The NFL Scouting Combine workouts began on Saturday and, in typical fashion, there were a few surprises on the positive and negative side of the stopwatch for tight ends and offensive linemen.
Despite multiple sources reporting that Glenn Dorsey
was not going to attend the Combine due to the death of his grandmother, the LSU
defensive tackle is in Indianapolis after an understandably delayed arrival.
Along with Virginia Tech
defensive end Chris Ellis
defensive end Tommy Blake
, Dorsey was not available to meet with the media due to medical checks being done Saturday. That Dorsey won't workout isn't necessarily the concern. Struggles with leg injuries dating back to high school, however, have teams anxious to review the detailed medical report that was conducted.
Actual football activities also finally got underway Saturday with the offensive linemen and tight ends running the 40-yard dash and performing in drills. Teams are cautious about changing their rankings too much based on these workouts, but there were several noteworthy performances Saturday.
Purdue tight end Dustin Keller was arguably the most impressive athlete on the field. He needed a strong day after measuring in at only 6-feet-2 and 242 pounds, but in finishing among the positional leaders in several categories and as the fastest and most explosive tight end, his stock is undeniably on the rise.
It is important to note the 40 times reported by the NFL Network are not official, but in leading the position with times at 4.53 and 4.54 seconds, he certainly showed the speed necessary to attack defenses down the seam. In posting a 38-inch vertical, Keller also led the position in one of the categories scouts use to determine explosiveness. By posting 26 repetitions of 225 pounds (one behind leader Craig Stevens of California), Keller also showed explosive strength in his upper body.
Some teams simply won't consider a 6-2, 242-pound tight end regardless of how well he works out, but of those teams that will, Keller's stock rose significantly Saturday.
One of the fastest rising tight ends in the draft continues to be Tennessee's Brad Cottam. Cottam, who measured in at 6-7 1/2, 270 pounds, also showed an impressive combination of speed and strength. Cottam was timed by scouts in the 4.6s and finished among the position's leaders with 24 repetitions of 225 pounds despite fighting physics with his long arms. Cottam was plagued by injuries throughout his career and missed nearly all of last season due to a broken wrist. Cottam's rare size/speed combination, along with resurgence during the Outback Bowl led to a Senior Bowl invitation, where he was among the better tight ends. Saturday in Indy, he also proved amongst the most athletic.
As impressive as Keller and Cottam were in the 40 and bench press drills, scouts left the RCA Dome buzzing about the fluidity and athleticism of Texas redshirt sophomore JerMichael Finley. Finley caught the ball cleanly and showed the body control to adjust to the pass and accelerate upfield quickly. Finley reportedly received a fourth-round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee, but his potential could cause him to ultimately be drafted a full round — or more — earlier.
The workout reviews weren't all positive among the tight end prospects as Southern California's Fred Davis, nearly universally ranked as the top talent at the position, struggled mightily in drills. Davis had been impressive early with 24 reps of 225 pounds, but dropped several passes Saturday and elected not to run the 40-yard dash. He could be a classic case of a player struggling with the pressure of the Combine, as he stood out at the Senior Bowl and won the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end, but his struggles with drops definitely caught the attention of scouts.
Notre Dame's John Carlson ran a 4.90 and 4.98 in the 40 — among the position's slowest times. Carlson, who had reportedly been timed in the 4.7s by NFL scouts last spring, caught the ball smoothly throughout the rest of the workout, but his lack of speed on this big stage looms as a considerable red flag.
Forty times aren't nearly as important for offensive linemen, but a surprisingly disappointing time was turned in by Pittsburgh's Jeff Otah. With first-round offensive tackles of past years averaging times in the 5.10-5.20 range, Otah was timed by The NFL Network at 5.56. The time, while certainly cause for some concern, may not harm Otah's stock as much as it would initially appear. Otah had only recently begun training for the workout after sustaining a high ankle sprain late in the season that prevented him from playing in the Senior Bowl.
Much of the talk regarding the top offensive line performances during the workouts will revolve around Otah's slow time and Jake Long's consistency, but Connecticut's Shawn Murphy (6-4, 292) is a sleeper candidate who significantly helped himself during drills. His quickness and agility may not necessarily lend itself to the timed drills shown during the Combine coverage, but scouts left the workouts speaking highly of him.
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE
Amid all of the hype, health and Herculean physiques that characterize the annual Combine workouts, media darling Joe Flacco moved up a few spots in my book with a much less publicized event.
Free for a few moments between workouts and interviews, Flacco was asked by a group of youngsters for his autograph. While nearly every recognizable coach and even the least recognizable players are besieged by autograph hounds every time they venture into the public hallways of the Indianapolis Convention Center, few take the time to provide autographs. Flacco, surrounded by kids whose ages appeared to be between 5-15, not only signed for a solid 15 minutes, he did so while addressing each child.
On one occasion, I overheard the crouching 6-6, 236-pound quarterback ask a preschool aged girl if she'd like her football to be autographed "big or small," to which she, as any child her age would, exclaimed "BIG."
With the national media focusing on the NFL head coaches at the other end of the hall and no other adults seemingly around the scene other than security and the childrens' parents, Flacco wasn't signing autographs to appear classy.
I'm not as high on Flacco's accuracy and upside at the next level as some other analysts. However, he impressed me more with his character during those 15 minutes than he could possibly hope to when throwing Sunday.