While the NFL Combine may not be the most interesting experience for the average sports fan, the avid followers and NFL personnel key in on every player’s performance in every drill as the fan base tries to predict the team’s pick (and inevitably argue over who is the best pick) and scouts desperately accrue as much information as possible for their Super Bowl — the NFL Draft.
So who fared well in today’s performance of offensive linemen, running backs and special teams? It depends on who you ask and how seriously they take each individual drill.
Offensive tackle Jason Spriggs turned in an impressive day, leading the group with a 4.94 40 yard dash and wowing scouts across the board. The Hoosier left tackle has the athleticism to play anywhere on the offensive line, but scouts have doubted his ability to handle finesse rushers on the outside. While yesterday’s performance won’t allay suspicions as per his technique — that will have to wait for his pro day — a quality performance in every drill may be enough to boost Spriggs into the first round.
Standout Alabama running back Derrick Henry may have already been regarded as a top prospect, but after weighing in at nearly 250 lbs many questioned whether he would still be able to flash the athleticism scouts look for in a top draft pick. Henry didn’t just overcome the doubters — in fact he beat expectations across the board. A top performer in all but the 40 yard dash and 20 yard shuttle, Henry solidified his standing as one of the best running backs in the draft…and let’s not forget that his 40 yard dash was a very respectable 4.54 seconds, making him an impressive speed/size specimen to pair with his downhill running style.
Troubled running back Keith Marshall put up one of the more impressive performances of the day with a combine best 4.31 40 yard dash. Marshall’s durability has been in question after recurring ACL injuries at Georgia limited him during much of his tenure as a Bulldog, but after benching combine weight 25 times and running the fastest 40 time he’s well on his way to securing a selection in April.
ESPN Insiders Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl (subscription required) came away with improved opinions of Alabama OL Ryan Kelly, Arizona St. OL Chris Westerman, Cal RB Daniel Lasco and San Jose St. RB Tyler Ervin. NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks re-evaluated Alabama RB Kenyan Drake as an explosive change of pace back who may have worked his way into a day two selection.
ESPN’s Todd McShay still has some concerns about the top tackles after both Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley and Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil decided to forego the bench press drill, but the duo of possible top five picks performed well during position drills. McShay also complimented Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott after displaying fluidity in position drills and flashing 4.47 speed in the 40 yard dash, positing that Elliott may very well be a top ten pick come draft day.
Several analysts, including Brooks, McShay and NFL Network’s Mike Mayock spoke of Michigan State tackle Jack Conklin as having solidified his standing as the next highest tackle behind Stanley and Tunsil, with McShay even calling Conklin “Joe Thomas-esque” in his performance.
Perhaps the least impressive performance of the day came from Arkansas running back Alex Collins, who many pegged as closely behind Elliott and Henry as a possible first round selection. Now that is likely in question, as Collins showed poorly in position drills as a pass catcher after disappointing numbers in the 40 yard dash (4.59 seconds) and group worst 29.5″ vertical.
Kelvin Taylor entered Friday with an amount of hype that was the result of being the son of former Pro Bowl running back Fred Taylor but may have hurt his draft stock with a mediocre finish in the 40 yard dash (4.60 seconds) and struggling to secure passes in several of the position drills later in the day. Taylor may have to wait some time for his name to be called in such a deep draft for running backs.
Several offensive lineman also failed to impress, with the most notable name being Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair. Some scouts may be hesitant to make Whitehair a first round pick after only managing 16 bench reps, although he did do fairly well in the other drills on Friday. LSU’s Vadal Alexander appeared sluggish in many drills and put up the group’s second worst 40 yard dash time (5.57) — something that led Mayock to question whether Alexander has the athleticism to cut it at the professional level.
Among the lower projections, running back Shad Thornton (N.C. State) likely failed to impress scouts enough to overlook his numerous off the field issues with a slower 40 yard time –4.75 seconds — than several fullbacks and unimpressive performances in position drills. Oklahoma interior lineman Nila Kasitati is likely to go undrafted after posting a paltry 12 reps on the bench, tying Thornton’s performance and only besting running back Kenyon Drake’s 10 reps out of the OL and RB groups.
Today’s events include the quarterback, wide receiver and tight end groups. Who will stand out and who will fail to make a name for themselves?