NFL Draft 2011: Winners and Losers After Workouts at NFL Combine
NFL Draft prospects are in full swing at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
The Combine is considered to be the preeminent showcase of athleticism for college football's elite. Scouts saw them during the season, but this is one more chance for players to raise their draft stock as they continue their pre-Draft workouts.
However, not everyone at the Combine participates, and the ones that do participate don't always shine when doing so. The battery of tests includes cone, shuttle and sprint drills to measure speed and agility while vertical and broad jumps measure, well, a player's jumping ability. Quarterbacks also go through a throwing regimen if they choose to.
With two days left at the NFL Combine, here are six players whose performances have likely moved their draft stock one way or the other.
Moving Up: Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
The 6'2," 222-pounder continued his move up the draft board with a strong showing in the passing drills over the weekend.
NFL scouts like QB's who have strong athleticism, but never at the expense of traditional pro-style quarterbacking skills. As expected, Ponder did not impress in the quickness and speed drills, but he built momentum in his stock by throwing well on quick passes and out routes.
He didn't reach the top-five in either the 40-yard dash or the broad jump, but bested all QB prospects in the short shuttle at 4.09.
Ponder continued his ascent from a draft position that was depressed due to a senior season riddled by injury.
Ponder has been projected in the second to third round range, and is expected to move up within that range after his workout.
Moving Down: Tyrod Taylor, QB, Virginia Tech
Another Atlantic Coast Conference QB is moving on draft boards, but in the opposite direction.
Taylor's athleticism and speed are unrivaled in this very competitive QB class, but his passing ability is not up to snuff with the Ryan Malletts and Blaine Gabberts of the class.
His 40 time of 4.51 is exceptional for a QB, but looking timid and pensive during the passing portion of the workout will negate any advantage you have athletically in the eyes of NFL teams. They like that you can run and jump, but they need you to be able to pass.
It's looking more and more like Taylor will go the way of other athletic QBs as Antwaan Randle El and Michael Robinson, who were easily drafted, just not for their quarterbacking chops.
Look for Taylor to be drafted and moved to a playmaking position like wide receiver.
Moving Up: Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
The tales of Paea's strength were already tall, but they just reached new and unprecedented heights.
Paea sat down to bench press 225 pounds, the standard strength measure at the Combine, and when he got up, everyone was gawking over his stunning 49 reps—a new Combine record. No one else at the workout tallied more than 38.
This is about the best measuring stick for linemen—putting them through speed and jumping drills isn't exactly reflective of what they do on the field. In his best chance to shine, Paea did, and his late first-round projection might be trending upward.
Moving Down: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Jason Cole's report on Mallett isn't exactly glowing, especially when put side by side with his competitor, Cam Newton.
This has nothing to do with Mallett's performance in the drills and tests; it has everything to do with how he's conducting himself and the reaction to heavy rumors about a possible drug or alcohol addiction.
Team executives and evaluators are looking not only for strong workouts on the field, but strong ones off of it. These come in the form of an aptitude test (the Wonderlic), interviews, and press conferences. As the next franchise player and face of a rebuilding team, it is imperative that high-pick QBs have airtight character, smarts and work ethic. No NFL team will take the huge gamble of investing in an immature QB with a top pick.
Mallett's response to questions about his alleged drug and alcohol use was rough and "pompous." He was clearly flustered and quickly became combative when he knew which questions were coming. He walked away from the podium leaving questions unanswered and scouts nervous about his character and leadership ability.
Mallett's confidence in his quarterbacking ability might supersede his personal shortcomings, but he needs to do a better job handling himself so that the NFL will do the same.
Moving Up: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Pictured here with former Heisman-winning teammate Mark Ingram, Jones stole the spotlight by all accounts in the WR workout.
He kicked things off by running a 4.39 in the 40, then impressed everyone with his precise routes during the catching workout. Some thought that one of his post-corner routes was possibly the best route by any receiver all day.
Concerns about drops still linger, but not based on his workout performance. If Jones falls lower than the 12th pick, he will be a steal for whoever gets him.
He hasn't overtaken Georgia WR A.J. Green as the top player at the position, but Jones closed the gap a little—he could have moved into the top-10.
Moving Down: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
It's probably impossible for Newton to move out of the top-five in this draft, but the perception of his passing skills is not improving.
Impressive in the athleticism portions of the workout, Newton underwhelmed with his throws. For someone with nowhere to go but down in the draft, Newton's late decision to participate in throwing drills is curious.
He was consistently high on his throws, which, in the NFL, means your receivers are left high and dry for projectile defensive backs to severely injure. If you have a habit of throwing high, your receivers will grow to dislike you very quickly.
Newton's footwork and balance looked sharp, and have been a point of improvement for him since the BCS Championship Game. Still, his short and medium passes need work. Reports say he got into his drops too late and that he consistently misled receivers with his throws.
None of this is new information on Newton. Everyone knows he's a superior athlete with a superior physique at the position. At the same time, everyone knows his passing skills are suspect.
This workout won't change where he gets drafted, but it's not a good sign, and the track record of superior athletes with suspect passing skills is not favorable in the NFL.
The Meter Will Continue Moving
There are varying opinions regarding the significance of the Scouting Combine. While it serves as a good chance to compare players to each other, there are some circles in the NFL that are reluctant to put too much stock into it.
Some think the Combine is impractical: players run through simulations and movements that they will never replicate on the field while wearing no pads, and there is no opposition on the field during these workouts, giving the Combine an unrealistic atmosphere.
Nevertheless, the Combine is unquestionably useful for measuring comparative athletic prowess. Evaluators can see how players stack up against each other while monitoring a trajectory of improvement from the Senior Bowl to the Combine to Pro Day to Draft Day.
Players are moving up and down all the time based on their showings, and the Combine is just one chance for them to show what they can do.
That said, these rankings/projections/reports are fluid; look for some players to bounce back and others to fall back as Draft Day nears.