The Biggest Surprises from the NFL Scouting Combine
The NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis usually brings a fair share of surprises. This past version of the event wasn't any different.
A ton of what were considered mid-round running back prospects impressed with their workouts and drills. Johnathan Franklin and Giovani Bernard were two of the most impressive to me.
Meanwhile, a couple under-the-radar offensive linemen also stood out. Following a solid Shrine Classic performance, small-school offensive tackle prospect Terron Armstead dazzled scouts with the best 40 for an offensive lineman in the history of the annual event.
Meanwhile, the likes of Brian Schwenke and Jonathan Cooper opened my eyes a great deal.
A certain quarterback, pictured above, also placed himself into the limelight by building off an MVP performance at the Senior Bowl. Meanwhile, another quarterback that I was high on fell flat on his face.
It was, however, a couple of defensive linemen going in a different direction that caught my eye. Damontre Moore had one of the worst performances in Indianapolis, while Margus Hunt rebounded from a lackluster Senior Bowl to show us why scouts are extremely high on him.
Today's article is going to focus on a few different surprises from the annual event that caught my attention.
Andre Ellington Puts Up Questionable All-Around Performance
The following is part of a scouting report conducted by Sideline Scouting on former Clemson running back Andre Ellington.
"Extremely fast, has instant acceleration, really gets up field in a hurry... Can go the distance any time he touches the football."
While 40 times are probably the most overrated aspect scouts look at in Indianapolis, there is something to be said about a "scat" or "change-of-pace" back performing much worse than originally anticipated at the combine. After all, that is where he will be earning his money in the NFL.
Ellington ran a pedestrian 4.61 40-yard dash, which ranked him 17th among running backs. The fact that a player like Le'Veon Bell, who isn't considered a speedster, finished above Ellington in this category cannot be good.
In addition, Ellington struggled in the vertical jump (34") and the broad jump (122"). That really isn't going to cut it, especially with other mid-round running backs performing extremely well in Indianapolis.
Lane Johnson Shows He Is a Top 10 Prospect
After Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews announced their intentions to return to school for the 2013 season, many experts concluded that the 2013 NFL draft class would be relatively weak at the tackle position. After all, Luke Joeckel and D.J. Fluker were the only players at this position considered first-round prospects.
This is why postseason events are extremely important.
Lane Johnson was impressive during Senior Bowl week and picked up where he left off in Indianapolis. He finished second among offensive linemen with a 4.72 40-yard dash, which shows some darn good athleticism for someone projected to protect the blindside in the NFL.
In addition, Johnson's drills were spot on. As I mentioned in an article last week, the Oklahoma product has solid technique at the point of contact. This enables him to ward off speed rushers and take on interior rushers on the inside.
It's also important to note that Johnson put up 28 bench reps, which represented an above-average performance in that specific category. Considering that pure strength isn't a major plus for him, Johnson did darn well there.
In my opinion, Johnson solidified his status as a top 10 prospect after his performance in Indianapolis this past weekend.
Mid-Round Running Back Prospects Shine
When Eddie Lacy announced he would not be attending the combine due to a hamstring injury, some concluded that there would be no running backs selected in the first round. This made a lot of sense considering that these really aren't the same top-tier running back prospects we saw last April.
By no means does this indicate that there aren't solid running backs in the 2013 NFL draft class.
A multitude of mid-tier prospects proved their worth in Indianapolis over the weekend.
Giovani Bernard had a breakout 2012 campaign for North Carolina that saw him put up over 1,700 total yards and 17 touchdowns. He showed a great set of hands in the position drills on Sunday, proving that he can be a darn good pass-catching running back at the next level. In addition, Bernard put up an impressive 4.53 40-yard dash and tallied 122" in the broad jump.
Meanwhile, Johnathan Franklin stood out a great deal to me. The talented UCLA product put up a 4.49 40-yard dash and tied Kenjon Barner for the best time on the 60-yard shuttle (11.33 seconds). He also wowed scouts in the position drills.
That being said, the most impressive running back in Indianapolis was Christine Michael, who was injury plagued in two of his four seasons at Texas A&M. The talented prospect dominated nearly every category in Indianapolis.
While Michael did oversleep and miss two team interviews, his performance on the field speaks for itself.
He put up a 4.54 40-yard dash, led all running backs with a 4.02 20-yard shuttle and showed us all that he has breakaway speed with an impressive 11.56 60-yard shuttle. Equally as impressive, Michael showed a tremendous amount of fluidity and athleticism in the position drills.
This doesn't even take into account Stepfan Taylor and Knile Davis, who were both impressive.
While the running back class might not be top heavy, it is as deep as any in recent memory. Look for multiple players at this position to go in the second or third round and make immediate impacts in the NFL as rookies.
Gavin Escobar Solidifies His Stock Among Best Tight Ends in the Draft
While I hate drawing comparisons, Gavin Escobar reminds me of a bigger Aaron Hernandez.
Not only does the San Diego State alum have solid hands, he is as athletic as they come. I was high on the talented tight end long before the combine this past week, but he solidified his position as a second-round prospect.
While Escobar's 4.84 40-yard dash was among the worst at his position in the combine, he did show some strong hands and crisp route running in the position drills. In addition, the San Diego State product ranked second behind Tyler Eifter in the three-cone drill with an output of 7.07.
At this point, I can conclude that Escobar will be a solid second-day pick for teams looking to find a tight end that can come in and immediately make an impact in the passing game.
Margus Hunt, Defensive End, Southern Methodist
What Margus Hunt failed to do during the Senior Bowl, he more than made up for at the combine in Indianapolis. The freakish defensive lineman absolutely dominated position drills and the more generic workouts this past week.
We already knew that Hunt had the brute strength and power to be a dominating force. It is still all about honing his technique and gaining experience. Once he is able to do that, watch out.
The Southern Methodist product ranked third among defensive linemen with a 4.60 40-yard dash and tied Brandon Williams with the most bench press reps (38).
This doesn't take into account solid performances in the position drills and a downright ridiculous motor coming from the edge. Hunt's struggles at the Senior Bowl can most likely be blamed on the fact that he couldn't play in his more natural role as a 3-4 defensive end.
Make no mistake about it, this inexperienced defender has one of the highest ceilings in the entire draft and could easily go to as early as the end of the first round come April.
E.J. Manuel Has the Look of a First-Round Prospect
E.J. Manuel has been as impressive as any skill position player since the end of the 2012 college football season. The talented quarterback wowed scouts at the Senior Bowl in Mobile and added to his growing crowd of bandwagon jumpers this past week in Indianapolis.
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com had the following to say about Manuel's combine performance.
He ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash among the quarterbacks (4.65) and put together a consistent passing session during the field workout. Manuel struggled to repeat the same delivery and footwork on college tape, but he was much more consistent in both areas during the workout.
I also noticed improved mechanics from the talented quarterback. He seemed be more fluid in his throwing motion and was able to utilize nice loft on downfield passes.
One thing that stood out the most was that the Florida State product seemed to be much more consistent in his motion and accuracy than other quarterbacks in Indianapolis. He constantly hit receivers in stride while taking part in the route-tree drill and didn't struggle hitting targets on out-routes, one of the most difficult throws for a quarterback.
All said, Manuel upped his draft stock to the second round. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he got into the first-round conversation with a strong performance at his pro day. Of course it would likely require a team to trade back into the end of the initial round for that to become a reality.
Manti Te'o Shows the National Press What Those in South Bend Already Knew
Say what you want about Manti Te'o and his performance on the field at the combine this week, he was mighty impressive in front of an intrigued press core on Sunday. The suddenly enigmatic linebacker stood up and answered some very difficult questions, engaged in back and forth with the reporters and showed the nation what those in South Bend already knew.
Te'o is a stand-up guy and a true leader.
He didn't back down or refuse to answer questions at a press conference that he volunteered to take part in. How many prospects in that type of situation would have actually taken to the podium if they didn't have to? That's a serious question and is something you should think about before continuing to define Te'o by the "Catfish" scandal.
After all, he was one of the most impressive linebackers in recent college football history and was the runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting this past season.
Teo' proved exactly why players at Notre Dame considered him a true leader. That should be recognized as April approaches.
Damontre Moore Struggles Big Time
Wide receiver Tavon Austin did more bench press reps than Damontre Moore, which should tell you a lot about the latter's inability to beat blockers off the line with strength alone. In addition, Moore looked slow off the snap in position drills and struggled all around in Indianapolis.
He ran a 4.95 40-yard dash, which was worse than defensive tackle prospect Sharrif Floyd. Furthermore, Moore struggled with technique at the line and allowed blockers to get low at the point of contact.
Many had the Texas A&M product as a top 10 pick prior to the combine, but it seems that his performance in Indianapolis didn't make him any friends within the scouting ranks.
NFL Network's Mike Mayock said about Moore.
I wasn't high on Damontre Moore....I hear top five, I don't believe it. And by the way, he did (12) reps at (225 pounds). That is totally unacceptable. I don't know how you convert speed to power if at 250 pounds you can only bench press 225 (12) times. So I'm kind of poking holes in all these supposed top-10 guys because I'm not seeing it.
Our very own Matt Miller even dropped Moore to the Atlanta Falcons at No. 30 in his most recent mock draft, completed immediately following the final day of the combine. Here is what Miller had to say about the "overhyped" defensive end.
One player who was much higher on my board pre-Indy? Texas A&M defender Damontre Moore.
Moore's athletic numbers weren't inspiring, but the more I look at this player the less convinced I am he can play standing up in a 3-4 scheme. He does have good hand use and a nice first step, but when asked to convert speed to power he's not in the top tier of players in this year's class.
This isn't a good sign for a prospect that came into Indianapolis with hopes of solidifying his slot as a top-10 pick.
Weak Performance by Wisconsin Center
Travis Frederick was considered a solid second-round prospect prior to a poor performance at the combine.
The Wisconsin product put up just 21 bench press reps, which placed him only ahead of Khaled Holmes in that category among centers.
In addition, Frederick struggled in the position drills. He got too high on blocks, couldn't fend off bull rushers from the inside and seemed to have issues with athleticism throughout his performance in Indianapolis.
His 5.58 40-yard dash time didn't help either.
With Brian Schwenke performing well at the combine, I am on the verge of dropping Frederick completely out of the initial two rounds.
Terron Armstead Comes from Nowhere
This small-school product put up a dazzling 4.71 40-yard dash, the best for an offensive lineman in the entire combine. This comes on the heels of a solid performance at the East-West Shrine Game last month.
Former NFL scout and current NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah filed the following report on Armstead after his performance this past weekend.
Then he really turned heads on Saturday with a 4.71-second 40-yard dash ... at 306 pounds! Armstead's still very raw, but this kind of athleticism is rare. He's helped himself as much as possible in the postseason, and at this point, I don't see him getting out of the second round. Truth be told, I wouldn't be shocked if he snuck (sic) into the bottom of Round 1.
In addition to his amazing 40-yard dash, the Arkansas Pine-Bluff alum put up 31 bench press reps. He also looked great in terms of technique in the position drills, consistently fending off speed rushers from the outside and using that superior athleticism to beat them off the snap.
While I am not ready to put Armstead into the initial round, his draft stock is in the midst of a meteoric rise since the end of the 2012 college football season.
Tyrann Mathieu Impresses Scouts
There is absolutely no questioning the talent that Tyrann Mathieu possesses. The former Heisman Trophy finalist is as electrifying as they come from the defensive backfield. The primary issue that many had with the LSU product is that he consistently made horrible decisions outside of football, something that came back to haunt him prior to the 2012 season.
Mathieu was kicked off the football team at LSU after failing another drug test. His character immediately came into question, as NFL scouts wondered if he was mature enough to make it at the next level.
While many of those questions still remain, Mathieu absolutely dazzled onlookers in Indianapolis this week.
He ran a 4.50 40-yard dash, which was much better than most experts predicted. While that generic performance might not mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, it was what Mathieu did in the position drills that impressed me the must.
He showed fluid hips in coverage, didn't struggle backpedaling and possessed above-average technique. We already knew about his raw athletic ability, but this performance in Indianapolis pretty much quieted any speculation that he couldn't transition to the NFL despite a lack of size.
I am not ready to place Mathieu into the second round due to the aforementioned character concerns, but he should be a solid grab in the third. If he is able to show renewed maturity between now and April, Mathieu could easily see his stock soar, much like what we saw with Janoris Jenkins in 2012.
A Couple Wide Receivers Make Their Statement to Be Selected in Round 1
I have remained steadfast in my projection that Tavon Austin will come off the board somewhere in the first round. In fact, each of my last two mock drafts have had him going to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 23.
The West Virginia product pretty much solidified his stock with a stellar performance at the combine.
He ran a fast 4.34 40-yard dash, put up 14 bench press reps and looked fluid running the gauntlet. His hands are far superior than any other receiver in the draft, which is another sign that Austin should be drafted on the first day.
Ryan Swope from Texas A&M, Ryan Tannehill's former favorite target with the Aggies, also impressed me. He seemed to be nothing more than a decent slot option that could come through with a catch when needed. However, Swope really never stood out on tape as someone who could make a consistent impact at the next level.
This changed in Indianapolis.
Swope ran a swift 4.34 40-yard dash and intrigued me with solid technique in the gauntlet. He didn't struggle looking back for the ball while running at full speed in that difficult drill.
His combination of surprising speed, solid hands and great route-running ability leads me to believe that he should be called some time on the second day.
While Denard Robinson will be a major project at wide receiver in the NFL, he should be considered a mid-round prospect at his new position. The former Michigan quarterback ran a 4.43 40-yard and seemed to look the part of a receiver in the position drills. He has the athleticism to be a surprise performer at the next level.
Look for Robinson to draw interest early on the third day of the 2013 NFL draft.
All combine numbers provided by NFL.com
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