After an action-packed 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, there were several unheralded college athletes who proved that they deserve consideration as top picks in the first round.
With Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks performing at an elite levels these potential stars proved to NFL franchises that they are worth an early investment.
Here are the unheralded stars who shone the brightest at the combine.
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
There is no question that Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald lacks the elite size that teams are looking for at the position—he measured in at 6’1” and 285 pounds—but Donald’s athletic ability is freakish for a man his size.
In the 40-yard dash normally dominated by pass-rushing defensive ends, Donald was a top performer, racking up the fifth-best time (4.68 seconds) and proving just how unique his skill set can be with the right refinement.
Add in the 35 reps he put up in the bench press, the second most of any defensive lineman, and the questions about his strength at his size were answered emphatically.
There is no doubt that teams will be skeptical of a defensive tackle who has shorter arms and has little room to grow on his short frame, but the raw skill and ability he showed at the combine will result in Donald going in the middle of the first round.
Predicted landing spot: No. 14 overall, Chicago Bears
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
The combine gives teams around the NFL all the tangible numbers they need to make a judgment on a player, and one of the biggest winners from this year’s event was Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
While he lacks elite size at just 5’10” and 189 pounds, Cooks is more of a possession receiver who can play in the slot or move to the outside and use his elite speed to burn cornerbacks off the line of scrimmage.
Cooks ran the top speed of any wide receiver and the second-fastest speed of the entire combine (second to only Kent State running back Dri Archer) with a time of 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
What Cooks lacks in size, he more than makes up for in speed, strength (16 reps on the bench press) and athleticism (performed well in the broad and long jumps), and he proved that he is worthy of a first-round pick.
Predicted landing spot: No. 30 overall, San Francisco 49ers