Measurements have never favored Dexter McCluster. He has always been a little short and a little lean.
What no one expected heading into the NFL Scouting Combine, though, was that the numbers would tell us he is also slower than we thought.
McCluster’s 4.58 official time in the 40-yard dash was a head-scratcher from the weekend. Though it was good for 10th best among running backs, it would not have made the list for receivers. As there is debate as to which position he projects best at the next level, it certainly is enough to give some teams a reason to reevaluate.
More than that, however, is how deceived we feel by what we saw on the field during his career, especially the last half of the 2009 season. He looked like the fastest player on the field.
By a lot.
Whether or not it was the additional weight McCluster has added since the Senior Bowl—where he checked in at 165 pounds compared against the 171 this past weekend—or that simply he is not as fast without pads as he seems to be with them, a clearer answer could come if he is timed at Ole Miss’ Pro Day later this month.
It was not, however, a breakout performance. He stumbled a little on his first attempt and appeared to get loose—deviate from a straight-line run—in the second.
Most—including myself—were expecting a time in the high 4.3s to low 4.4s.
Overall, though, Run-DMC did well at the combine. He surprised with his bench press total, getting 20 reps of 225 pounds. That not only bested running backs like Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount and Fresno State’s Ryan Matthews, but it would have put him tied for first among receivers.
There is an argument that the 40 was not the number most scouts were interested in concerning McCluster anyway. He plays fast. The NFL guys wanted to see if the player who looked like he could slice bread with his cuts could shuttle with the best of them. McCluster’s 4.06 in the 20-yard shuttle was the second best time among running back and wide receivers.
Throw in another top performer rating in the vertical jump and it is hard not to consider McCluster’s performance at the combine this weekend solid.
Not hype-generating, but solid.
His size and ball skills have many thinking slot receiver. McCluster, however, told journalists that many teams have talked to him about lining up in the backfield as well.
Given his versatility and high level of production, coupled with a skill set that many think will allow him to contribute on special teams, it is easy to understand why many teams are trying to find a place in their draft for McCluster.
McCluster entered the combine climbing the rankings due to a strong performance on the field this year but also due to a buzz-creating week of practice at the Senior Bowl. Most analysts have projected him as a late second- or early third-round pick in the draft.
It is unclear whether or not the combine moved Dex from projections. Much of that will be determined by teams debating whether or not he is a must-have playmaker or a luxury player that brings a new dynamic to a package.
A better 40 time on Pro Day would help.
Truthfully, it is a pretty good case study for which teams value the metrics and which put more emphasis on film.
A move into the second—to a team looking for a change-of-pace back, like San Francisco or Seattle—will be tougher with the impressive performances of players like Ben Tate and Montario Hardesty. Still, McCluster’s game film is impressive, and all it takes is one team to think his play in space could be a difference maker for its offense.
Or he could linger around until late in the third, bypassed by more pressing needs or a run on a particular position.
None of us should be surprised if something totally unexpected happens. As Ole Miss Fans have learned during his career—when it comes to Dex—that is usually the case.