The combine is a great opportunity for prospects to prove themselves as one of the best players at their position, and we saw many men take advantage of that opportunity.
Of the headliners, Jadeveon Clowney was clearly one of the most impressive. He outran many skill position players, interviewed well and showed that he is simply an athletic marvel.
Although Clowney gets much of the attention, it was another defensive lineman who had the best performance out of anyone in Indianapolis—even Rich Eisen and his (personal) record-shattering 5.98 40-yard dash.
Aaron Donald’s draft stock has steadily been on the rise over the past couple of months, and leaped even higher at the combine. Donald was a beast in the weight room, flew down the field for the 40-yard dash and also performed well in the positional drills.
There were a number of other players who also had notable combine performances, but they didn’t quite help themselves as much as the guys on this list.
5. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks had great finish to his collegiate career and showed much promise as an NFL receiver during that time.
At the combine, Cooks showed what makes him an early-round pick with his blazing speed in the 40-yard dash (4.33 officially) and a record-breaking time in the 60-yard shuttle run.
This year’s group of receivers is quite crowded with talented pass-catchers, but Cooks’ speed combined with the production he had with the Oregon State Beavers in college may have catapulted him ahead of some of the other receivers in this class.
4. Dri Archer, Kent State
Dri Archer didn’t have an extremely impressive college career by most standards, but that was also due to the weak team around him.
Archer used the combine to show what he was capable of as an individual, and he shined.
They say speed kills, and Archer’s speed almost killed Chris Johnson’s record time in the 40-yard dash. He clocked in at an official time of 4.26 seconds, just .02 off from Johnson’s longstanding record.
Archer may not have come away with any records, but he did leave the combine with much more attention on him than before.
He wasn’t considered to be more than a late-round pick or undrafted free agent before Indianapolis, but Archer may have sprinted his way into the middle rounds of the draft.
3. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney has been hailed as one of the best college prospects to enter the draft in recent memory, and he showed why he’s an absolute freak of nature at the combine.
Not only did he clock in at a faster time in the 40 than Johnny Manziel, but also many of the running backs and receivers. At 6’5”, 266 pounds, that is a quite a feat.
Now, Clowney didn’t “wow” in the bench press, but his strengths as a defensive end lie in his size, burst and unnatural speed.
His combine performance was so impressive that the Houston Texans, who hold the first overall pick, are now considering him as their choice come May, according to B/R's Mike Freeman.
As you may remember, they recently leaked that their top choices were between two quarterbacks (Blake Bortles and Manziel), but they were reportedly very impressed with what they saw from Clowney.
It could just be an attempt to entice a team into trading away their entire draft like Jimmy Johnson did all those years ago, or maybe they’re just genuinely impressed with the young man’s showing at the combine. There’s no clear way of knowing for sure, but we can certainly say that Clowney solidified himself as the best overall player in this draft.
If it weren’t for quarterback being a bigger need than defensive end for most teams picking near the top of the draft, then Clowney would likely be the surefire No. 1 pick.
2. Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern
Not many people were high on Jerick McKinnon before the combine, but that's no longer the case. McKinnon played both quarterback and running back in college, and absolutely blew up the combine.
He ran his 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds officially and also put up 32 reps on the bench press.
McKinnon timed well in the three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle run, and may have pushed himself from a late-round pick to a second-day selection. His only downside is that he’s a bit short at 5’9”, but he does weigh over 200 pounds, and we’ve seen guys that small succeed in the NFL before, especially at the running back position.
McKinnon may not be able to be an every-down back, but he could be tremendous in a minimized role similar to what Darren Sproles does in New Orleans. He will be great value for a team in the third or fourth round, although there is a slight chance he gets picked up at the bottom of the second if a team likes him that much.
1. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Aaron Donald already had a stellar week at the Senior Bowl, but really solidified himself at the combine as one of the best defenders this draft has to offer.
At 285 pounds, Donald ran an eye-popping 4.68 in the 40-yard dash. To put things in perspective, Manziel ran a 4.65 40 at 5’11”, 207 pounds. Donald, who is two inches taller and close to 80 pounds heavier, ran just .03 seconds slower.
Donald was also impressive in the weight room as he showed out with a dominant 35 reps on the bench press, which was second-most to Kaleb Ramsey’s 36.
He has the college tape to back up what he showed at the combine and will likely garner a first-round selection because of what he showed in Indy.
*All combine results courtesy of NFL.com.