Saturday was officially the first say of the 2013 NFL Combine. Players grouped by position took to the field at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to showcase their physical skills in front of countless NFL coaches, scouts, and front office personnel. Through Sunday night, Tight Ends, Quarterbacks, Running backs, and Wide Receivers have all completed their respective testing, and will now begin to train for their pro days and individual workouts as the next step of the draft process.
While we anticipate the remaining defensive players scheduled to test Monday and Tuesday to conclude the 2013 Combine, let’s take a look at what we learned over the weekend, while peeking ahead to Monday’s testing of defensive line and linebackers.
Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert strengthened his position as the top player in the TE class with impressive performances across the board. Eifert ranked among the top 5 of each testing category, while posting the best 3-cone drill time of all tight ends finishing in an impressive 6.92 seconds. His 4.68 40 yard dash, 4.32 20 yard shuttle, and 22 reps of 225 lbs on the bench press highlighted the physical abilities that stand out on tape in terms of speed, agility, and strength. Eifert looked comfortable running routes and catching balls, and maintains a very good ability to catch the ball at its highest point, as accentuated by his 35.5 inch vertical leap. Eifert is a likely first round pick, and barring something unforeseen, will be the first tight end selected this April.
The good news for teams in need of a tight end is that the buck doesn’t stop with Eifert. This is a relatively deep class with a fair amount of talent throughout. Aside from Eifert, Stanford’s Zach Ertz, widely regarded as the top TE second to Eifert, was quite impressive as well. While he did not look as agile as Eifert (4.47 20 yard shuffle, 7.08 3-Cone), he displayed relatively impressive upper body strength with 24 reps on the bench, and showed the qualities that are apparent on his game film during extensive route running drills. Ertz can be a highly productive player at the next level, and will likely be a late first, early second round pick.
Aside from the top two, there is still a very good amount of talent at the position. Two names that come to mind after Saturday’s testing are Rice’s Vance McDonald and San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar. McDonald was impressive during the week of practice leading up to the Senior Bowl, but still faced questions regarding his overall athletic ability. McDonald flashed some great top end speed with a 4.69 40 yard dash, while achieving a tight end high 31 reps on the bench press. While McDonald isn’t necessarily the tallest of the tight end prospects (6’4″), he is among the heaviest at 267 lbs. Considering his weight, McDonald is an extremely athletic prospect, with some room to grow.
Escobar, on the other hand, is more likely to be a mid-round round selection, but showed some of the best hands and ball skills out of anyone in the group. At 6’6″, Escobar can provide an effective red zone threat for teams in need. His top end speed may not be elite or enough to stretch the field and create mismatches with linebackers, but his size advantage and superior ball skills will help his game tremendously at the next level, while he works on more aspects of his overall play.
There has been a lot of buzz about two top offensive line prospects, Chance Warmack and Luke Joeckel, posting relatively poor overall testing times, but don’t be fooled. These two players are still the best at their positions, while Warmack remains arguably the class’s best overall prospect. Joeckel and Warmack each displayed very impressive feet and hand technique during the more position specific drills. Joeckel is a likely top 5 selection, with Warmack potentially cracking the top 10.
California Center Brian Schwenke, who was very impressive at the Senior Bowl, tested very well. A 4.99 40 yard dash and 7.31 3-Cone drill highlight some of the athletic ability he displays on tape when pulling and getting up onto the second level. Schwenke showed some impressive strength to complement his athleticism with 31 reps on the bench press, as well.
This has to have been one of the most overall athletic group of offensive lineman the NFL Combine has seen in recent years. 6 players posted sub 5.0 40 yard dash times, including the head turning 4.71 from Arkansas-Pine Bluff Tackle Terron Armstead (306 lbs). Coming from a smaller school, this was exactly what a prospect like Armstead needed to do to generate some buzz, likely causing several scouts to have a second (or first) look at his film.
Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson was also impressive in the 40 yard dash, posting a 4.72 at 6’6″ 303 lbs. Johnson was already regarded as a first round talent, but his overall performance that included a 34 inch vertical leap and 114 inch broad jump solidified that. A former high school quarterback, and tight end at Oklahoma, there is no question that Johnson is arguably the most athletically gifted offensive tackle in the class.
Speed Kills – 14 players posted 40 yard dash times of under 4.50, including 5 in the sub 4.4 range. That is one of the most impressive stats you will see from this weekend, and a reflection of the advancements in athletic training.
Tavon Austin was the most impressive player in the group, running a blazing 4.34 40 yard dash, with an impressive 14 reps on the bench press at just 174 lbs, indicating he takes his time in the weight room very seriously, the importance of which cannot be understated.
Austin is a very unique talent. He is extremely fast, strong for his size, and remarkably explosive. A 4.01 time in the 20 yard shuttle is a testament to how twitchy he truly is. Austin will provide an excellent weapon to the team that selects him in April. He can be used in the passing game as an underneath option, a deep threat, and a player to rely upon for yards after the catch, while also having the natural ability to produce as a runner.
Texas’s Marquise Goodwin posted the best 40 time out of the group, as he flirted with Chris Johnson’s record of 4.24 with a 4.27. An olympic sprinter, Goodwin will provide a deep threat for a team in need at the next level, but will surely need some time to develop into a more complete wide receiver.
Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee tested well as expected, and he will battle it out with Austin and California’s Keenan Allen for the top receiver spot as we head into April.
Possibly the biggest surprise at wide receiver was Ryan Swope of Texas A&M. Swope turned heads with a very impressive 4.38 40 yard dash, while looking extremely polished running routes and catching the ball. Swope was extremely productive at A&M, and now with the displayed athleticism to join his production, he likely increased his stock more than any receiver at the event.
Also posting strong performances were Justin Hunter of Tennessee, Robert Woods of USC, Kenny Stills of Oklahoma, Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton, and Terrance Williams of Baylor.
Markus Wheaton of Oregon State ran very well, but had difficulty reeling in passes consistently.
Former Michigan Quarterback Denard Robinson ran well as expected (4.43), but looked light years above where he was at the Senior Bowl in terms of route running and ball catching ability. While he still has a great amount of work to do, the progress is surely an encouraging sign, and speaks volumes to his work ethic and desire to be successful.
Again, it is tough to gauge who the top player in this class is. Geno Smith of West Virginia and Florida State’s EJ Manuel impressed the most from a physical stand point, and it will be very important for them to ‘wow’ teams in the interview process moving forward. Manuel looked big, strong, and fast, while throwing the ball very well. From what it seems, he has been impressing scouts and coaches with his personality and leadership skills. Once projected as a mid-round pick, Manuel will now likely find himself in the early second round range.
A very intriguing player is Matt Barkley of USC. While Barkley did not participate in any drills as he recovers from a shoulder injury sustained last year, he impressed in interviews, sounding confident, intelligent, and poised. His pro day will be big for his stock, which suddenly seems to be rising despite the fact that he hasn’t done much from a physical standpoint, in front of scouts and coaches, since his injury. One NFL scout reportedly believes he will end up being taken within the first 10 picks.
The Running Back class is incredibly deep this year, despite lacking any clear cut first round talent. While highly touted prospects Eddie Lacy of Alabama and Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina did not participate in drills because of injuries, their peers looked very impressive.
Auburn’s Onterio McCalebb was the story of the day, as many thought he had beaten Chris Johnson’s 40 yard dash record, when his unofficial time read 4.21 seconds. Unfortunately, his official time put him a full tenth of a second behind Johnson at 4.34. Still, blazing speed displayed by McCalebb who surely put his name on the map.
While few other backs have elite top end speed, most of them are adequately fast, very agile, and well balanced. Among them, Giovani Bernard of North Carolina, Kenjon Barner of Oregon, Johnathan Franklin of UCLA, Mike Gillislee of Florida, Michael Ford of LSU, and Joseph Randle of Oklahoma State were all very impressive, among others.
The two most impressive names in the Running Back class were Knile Davis of Arkansas and Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell. Davis displayed an excellent combination of speed and strength, having run a 4.38 40 yard dash, while achieving 31 reps on the bench press.
Bell, on the other hand, was impressive in every facet of the day’s tests. While he has been widely regarded as more of a big, physical back, Bell proved he is as athletic and fast as he is in stature. At 6’1″ 230 lbs, Bell clocked a 4.60 40 yard dash, but was even more impressive in the agility drills, posting a 6.75 3-Cone drill and 4.24 20 yard shuttle. His 24 reps on the bench do not indicate elite upper body strength, but the bulk of his power comes from the hips down.
Bell also looked good in the positional drills, displaying a good ability to make cuts and catch balls out of the back field. He is among the backs who likely increased their stock this weekend.
Other notable names to monitor moving forward include, but are not limited to, Robbie Rouse of Fresno State, DJ Harper of Boise State, Stepfan Taylor of Stanford, Montee Ball of Wisconsin, Christine Michael of Texas A&M, Ray Graham of Pittsburgh, and Clemson’s Andre Ellington, who missed drills after tweaking his hamstring on his first 40 yard dash attempt.
What To Watch For
One of the biggest days of the event kicks off tomorrow when the defensive line and linebacker prospects test.
Important Notes: There have been mixed reports surfacing on the health status of Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones. His Spinal Stenosis has been confirmed, but the severity is unclear at this point. Some teams have reportedly removed him from their draft boards for this issue, but Jones has insisted it will not affect his play moving forward. Jones is a very good prospect, once regarded as a top 5 pick, but seems to have realized that the medical issues could hurt his draft stock. Still, Jones is a tremendous talent, and it will be interesting to see which team takes a flyer on him in April. Big time risk/reward.
Oregon Defensive End Dion Jordan will test in everything other than the bench press, as he will require surgery on his torn labrum following the combine that will likely sideline him until training camp. Jordan needs to impress in a big way in all other tests for teams to still feel comfortable taking him, knowing he won’t be able to begin much physical work until July.
Due to the two situations aforementioned, look for BYU Defensive End Ezekiel Ansah to make a push toward the top 10. Ansah has already been touted as one of the most physically gifted players in this year’s class, and a strong showing on Monday will only increase his stock. Some feel as though he is a project, but a good amount of tape reveals he may not be as raw as he is inexperienced. Could Ansah be in play for the Jets at 9? It certainly should not be ruled out at this point, depending on what role New York sees him in.
New General Manager John Idzik is familiar with dynamic pass rushers, having been part of the brain trust that selected Bruce Irvin in last year’s draft, another player who was widely viewed as a raw prospect in 2012. Irvin was productive in Seattle last season due to his versatility and the creativity of the defensive coaching staff, as he was constantly placed in situations where he would have the best chance to produce.
Could Idzik view Ansah in an Irvin type role? While many of the principles of Seattle’s 2012 defense are the result of former defensive coordinator and current Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley, Idzik may offer some suggestions from what he saw in Seattle to Rex Ryan, who we know is very open to defensive creativity and versatility. Ansah could be just what the doctor ordered for New York’s defense depending on how the first 8 picks shake out on the night of April 25th.
Highly touted defensive end/outside linebacker prospect Damontre Moore of Texas A&M will need to test very well on Monday following a disappointing performance in the bench press on Sunday (12 reps). Moore is a dynamic pass rusher, but will his athleticism allow him to mask what he lacks in strength at the next level? Monday will be a good opportunity for teams to gauge that.
The Te’o of Manti
On Saturday, Notre Dame Linebacker Manti Te’o gave his first public press conference since the girlfriend hoax story broke. While Te’o seemed to have a good mindset moving forward, he will need to answer some questions in terms of his overall speed and athleticism on Monday. While he is still likely a first round selection, it is imperative that Te’o proves his preparation has not been hampered by his off the field issues. The interview process will continue to be crucial moving forward, as well.
Other important names to keep an eye on include SMU’s Margus Hunt, who posted an extremely impressive 38 reps on the bench press on Sunday. Hunt will reportedly run very well, and could seriously boost his stock with a strong performance on Monday.
Florida State’s Bjoern Werner is a hot name and highly touted prospect, but some feel he will fit best as a defensive end in a 4-3. Teams looking for a 3-4 OLB will monitor Werner’s athleticism on Monday to determine whether or not they will get him on the board during the interview process to gauge him, mentally, in evaluating if he is capable of making the position transition. Werner is another first round talent.
Auburn DE/OLB Corey Lemonier is a name to watch for from a Jets standpoint. Lemonier cranked out an impressive 27 reps on the bench press on Sunday, and could help his stock by performing well in Monday’s tests and drills. It is important to note that the Jets recently hired Lemonier’s former defensive coordinator from Auburn, Brian VanGorder, as the team’s linebackers coach, so there is surely some familiarity there.
Connecticut defensive end/outside linebacker Sio Moore is shooting up charts after a strong Senior Bowl, and has already impressed with his strength after putting up 29 reps on the bench press Sunday. Moore is viewed as a dynamic pass rusher, and a strong day of testing should boost his stock even more.
WIth countless other names to watch from the DL/LB group, Monday is sure to be another exciting day in Indianapolis.