You know those NCAA commercials where the young men and women assert that among NCAA athletes, "most of us are going pro in something other than sports"? Someone forgot to tell that to the lucky men who were invited to the NFL combine and figure to be part of the 2013 NFL draft class.
Not everybody who shows up for the combine has a great time, of course, so it's worth hailing those that do, and here are some of the Big Ten's shining stars.
Denard Robinson can forget about any comparisons to Usain Bolt after barely edging into the top 10 in fastest 40-yard-dash times at the combine, but Robinson did still run a 4.43—and that just happens to be the fastest time anyone in the Big Ten has run thus far.
Moreover, 4.43 is fast enough that Robinson has proven that he's a deep threat, and there's basically nothing he'd be too slow to do for whoever drafts him. Forget the fake 40 times you see in recruiting every year; running a 4.43 in the NFL combine is fast, fast, fast. Doing so at 199 pounds, his official weight, is even better. That'll probably let teams overlook his 5'10" height, well off the 6'0" that Michigan purported him to be. Fortunately, the difference between 5'10" and 6'0" isn't that meaningful for slot receivers in the NFL.
Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com lauded Robinson's combine performance and thinks he'll be an integral part of a smart team's offensive repertoire going forward. It's hard to disagree. It would have been nice to see stronger performances in the three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle by Robinson—he didn't rank among the top 10 WRs in either category—but it was no mystery coming in that Robinson's precision route-running needed work. And he's got the athleticism to make those strengths as he continues to develop as a wideout at the next level.
It's fair to assume that former Ohio State TE Jake Stoneburner's mediocre production is going to haunt him come NFL draft time—his career numbers are 53 catches for 714 yards and 13 TDs, and that's basically one season for an elite tight end. So that he's not.
But NFL.com says Stoneburner—a former Army All-American and the No. 3 TE in his class, per Rivals.com—is "not an exceptional athlete" with a straight face, and that is completely belied by his combine performance. Per ESPN.com:
Ohio State's Stoneburner was third among tight ends in the 40-yard dash at 4.6 seconds. He was fifth in vertical leap (34.5 inches), tied for fourth in the broad jump (116 inches) and sixth in the three-cone drill. He placed ninth in bench at 18 reps.
Here's a complete list of tight ends at the combine who ranked in the top five at the position in the 40-yard dash, the vertical leap and the broad jump: Jake Stoneburner. That's it, that's the whole list. Is he Vernon Davis incarnate? No, of course not, and if that's the bar to reach to qualify as an "exceptional athlete," well, there aren't any in this class of tight ends. Nobody even close.
But for all the criticisms you can levy at Stoneburner and all the reasons not to draft him until late, "not athletic enough" shouldn't register. And if it does, this year's draft should be a long, long three days for every other tight end as well.
Quick, name the faster running back: Montee Ball or Le'Veon Bell. If you took Ball, so sorry, the combine results disagree. Bell ran a 4.60, tops among Big Ten running backs, while Ball registered only a disappointing 4.66.
Bell also made the top 10 among tailbacks in the bench press, three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle, per ESPN.com, and that wide range of strengths should prove that he's more like the next Jonathan Stewart (or as NFL.com suggests, LeGarrette Blount) than, say, the second coming of LenDale White.
The best part about Bell's 40-yard dash, however, is that few combine drills have such a direct correlation with future NFL success as the 40 does with running backs. Moreover, the Football Outsiders site has been recording a "Speed Score," which measures a running back's 40-yard dash against his weight with a surprisingly simple formula of (Weight x 200) / (40 time ^ 4), which usually comes out between 80 and 120, with outliers on either end.
And oddly but conveniently, the nice round number of 100 serves as an effective baseline of predictive success for future NFL backs; per ExpressNFL.com, the only recent running backs to make the Pro Bowl with a score lower than 98 are former Eagles tailback Brian Westbrook and current Redskins RB Alfred Morris.
This is not a great year for tailbacks and the Speed Score, but according to ESPN Insider (subscription required) Bell clocks in at a rating of 102.7, fifth among running backs and one of only 10 to make that cut. Montee Ball is at 90.8, if you were curious. That's not good.
But it is good for Bell, who now has an NFL-caliber physical profile to go with his workhorse collegiate career, having led the NCAA in touches for Michigan State in 2013 and having made the smart decision to go pro before putting more mileage on those legs without an NFL contract to show for it. Bell may not have run himself into the first round, but his stock must be rising now.