This is going to be one of those rare big sports Sundays that falls in the "limbo" period following football and preceding the Final Four and Major League Baseball. The networks are giving us some solid college hoops, Kobe vs. Melo in NBA action, and the crown jewel for Olympic/NHL hockey fans, a rematch in the gold medal game between Team USA and Team Canada. While I'm sure many of you will be tuned in to these events, I just want to remind everyone about what's also going on at the 2010 NFL Combine in Indianapolis this Sunday.
It's going to be glamor day at the combine. QB/RB/WR will all be running their 40-yard dashes for us to see. In the grand scheme of things, 40 times can be largely inconsequential. Positions like K, P, OL, DT, and QB, in many cases, don't really have much riding on how fast or how slow they can cover 40 yards. Other positions like RB, WR, DE, LB, and DB can be affected greatly 40 times. Every year we see examples of players whose draft stocks both benefit and suffer due to how fast they ran the infamous 40.
In 2009, Ole Miss wideout Mike Wallace ran his way up every team's draft board and, ultimately, into a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform. By running an average time of 4.33 at the combine, Wallace moved himself from a possible seventh round selection all the way up to pick no. 84 overall, smack dab in the middle of the third round.
An 2009 example of how a poor 40-yard dash can damage your chances at being a top draft pick in the NFL was South Carolina S Emanuel Cook. Despite being a two-time All SEC performer with the Gamecocks, Cook's times in the 4.6 second range caused him to go completely undrafted. This from a guy who had produced on the field his entire college career and had been compared to one of the NFL's best safeties, Bob Sanders.
So, like it or not, this Sunday's 40-yard dash is going to mean a lot to the so-called "specialty" players trying to make a name for themselves or merely trying to maintain the names they've already made for themselves. As T.O. would say, "Get your popcorn ready!" Or at least set your DVR because it's going to be worth a watch.
Obviously, there is more consternation surrounding Tim Tebow than any other player in this year's NFL Draft. Can he be successful at QB in the NFL? Will he be able to make the adjustment from the shotgun to taking snaps from under center? Is his throwing motion too slow? How accurate a passer can he be at the NFL level? Tebow's Sunday afternoon performance, good or bad, will do little to answer any of these questions, but what it will do is show scouts how Tebow competes and give teams an idea of how good his footwork can ultimately be.
Besides, it's Tim Tebow. He's like a car wreck. Even if you don't want to watch, you can't help but steal a peek.
Spiller is one of the biggest home run threats in NCAA history. Throughout his four years in college as Clemson's deadliest all-purpose weapon, he managed to conjure up comparisons to everyone from his idol Warrick Dunn to Reggie Bush. Heading into Indy, Spiller is already viewed as the number one RB on many teams draft boards. But the expectations for C.J. in the 40 on Sunday will be high. We're talking sub-4.3 seconds high. That's in the range of another C.J. who wears no. 28. Bingo! If you were thinking Chris Johnson, then grab yourself another Girl Scout Cookie. Many scouts see Spiller as a more refined, less durable version of the NFL single season yards from scrimmage record holder and the pressure is on him to live up those visions.
Spiller doesn't have a whole lot to gain on Sunday, but a slower time than anticipated could lead to some team getting an absolute steal late in the first round on April 22.
If you don't know anything else about Jahvid Best, you still probably remember him for his horrific leaping TD versus Oregon State that made you wonder how a human neck can absorb that kind of impact without snapping. That injury will be first and foremost in the minds of NFL scouts this weekend in Indianapolis. A sub 4.3 second, which he is perfectly capable of running, would go a long way in dispelling any worries those scouts may still have. Best followed in the footsteps of a couple of current NFL backs, Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, and if he can prove that he's fully recovered that neck injury, could surpass them both as a professional.
Jahvid's size and athletic ability compare to a young Clinton Portis.
The best thing that ever happened to Dexter McCluster's collegiate career was the hiring of Houston Nutt to coach the Rebels. Nutt's innovative coaching style allowed the multidimensional back to be featured all over the field in his final two seasons at Ole Miss. McCluster lined up at WR, QB in the Rebels' version of the "Wild Cat", RB in multiple formations, and even returned some kicks. Make no mistake about it, Dexter McCluster is a football player. He's capable of beating you from almost anywhere on the field and from almost any position. The question is, just how fast is McCluster? His game speed is positively explosive, but what the scouts want to see is a good time on their stopwatches Sunday afternoon. Will Dexter deliver? It's just another reason to tune in.
McCluster could go as high as the second round of the NFL Draft with a good showing or fall as far as the sixth round if he disappoints.
McKnight is an enigma much like his former college teammate Taylor Mays. He's a guy with seemingly limitless potential who never really got it going in his three years at USC under coach Pete Carroll. The nation's number one ranked player coming out of high school, McKnight rarely found his rhythm in the Trojans' four-back rotation. Fortunately for Joe, his snippets of greatness at Southern Cal have been remembered by NFL teams and he has a shot to put what has to be called a pretty average collegiate career behind him as a pro. Step one is the combine and, more importantly, Sunday's workouts. McKnight has been touted as a gamebreaker and now he'll be given his chance to prove that he has what it takes to be that guy.
Historically, USC players have performed well at the NFL Combine. Last year, for example, four Trojan LB's were drafted overall, with two being first rounders.
Dwyer has an opportunity to become a classic NFL Draft "fast riser" if he can show that his hips are more fluid than many scouts believe and have a great performance in the 40-yard dash on Sunday . Once upon a time, Dwyer supposedly ran a sub-4.4 with ease. If he comes out and clocks a 4.38 or thereabout, A.J. Smith and his Chargers may have to go a different route at RB with pick no. 28. Physically, Dwyer is a big 6' 0", 235 lb. combo power and breakaway runner with limited receiving and blocking skills due to playing the last two years in Tech coach Paul Johnson's option offense. The questions are there about Dwyer but, unlike Tim Tebow, Jonathan will get his shot to answer many of them this weekend.
Best-case scenario, Dwyer projects as a Ronnie Brown type. Worst-case, he falls to the third day of the draft.
Everybody loved watching Toby Gerhart run all over opposing defenses last fall at Stanford except, of course, fans of the opposition. Gerhart's style separates him from any of the aforementioned running backs and, ironically, is most like the lone QB mentioned, Tebow. All the typical comparisons are there for Gerhart. John Riggins. Larry Csonka. Jerome Bettis. Mike Alstott. If he pans out and becomes anywhere near the caliber of those players, Toby will certainly have had a very successful professional career. The first step toward that goal is this weekend. Unlike any of the other RB's so far, Gerhart's number to shoot for is nowhere near 4.3 or 4.4 seconds. If he can just come in around a 4.6 second 40 time, the leaguewide opinion on him will not change.
Anything better, and he could wind up going in the second round of April's draft. Anything worse, and he may fall to round seven.
Ford may be the fastest player to run at this year's combine. He's a big-time track guy and should be as prepared as anyone to run a sub-4.3 second 40-yard dash this Sunday. This will be Stage 2 for Ford, with Stage 1 having been the Senior Bowl and proving to NFL teams that he could be a crisp route runner and possesses better hands than they thought . If he's successful in Stage 2 on Sunday, Ford's final stage will be to get drafted no later than round three in April in New York.
Physically, Ford compares to Carolina's Steve Smith but it remains to be seen if he can become as competitive as the Panthers' stalwart receiver.
Make no mistake about it, Brandon James will not become a reliable receiver in the NFL. In fact, James is one of the rare college guys who truly is nothing more than a kick/punt returner with the ability to run specialty plays i.e. reverses in specific offensive sets. So, if you're scouting for future fantasy football stars, you can avoid James altogether. But, in terms of the NFL Combine, you likely do not want to miss seeing James run. With Trindon Holliday out of the Sunday picture, Brandon James is one of the short list of players who may challenge the Clemson offensive duo, among others, for fastest time of the day. This kid has Harvin-esque speed. You'll want to see it.
A great time would likely lead to James being selected on Day 3 of the draft in round four...possibly even round three.
Golden Tate is a mystery man. The word is that he's slow for a receiver. However, he's considered probably the top downfield threat in this year's NFL Draft. So which is it? How can a slow 5' 10" kid possibly be an elite deep threat if he's slow afoot? The question of how fast Tate is will be answered on Sunday, but the question of whether or not he can continue to excel in the downfield passing game won't be addressed until training camp and the preseason. By then, the draft will be over and Golden could have gone anywhere from round two all the way down to round five.
Tate compares in size and skill set to Washington WR Santana Moss. He's as explosive as Moss off the line of scrimmage and runs good routes, but his 40 time will shed light on how fast he can be on the top end.