Alabama Football: Updating Player Performances from the NFL Combine

Jimmy McMurreyAnalyst IIFebruary 28, 2012

Alabama Football: Updating Player Performances from the NFL Combine

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    The 2012 NFL Draft Combine was fairly uneventful this year for the boys in crimson as so many were sidelined with various injuries. There will still be plenty of guys heading into the NFL and this is a look at the nine players that were invited to the combine.

    The NFL Combine is not the end of all arguments, not by a long shot. The schools host their own pro days where scouts come from around the land to gauge their play. 

    The Combine is really just an extra tool to put something on paper and try and separate the first rounders from the second rounders.  

    When it comes to some Alabama boys the coaches are already sold on them, but here's what the Combine had in store for these nine young men.

    Selected quotes are taken from the official NFL Combine website.

Mark Barron, Safety

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    Combine Grade: N/A

    Barron did not participate in the Combine due to his double hernia surgery. He also missed the Senior Bowl and will likely miss Alabama's pro day on March 7.

    Mark Barron was likely to be the first safety taken in the draft, possibly in the first round, but that is in question now.

    His history of injuries includes two chest injuries suffered in both the 2010 and 2011 Iron Bowl showdowns.  

    Mark Barron's stock has fallen and it is not only unlikely that he will not be taken in the first round, but he may not even be the first safety taken.  

    Whatever team takes him will be getting supreme talent at bargain price.

Josh Chapman, Nose Tackle

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    Combine Grade: 83.7

    Josh Chapman just recently got off the crutches and did not participate at all in the Combine workouts, which included the bench press.  

    The Combine still issued him a grade, and it's not half bad.  

    Both Chapman and the NFL understand what his role is, and the Combine said this about him: 

    He is a smart player who understands his role. The athletic ability and balance he displays at his size is what makes him such an effective space-eating nose tackle. Chapman often looks as if he fully understands his clogging role and doesn't strive to do much else.

    He has issues when rushing the passer and has some trouble squeezing the pocket using athletic ability; his production usually comes from his strength. 

    Chapman's stock didn't change much after missing the combine and some team will take him in the mid to later rounds to play a very specific role as a true nose tackle.  

Darius Hanks, Wide Receiver

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    Combine Grade: 54.2

    When Darius Hanks got an invite to the Combine it was a bit of a surprise. He has ridden in the back seat as a receiver for his entire career, but most feel confident that he will have a decent pro career. I'm one of them.

    Hanks did not wow anyone at the Combine, as his abysmal Combine grade indicates. His 40-yard time of 4.66 was one of the worst of all wide receivers, but he has a lot of strengths. 

    He has great hands and runs some of the best routes around. He is as tough as they come and will take the brutal shots in the middle by safeties and linebackers and still come up with the ball. 

    The Combine said this about him:

    He has the size. He has the hands to compete and start at the next level, and he runs good routes to get himself open and create plays for himself. He is a smooth mover who looks like a natural receiver.

    He isn't physical to get off the line and can get jammed at times, but he has shown the ability to stem his routes, get defenders off balance, and then work back in-phase. Hanks has outstanding hands and catches nearly ever ball thrown his way.

    He doesn't create much for himself in the short passing game and wouldn't be a great option out of the slot, as he doesn't create his own plays and wouldn't be a threat during screen plays. He is effective as a deep threat but doesn't bring much else to the table.

    Darius Hanks looks more to be an undrafted free agent than a late round pick, but make no mistake that he'll get an invite to some team's training camp.

Dont'a Hightower, Middle Linebacker

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    Combine Grade: 85

    Those that questioned Dont'a Hightower's past knee injury were quieted when he entered the Combine healthy as a horse.

    Hightower may have had the most to prove at the Combine as he is attempting to become a first round pick. The second round is most likely but the first is not out of the question.

    He was a leader in the linebacker vertical jump with 32 inches, and his 40-yard time of 4.68 seconds was impressive for such a big man of 265 lbs.

    The consensus best middle linebacker is Boston College's Luke Kuechly, who ran a 4.58, is still likely to be taken as the first inside linebacker. Kuechly could play in any system but Hightower is definitely best suited to play in a 3-4 system.

    Hightower's main competition, Arizona State's Vontaze Burfict, was exposed in the worst way at the Combine when he ran a sluggish 5.09 40-yard, a terrible time for a guy that weighs only 248 lbs. 

    Add in Burfict's hot-headed nature and discipline problems and Dont'a Hightower will be the second inside linebacker taken.  

    The Combine said this about Hightower:

    Hightower has looked the part of a starting Mike linebacker in the NFL for two years, and as an early-entry junior he has a bright future. If he can keep his weight steady and play at a fast speed, Hightower can do many of the same things that Oakland's Rolando McClain or New England's Brandon Spikes did working as the physical inside presence of a defense.

    He is not the most athletic mover in space, but he uses his arms to tie up receivers within his zone and hand fight tight ends off the ball. He is technically sound, although his style of play looks effortless. There are not many wasted motions in his movements, and he takes good angles to the ball when working both sides of the field. 

    Hightower has a big frame and can labor at times to move in extended spaces on the field. He excels within the box but likely won't run down many scat backs at the next level. He is good to defend the pass in zone but struggles to maintain coverage in man after trying to disrupt at the line. 

    Take note of how they recognized his potential at taking on receiving tight ends, which are becoming incredibly important and prolific in the NFL today.

Dre Kirkpatrick, Cornerback

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    Combine Grade: 92

    Though Dre Kirpatrick's wild hair may have raised eyebrows, his on-paper performances didn't do much to help his already high stock. 

    He turned in some of the best numbers in the vertical and broad jump, but the rest of his numbers game were about as expected, not good and not bad.  

    He recorded a good 4.51 40-yard time, .01 second slower than Morris Claiborne, but 10 corners ran faster times.

    His relatively low weight of 186 lbs. also has some concerned, despite the fact that critics saw how brutal he can play.  

    Kirkpatrick's "discipline issues" are far less than those of former Florida Gator Janoris Jenkins.

    The Combine said this about Kirkpatrick:

    He is a very lengthy corner, who will come into the league as one of the tallest alongside the Seahawks' Richard Sherman and Brandon Browning. These two players, coincidentally, showed why teams may want to develop Kirkpatrick as a corner at the next level, as they have found success at the position and been valuable by being able to cover the league's tall receivers in the red zone.

    He is so talented athletically that he could likely be tested early on an island in man coverage and excel, and he possesses the confidence and field presence necessary to take on such a task.

    Kirkpatrick has issues that surround all aspects of his prospects and overall value as he enters the draft. He is very thin and some will question his ability to play physically at the next level. Although technically not a tweener, as he has always played and been advertised as a cornerback, his size and athletic ability could encourage a transition to the safety position.

    KP will likely continue to play corner in the NFL and should be the second corner taken, behind LSU's Morris Claiborne. 

    He's a first round pick.  

De'Quan Menzie, Cornerback

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    Combine Grade: 74

    De'Quan Menzie was widely regarded as Alabama's best coverage corner last year, a fact that will go a long way in his journey into the NFL.

    But the Combine didn't make his road to the NFL any shorter, nor easier.

    The worst thing the Combine did for Menzie was expose how slow he is. As a guy that stands at only 5'11" and 202 lbs, Menzie turned in a 40-yard time of 4.74 seconds. 

    Fortunately for Menzie, many scouts and coaches realize the 40-yard isn't a tell all (though it is very important for defensive backs). With Menzie's play at Alabama I believe most realize 4.74 seconds belies Menzie's true potential, and may not even be a time that he typically runs. 

    The Combine said this about Menzie:

    He is the type of player whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts in terms of the type of player he will be on Sundays. He is a playmaker and savvy cover man who has second-round value.

    Menzie is a very instinctual corner who relies on his ability to anticipate the throw and break on the ball to disrupt passes. He is a strong player when working in tight space and can use his agility and natural foot quickness to stay on a receiver's hip until the last second. He is a strong player in zone and understands when to take chances and jump routes.

    Menzie is a solid all-around prospect who has fluid hips and athletic ability, which he relies on too heavily at times. He takes chances in man coverage that could hurt him at the next level.

    They seem to think he is second round talent, and I wholeheartedly agree. 

Marquis Maze, Wide Receiver

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    Combine Grade: 76.5

    The NFL Combine's "eyeball test" can decimate the stock of guys like Marquis Maze. He has needed every bit of his small 5'8", 186 lb. frame to make a statement.

    He didn't make waves at the combine, but he cemented himself as a solid pro prospect. 

    Maze did not post excellent numbers in any category, which can be a death sentence for an already physically limited candidate. Fortunately for Maze he has had a career's worth of accomplishments, including two national titles in which he played a big part.

    He posted a 40-yard time of 4.51 seconds, which somewhat negates his reputation as a speedy, quick and elusive receiver.  

    The Combine said this about Maze:

    There are question marks surrounding every aspect of Maze's departure from Alabama and entry into the draft. But putting those questions aside, Maze has done one thing consistently -- make plays at big times for the Crimson Tide. Maze uses his agility and quickness to make people miss anywhere on the field, with the explosiveness to take the play the distance.

    Maze is a naturally athletic mover who is a crafty route runner out of the slot. He is a threat to score every time he catches the ball. He is productive on screens and will be a reliable option at returner. He is a bit sloppy in his routes, but he understands how to separate and get open. He is a gamer who shows up to play and makes things happen with the ball in his hands.

    Maze is a bit undersized and has somewhat of a sloppy body for such a proactive and quick receiver. He needs to show before the draft that he has the strength to compete at the next level.

    Marquis Maze's raw speed and physical stature didn't impress anybody, but his ability to make people miss in wide open space like a ninja should prove to make him a steal in the mid-to-late rounds as a receiver and return man.

Trent Richardson, Running Back

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    Combine Grade: N/A

    Richardson is yet another player that was forced to skip the NFL Combine after his knee surgery.

    It was unfortunate that he couldn't participate, but it did not hurt his stock a bit. He will still be the first running back taken, and early in the first round at that.

    The only sad part is that Richardson didn't even participate in the 225-pound bench press drill. 

    The record for running backs was set by former UCONN player Anthony Sherman in 2011, with 242 pounds for 32 reps. 

    Trent Richardson, as one of the strongest running backs in collegiate history, would have easily blown that number out of the water. 

    The future is bright for Richardson, but the NFL Combine is merely an ink spot in his rapidly building legend.

Courtney Upshaw, Outside Linebacker/Defensive End

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    Combine Grade: 88

    Courtney Upshaw isn't exactly a physical specimen in terms of what can be written on paper, but he's a powerful pass rusher and that will keep him as a first round prospect. 

    As a pass-rushing specialist, Upshaw didn't help his already ridiculous stock any by not participating in the 40-yard dash, but his bench press certainly didn't bode well. 

    For a guy his size a mere 22 reps on the bench press is sure to make the short-sighted among the scouts question his potential, "Is he really strong enough to take on NFL offensive linemen?"

    Upshaw weighed in at 272 pounds, a size roughly ideal to play defensive end at the next level in a 4-3 system, or as a linebacker in a 3-4.  

    The Combine said this about Upshaw:

    Upshaw is a naturally strong human being who will be an imposing rush outside linebacker in an NFL 3-4 alignment.

    He has overpowered many tackles and running backs against strong competition over the years. He is a much more effective player against inside runs, and he struggles when having to chase outside. He will also need to develop his footwork and show that he has speed to be an effective pass rusher at the next level. Overall, due to his size, strength, and play against the run, Upshaw has late first-round talent.

    Upshaw sets the edge as good as any prospect in recent years. He uses his lower strength and girth to stall blockers and read plays off them to get to the ball in the run game. He understands how to use his hands to stack a block, hold the player up, then shed him and react to the play. He also uses his heavy hands well when covering a tight end at the line of scrimmage. Physical strength, explosion, and the ability to overpower offensive lineman to get to the ball carrier is what gives Upshaw so much value. Upshaw uses brute strength to rush the passer, can leverage tackles at the point of attack and literally force them into the backfield to create disruption. He also possesses the flexibility and knee bend to dip around tackles when given a step.

    Upshaw is a strong man who has serious lower body power, and at times this can limit his fluid movements. He labors when moving laterally and has slower feet than most productive pass rushers. He is a bull-rusher first, finesse player second. He can struggle at times pursuing a play across the field for long stretches. He is much more effective in tight quarters than in space, and there are questions as to whether or not his athletic ability will be exposed at the next level.

    Upshaw may or may not be the next Jared Allen, but a team will certainly nab him in the first round.