The spotlight will shine even brighter on Day 5 of the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, with offensive skill position players going through drills, and defensive linemen and linebackers undergoing interviews and psychological testing.
Another aspect for the latter group involves the bench press, an area one would expect future front-seven stars should excel in. While raw strength is obviously not the sole measure of eventual success, the bench press does provide a good indicator of how prepared these prospects are for bigger and stronger NFL offensive linemen.
With that in mind, here are the top performers from the bench press for the defensive linemen and linebackers, as well as analysis on some of the more noteworthy highlights.
|Top Defensive Linemen Bench Press Reps|
|Kaleb Ramsey||Boston College||36|
|Ryan Carrethers||Arkansas St||32|
|Stephon Tuitt||Notre Dame||31|
|IK Enemkpali||Louisiana Tech||28|
|Khyri Thornton||Southern Miss||28|
|Kelcy Quarles||South Carolina||27|
|Timmy Jernigan||Florida St||27|
Conspicuously absent from the above list is South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, who had just 21 bench press reps. Based on a radio interview he gave before the combine, that fell slightly short of his expectations:
That's a seemingly low number for a 6'5" and 266-pound physical specimen, especially one who has shown excellent strength in his bull rush. This should not impact his draft stock, however, especially given the likelihood of Clowney excelling in the other drills.
On the other end of the spectrum, Pitt's Aaron Donald had the second-most reps with 35. Donald's stock is steadily rising into the middle of the first round, and Greg Bedard of MMQB.com recently compared the former Panther to arguably the league's best defensive tackle, Geno Atkins:
You might have heard that University of Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald seems very similar to Bengals All-Pro Geno Atkins. Both are undersized, pass-rushing, three-technique tackles. Scouts have made the comparisons. Chiefs general manager John Dorsey told TheMMQB.com that it’s fair, too. And now, Atkins has given the comparison his stamp of approval.
“Yes, definitely,” Atkins told TheMMQB.com this week. “He has the tool set and skills to be a dominant three technique: motor, speed, leverage and strength. I’m definitely looking forward to see what he does in the league.”
That's perhaps an unfair comparison, given that Atkins is one of the league's most dominating defensive forces when healthy, but it represents Donald's upside. During his highly decorated college career, Donald showed the same disruptive production, and an impressive Senior Bowl week only reinforced initial scouting reports.
As his excellent bench press performance indicates, Donald has arrived prepared at the scouting combine. That's not to say Clowney or other underperformers were unprepared, but whereas questions swirl about the latter, Donald continues to soar up draft boards.
|Top Linebacker Bench Press Reps|
|Max Bullough||Michigan St||30|
|Jeremiah George||Iowa St||28|
|Kevin Pierre-Louis||Boston College||28|
|Prince Shembo||Notre Dame||26|
|Ryan Shazier||Ohio St||25|
|Tyler Starr||South Dakota||24|
|Carl Bradford||Arizona St||23|
Speaking of player comparisons, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier has likened himself to impressive young Buccaneer Lavonte David, per ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas. Shazier put up a solid 25 reps on Sunday, a drill where he could rest his injured hamstring:
Shazier might not get a chance to run, and if he does so at less than 100 percent, he is unlikely to reach the 4.4 threshold Fairburn mentions in the tweet. However, with his rare athleticism, Shazier could become a three-down linebacker in the NFL, as his ranginess and blitzing ability should keep him on the field during passing downs.
Conversely, UCLA's Anthony Barr fared poorly in the bench press, finishing last with just 15 reps. Like Clowney, the 6'4" and 255-pound Barr is another in the line of lighter but more explosive front-seven players. However, per CBSSports.com's Josh Katzowitz, even Barr himself will admit that he is still a fairly raw prospect, albeit one with foundational-level upside:
"The transition was pretty smooth, to be honest," said Barr, who made the move from running back to linebacker before his junior season. "Dropping back into coverage was something that was new to me. I feel more comfortable with that."
We've seen much of that potential this year when he recorded 10 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss for the Bruins (he had 13.5 and 22, respectively, in 2012) -- even though Barr admits that he's still learning to shed blocks and figuring out the right way to use his hands. But he estimated that he dropped into coverage 30 percent of the time last year, and he said he felt he did a good job while doing so.
It is not particularly surprising to see Barr fare poorly on the bench press given his size. In the same article, Katzowitz notes that Barr has expressed a willingness to add size to better match up with stronger NFL offensive linemen.
Barr remains one of the top defensive prospects in the draft, although it appears Clowney and Buffalo's Khalil Mack have surged ahead of the ex-Bruin on many big boards. Nevertheless, there are few players in this draft class with a higher ceiling than the UCLA linebacker.