Wisconsin LB Chris Borland is a hidden gem.
The NFL Scouting Combine puts a few hundred future draftees on display each year. Since Saturday, Feb. 22, members of the New York Giants' scouting department have scrutinized the incoming talent in search of draft-day gold: a hidden gem.
The combine—where speed is splintered into split seconds and leaps factored down to fractions of an inch—no discrepancy is too slight to go unnoticed; deviations as marginal as two-hundredths of a second could make all the difference on draft day. It is the job of Giants' talent evaluators to pinpoint the prospects who at the combine maximize their measurables.
This article will highlight seven combine competitors whose performances should have raised some eyebrows, including those of Giants general manager Jerry Reese. Faced with the challenge of rebuilding a "broken" offense while also preserving a top-10 defense, Reese must leave no stone unturned as he creates a contingent of ripe, new rookies.
These hidden gems will no longer be ignored.
Kevin is a New York Giants Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can Follow him on Twitter here. All combine results and scouting info courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker and individual prospect profiles, unless specifically noted otherwise.
The Giants lack stability in the offensive backfield. Behind iron quarterback Eli Manning, the team has no sure plan at running back for 2014.
David Wilson, a first-round pick in 2012, hasn't panned out as expected at the professional ranks. Now, Wilson is recovering from a serious neck injury, which required a surgery that involved a "fusion of the vertebrae" to repair a herniated disc. Wilson's young career is defined more so by his injury history and three fumbles (all versus the Dallas Cowboys) than the seven all-purpose scores he's contributed in two seasons.
Almost all of New York's eggs are in the David Wilson basket, too. Both Andre Brown and Peyton Hillis are about to become unrestricted free agents, and neither back is a reliable enough long-term solution to re-sign. The only running back aside from Wilson under contract through 2014 is Michael Cox, last year's seventh-round selection out of UMass.
Wilson is aiming to be 100 percent by the start of training camp, but there may be some healthy competition already there waiting for him. The first hidden gems of this year's draft are a pair of running backs: Terrance West of Towson and Isaiah Crowell of Alabama State.
West and Crowell, two small-school prospects, went largely unnoticed last fall. Legitimate ability eventually finds its way to the NFL, though, even if its not a prospect from a perennial college powerhouse. After strong showings in the combine, West and Crowell are on a sprint from obscurity to stardom.
West, who appeared in the 2014 FCS Championship, ran a 4.54-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He did 16 reps on the bench press, while also recording respectable marks in the vertical jump (33.5") and broad jump (120.0").
Crowell, who nearly starred at Georgia, was a shade slower than West in the 40 with a time of 4.57 seconds. He posted comparable figures in the veritcal jump (38") and broad jump (117.0"), but Crowell's mark of 23 reps on the bench press was eclipsed by only three other running backs.
Neither West nor Crowell took part in the three-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle. But based on the workouts in which they did compete, West and Crowell appear to be athletic enough to hang with their big-school counterparts.
The Giants are not very stable at linebacker either. Jon Beason resurrected New York's defense, after they traded for him last October. But now he is nearing free agency. If Beason no longer mans the middle of the defense, Big Blue's Wrecking Crew will be without a key piece of machinery.
Strong-side linebacker Keith Rivers is expected to join Beason as an unrestricted free agent, while Spencer Paysinger and Mark Herzlich—both of whom joined the team as undrafted free agents in 2011—are set to become restricted free agents. Jacquian Williams is the only linebacker with any starting experience under contract with the Giants in 2014.
After letting the expendable linebackers walk in free agency and re-signing the ones deemed indispensable, the Giants can bolster the second level of their 4-3 base defense with a crafty draft pick. Perhaps New York lands an unexpected starter, as prospects like Wisconsin's Chris Borland and Iowa's Christian Kirksey presented themselves as viable options at the Combine.
Borland was labeled a sure starter by Mike Mayock of NFL Network (h/t the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel), although his 5'11", 248-pound frame may be considered slightly undersized (his "Tyrannosaurus rex arms" don't help much either). His 4.83-second 40-yard dash was nothing revolutionary, but only four linebackers outdid his 27 reps on the bench press. Borland measured 31 inches in the vertical jump and 114 inches in the broad jump; his times in the three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle were 7.18 and 4.27 seconds, respectively.
Kirksey competed in half as many workouts as Borland, and he most notably missed out on the 40. His 16 reps on the bench press were not impressive, but Kirksey put up solid marks of 32 inches and 122 inches in the vertical jump and broad jump, respectively. At 6'2" and only 233 pounds, the rangy Kirksey's best fit may be as a situational 'backer who specializes in pass coverage.
These two linebackers have drastically differing styles of play, but both are potential hidden gems. If the Giants want to bring in a sure tackler that pursues the run well, Borland will be their man; if they are looking for a fluid athlete who can easily drop into coverage, Kirksey is the linebacker to target instead.
The Giants may acquire their tight end of the future this year. The position should be targeted in the 2014 draft after featuring a different starting tight end in each of the past four seasons (Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard, Martellus Bennett and Brandon Myers, respectively).
Myers' contract was voided recently, and his chances to return to New York are slim.
Veteran blocking tight Bear Pascoe is also slated to become a free agent next month. That leaves young and inexperienced tight ends Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell as the Giants' only options guaranteed to be under contract in 2014. Neither Robinson nor Donnell has shown much to suggest that a breakout season is on the horizon.
The Giants will surely keep an eye on this year's tight end draft class. Two players who have already garnered a considerable amount of attention through their performances at the combine are A.C. Leonard of Tennessee State and Colt Lyerla of Oregon.
Both are potential hidden gems.
Leonard was the fastest tight end at the combine with a 40-yard dash time of 4.50 seconds. In addition to racking up 20 reps on the bench press, Leonard excelled at the vertical jump (34") and broad jump (128"). At 6'2" and 252 pounds, his receiving skills and general athleticism will have to make up for his lack of elite size. Leonard's draft suitors must consider a misdemeanor battery and citation for driving with a suspended license—both of which occurred in 2012—that led to his departure from Florida and subsequent landing at Tennessee State.
Lyerla excelled in the same workouts as Leonard. His 40 time was 4.61, slower than just Leonard and North Carolina's Eric Ebron. Lyerla managed only 15 reps on the bench press, but his measurements in the vertical jump (39") and broad jump (128") were among the best. Two inches taller but 10 pounds lighter than Leonard, Lyerla is similarly praised for his ability as a receiver. His baggage includes poor academics, suspensions and drug charges.
If the Giants are willing to wade through the sea of red flags, they could draft an unlikely contributor at tight end in either Leonard or Lyerla.
The Giants, of course, need help along the offensive line—more so than any other positional unit.
Right guard Chris Snee is aging and likely contemplating retirement. Center David Baas was only on the field for three games last season, putting him at risk of becoming a cap casualty in 2014. Starting left guard and utility O-lineman Kevin Boothe is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11.
Left tackle Will Beatty is only one season into a five-year deal, and right tackle Justin Pugh was a first-round pick in 2013 who started all 16 games as a rookie. Beatty and Pugh may have the edges of New York's offensive line locked down, but the interior personnel is yet to be determined—this is where the Giants target a hidden gem.
Offensive linemen don't usually post breathtaking figures at the combine, and Florida's Jon Halapio was no exception. Halapio recorded a pedestrian 40-yard dash time of 5.34 seconds. He also competed in the vertical jump (21.5"), the broad jump (100"), three-cone drill (8.26 sec.) and 20-yard shuttle (4.83 sec.). He did not participate in perhaps the most telling indicator of strength, the bench press, a combine activity most cited when it comes to evaluating offensive linemen.
Halapio's other measurements were more intriguing. He stood 6'3" tall and tipped the scales at 323 pounds. The guard also has 10.25-inch hands that extend from 33.5-inch arms. Halapio was a consistent starter with the Florida Gators who reportedly uses his size well when blocking.
If drafted by the Giants, Halapio could stumble into a starting role along a remolded offensive line.