NFL Sleepers Who Boosted Their Draft Stock at the Combine
Part of the fun at the annual NFL Scouting Combine is seeing the draft's best prospects back up the hype with their freakish athleticism.
But it's arguably more enjoyable to watch the diamonds in the rough emerge, turning heads and raising eyebrows with surprising performances in timed drills and positional workouts.
This year's installment in Indianapolis was no different, with draft hopefuls on both sides of the ball demonstrating attractive size/speed combinations, explosive jumps and lightning-quick shuttle times. The combine is one of the biggest landmarks in a months-long job interview for these players. Putting on a pleasantly surprising show for NFL decision-makers can make a world—or multiple rounds—of difference.
Here are a handful of prospects who did just that last weekend in Indy.
Tyler Ervin, RB, San Jose State
He may not be an every-down back in the NFL, but Ervin looked good at the Senior Bowl and put together a solid combine, showing off his speed and athleticism with a 4.41-second 40-yard dash and 39" vertical leap. He's a better between-the-tackles runner than he gets credit for at his size—5'10", 192 pounds—and should be a valuable change-of-pace back and return specialist.
Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State
The biggest reason Hargrave is merely an "honorable mention" here is because it's hard to classify him as much of a sleeper anymore. After dominating all week during East-West Shrine Game practices, Hargrave showed the same explosiveness and athleticism at the combine he displayed on film. He should be firmly planted in the Day 2 conversation moving forward.
Stephen Weatherly, OLB, Vanderbilt
This year's class of edge-rushers is one of the weakest in recent memory, and Weatherly's showing at the combine could have him climbing up the ranks. At 6'4", 267 pounds, he has the size and frame to entice NFL scouts, along with 34 ½" arms. Even at that size, he ran the 40-yard dash in just 4.61 seconds, showing promising explosiveness and athleticism.
Tyvis Powell, S, Ohio State
Fellow Buckeyes safety Vonn Bell had gotten way more attention heading into the combine, but Powell made his own mark in Indy. After a solid week of practice at the Senior Bowl in January, Powell showed an intriguing blend of size—6'3", 211 pounds—and speed—4.46 40-yard dash—during Monday's combine workouts. His film shows a knack for making big plays in clutch moments.
Daniel Lasco, RB, California
Cal running back Daniel Lasco had trouble staying on the field in 2015, but when he was at 100 percent, he certainly made the most of it. He showed off his athleticism at the combine with a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, a 41 ½" vertical jump and a broad jump of 135", after measuring in at 6'0" and 209 pounds.
Lasco said he was thankful for the opportunity after struggling with injuries throughout his senior season, per Connor Letourneau of SFGate.com:
"I’m so honored and blessed that I was just able to get the (combine) invite after the season I had this past year," Lasco said. "I just took it for it was, went in and made the best of my opportunity that they gave me."
Lasco rushed for 123 yards against San Diego State last season, showing the playmaking ability he had in 2014 that NFL teams are always looking for from the running back position. His performance at the combine should put him in the early-Day 3 range, rather than the late-round projections he had previously.
Charles Tapper, DL, Oklahoma
Named to the All-Big 12's first team twice during his career with the Oklahoma Sooners, Charles Tapper headed into the draft season as a puzzling evaluation when it came to what position he'd fit best at in the NFL. A bit of a tweener defensive lineman, Tapper certainly grabbed plenty of attention with his performance at the combine, headlined by a 40-yard dash time of 4.59 seconds at 6'3", 271 pounds.
What some may see as a negative, Tapper sees as value and versatility, per Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News:
I would love to drop into coverage. Yeah, I’d love to show people how athletic I am. Who wouldn’t want to catch a couple picks in their career? You get opportunities to score touchdowns! ... I definitely love to show how versatile I am.
When you want to be the greatest you have to be great at a bunch of different things. Look at J.J. Watt. He’s good at the whole defensive line and linebacker and he can play tight end. I want to be one of the greatest, too, so I have to show my versatility.
Tapper's skill set isn't particularly deficient in any specific area, but he seems to lack the explosiveness off the edge to be a full-time 4-3 end, without the bulk and power to play inside at tackle. Still, the athleticism he displayed at the combine will have NFL teams looking more closely at his film in an attempt to find a place on their defense for a player who tallied seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss in 2015.
Dominique Robertson, OT, West Georgia
When thinking about a raw offensive tackle in this draft class with great physical tools, Texas Tech's Le'Raven Clark might be the first name to come to mind. But while Clark is expected to come off the board fairly early, it's West Georgia's Dominique Robertson who could end up being quite the value at the position.
Robertson's measurements were his best asset at the combine—6'5", 324 pounds, 36" arms—and he showed off his strength by putting up 30 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
He'll need plenty of refinement at the next level, but Robertson has the natural size, length and athleticism to attract attention from NFL front offices. If a team can afford to wait on his development, they could come away with a huge steal on Day 3 of this year's draft.
T.J. Green, S, Clemson
Jayron Kearse is the Clemson safety getting the most attention so far this draft season, but T.J. Green made his own case on Monday with an impressive showing at the combine.
After measuring in at 6'2", 209 pounds, Green blew viewers away with a 4.34-second 40-yard dash. He added a 129" broad jump and 35 ½" vertical leap, giving him one of the most well-rounded performances of any player at his position this year.
A receiver during his freshman season before switching to defense, Green finished second on the team with 95 tackles in 2015, adding three pass breakups and two forced fumbles for a Tigers team that nearly pulled off a perfect season. After his showing at the combine, he may have turned the tables on Kearse as the first Clemson safety off the board in this year's draft.
Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia
After struggling with multiple injuries throughout his career and being overshadowed by fellow Georgia Bulldog backs Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb, Keith Marshall had become somewhat of an afterthought heading into this year's draft process.
But after weighing in at 5'11", 219 pounds, Marshall lit the Lucas Oil Stadium turf on fire with a 4.31-second 40-yard dash—the fastest time of any running back at this year's combine.
Marshall knows his fast 40 time will help his draft stock, but he also believes he brings just as much mental prowess to the game as he does physical aptitude, per Eric Single of Sports Illustrated:
I knew I was a guy who didn’t play all that much, so with the process, I felt like how I carry myself, I’m very good with football as far as learning the plays and understanding the game of football, and I felt like I would interview well and I knew I would perform well at the combine, pro day and workouts. So I felt like I was a guy that could help my draft stock, and I think I’m in the process of doing that.
Marshall opted to enter the draft instead of petitioning for extra eligibility from the NCAA due to the time he missed with injury, and with NFL running backs' short shelf life, the decision makes plenty of sense. His durability will obviously be his biggest question mark moving forward, but he made himself plenty of money with his combine performance.
Travis Feeney, LB, Washington
Washington linebacker Travis Feeney's career has been on the upswing since Day 1 thanks to everything from his capacity to serve as a standout special teamer to his status as a key part of the Huskies defense. He continued that trajectory with his performance at the combine, placing among the best at his position in the 40-yard dash, vertical and broad jumps.
At 6'4", 230 pounds, Feeney has the size and versatility to cover in space as well as rush the passer, having racked up 17.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks in 2015.
Once viewed as a Day 3 pick expected to make an impact mostly on special teams, Feeney's combine performance should have NFL teams taking a closer look at his tape, where they'll find a versatile, athletic defender who could come off the board on Day 2 and quickly earn a starting role in any scheme.
Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn
Speed kills in today's NFL, which means Auburn cornerback Jonathan Jones should get plenty of attention after blazing through the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.33 seconds at the combine Monday.
Jones' time was the third-fastest of any player at any position this year and the best of any corner. He also showed surprising strength by putting up 19 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, despite measuring in at just 5'9" and 186 pounds.
A four-year starter for the Tigers, Jones picked off just one pass in 2015 but snagged six as a junior in 2014. He's broken up 25 passes over the last two seasons, and though he's undersized, his speed and strength should make him a good fit as a nickel corner in the NFL.
Trevor Davis, WR, California
Daniel Lasco wasn't the only Golden Bear to light up the combine this year, as Cal receiver Trevor Davis turned in an outstanding performance of his own last weekend.
Davis measured in at 6'1", 188 pounds, then he posted a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, which was among the fastest of any receiver at this year's combine. His vertical jump and 60-yard shuttle times were among the best at his position, as well.
Teammate Kenny Lawler is the more complete prospect as a receiver, but Davis' speed and experience as a return specialist should get him plenty of attention in the later rounds. If an NFL team is looking to spend a Day 3 pick to find a dynamic playmaker in the return game, Davis would fit the bill.
Sean Davis, DB, Maryland
Big, fast, physical and versatile. All traits NFL teams are looking for in their defensive backs—all traits Maryland's Sean Davis has. With a solid frame at 6'1", 201 pounds, Davis ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash and put up 225 pounds 21 times on the bench press at the combine Monday, showing scouts a blend of attractive attributes.
Davis has the size and physicality to play safety, but he also has the speed and flexibility to play corner. Davis leaves the Terrapins with 40 career starts under his belt, with the majority coming at safety, which is likely his best position in the NFL.
Regardless of where he lines up, Davis proved at the combine he has exactly what NFL scouts want from today's new breed of defensive backs, and he should climb from an early Day 3 pick into the Day 2 conversation following his performance.
*All observations obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Stats/results courtesy of NFL.com.