Big Ten Football: Standout Stars from the NFL Combine

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2014

Big Ten Football: Standout Stars from the NFL Combine

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Some of the Big Ten's brightest former stars showed well at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, helping mend the league's reputation as a slower, less-athletic conference.

    There were some dark spots, no doubt. Penn State receiver Allen Robinson, who had more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons and more than 1,400 in 2013, ran even slower than expected and killed his chances of being drafted in the first round.

    But for the most part, letdowns like that were few and far between.

    Among the many Big Ten standouts, some stood out even more, doing wonders for their stock and forcing NFL evaluators to go back and order extra game tape.

    Unless they are hiding something on film, that is the best thing that prospects could ask for upon leaving Indy.

     

    Note: All testing results courtesy of NFL.com.

Honorable Mentions

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

    There was a big difference between Dennard's unofficial 40 time (4.42) and his official one (4.51), even though it's technically less than one-tenth of a second. His official score was still better than expected and good enough to earn him a first-round grade, but he lost some ground on Justin Gilbert (4.37) and showed some flexibility issues in positional drills, according to Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen.

     

    LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

    Shazier tweaked a hamstring and was unable to run the 40-yard dash in Indy. That is a shame because, by all indications, he is one of the faster linebackers in the country and would have tested well enough to make this list. But he still made waves with his combine-best 42'' vertical jump, which is good enough to get him an honorable mention.

     

    DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota

    Hageman did well at the combine but not nearly as well as some might have hoped. Especially after Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports ranked him second behind Jadeveon Clowney in his preseason list of "craziest athletes in college football," watching Hageman run a 5.02 in the 40-yard dash was a letdown. Still, with 32 reps on the bench press and a vertical of 35.5''—both of which were among the top scores for defensive linemen—he did more to help his stock than hurt it.

WR Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Jared Abbrederis has the numbers and the game tape that teams so desperately covet. According to B/R's Aaron Nagler, he also talked about being eager to contribute on special teams, which makes NFL coaches and scouts blush a smitten shade of red.

    Entering the week, the only real question about him was his straight-line speed. Can he burn it fast enough to stretch the field in the pros? So asked Mike Huguenin of NFL.com in the week leading up to the combine, saying Abbrederis' 40 time "will be important" in developing his stock.

    Well. Question answered.

    Abbrederis ran an official 4.50 in the dash, not exactly lighting the world on fire but still finishing in the top half of receivers who ran in Indianapolis. Which was fine. He didn't have to prove he'd be a speedster in the NFL; he just needed to prove he could hang.

    Given the superiority of the rest of his profile compared to most guys who ran ahead of him, he can feel good about solidifying his spot among the top group of receivers in the draft. He didn't stand out from top to bottom like the rest of the guys on this list, but he rebuked by far the biggest (and perhaps only) negative on his scouting report.

    He shouldn't drop out of the second round.

TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    C.J. Fiedorowicz is not a vertical receiving threat and never will be. So while his average 40-yard dash time of 4.76 doesn't jump off the page as that of a combine standout, it's not particularly important to his evaluation.

    What was important was how he performed in the agility drills—exercises that might indicate his ability to get open off the line in short and intermediate spaces. And in that regard, he was one of the biggest winners of the weekend.

    He ran the best three-cone drill (7.10) and 20-yard shuttle (4.26) among tight ends, which, combined with the strength he showed in putting up 25 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press, should make him an intriguing mid-round prospect come April.

    Doug Kyed of NESN.com called Fiedorowicz a "big winner" of the combine and reminded folks that two of his coaches at Iowa, Kirk and Brian Ferentz, are disciples of Bill Belichick.

    And the Pats should be in the market for a tight end...

OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Taylor Lewan might have been the best overall player at the combine, throwing a wrench into the "Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews" debate atop most teams' offensive tackle draft board.

    The answer might be: (c) none of the above.

    Lewan had the best 40-yard dash time among players at the position, edging out Robinson and even Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron (who weighs substantially less than him). He also had a ridiculous broad jump of 117 inches, the second best for an offensive lineman since 2006, according to Josh Norris of Rotoworld.

    Though he didn't play poorly in 2013, he was merely average (by his standards) and lost some ground on Matthews—his presumed competition for the No. 1 tackle spot—and was leapfrogged by Robinson entirely. The combine was his chance to play catch-up.

    Suffice it to say, he did.

CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Roby entered the season a strong candidate to go in the first round, perhaps even as high as the top 10. But his game tape has played him out of the latter discussion and likely out of the former as well.

    However, he had a good chance at the combine to atone for his coverage flaws and showcase his athleticism. And that's what he did.

    Starting with his 4.39 40-yard dash, which was seventh-best among all players who ran, Roby opened eyes with his quickness and fluidity. He looked sharp in positional drills too, especially in turning his hips on the run without losing momentum.

    Phil Savage, the executive director of the Senior Bowl, took note of Roby's ball skills and, perhaps more importantly, his conscientious effort to compete.

    One good day in spandex will not be enough for scouts to forget Roby's poor tape from the 2013 season, but it might be enough to forgive his flaws.

DB Brock Vereen, Minnesota

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    It happens like clockwork each year. At least one player comes out nowhere with little expectations or fanfare to become a modest star at the combine.

    In 2014, that player might have been Brock Vereen.

    He led all defensive backs with 25 reps on the bench press, but it was the all-around nature of his performance—especially in the agility drills—that stuck out in Indianapolis.

    His scores in the 40-yard dash (4.47), three-cone drill (6.90) and 20-yard shuttle (4.07) were all second-best among projected safeties, showing him to have the strength and the speed to play free safety in the pros.

    He has the pedigree, too. The younger brother of Patriots running back Shane Vereen, Brock's combination of athletic performance and NFL bloodlines will make scouts around the league go back to the film room and re-evaluate his tape from Minnesota.

    That alone makes the combine a success for him.