The 2013 NFL Scouting Combine has come and gone, but its aftermath remains in full effect. Players whose performances cratered in Indianapolis are on a nationwide reputation-recouping mission, while guys who impressed are working to keep the good vibes going.
No matter which side of the paradigm these players fall under, the next chance for a big impression will come at pro days. Though it’s guaranteed that prospects (or their representatives) will have talks with teams, a pro day is the last opportunity to perform in front of a flock of NFL coaches, general managers and scouts.
Those opportunities will be especially vital to players who impressed at the combine. Those stars will need to prove that the top-shelf workout and interview performances were not a fluke. Where players who disappointed in Indianapolis can tout even the most minor “improvement,” that’s not the case for top performers. Any sign of slippage and ascending draft stock could come cascading back down.
With that in mind, here is a look at a few players who impressed in Indianapolis and are worth watching in the pro-day phase.
Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
Pro Day Date: March 27
While he did not throw at the combine due to a lingering shoulder issue, Barkley’s draft stock seemingly went through the roof in Indianapolis. He was impressive in an interview with the Arizona Cardinals, per NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah, and seemed poised during his media session.
That being said, a man can only impress so much in an interview, right? Well, Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller received a text that indicated just how smitten the Cardinals are:
Matt Miller @nfldraftscout
Text I received from a scout this morning: Matt Barkley will not get past the Arizona #Cardinals at No. 7 overall.2013-2-24 14:56:31
Now, keep in mind, smokescreens are abundant at this point in the year. Arizona could be impressed enough with Barkley to take him No. 7 overall, which would largely be seen as a massive reach. Or it could just be utilizing two well-respected NFL journalists to create a market for Barkley and possibly drum up some trade action.
We’ll more than likely find out after Barkley’s pro day. The biggest questions about Barkley heading into the draft process had nothing to do with his leadership ability; that is fine. It was his ability—or lack thereof—to accurately throw the ball that had most scouts worried. To his credit, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Barkley was throwing at Jon Gruden’s “QB Camp,” and looked fantastic:
Chris Mortensen @mortreport
My "spies" say @mattbarkley was in prime form throwing today at Jon Gruden's QB camp. Very strong.2013-3-2 00:05:19
If he can replicate that performance, Barkley’s momentum will only continue to soar. He’s been an impressive kid since his freshman season at USC, has four year’s worth of starting experience in a “pro-style” system and was a Heisman favorite once upon a time. Come draft day, No. 7 may not even seem like such a reach.
However, if he falters, we’ll get to see just how much Barkley impressed Arizona in the interview room. Barring a trade or an inane selection, top quarterbacks aren’t getting selected in the first round this year once they drop outside the top 10 picks.
It may seem hyperbolic, but the entire weight of Barkley’s draft stock could be on the line in late March.
Lane Johnson (OT, Oklahoma)
Pro Day Date: March 13
Unlike Barkley, Johnson’s name is a scorching hot commodity because of what he did on the field. The former Sooners' tackle was one of the biggest winners in Indianapolis, impressing just about everyone on hand with his strength and athleticism.
A converted tight end, Johnson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.72 seconds, which was the second-best of any offensive lineman. He also impressed on the bench, putting up 28 reps of 225 pounds, and was a top performer in every feat of athleticism.
Johnson also wasn’t lacking in confidence, either. Obviously impressed with his own work at the combine, Johnson told NFL.com’s Akbar Gbaja-Biamila that he is the “most athletic tackle in this draft.”
It’s a bold statement, for sure, but one NFL teams may be on board with. Johnson’s combine excellence ascended him from a fringe (at best) first-round grade and made him a mortal lock. Some mock drafts have him going as high as No. 11 to the San Diego Chargers and very few have him lower than No. 20 to the Chicago Bears.
Repeating that performance will be the key. The theory is that players do better at pro days because they are use to the surroundings, field turf, etc. That being said, Johnson set the difficulty bar pretty high. His times were among the best in combine history for an offensive lineman, so I’m sure teams would be more than happy with a carbon copy.
If he does return to Norman and bests his times, though, the sky could be the limit.
Margus Hunt (DE, SMU)
Pro Day Date: March 27
Prior to the combine, most teams likely would have sent the underling of the underling to scout SMU’s pro day. There aren’t many Mustangs who even grade out as being worthy training camp invites—let alone be worthy hearing their name called on Thursday or Friday.
Then Margus Hunt walked into Indianapolis looking like the human Hulk and things changed. Measured at 6’8” and 277 pounds, Hunt looked like a player tailor made to play a 3-4 defensive end spot and his strength numbers backed that up. The Estonian import put up 38 reps at the bench press, tied with Missouri Southern State’s Brandon Williams for the best number of any participant. As a former world-class discus thrower, Hunt’s jaw-dropping performance on the bench wasn’t all that shocking.
When his bench was combined with his athleticism drills, though, Hunt emerged as unquestionably the biggest “winner” of the combine. The former SMU star ran the 40-yard dash officially in 4.6 seconds, the third-best time among all defensive linemen, and had an impressive 34-inch vertical leap as well.
If NFL teams would invest in a combine podium—and they should, because, well, duh—Hunt would undoubtedly be the gold medalist of the Underwear Olympics.
Combine aside, Hunt remains a curious case. He was only productive at SMU last season, and he’s a soon-to-be 26-year-old who never even dreamt of playing competitive football until the school’s track program went the way of the dodo. Hunt’s strength and athleticism will intrigue teams, but he’s going to have to show a real commitment to getting better and fast. Twenty-six is archaic by NFL draftee standards.
With a month between the combine and his pro day, teams will have plenty of time to pick Hunt’s game film apart. It will be up to him to remind those teams why they left Indianapolis so enamored with his potential.