There is always reason to get excited about the NFL draft amid a vast chasm lacking in football games, but this year's prospects are especially compelling. As stated by Kevin Colbert, general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers, per Kevin Bowen of Colts.com: "I've been doing this for 30 years, and this is the deepest draft that I've ever seen." Minnesota Vikings GM Rick Spielman echoed that sentiment.
With such a deep draft class in 2014, we examine several players who saw significant bumps in their stock thanks to strong showings at the scouting combine. Defensive players will flash their measurables on Monday and Tuesday, but these offensive prospects are rising fast.
Blake Bortles, QB, University of Central Florida
Of the top quarterbacks in the draft, Blake Bortles is the only one who participated in throwing drills, and he has taken full advantage of his opportunity at the combine. Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel are Bortle's competition for teams seeking a QB at the top of the draft, and Bortles can point to his combine to help distance himself from the pack.
According to ESPN's John Clayton, there is one glaring deficiency in Bortles' game at the moment:
It's apparent that Bortles has a lot of work left to do on his footwork. Once he fixes that, he could evolve into a franchise-level quarterback. He has a nice release and throws a nice, catchable ball. Once his footwork is better, he should be able to throw a more consistent long pass and be more consistent on his short, quick throws.
While Manziel is already possessed of great pocket instincts (and huge hands), Bortles put his full skill set on display, and the UCF product proved he is worthy of a top-10 selection.
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Bishop Sankey ran a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash and justified himself as a viable pick at running back ahead of Heisman candidate Tre Mason from Auburn. They posted identical numbers in the broad jump, and Sankey's 26 reps on the bench press were second among all running backs behind Jerick McKinnon of Georgia Southern.
Sankey rumbled for 1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground last year, adding 28 catches for 304 yards and another score as a receiver. At 5'10" and 203 pounds, he's not exactly a pinball, but he keeps his legs churning and should be the first back off the board somewhere around the early second round and perhaps a little sooner.
Dri Archer, RB, Kent State
It's very appropriate that Kent State's nickname is the Golden Flashes, as Dri Archer ran a blistering 4.26 in the 40, just two-hundredths of a second shy of the combine record set by Chris Johnson in 2008. Archer was an elite sprinter in high school and can probably run even faster than this.
Archer is a ball of energy, and at 5'8" and 173 pounds, the young man generates tremendous power. He put up 20 reps on the bench press. As noted by Mike Cairns of ABC 5 Cleveland, that number was higher than nine defensive linemen, so someone will take a chance on this tremendous athlete with incredible speed. After all, he returned three kicks for touchdowns in 2012.
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
With UNC's Eric Ebron projecting as the clear top tight end in the draft, Jace Amaro is following close behind at an increasingly important offensive position. The 6'5", 265-pound Amaro is built like an NBA small forward with 50 extra pounds on him.
The Red Raider fits the mold of the pass-catching tight end who can run the seam and create mismatches on safeties and linebackers, but he's also got great strength. Amaro tallied 28 reps on the bench press, second among all tight ends and ahead of his top competition at the position.
Texas Tech used him largely as a receiver, and he did not disappoint. Amaro racked up ridiculous numbers last season with 106 catches and 1,352 yards, the latter an NCAA record for a tight end. Amaro ran a 4.74 in the 40, which is not far off Ebron's mark of 4.60. Ebron surprised by not running as the fastest tight end, with A.C. Leonard of Tennessee State coming in at 4.50.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
He's only 5'10" and 186 pounds, but Cooks has speed for days. He came in at 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash and put up pretty numbers in the 20-yard shuttle. His time in the 60-yard dash set a new record.
Cooks had a monster 2013 season in his third year with the Beavers: 128 receptions, 1,730 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. He also averaged 6.8 yards per carry on the ground over 32 attempts with a pair of scores.
In a very deep first round, Cooks is likely to fall near the bottom. ESPN's Mel Kiper projected him to be selected by the Carolina Panthers with the 28th pick in his Feb. 6 mock draft (subscription required).
The 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner is miles away from top-five pick Sammy Watkins or even Mike Evans and Marqise Lee, who should be gone in the top 20. That just means Cooks will have the good fortune of likely landing on a quality NFL team.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.