Day 6 at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine was all about defensive backs, and there were some noteworthy performances by top prospects.
The drills performed on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium don't typical have a huge impact on the overall grades players receive, but performing well certainly helps one's draft stock.
Prospects who performed better than expected will be subject to intense scrutiny after the fact when scouts go back and take another look at the tape. Conversely, those who didn't do as well as they would have liked still have their pro days and individual workouts to improve those numbers.
While nothing's set in stone, the results from the combine did help clarify things—especially at the top. With that in mind, here's a look at the top storylines from Tuesday's action at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Justin Gilbert Hype Is Real
Before the combine, B/R's Matt Miller had this to say about Justin Gilbert:
The top-graded cornerback on my board since Patrick Peterson, Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert has all the tools to excel in the NFL...Gilbert is as close to a can't-miss cornerback as you're going to get in this year's draft class. Or last year's draft class. Or the one before that.
"I think I'm the best corner in the draft," Gilbert said at the combine, via Kyle Meinke of MLive.com. "I worked hard to be in the position I'm in, and I'm not going to let anyone take that from me."
Then Gilbert ran the fastest 40 time of any defensive back at the 2014 combine (4.37 seconds), showed surprising strength on the bench with 20 reps and showed excellent explosion in his jumps.
Combined with his size, which put him in rare company, as pointed out by NFL on ESPN, Gilbert has all the tools to become a premier defensive weapon in the NFL:
STAT OF THE DAY: Justin Gilbert became the 8th DB since 2006 taller than 6 feed to run the 40 in 4.37 seconds or less.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) February 25, 2014
Gilbert lived up to the hype, and then some.
The talented cornerback still needs to dramatically improve his technique to become a dominant player at the next level, but he'll get there. Much like Peterson with the Arizona Cardinals, he'll impact his new team on special teams while he develops into a Pro Bowl cornerback.
Darqueze Dennard Solidified Himself As a Mid First-Round Pick
While Gilbert brings elite athleticism, size and speed to the table, Darqueze Dennard is the better pure cover corner at this point in both of their careers.
Heading into the combine, the only thing he needed to prove was that he has enough long speed to keep up with the league's top receivers, according to Mike Mayock of NFL Network, via Paula Pasche of the Oakland Press:
Mike Mayock thinks MSU's CB Darqueze Dennard a top 15 pick if he runs well at Combine.— Paula Pasche (@paulapasche) February 18, 2014
With an official time of 4.51 seconds, Dennard didn't wow, but he didn't disappoint, either.
His first "unofficial" time clocked in at 4.42 seconds, which caused CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman to make a strong declaration about his pro potential:
#MichiganState star CB Darqueze Dennard whose film scouts love, just ran an unofficial 4.42. Stud. No more skepticism w him.— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) February 25, 2014
It will be difficult for Dennard to crack the top 10 when the draft kicks off in May. There could potentially be four quarterbacks selected in the first eight picks, three offensive tackles could go in the first 10 and at least three pass-rushers—not to mention Gilbert, who will be coveted.
That said, it will be surprising if Dennard slides out of the top half of Round 1, and there's no way he makes it past the Green Bay Packers at No. 21.
No Separation Between Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor
Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix were viewed as the top two safeties in the draft before the combine, but there was no consensus about which player should be drafted first. After the combine, the water is muddier than ever when it comes to these two.
B/R's Matt Bowen, who is a former NFL defensive back, noted both men ran the exact same 40 time on Tuesday while pointing out both players are first-rounders:
4.58 40 for both Clinton-Dix & Pryor is fast enough at the safety position given their game tape. Two 1st round prospects.— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 25, 2014
They also posted similar numbers in both jumping drills, while Pryor put up seven more reps on the bench press. Since Pryor is considered the stronger in-the-box safety and Clinton-Dix has a bit more range, this disparity in strength wasn't surprising.
But the fact that neither player was able to distinguish himself as a superior prospect will continue to create fierce debate—both in mock drafts and in real draft war rooms around the league. Chase Goodbread of NFL.com elaborates:
Separating the two hasn't been easy for scouts entering the combine, and the same official 40 times won't make it any easier coming out of it, either. The smallest of margins could manifest into the biggest of differences where the rookie contracts of the two prospects are concerned.
Which player will be drafted first?
At this point, nobody knows which safety will come off the board first, since every team's draft board is different. Scheme fit, personality traits and team needs will be contributing factors, but we do know both players will likely be selected somewhere in the first round.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78