Predicting the Combine Performances of the Top 2014 NFL Draft Prospects

Dan Hope@Dan_HopeContributor IIIFebruary 12, 2014

Predicting the Combine Performances of the Top 2014 NFL Draft Prospects

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    The combine could be South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's time to shine.
    The combine could be South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's time to shine.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Despite their illustrious college football careers, even the top prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft will have something to prove when they take the field at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on February 22-25.

    The combine might not include any actual football play, but it is the only predraft event to include a vast majority of the draft’s expected selections. As a result, the combine serves as a means of side-by-side comparison among prospects at each position.

    The top prospects face as much pressure to perform at the combine as anyone. They will be expected to stand out among their peers.

    Some might choose to sit out and let their tape do the talking, but for exceptional athletes like South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, it provides an opportunity to solidify their high draft positions by turning scouts’ heads.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    40-Yard Dash: 4.68 seconds

    Vertical Jump: 34”

    Broad Jump: 9’10”

    Three-Cone Drill: 7.10 seconds

    20-Yard Shuttle: 4.35 seconds

    Teddy Bridgewater might be a better athlete than he’s given credit for, and he has a chance to show it in Indianapolis. Though he wasn’t much of a runner in his three seasons at Louisville, he displays comparable athleticism to Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers with his quick feet and ability to scramble out of the pocket to extend plays.

    If Bridgewater can put up similar combine numbers to Luck, who according to NFL.com ran a 4.67-second 40-yard dash and broad jumped 10 feet, 4 inches, the Louisville product will have had a good day on the field.

    His most important measurable, however, might come from weigh-ins. If he arrives in Indy at his listed measurables of 6’3” and 205 pounds, NFL teams should be satisfied, but if he comes in any shorter or smaller, size could be a lingering knock on him leading up to the draft.

    Top quarterbacks often decide not to throw during on-field workouts at the combine, but if he wants to sell the Houston Texans on his worthiness of being the No. 1 overall pick, doing so might be in his best interest. If he can display the consistent accuracy, throw velocity, mechanics and footwork that he did at Louisville, he’ll start to gain more buzz again as the potential top selection.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

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    Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

    40-Yard Dash: 4.51 seconds

    Vertical Jump: 36”

    Broad Jump: 10’

    Three-Cone Drill: 6.83 seconds

    20-Yard Shuttle: 4.15 seconds

    Considering he already has declared his intentions to hold his own workout March 27 rather than participate in Texas A&M’s pro day, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, it's also possible Johnny Manziel might opt out of throwing at this year’s combine.

    The athletic measurable drills, nonetheless, should be Manziel’s time to shine. A dynamic scrambler who made many big plays with his feet in two playing seasons for the Aggies, Johnny Football is favored to lead the quarterbacks in the 40-yard dash and the other drills that test athletes’ agility and explosion.

    If Manziel can challenge the 4.5-second mark in his 40 time, he should continue to generate attention at the combine.

    Like Bridgewater, however, Manziel’s most important measurables might be his height and weight. Already considered to be an undersized quarterback at listed measurables of 6’1” and 210 pounds, there is legitimate concern as to whether Manziel will even measure up to the six-foot mark.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

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    RICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

    40-Yard Dash: 4.39 seconds

    Bench Press: 16 reps

    Vertical Jump: 37”

    Broad Jump: 11’

    Three-Cone Drill: 6.70 seconds

    20-Yard Shuttle: 4.05 seconds

    60-Yard Shuttle: 11.18 seconds

    The most explosive offensive playmaker in the 2014 NFL draft class, Clemson’s Sammy Watkins should be in line for an outstanding performance at this year’s combine.

    Having burned many cornerbacks deep in his three-year collegiate career, Watkins is expected to be among the fastest players in Indianapolis. His agility should also stand out in the shuttle drills and three-cone, while he also has good bulk and strength that should show well if he participates in the bench press.

    Should he participate in on-field drills, the most important thing for Watkins to show is he can catch the ball consistently, as he did have some issues with drops at Clemson. Otherwise, he should excel in positional work, as he is not only an explosive athlete, but also a skilled route-runner.

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    40-Yard Dash: 4.55 seconds

    Bench Press: 17 reps

    Vertical Jump: 37 1/2”

    Broad Jump: 10’9”

    Three-Cone Drill: 7.00 seconds

    20-Yard Shuttle: 4.32 seconds

    60-Yard Shuttle: 11.50 seconds

    Of the projected early first-round picks in this year’s draft, there might be no one with more riding on the line of his 40-yard dash time than Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, who will be looking to dispel doubts about his speed in Indianapolis.

    The magic number for Evans, who makes up for limited speed with his size and ability to make contested catches against coverage, sits somewhere around 4.55 seconds. If he can come close to the 4.5-second mark in the 40, he could solidify himself as a top-20 draft pick. A time closer to 4.6 seconds is likely to hurt his stock.

    Considering how much he relies on his verticality, the vertical jump will be another important showcase for Evans, but he should perform well there. In positional work, scouts will be looking for Evans to show route-running improvement and consistent hands.

    Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Tuesday that Evans intends to participate in all combine drills.

Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    40-Yard Dash: 4.95 seconds

    Bench Press: 27 reps

    Vertical Jump: 29”

    Broad Jump: 9’4”

    Three-Cone Drill: 7.30 seconds

    20-Yard Shuttle: 4.52 seconds

    Expect Jake Matthews and his exceptional foot skills for an offensive lineman to stand out at this year’s combine.

    A fluid quick mover with quick feet and fundamentally sound technique, Matthews should excel as scouts test his ability to kick-slide, change directions and explode off the snap in on-field drills. In measurable drills, it would be a surprise if Matthews isn’t among the top performers across the board.

    Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson, Matt Kalil and Trent Williams are all among the offensive tackles who have solidified themselves as top-10 draft selections by standing out in combine drills in recent years. Matthews is a strong bet to do the same for the 2014 draft.

Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    40-Yard Dash: 5.10 seconds

    Bench Press: 34 reps

    Vertical Jump: 29 1/2”

    Broad Jump: 9’4”

    Three-Cone Drill: 7.65 seconds

    20-Yard Shuttle: 4.70 seconds

    While Matthews is among the surest bets to have a strong combine performance, Auburn’s Greg Robinson will be trying to steal the show. He should have many chances to do so in what will be a key opportunity to prove he should vault ahead of Matthews as the draft’s top offensive tackle.

    Considering his physically imposing structure, Robinson’s first opportunity to stand out will come in weigh-ins, where scouts should hope to see him right around his listed measurables of 6’5” and 320 pounds. An overpowering blocker during his two playing seasons at Auburn, Robinson should also be among the leading men in the bench press.

    The athleticism Robinson combines with that size and power makes him a special prospect. He should perform well in the measurable drills, and could really make a statement if he can outperform Matthews in a few of them.

    Where Robinson really needs to prove himself at the combine is in positional drills, specifically with his footwork in pass protection. While that area is a rock-solid strength for Matthews and a perceived weakness for Robinson, the Auburn product can alleviate some concerns about his game if he kick-slides and changes directions fluidly in Indianapolis.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    40-Yard Dash: 4.55 seconds

    Bench Press: 28 reps

    Vertical Jump: 37”

    Broad Jump: 10’9”

    Three-Cone Drill: 7.00 seconds

    20-Yard Shuttle: 4.38 seconds

    No player’s combine workout should come with greater intrigue than that of Jadeveon Clowney, who confirmed to Josh Kendall of The State (Columbia, S.C.) that he plans to participate in all drills at this year’s combine.

    "The numbers I am going to put up are going to be amazing,” Clowney told Kendall.

    That statement might be considered cocky, but it will probably be right. Despite only registering three sacks for South Carolina in 2013, Clowney’s freakish set of physical attributes should make him a top-five selection in this year’s draft.

    A big defensive end, listed at 6’6” and 274 pounds by South Carolina’s official athletics website, Clowney should start by impressing in weigh-ins and on the bench press in the weight room. When he hits the field, the incredible burst and ballerina feet he displayed in collegiate games should translate to outstanding measurables.

    Clowney previously told reporters at 2013 SEC Media Days he has run a 4.46-second 40. Even if that number proves to be generous, any 40 time under 4.6 seconds would be outstanding considering his size.

    According to a tweet from NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah early Wednesday morning, one NFL personnel executive estimated that Clowney will run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and post a 37” vertical jump.

Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

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    Mike Groll/Associated Press

    40-Yard Dash: 4.66 seconds

    Bench Press: 27 reps

    Vertical Jump: 37”

    Broad Jump: 10’6”

    Three-Cone Drill: 7.00 seconds

    20-Yard Shuttle: 4.35 seconds

    Buffalo’s Khalil Mack is another edge defender who has a chance to stand out athletically and assert his stock as a top-10 draft pick with a strong performance in Indianapolis.

    Though he isn’t quite as big or physically freakish as Clowney, Mack is a fluid all-around athlete who has speed, burst, change-of-direction skills and strength that should all translate to putting up an impressive set of measurables at this year’s combine.

    Mack’s best opportunity to stand out might come in on-field drills. A versatile player who moves well in space but can also sift through traffic at the line of scrimmage, Mack should excel throughout the gamut of drills that the linebackers will run through in positional work.

    Coming from the Mid-American Conference, the combine will be Mack’s chance to prove alongside top competition he is worthy of the hype he is getting as a projected top-10 draft selection.

Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    40-Yard Dash: 4.55 seconds

    Bench Press: 23 reps

    Vertical Jump: 37 1/2”

    Broad Jump: 10’8”

    Three-Cone Drill: 7.07 seconds

    20-Yard Shuttle: 4.30 seconds

    Like Matthews and Robinson, Mack and Anthony Barr go into the combine both having the potential to really stand out while competing with one another to be the first player selected at their position.

    A converted running back who only played two years of defense for UCLA, Barr’s game is not as technically sound as Mack’s, but he has the potential to outshine his counterpart at the combine.

    An explosive athlete who reportedly ran a 4.47-second 40 last spring according to former NFL scout John Middlekauff, Barr should be among the top performers in measurable drills among defensive front seven players in Indianapolis.

    An outstanding day athletically, however, won’t surprise anyone in Indianapolis. If Barr is going to move ahead of Mack on draft boards, where he really needs to keep up with him is in positional drills, where he will be tested on his ability to change directions quickly and drop back into coverage.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

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    Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    40-Yard Dash: 4.40 seconds

    Bench Press: 14 reps

    Vertical Jump: 36 1/2”

    Broad Jump: 11’

    Three-Cone Drill: 6.91 seconds

    20-Yard Shuttle: 4.11 seconds

    60-Yard Shuttle: 11.38 seconds

    Another athletic player with the potential to assert his status as the best prospect at his position in this year’s draft is Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. He demonstrates the length, ball skills and instincts to be a shutdown cornerback at the next level, but first and foremost, he is a terrific athlete.

    With listed measurables of 6’ and 200 pounds, any 40 time below the 4.5-second mark would suffice, but a sub-4.4 40-yard dash certainly could bolster his draft stock. He should also have little trouble showing explosion and agility in the jumping and shuttle drills.

    As is the case for most prospects, nonetheless, the most heavily-scrutinized part of his combine workout should be his performance in positional drills. While Gilbert possesses all the physical traits of a No. 1 cornerback, his footwork and hip fluidity are not as exceptional, so scouts will be looking to see improvement as he goes side-to-side with the draft’s other top defensive backs.

     

    Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.