The offense wrapped up their tests and drills at the NFL Scouting Combine over the weekend. Let’s review some of the highlights at the top three fantasy positions.
Instead of outright denial regarding the rampant drug allegations, which have yet to remotely demonstrate having a reliable source, Ryan Mallett chose to take the “no comment” route and say that teams “know what they need to know” from him. That righteous indignation unfortunately leaves the door open for the interpretation that he is hiding something, which is what most pundits assumed and then panned him for. However, he put on a clinic with his passing, and he was universally praised for it. I mentioned in my first mock in an earlier blog post, he did nothing but improve on the field last season, and until there proves to be any modicum of truth to these rumors about him, there’s no reason to downgrade him. Jake Locker also threw very well and, as expected, tested brilliantly. In addition to Mallett and Locker doing well, Christian Ponder was excellent in drills and built on a great Senior Bowl, continuing to elevate his stock as the forearm injury that hampered his 2010 season heals. Also impressive throwing was Josh Portis, who I highlighted in the previous blog post. He is shaping up to be the John Skelton of this class—the small-school guy who goes later in the mid-rounds with buzz of being an appealing developmental third-stringer.
As predicted in my Combine Preview, none of the excellent athletes in this quarterback class disappointed in tests. Throwing the ball was another story. After demonstrating great athleticism in the tests, Cam Newton was less impressive spinning the ball in drills. He didn’t necessarily hurt his draft stock, but he also didn’t lock down the case to be a top three pick, which some thought he might do this weekend. Blaine Gabbert tested well athletically but, as expected, did not throw at the Combine and was the only quarterback not to do so. Despite reports of disgruntled team personnel and the competitive questions it raises, this philosophy has proven to be a non-factor for top prospects. Gabbert seems to remain the clubhouse leader as the consensus top quarterback prospect coming out of the Combine. But it’s a close competition, so he’d better impress while throwing at his Pro Day on March 17th.
After a breakout 2008 season with Maryland, Da’Rel Scott was sidelined for most of the 2009 season and ended up in a RBBC in 2010. However, he ended the season with a big performance in the Military Bowl and then had a nice showing at the Senior Bowl as a late addition to replace the injured Daniel Thomas. Scott continued his positive momentum with some great test results at the Combine, including a 4.34 40-yard dash, the fastest official time turned in by any player over the weekend. He isn’t a very elusive runner and he likes to bounce outside despite his good size, but he is a quality receiver and his elite speed will move him up draft boards. Scott has a track background, which makes the results of the second fastest running back, Mario Fannin, even more surprising. Fannin ran a 4.38 despite being, at 231 pounds, one of the biggest backs. He was very athletic and looked good in drills and is now another riser coming out of the combine. Derrick Locke was right up there with a 4.40 time, and he looked very fluid in drills. Unlike some backs, his timed speed translates to his game speed. He is another guy who continues to build on the momentum of a strong Senior Bowl.
DeMarco Murray surprised me with his 4.41 time. He came into Oklahoma as a burner, but after a litany of injuries, his game seemed less about speed and more well-rounded in 2010. Murray showed he still has home-run speed and may have put himself back into the top tier of running back prospects. However, Daniel Thomas remains out of it for me because he chose not to workout, saying that he is still rehabbing the hamstring injury that also kept him out of the Senior Bowl. I have big questions about his speed and athleticism, and he’s one guy I’m not sold yet as a top-tier prospect. The other consensus top prospects slightly disappointed in the speed department: Mark Ingram, Mikel Leshoure, and Ryan Williams all landed right around 4.60. Except for Williams, their times weren’t a surprise, but better ones would have helped. I thought Williams had more speed, but both he and Leshoure showed good athleticism in other tests. Williams looked very good in the drills. Leshoure showed he is what he is—a north-south power runner lacking agility and elusiveness.
We’ll have a better idea of how to interpret 40 times when the 10-yard splits come out on these guys. That measure of burst is just as important. Ingram reportedly clocked an excellent 1.53. Delone Carter, Roy Helu Jr., and Dion Lewis also helped themselves with good tests and performances in drills. Jordan Todman surprised by coming in at just over 200 pounds, but showed no loss of speed (4.40) or athleticism. I was disappointed that Bilal Powell did not work out. I couldn’t find the reason why. He is coming off an impressive Senior Bowl, and he may have torpedoed his momentum if his absence was not related to an injury. The most disappointed guy in this group has to be John Clay. After topping out at 268 coming off ankle surgeries last spring, and reportedly playing around 250, he was down to 230 at the combine in hopes of showing more speed and athleticism. That became an epic fail when he turned in the worst 40 time in the running back group, barely breaking 4.90. He also has surprisingly small hands—a minor issue, but just another negative about a guy who once was thought to be the next Brandon Jacobs.
A pair of small school (DII) guys turned in the fastest times over the weekend, with Ricardo Lockette and Edmond Gates both clocking an official time of 4.37 in the 40-yard dash. Gates ran it with a visibly bothersome groin injury that eventually caused him to pull out of some other workouts. In addition to his great 40 time, Lockette looked good catching the ball as well, showing he is clearly not just a track guy playing football. Julio Jones was the only other receiver to post a sub-4.4 and had one of the best all-around performances by anyone over the weekend. His 11’3” broad jump was just shy of a combine record, and he had a very good 38.5” vertical and a solid—for a wideout—17 reps on the bench. In the drills, Jones looked smooth for the most part and caught the ball well. He solidified his status as a first-round pick. A.J. Green also looked good in the drills (although he has some drops) and came away with some nice test results: a solid 4.50 40, 18 reps on the bench, and a 10’6” broad jump were the highlights. Jonathan Baldwin helped himself with fantastic testing and good hands in drills. He’s back in the first-round discussion, if he had ever left it.
Leonard Hankerson, on the other hand, was a mixed bag. He was eaten alive by the gauntlet drill (several throwers firing balls at you from alternating sides every few strides—you catch and drop and then look for the next, running as fast as you can). But he surprised people with an excellent 4.43 time in the 40. I like him a lot at the top of the second tier of wide receiver prospects. The duo from Boise State disappointed a bit, as Titus Young didn’t have the elite speed expected and was average in drills, while Austin Pettis showed less speed than expected, both timed and in drills, although he did look good running routes. Torrey Smith was plenty fast, although not as fast as former teammate Darrius Heyward-Bey, but his hands looked disappointingly similar with some bad drops. Randall Cobb was fast and caught the ball very well. He helped himself a lot and looks like a prototypical slot receiver. Terrence Toliver and Tori Gurley showed great hands but little burst or deep speed. They’re a couple of big possession receivers. Niles Paul had a good combination of test and drill performances, but he’s built more like a running back than a receiver.