Clemson WR Sammy Watkins proved why he's a top-five pick.
Aside from the ubiquitous conversation about where the top quarterbacks should be drafted, the best players at the top of the board are offensive linemen. The rest of the positions have a more subtle gradation, with no clear first-round running backs and a whole host of wide receivers dripping with talent. We look at the results from the start of the scouting combine by reviewing the top performers at each offensive position.
North Carolina center Russell Bodine destroyed the competition by posting 42 reps on the bench press. Five players tied for second-most at 36 reps. Chicago Bears tackle Stephen Paea owns the combine record with 49 in 2011.
Top-10 projected offensive lineman Greg Robinson tallied 32 reps, which was as many as Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon, who turned in a stunning performance at the combine.
Jake Matthews of Texas A&M is Robinson's top competition for the first offensive lineman taken, and he finished the three-cone drill in 7.34 seconds, the second-best mark for linemen. Matthews' primary weakness is that his "arm length appears too short" and he has "limited reach and extension," according to Nolan Nawrocki's profile on NFL.com.
Robinson's overall numbers in the drills were very impressive, but Michigan's Taylor Lewan performed even better. Lewan posted the best 40-yard time and the best broad jump at his position, plus he tied Matthews for third in the vertical jump. Lewan solidified his status as the third-best lineman on the board.
Overall, it's been a fantastic day for the top 3 OTs (Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson and Taylor Lewan). Shouldn't praise one w/o the other two— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) February 22, 2014
Daniel McCullers of Tennessee is without a doubt the biggest lineman. He came in a 6'7" and 352 pounds with his arms just shy of 37 inches in length and capped off by 11-inch hands. The dude is massive, but he lacks the skill to match his size and will be taken in the latter rounds.
Johnny Manziel impressed with his time of 4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash, but UCF's Blake Bortles was the only one of the top-three QBs to throw. That was a very good idea on his part.
Bortles shined in his workout session and impressed those gathered, but he does have one weakness to his game as noted by ESPN's John Clayton: "It's apparent that Bortles has a lot of work left to do on his footwork...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."
The other member at the top of the QB chart is Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. He did not run or throw at the combine, but he did not hesitate to proclaim his superiority to the media, per USA Today's Jim Corbett: "No doubt, I feel that I'm the best quarterback in this draft. I'm not going to just say that. I actually feel I can back up these words."
Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks might be the fastest player in the history of the scouting combine. He posted the best time for a wideout in the 40 at 4.33, and he set combine records in the 20-yard and 60-yard shuttles.
That said, Cooks will likely be selected late in the first round, and ESPN's Mel Kiper projected him at No. 28 in his "2014 Mock Draft 2.0" (subscription required).
Kiper lists six wide receivers ahead of Cooks, and Sammy Watkins of Clemson leads the pack. As he wrote of Watkins, whom he projects to join the Oakland Raiders with the fifth-overall pick, he's "an electrifying talent who can make any QB look better with his blend of competitive pass-catching and exceptional running skills with the ball in his hands."
Sammy Watkins impressed in both his 40 runs. GIFs: http://t.co/5oBgxzVzct— Bleacher Report NFL (@BR_NFL) February 23, 2014
In addition to Cooks and Watkins, Kiper has these WRs going in the first round: Mike Evans (Texas A&M), Marqise Lee (USC), Odell Beckham (LSU), Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State), Davante Adams (Fresno State), Jarvis Landry (LSU) and Allen Robinson (Penn State).
After all, it's a passing league.
As stated above, Jerick McKinnon shined brightly at the combine and sent his draft stock skyrocketing. In addition to his impressive showing on the bench, he came in second among all RBs in the 40-yard dash (4.41 seconds), vertical jump (40.5 inches) and broad jump (11 feet).
McKinnon still projects to be taken in the later rounds, but he made many teams take notice with his great display of skills.
The depth chart of talent at this position is wide open, and team fit will largely dictate who goes where. Kent State's Dri Archer came within 0.02 second of tying Chris Johnson's 2008 combine record of 4.24 seconds for the 40-yard dash, so expect him to return kicks somewhere in the NFL next year.
A little known RB ran the 2nd fastest official 40 time ever at the NFL Combine. GIFs: http://t.co/afPvNDyVja— Bleacher Report NFL (@BR_NFL) February 24, 2014
Washington's Bishop Sankey turned in the best times in the three-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle. Tre Mason from Auburn had a decent combine, and he will likely be taken during the second-round rush on running backs, along with Arizon's Ka'Deem Carey and Ohio State's Carlos Hyde.
Eric Ebron from North Carolina is very fast, but he turned in a slightly disappointing time in the 40-yard dash at 4.6 seconds. A.C. Leonard of Tennessee State was the fastest at the position at 4.5 seconds.
Jace Amaro of Texas Tech joins Ebron to comprise the top two tight ends, and he outperformed Ebron in the bench press and vertical jump. Both are likely to be selected in the first round, and both fit the emerging mold of athletic, pass-catching tight ends with the size to create matchup nightmares for defenses.
The scouting combine wraps up with workouts for the defenders on Monday and Tuesday, and pro days come next throughout March.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.