The purpose of the NFL scouting combine is for prospects to showcase their athleticism and catch the attention of coaches, general managers and scouts. That said, there are always players whose stocks are actually hurt at the scouting combine, or who at least fail to have the performance that they are expected to have.
While it is more difficult to project who will perform poorly at the 2012 NFL scouting combine than it is to project standouts, I have identified six players whose performances could be disappointing at next weekend’s combine in Indianapolis, Ind.
Grade: Round 3
Rank in Top 100 Prospects: No. 70
Vontaze Burfict is somewhat of a freak of nature. He has a tremendous combination of size and athleticism, which make him a very intimidating presence at inside linebacker and enable him to be a huge playmaker on the field.
That said, I am far from convinced that Burfict will put on his best performance at the combine. Burfict proved over the course of his career at Arizona State to be an unreliable player with temperament issues and a poor attitude.
Early this season, I considered Burfict to be worth a top-10 overall draft pick. However, Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson actually took him out of the starting lineup late in the season due to his unreliability, and he barely saw the field against Arizona State. When he did play, he looked unmotivated and out of shape.
Burfict has tremendous athletic potential, but those expecting that he will have a great combine could come away very disappointed. He may not have the speed that many believe he does, and my hunch is that he will not be in his best shape in Indianapolis and will end up performing poorly in the drills.
Grade: Round 2
Rank: No. 40
The general consensus around Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is that his stock is falling, although I never considered him to be better than a second-round value. That said, Dennard may not be able to help his stock at the combine.
Dennard is an instinctive cornerback, but he does not have as much speed or athletic ability as the other top cornerbacks in this year’s draft class, and that should show at the combine. Dennard is unlikely to run faster than 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash and is unlikely to stand out in any drills.
If Dennard can prove me wrong with a strong combine performance, he should solidify himself as an early-second-round draft pick. However, he could drop to the late second round with a poor showing.
Grade: Round 1
Rank: No. 9
Luke Kuechly’s productivity as a tackler is astounding. He led the NCAA in tackles in each of the past two seasons and ranked second nationally in his freshman season. That said, while his productivity speaks for itself, his combine performance is not going to meet the same standards.
Kuechly is a tremendously consistent tackler who uses his instincts to make up for subpar athleticism. Due to this, he should still be a top-20 draft pick even without a great showing in Indianapolis.
Unfortunately for Kuechly, the combine setting is not favorable for his abilities. He does not have great size or athleticism, and the combine will display that, as he is unlikely to put up great measurables.
Kuechly is a great football player who has much better playing speed than track speed, so hopefully, the scouts will recognize this and focus on his game tape over his combine performance, which probably will not help his draft stock.
Grade: Round 5
Rank: Not in Top 100
For the majority of quarterbacks, the combine does not have much affect on draft stock. There is not much to take away from quarterbacks throwing passes with a complete absence of pass rush or defensive coverage. However, for those signal-callers who carry the label of being an athletic quarterback, their performances in the measurable drills will also be scrutinized.
One of those quarterbacks is Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson, a former minor-league baseball player who has been an effective rusher in college. However, Wilson is a pocket passer first, and while he can get outside of the pocket and make plays, he does not have the game-breaking speed that would make him a real running threat at the next level.
While Wilson should have a solid combine performance, people who are expecting Wilson to stand out among the quarterbacks could come away disappointed. I would not expect that Wilson will run faster than the 4.6-range in the 40-yard dash, for he has better football speed than track speed. He will also not wow anyone with his arm strength.
Wilson is a tough competitor, so expect him to be in shape and prepared for the Combine. That said, I believe expectations for his Combine measurables may be higher than he can attain.
Grade: Round 1
Rank: No. 19
The rumors that Alshon Jeffery was 249 pounds and only reaching 4.88 seconds in his 40-yard dash were inaccurate, but nonetheless, they reflect the concerns that surround Jeffery in terms of his athleticism. There may be no player at the combine at any position who needs to run well in the 40-yard dash more than Jeffery does.
Jeffery is a tremendously talented wide receiver who I believe is actually a bigger downfield deep threat than Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon, the top wide receiver in the draft class. While Jeffery does not have great speed, nothing I have seen on tape left me reason to be concerned with an ability to get open downfield and make plays.
That said, many believe that Jeffery’s 40-yard dash will be upwards of 4.6 seconds. If Jeffery fails to break 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, his stock will be hurt at the combine. However, there is much more to playing wide receiver than track speed, and with his combination of burst, hands, size and strength, Jeffery has the ability to be a big playmaker at the next level.
Jeffery could end up as a big disappointment, but of all the players on the list, he also has the most to gain. If he can run his 40-yard dash in the low-to-mid 4.5-second range, he will dispel concerns of being too slow to be a deep wide receiver in the National Football League, and his stock will rise.
Grade: Round 1
Rank: No. 7
Justin Blackmon’s stock as the top wide receiver in the draft class and as a top-10 pick should be safe, so there is a good chance that Blackmon could skip participating at the scouting combine, knowing he does not need to perform there.
Even if Blackmon does compete, I do not expect his stock to drop, but when compared to last year’s top wide receiver prospects, A.J. Green and Julio Jones, those who view Blackmon as a top-five draft pick could be disappointed.
Blackmon is still an impressive athlete, so I am very hesitant to include him on this list, but view this relatively. Breaking 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash will be a stretch for Blackmon, and he is not the caliber of all-around athlete that a wide receiver being considered by some as a potential second- or third-overall pick in the draft usually is.
Blackmon makes up for a lack of burning speed with terrific hands, strength and route-running, and his tremendous productivity at Oklahoma State speaks for itself. He is worthy of being one of the top players selected in the 2012 NFL draft, but because of the very high expectations around him, he may be a disappointment at the combine.
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