While many observers deride the NFL Scouting Combine as having little effect on the NFL draft, some athletes always break out with impressive drills and interviews.
Analysts love to talk about their ability to avoid overhyping players after they put up a fast time in the 40-yard dash or look like a behemoth at the bench press.
But in 2014, like any other year, several athletes put on a show in Indianapolis, and draft pundits have reacted accordingly.
Read on to discover which draft prospects did the most to boost their stock at the NFL combine.
Almost according to script, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas blew everyone away with a big combine performance and is rocketing up draft boards as a result.
Per NFL.com, he led all quarterbacks by running the 40 in a blistering 4.61 seconds. In addition, he took top honors in the vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle.
That performance, combined with his stunning 6’6”, 248-pound frame, has scouts drooling and completely forgetting his inconsistent play on the field, as CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman notes:
Thomas' showing got the combine hype machine churning in its purest form—all of a sudden, nobody was mentioning his 39 career interceptions or poor Senior Bowl performance once the drills were being run.
He has rewritten Tech’s record books, but anyone who watched him over the last three years has to recognize that he has plenty of weaknesses to go along with his outstanding physical attributes. Namely, his decision-making and vision have never truly developed.
But that hasn’t stopped his eye-popping combine numbers from attracting NFL attention and boosting his stock significantly, as ESPN’s Kevin Seifert explains:
Thomas' test numbers would be eye-opening for a tight end, let alone a quarterback, so it's reasonable to think that a team will find a way to get him on the field in some capacity. Of course, NFL history is littered with failures to draw quality quarterback play from the kind of elite physical specimens that Thomas proved to be over the weekend. Anyone who watched him play at Virginia Tech knows he has plenty of work to do.
But a team with quality quarterback coaching, a stable front office and a flexible system will be tempted to draft Thomas and see where it can get him over the course of a few seasons. If nothing else, plenty of people will leave the combine this week with his name in mind.
Thomas always had the potential to come off the board sometime on the second day of the draft as a QB project, but the combine only served to further inflate his reputation.
Perhaps the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock put it best in his conversation with college football writer Bryan Fischer:
For better or worse, the combine has worked its magic on Thomas.
Someone will want to take a chance on the flawed passer, and if that team succeeds in transforming him into a star—at any position—he’ll be able to trace his rise back to his big week in Indianapolis.
The combine was similarly beneficial for defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
The former Pittsburgh Panther topped his position group with a 4.68-second 40-yard dash and 35 reps on the bench, per NFL.com.
However, unlike Thomas, Donald’s dominant combine numbers only serve to underscore his excellent play on the field.
He put up incredible numbers on the field and earned a variety of postseason awards, but his unconventional frame—he stands at 6’1”, 285 pounds—scared scouts away.
But after the combine, he proved that his size is irrelevant, given his freakish athleticism and spot-on technique.
"I think he was seen (previously) as a player that was seen as probably a back half of the first round (prospect), I think now you're looking at a player who could conceivably go in the top 15 come May," Senior Bowl director Phil Savage told NFL.com.
Donald earned rave reviews at the Senior Bowl as well, and it seems like his stock is among the hottest in the draft.
Gil Brandt of NFL.com is similarly bullish on his prospects, pegging him as surefire first-rounder:
Many have started comparing Donald to Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins, a similarly diminutive defensive tackle who wreaks havoc for the Bengals.
Atkins only stands at 6’1” as well, but his two Pro Bowl appearances show that teams are starting to come around to these types of players.
"I watched him at the Senior Bowl and he's a great prospect," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac. "He is along the lines of Geno Atkins in that he has the opportunity to develop into a good inside rusher. He stays on his feet and that's how you play good defense in the NFL."
However, the stigma surrounding Donald’s size isn’t completely gone. Scouts still only see him as a 3-technique tackle, meaning he’d be suited to playing beside a more conventional nose tackle in a 4-3 defense.
That would limit how high he can rise, making Chicago and Dallas—the owners of the 14th and 16th picks, respectively—his mostly destinations.
But he was still able to leverage the combine into a huge draft gain, and it seems well-earned. He might not be a top-10 pick exactly, but Donald will likely vault far higher than anyone was expecting before the combine began.