The NFL Scouting Combine represents a chance for all 32 teams to get an up-close and personal look at each of the 330 prospects in attendance at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Every year, a handful of players perform better than expected, “winning” the event and boosting their stock through the roof in the process. That was no different in 2014, as a few stars shined a bit brighter than others during the various drills over a long weekend.
Let’s take a look at who has league personnel buzzing heading into the various pro days in preparation for the 2014 NFL draft in May.
*All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.
Dri Archer, RB, Kent State
Archer was on the radar as an intriguing back to look out for in the latter rounds of the draft before the combine, but he made shock waves as soon as he was able to work out for teams.
The 5’8”, 173-pound Golden Flash did not turn any heads when he was measured or stood on the scale, but his speed and strength will be talked about in war rooms around the league come early May.
Archer “won” the 40-yard dash, posting the fastest official time of every athlete in attendance when he blitzed through the drill in 4.26 seconds. His 1.47-second 10-yard burst was the fastest at his position, and he was able to vertically leap 38 inches.
You can see Archer’s second and fastest 40-yard dash attempt below, courtesy of NFL Network and Bleacher Report:
College Football 24/7 noted that Archer just missed the combine record time of 4.24 seconds in the 40, which Chris Johnson set back in 2008:
Dri Archer's official 40 time: 4.26. Just missed Chris Johnson's 4.24 combine record. #NFLCombine— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) February 23, 2014
The 22-year-old also repped 225 pounds on the bench a whopping 20 times, proving that he’s not a puny scatback that doesn’t have the strength to take an NFL-style pounding.
Regardless, there is talk that Archer may be best suited as a wide receiver—potentially coming out of the slot—due to his immense speed and smaller frame.
Mike Mayock of NFL Network attempted to convey the issues that organizations have when drafting players of Archer’s stature, as per Nate Ulrich and Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal:
So you look at a kid like that and you go, ‘Is he a fourth-round guy where he’s going to be a situation guy, slot [receiver], motion, hand him the ball?’ You look at [Kansas City Chiefs receiver Dexter] McCluster, you look at [St. Louis Rams receiver] Tavon Austin, and they’re still trying to figure out how to get those guys the ball consistently. So most of those guys typically go around plus or minus the fourth round.
Where should Archer be drafted?
If a club with a smart coach is able to nab Archer in the fourth round or later, he may be remembered as one of the biggest steals of the 2014 draft.
It’s going to take a bit of scheming to get him the rock on a regular basis, but he should be able to turn those touches into explosive, home run plays at a good clip.
Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Donald was thought of as severely undersized for his position, and the combine did not change that opinion, but he’s boosted his stock through the roof with amazing workouts over the past few weeks.
The Panthers product is coming off an incredible senior campaign in which he earned unanimous All-American honors, the Outland Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award, ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors, first-team All-ACC and more for racking up 28.5 tackles for losses, 16 hurries and 11 sacks on the year.
Donald was also the best player in Mobile, Ala., last month during the Senior Bowl, and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller called him too quick to guard:
You saw it on the field at Pitt. You saw it on the field at the Senior Bowl. Aaron Donald is too quick for most offensive linemen to handle— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 24, 2014
While only coming in at 6’1”, 285 pounds, the combine measurements discovered that the 22-year-old possesses 32 and 5/8” long arms, which helps him to beat his blocker and disrupt plays in the backfield.
It wasn’t his arm measurements that have scouts raving, however, but rather his workouts that came on the heels of an amazing Senior Bowl outing.
Donald was blazing fast in the 40-yard dash, completing the drill in a mere 4.65 seconds. He was also outstandingly strong, throwing up 225 pounds a whopping 35 times during the bench press session.
Factor in a respectable vertical (32”) and broad jump (9’7”), and you are looking at a prospect whose athleticism matches up with his overwhelming production in college.
This Pittsburgh product is going to be a factor at the next level due to his elite explosiveness, hard-driving work ethic and proven ability to disrupt plays. Don’t let his less-than-stellar size fool you; Donald is the real deal and well worth a first-round pick at this juncture.