Mississippi, will look to solidify first-round positions during individual testing. ... One cover man who opted to take maximum advantage of the combine was Will Allen of Syracuse. He ran in the 4.4s and enjoyed a fine workout. Look for Allen's name to be called possibly in the late first round. ... Tennessee State's Ligarius Jennings performed like an early rounder with the pads on, but his less-than-spectacular time in the 40 (high 4.5s to about 4.6) may push the Division I-AA standout into the fourth- or fifth-round area. ... Baylor's Gary Baxter, who could be viewed as either a cornerback or safety depending upon the defensive structure, ran in the low 4.5s and could still end up in the second or third round if things fall right. ... At safety, the eye-catching workout was turned in by Kansas State's Jarrod Cooper. After checking in at 222 pounds, Cooper ran a superlative 4.35. While he performed like a late-rounder in certain games this past season, a blistering 40 like this will force NFL teams to go back to the drawing board and reevaluate where Cooper should project. ... Another safety who looked outstanding in Indy was N.C. State's Adrian Wilson. At 6-foot-2¼ and 213 pounds, the physically imposing free safety prospect posted a 40 time of 4.55, possibly elevating the talented junior into the second-round area.