As we enter March, NFL teams are turning their focus to free agency, but, the last week was arguably the most important week of the year for both NFL teams and the players they are going to select in the draft.
The annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is where the stars come out to shine. Some of them do, but some of them don't. While the media focuses on 40-yard dash times and a player's weightlifting and jumping ability, for NFL teams most of the productive work done in Indy is to conduct interviews and let their medical people poke and prod players in search of finding potential injuries that could impact their draft stock.
It's a bizarre backwards world that is the Combine. A poor showing can negatively impact a college career worth of game tape. Players can make hundreds of thousands (in rare instances, millions) of dollars or lose as much by how they perform with the bright lights of Indianapolis beating down on them. Between workouts, interviews and medical testing, it's a grueling boot camp for players and their best chance to make an impression on a team – whether it's one interested in taking them with a blue-chip elite draft pick or a Day 3 selection with the opportunity to make a 53-man roster.
More than 300 players – more than will be drafted – worked out at the Combine. For some, it was the week of a lifetime in terms of cementing their status as NFL players. For others, it was nothing short of a nightmare.
These are our choices for the biggest winners and losers of the 2014 Combine.
Buffalo DE/OLB Khalil Mack. There was no questioning his athleticism, but it was him playing for a small college that had some wondering how big his transition curve would be. After posting the best numbers among the top linebacker prospects in the 40-yard dash (4.65 seconds), the vertical jump (40 inches), the broad jump (10 feet, 8 inches) and the 20-yard shuttle (4.18 seconds), he has not only locked himself into the top 10, it may be hard for him to make it past Atlanta at No. 6 or Tampa Bay at No. 7.
Auburn OT Greg Robinson. For a guy who stands 6-5 and weighs 332 pounds, he blew away the scouts in Indianapolis, running a 4.92 40 with 32 reps in the bench press and a time of 7.80 in the 3-cone drill. If St. Louis stays at No. 2, that could be his landing spot on draft day.
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney. For a guy with more to lose than gain at the Combine, he checked in at 6-5, 266 pounds, but ran an excellent 4.53 40 time and added a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump. His 21 reps in the bench press was a downside to the performance, but he showed off his athleticism, which could have him go No. 1, but go no lower than No. 5 – the Raiders won't let him slide if he's still there.
Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert. Already viewed as a first-round prospect, his electric 4.37 time in the 40, a 35½-inch vertical jump and 20 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press not only reaffirmed his spot in the first round, but could well make him the first cornerback to come off the board on draft day.
Michigan OT Taylor Lewan. His stock has taken a hit for his connection to a pretty bad off-field incident, but he had the fastest 40 time of any offensive tackle (4.87), a 9-9 broad jump and he consistently ranked near the top for his position in just about every measurable category at the Combine. He came in needing to wow scouts to keep his place in the top half of the first round and did just that.
Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks. The Biletnikoff Award winner has been building momentum over the last few months but made a statement at the Combine – running a 4.33 40 with a 40-inch vertical and a blazing 3.82 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle. He was seen as a decent candidate to come off the board in the first round and he only solidified that belief with his showing in Indy.
LSU WR Odell Beckham Jr. He improved his stock by posting very good times in the 40 (4.43), the 20-yard shuttle (3.94) and the 60-yard shuttle (10.93). He also looked natural and fluid in position drills. He showed off his deep range skills and has solidified himself as a first-round pick.
Pitt DT Aaron Donald. The knock on him is that he is undersized (6-0, 286), but has long arms (32½ inches), great strength (35 reps in the bench press) and ran an incredible 4.68 40 time and produced a 9-8 broad jump. The combination of those things may help overcome his biggest red flag – lack of prototypical height.
Clemson WR Martavis Bryant. At 6-4, he had something going for him to start with, but throw in a 4.42 time in the 40 and a 39-inch vertical jump and a lot more teams will be taking notice.
Georgia Southern RB Jerick McKinnon. He's only 5-8, but is a fireplug at 209 pounds and posted some of the best numbers among running backs in the 40 (4.41), the bench press (32 reps), broad jump (11-0) and vertical jump (40½ inches).
Kent State RB Dri Archer. Viewed as a player with little chance of being drafted because his 173-pound frame will have a hard time holding up in the NFL, he ran the fastest 40 time (4.26), did a whopping 20 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press, had a 38-inch vertical jump and had the quickest 10-yard split time (1.47 seconds) of any running back at the Combine. He made himself some cash and put himself into the mid-round range for somebody looking for a return specialist and change-of-pace back.
Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas. He piqued a lot of interest at the Combine. Measuring in at 6-6, 248 pounds, he had the best 40 time (4.61), vertical jump (35.5 inches) and broad jump (9-10) among QBs at Indianapolis. He is still viewed as a mid-round pick, but his stock took a nice jump.
Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandijo. He was viewed as one of the most naturally gifted offensive tackles in the league, but his awful 5.59 time in the 40 and failing some team physicals could drop him out of the first round and perhaps deep into Day 2. There are concerns that ACL surgery following his freshman season has created an arthritic knee that will only get worse over time.
Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater. He still might be the No. 1 overall pick, but his decision not to throw or run at the Combine turned off some scouts. There were also reports that he didn't impress during interviews with the teams. All he has to hope is that it didn't impact any of the teams picking in the top five.
Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro. He needed to overcome the belief that he was simply productive because of the pass happy offense he played in. He didn't have a strong Combine and ran just a 4.74 40, which didn't help his stock at all.
Louisville S Calvin Pryor. While he is still going to be the second safety off the board, he didn't live up to expectations. He had a pedestrian vertical jump (34½ inches) and broad jump (9-8), but the most troubling aspect of his Combine was in the first measurable. His was listed as 6-2 at Louisville, but, when he measured at Indianapolis, he came in just a touch over 5-11. Three inches may not seem like much, but for a safety, it's a great distance (or lack of it).
Florida CB Loucheiz Purifoy. A player some scouts viewed as a near-lock to be off the board on Day 1, his 4.61 40 was painfully troubling and his mere six reps of 225 pounds was better than just one player who opted to life.
Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey. For a running back hoping to be among the top RBs off the board, he really hurt himself by running a woeful 4.70 40 and his vertical jump (32½ inches) and his broad jump (9-7) were less than expected. He may have played his way out of the second round despite a very good college career.
LSU WR Jarvis Landry. Unlike teammate Odell Beckham, Landry had a brutal Combine, running an ugly 4.77 40, with just a 28½-inch vertical jump and a 9-2 broad jump. His 10-yard split in the 40 was 1.65 second, the worst of any wide receiver who ran at the Combine. Complicating matters was that he suffered a hamstring injury that cut his workout short.
Florida DT Dominique Easley. He's a good athlete, but the buzz about him coming out of team meetings was brutal and in his media session he said he would rather watch cartoons than football. With bad buzz like that, he may have more time to concentrate on his cartoons come September.
Missouri DE/OLB Michael Sam. One of the focal players of the Combine after announcing he is gay, Sam crushed his stock by running a brutal 4.91 40, posting just a 25½-inch vertical jump and a painfully slow 7.80 seconds in the 3-cone drill. Initially, the primary concern was that he was too undersized to play DE and inexperienced at OLB. He didn't do himself any favors at the Combine with those numbers.
Florida State RB James Wilder Jr. The son of the former Tampa Bay workhorse of the same name, he needed a big Combine performance to raise his stock. But when he ran a sloth-like 4.86 40-yard dash, his stock dropped like a rock.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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