The NFL Scouting Combine has become a bigger production than anyone could have imagined, but it still meets the same exact intended purpose that it had at the first National Invitational Combine in 1982—get all the prospects together so teams can get a close-up look.
Let's be honest with one another: An NFL team doesn't need help scouting prospects from Alabama or LSU; scouts that practically live on those campuses. As for "Directional State Polytechnic"? Those guys benefit most from the combine, when they can show on an equal playing field that they can match up with their peers from bigger schools.
As for the media, it is usually the first look at many of these guys (unless that media member covered the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, like yours truly). Save the occasional "lamb led to the slaughter" matchup, many of these schools don't spend much time on TV. A great workout in Indianapolis can send both media and team personnel scurrying to find game tape on the most obscure of prospects.
So, which small-school studs stood out this year?
- Height: 5'10"
- Weight: 188 lbs
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.39
- Vertical Jump: 40 inches
Let's double-check that school name. This isn't the Louisiana State Tigers; this is the Southeastern Louisiana University Lions we're talking about here—the pride of Hammond, La., a town of 20,000 people (which almost doubles when classes are in session). SELU is a member of the Southland Conference which has a whopping 13 players currently in the NFL—the most famous of which is Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb from Nichols State.
Alford was a standout at Senior Bowl practices, but his biggest moment was an 88-yard kick-return to open the game itself. Alford also gave the receivers fits during the game as he helped the South to a victory.
He's shown he can play with the big boys, and the combine showed that he's just as athletic as they are too.
- Height: 6'4"
- Weight: 267 lbs
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.69
- Bench Press: 31 reps
- Broad Jump: 119 inches
If a team is looking for a tight end in the 2013 NFL draft, the two big names are Zach Ertz (Stanford) and Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame). Those two young men should go first and second in whatever order their particular skills happen to be valued on draft day.
After that, however, question marks abound. While some like Cincinnati's Travis Kelce, Vance McDonald made a pretty good statement in his favor in Indianapolis.
McDonald showed his athleticism on tape and confirmed it on the Indianapolis track. Whether or not he's the third tight end off the board, the NFL team that drafts him knows that it's getting a versatile weapon who should create a lot of mismatches at the next level.
- Height: 5'10"
- Weight: 184 lbs
- Vertical Jump: 40.5 inches
- 20-Yard Shuttle: 3.84
B.W. Webb might be a small-school superstar, but he's trying to fill some pretty big shoes coming out of the same college that sent Darren Sharper to terrorize NFL passers. He also graduated from Warwick High School in Newport News, Va.—most famous for being Michael Vick's alma mater.
At the Senior Bowl, Webb showed he could lock down Big 12 and SEC receivers just the same as he continually embarrassed kids from the Colonial Athletic Associate. With good size, nice lateral quickness and a nice vertical, he's going to make a team awfully happy if it needs a defensive back in the middle rounds in April.
- Height: 6'1"
- Weight: 335 lbs
- Bench Press: 38 reps
When big space eaters like Brandon Williams show up on tape—often grainy and impossible to really see—it's difficult to tell if they're actually playing with any strength or if they're just bigger than everybody else at their level of play. Most of the time, it's the latter.
Sure, 38 reps isn't any sort of record (it isn't even that big of a headline), but it's confirmation of the functional strength Williams showed on film and at the Senior Bowl. Williams was already making headlines this pre-draft season, but his stock is solidified after a great workout.
- Height: 6'0"
- Weight: 213 lbs
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.57
- 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.09
Just to be clear, Wilcox is high up in the air in that picture—higher than it was possible to show with our cropping tool. He's a stud and may be one of the most natural and fluid athletes of this year's defensive backs. Coming out of the Senior Bowl, Phil Savage, the all-star game's executive director, called him the best safety on the South squad.
If an NFL team is worried about his transition from FCS to the pros, it'll be comforted with both his linear speed and his acceleration shown during this workout. He may not return kicks at the next level, but he should be a stud in kickoff coverage as he learns the ropes of NFL life.
- Height: 6'3"
- Weight: 300 lbs
- 40-Yard Dash: 5.06
- Broad Jump: 107 inches
Watford was a standout at the Shrine Game practices—both for good and bad reasons. He struggled against speed rushers for most of the week and looked overmatched, but he also showcased some solid athleticism and (when the game rolled around) looked like he has all the intensity and strength you need from a potential guard.
In Indianapolis, Watford didn't need to wow anybody, and he certainly didn't need to lead his positional group in any one exercise, but he certainly needed to his some baseline numbers so that teams didn't forget about him throughout the rest of the pre-draft process. He did that and should be a solid later-round selection on draft day.
- Height: 6'5"
- Weight: 306 lbs
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.71
- Broad Jump: 112 inches
- Bench Press: 31 reps
Armstead wasn't just a winner at the combine, he was the talk of the town.
Don't listen to the nonsense that 40-yard dashes don't matter for linemen. Sure, they're not going to run 40 yards in a line at any point, but it's a measure of how hard they've been training and their overall physical ability.
With a solid 1.64 10-yard split, we know Armstead is explosive, and his broad jump confirms that.
With tight end athleticism, tackle strength and feet like a receiver, teams are drooling at the potential of picking Armstead up in the middle rounds as a potential blindside protector. The problem is, he's not going to last that long.
- Height: 6'2"
- Weight: 212 lbs
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.78
- 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.28
Like Watford, Cameron stood out at Shrine Game practices as well—only, not in a good way. He sprayed the ball all over the field and airmailed a number of longer passes, bouncing them off the track surrounding the practice field. He certainly has the arm strength to make any NFL pass, but there's no certainty that it will end up in the right team's hands.
However, at the combine, Cameron showed that he has more than just baseline athleticism and will stick out to teams who are looking for a quarterback who can roll out and can keep himself out of trouble. He also looked a little more under control during passing drills and made positive headlines.
He should be a big name once the middle rounds roll around in April.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.