With how deep the 2014 NFL draft class is across the board given that an unprecedented 98 underclassmen have declared themselves eligible, standing out is difficult.
However, several playmakers from a loaded bunch of skill players sought to do that and did so in front of pro talent evaluators at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Some had already secured first-round grades but have helped themselves even more, while others put together eye-opening workouts to bolster their draft stocks in exponential fashion.
Here is a look at the standouts from the combine who made a big splash at Lucas Oil Stadium and should hear their names called even earlier than expected in May.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
There was no doubt about how physically imposing Evans was entering the combine, but the big question was whether or not the Texas A&M product could have the speed to match.
Any concerns about Evans' acceleration or explosive burst were answered when he clocked in with a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, among his other impressive numbers:
|Height||Weight||Arm length||Hand size||40-yard dash||Bench press||Vertical Jump||3-Cone||20 YD Shuttle|
|6'5"||231 lbs||35 1/8"||9 5/8"||4.53 seconds||12||37"||7.08||4.26|
Oftentimes schools can exaggerate how big players are in their program listings, but this wasn't the case with Evans, who checked in at just about 6'5" and a legitimate 231 pounds, even more than the 225 A&M listed him as. Given his massive arm length—not to mention his sensational ball skills—Evans' 12 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press can be minimized.
NFL Network scouting expert Daniel Jeremiah said what many were likely thinking when Evans demonstrated the ground he could cover with his massive frame:
Mike Evans- 6'4 3/4, 231, 35 1/8 inch arms, 37 inch vertical jump. That is an insane catch radius!!— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) February 23, 2014
Add that on top of impressive speed for his size, and Evans has all the makings of being the second receiver taken off the board, likely behind Clemson's Sammy Watkins. MMQB.com's Peter King noted how Evans may fall in the order due to a premium placed on other positions:
All the questions about how high guys will go ... 3 thoughts: 1. Great prospects like Mike Evans get pushed down due to needy QB/OL teams.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) February 25, 2014
While that may not be good news for Evans, it makes his value all that much better for those interested in him. Plus there is a chance that a team could fall in love with Evans based on how tenacious he is and how marketable he is as a red-zone target.
With a 37" vertical leap to complement his knack for plucking the ball at its highest point, NFL cornerbacks are going to have a hard time stopping Evans even in his rookie campaign.
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
There were potential concerns about Ebron and the "substantial" weight he gained ahead of the combine in a bid to become a more formidable blocker.
One front-office man told Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei that the extra weight made Ebron less fast. It's kind of scary to fathom how swift Ebron was—if he lost any speed at all—before he roared to a 4.60-second 40 at Lucas Oil Stadium:
|Height||Weight||Arm length||Hand size||40-yard dash||Bench press||Vertical Jump||Broad Jump|
|6'4"||250 lbs||33 1/4"||10"||4.60 seconds||24 reps||32"||120"|
Ebron has some impressive game tape, and it's admirable that he's making an effort to bulk up. With the aforementioned tendency for programs to inflate players' measurements, it's clear Ebron has indeed added some muscle, since UNC lists him five pounds lighter than the 250 he checked in at in Indianapolis.
Michael Schottey of Bleacher Report wrote an extended Monday feature on Ebron, in which the former Tar Heel standout expressed confidence in his all-around ability:
If I’m just a tight end, then I’d be expected to play fullback sometimes and block like a traditional tight end, but I don’t think I’m just a tight end or any ordinary tight end. If you need me to block, I will, and I’ll do a good job doing it. If you need me to run routes like a receiver, I can do that with ease. I think I’m a game-changer.
Two other numbers from Ebron's combine that stand out are his 24 bench reps and his 120" broad jump. Given his arm length and general body mass, it's even more impressive that Ebron was able to put up those types of numbers on the bench, and the broad jump is an indicator of his lower-body explosiveness.
Who will be the most productive NFL rookie pass-catcher?
As long as he doesn't push off too frequently, Ebron should get great separation at the NFL level, and it helps that he developed more as a pass-catcher first and a blocker later.
With how integral tight ends have become in offenses in recent years at the professional level, there's no telling just how high Ebron could be drafted. Teams in need of a game-changing weapon with upside still to tap could do far worse than choosing Ebron, who stands out as a unique, versatile athlete amid a sea of strong receivers.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
Playing in the SEC helps Moncrief's case by default, because that caliber of competition prepares players in the conference perhaps best for what they'll face in the NFL.
But the power conferences have also produced a deep pool of wide receiver talent, and Moncrief had to prove himself at the combine to have any hope of enhancing his draft stature. And did he ever.
|Height||Weight||Arm length||Hand size||40-yard dash||Bench press||Vertical Jump||Broad Jump||3-Cone||20 YD Shuttle|
|6'2"||221 lbs||32 3/8"||9 1/8"||4.40 seconds||13||39.5"||132"||7.02||4.30|
Moncrief plays as big as any receiver in the 2014 class—even Evans, despite being roughly three inches shorter. With a 39.5" vertical leap and 132" broad jump, the Ole Miss standout had every reason to declare for the draft as a junior.
Oh, and that's not even to mention that he ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash—mind-boggling speed that only far more diminutive offensive players topped. With all his physical gifts, it makes sense that Moncrief could be compared to Cleveland Browns star Josh Gordon, who led the NFL in receiving in 2013:
Former NFL player and Bleacher Report analyst Ryan Riddle made a bold claim about Moncrief, calling him the most explosive wideout in the 2014 draft:
Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief is currently the most explosive receiver in this class.— Ryan Riddle (@Ryan_Riddle) March 1, 2014
In closing out his collegiate career in style, Moncrief had six receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown in the Rebels' 25-17 bowl game victory over Georgia Tech. If that and his epic combine showcase were a sign of things to come, the future is bright for Moncrief, to say the least.
Whether NFL teams are confident enough to draft him early based on his potential or wait until later in the draft thanks to the receiver depth remains to be seen. However, Moncrief will make many front offices regret passing on him if he falls too far and fulfills his feasible destiny as a legitimate No. 1 target.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Sometimes recipients of the Biletnikoff Award as college football's top receiver can see their numbers inflated in pass-heavy spread systems.
Cooks' detractors may have been able to make that argument as it was, since he caught 128 passes for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns this past season. He had nowhere to hide during the combine, where all the measurements were absolute.
That made the magnitude of Cooks' magnificent workout even greater:
|Height||Weight||Arm length||Hand size||40-yard dash||Bench press||Vertical Jump||Broad Jump||3-Cone||20 YD Shuttle||60 YD Shuttle|
|5'10"||189 lbs||30 3/4"||9 5/8"||4.33 seconds||16||36"||120"||6.76||3.81||10.72|
Having short-area quickness is one thing. What Cooks managed to show in Indianapolis was sustained speed, seamless change of direction and the type of top-end acceleration that can blow the top off a defense.
All of that was on display in the shuttle drills he participated in, which require a lot of quick-twitch movement and sustained speed. With the times Cooks posted there, he showed that when his route-running ability is refined, he could be borderline unstoppable in the slot.
For further context, NFL.com's Gil Brandt noted that Cooks was told his 60-yard shuttle was a combine record:
Brandin Cooks says he was told his 10.72-sec 60-yd shuttle is alltime combine record. 1 of 2 players under 11 secs (Damian Copeland other)— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) February 27, 2014
To go with that was the 40-yard dash of 4.33, along with above-average jumps, and he measured in with a compact frame, proving his might with 16 reps on the bench press. Instead of being viewed as a niche player whose skills don't translate to the NFL, the perception of Cooks should have changed on a dime at the combine.
Note: All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.