2010 Combine Review

Florida QB Tim Tebow didn’t throw, but he was one of several NFL hopefuls that made a good impression at the 2010 NFL Combine

The 2010 NFL Combine is now in the books with 327 invitees, over 600 NFL talent evaluators, and over 400 credentialed members of the media heading home.  The combine is the only week where the NFL epicenter revolves around players working out in t-shirts and shorts –now track suites—with cattle numbers stamped on them.  We all know that game footage matters more than any other evaluation tool to teams as they move toward the  2010 NFL Draft on April 22, but the NFL Combine has become a phenomenon unto it’s self.  Now major sports media outlets are providing instant breaking news on potential NFL prospect’s forty times.

There are four major steps of the post college football / pre NFL Draft process — Bowl Game, All-Star Games especially the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, and Pro Day/Private workout – that are vital for building a powerful resume for the upcoming NFL Draft.  Even though the overall draft process never totally gets every little thing about a prospect correct, especially whether a player will be a front-line contributor in 2 to 3 years.

“It’s an inexact science, if you can call it a science” said Colts General Manager Bill Polian during a combine interview.  However with signing bonuses and draft positions changing on the merits of a good or bad forty time, the NFL Combine has become a must-see event for league talent evaluators and fans — NFL Network had over 25 hours of Live Coverage and the Philadelphia Eagles sent a contingent of 47 people to Indy.

Prospects and their agents also seem to understand the importance of the NFL Combine — 66% of all positional players selected at the 2008 NFL Draft participated in the combine.  More than half of this year’s NFL Combine participants attended “cheat-sheet” preparation camps in place like California, Arizona, Florida, and Texas.  Practice made perfect, as several players were familiar enough with the drills to produce noteworthy results from this year’s event.  

Now that the weighing, timing, questioning, reviewing of injuries and backgrounds of the invitees is over and before we move onto Pro Days, here are some of my observations, news, and notes from the 2010 NFL Combine.

High Participation – With over 600 NFL talent evaluators traveling to Indianapolis, the combine was the one place where all NFL talent evaluators converged on one place for a week just to look exclusively at prospects.  Even though it seems every top quarterback including Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, and Jimmy Clausen chose to not participate in almost every on-field drill, most players wanted to work out. The 2010 NFL Combine continued the trend of high participation by invitees that has grown with the past five drafts.  It was reported that close to 95% of the 327 invitees took part in some portion of the combine process (drills and/or interviewing). The major reason for the high volume of participants forgoing the sidelines, including potential first overall pick Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh, is money. 

By waiting for their Pro Day, a prospect has a good chance of raising a red flag that could cost them millions — Top 10 picks are expected to receive $30 Million dollar signing bonuses.  With dollars fresh in their mind, potential Top 10 picks Oklahoma State OT Russell Okung, Tennessee safety Eric Berry, Oklahoma OT Trent Williams, Rutgers OT Anthony Davis, Suh and others all showed their stuff at Lucas Oil Stadium to the liking of the NFL personnel evaluators.  However the event didn’t go by without some high profile guys like Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford (interviewed, but didn’t throw as he wanted to work with his own receivers), Oklahoma State receiver Dez White (Interviewed only), Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen (interviewed, but is nursing a toe injury), and others forgoing some or all drills while waiting for their Pro Days.

Event Risers – These players increased their value in the 2010 NFL Combine.

Maryland OT Bruce Campbell – Scouts were buzzing about the performance of the big (6-7, 310) and athletic offensive tackle.  Campbell was officially timed at 4.85 in the 40 (the best time of any lineman – first reported as a 4.77), pounded out 34 reps on the 225 lb bench and jumped 32 inches vertically. Though there are concerns with Campbell only having 17 college starts, he probably was this week’s biggest winner. The junior-eligible road grader now looks like he has joined Russell Okung (Oklahoma State), Bryan Bulaga (Iowa), Anthony Davis (Rutgers) and Trent Williams (Oklahoma) as first round offensive tackle picks in the upcoming draft. Of this year’s offensive tackles, a personnel director for an NFC team said, “Five are slam-dunk firsts.  You’ve got some potential studs there.”

Florida QB Tim Tebow – College football’s most talked about prospect didn’t throw in Indy, but he was impressive in other areas.  Tebow (6’3, 245) showed great leadership, a “Can Do” attitude, and maturity in interviews.  Then on the field, he displayed athleticism that could equate to a position switch to H-Back or as a Wildcat QB, if needed.  The former Heisman winner ran the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, vertically jumped 38.5 inches ( tied combine quarterback record set by Josh McCown), and led all quarterbacks in the three-cone drill (6.66 seconds), the 20-yard shuttle (4.17 seconds) and the 60-yard shuttle (11.27 seconds). So now the waiting game starts until Florida’s Pro Day on March 17th to see if working with former NFL coach Zeke Bratkowski has helped Tebow’s footwork, delivery, and other requisite quarterback skills.  I still think Super Timmy is a 3rd round pick.

Alabama DL Terrence Cody – This year’s prototypical 3-4 defense two-gap run-stuffing nose tackle showed his commitment to playing in the NFL.  Cody weighed in at 354 pounds, which is closer to his target weight of 340 than the 370 giggly pounds that he showed up at the Senior Bowl.  Moved well in drills and now looks to be a mid first-round pick. With five of the top seven defenses in the league last season playing the 3-4  — New York Jets (first), Green Bay (second), Baltimore (third), Pittsburgh (fifth) and Denver (seventh) – expect Cody to be real popular in this year’s draft.

USC safety Taylor Mays – Consistently some evaluators have pegged the big (6’3, 220) hard-hitting safety as a possible weakside linebacker.  But Mays showed by his blazing forty and in drills that he is a legitimate threat to Eric Berry’s number one safety spot.  Some unofficial hand-times had Mays at 4.24seconds, which would have tied Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson’s record.  But “officially” his time was 4.43 seconds, which is still unbelievable for a safety.  Now some evaluators are saying the former USC standout is a surefire Top 10 pick.  However on film, Mays still looks to be a little deficient in coverage and he only caused just two takeaways as a senior (1 INT and 1 fumble recovery).

 Notre Dame WR Golden Tate – Looks to be this year’s version of Philadelphia Eagles burner DeSean Jackson.  The Fightin’ Irish playmaker ran a 4.42 in the 40, pumped out 17 reps and leapt 40.5 inches vertically.  Though not the biggest guy (5’10, 199), Tate looks to be one of this year’s climbers at the receiver position.  Over half the teams requested to interview him and most left impressed with his demeanor.  Something Tate will need to work on going into his Pro Day on March 23rd is his catching.  In the “Gauntlet Drill”, he had some struggles — allowed too many passes to get into his body and dropped more than a few passes.

California RB Jahvid Best – Going into the Combine, every team wanted to make sure that the former Cal star was durable and versatile enough to be a feature back in the NFL.  Best answered questions immediately by measuring in at 5-10 1/8 and 199 pounds.  Then the former California state champ in the 100 meters showed that he had put a back injury and concussion (missed 4 games) behind him by clocking a 4.35 in the forty and moving well in drills.  Will need to continue his momentum on his Pro Day as every team loves his 7.3 yards per carry average from his college career.

Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford – Incredibly by only weighing in and interviewing, the former Heisman winner may have vaulted himself into the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.  The St. Louis Rams, who own the top pick, liked his size (6’4, 236) and answers during meetings. Bradford came off poised and personable with the media too and veteran Rams beat writer Howard Balzer said of him via Twitter, “He has ‘it'”.   Now it appears that the draft’s top two defensive tackles, Suh and Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy, have some company at the top.  Bradford said of his opportunity, “I think everybody dreams about being Number #1. Through this process, I’m preparing myself. I’m gonna show those teams everything I have. But at the end of the day, it’s up to them. So I’m really not worried about what I can’t control.”

Indiana University (Pa) cornerback Akwasi Owusu-Ansah – The small school prospect showed that he could compete with the top corners in the draft.  Owusu-Ansah showed the speed (4.47, third best corner time) and smooth hips in drills that evaluators were looking for in coverage corners.  Look for him to be taken early on the second day of the draft (2nd and 3rd rounds). 

Wake Forest CB Brandon Ghee – Moved up to possibly a second round pick by recording an official 4.45-second forty (2nd fastest among all defensive backs).  Also showed good movement in drills plus broad jumped 10’7 and did 15 reps on the bench press.

Others deserving players mention:  Tennessee safety Eric Berry (despite the buzz around Mays, still was the best overall safety in Indy as he clocked a 4.47-second forty and looked like a corner in coverage drills); Norfolk State WR Chris Bell (HBCU standout showed good size (6-2 1/8, 211) and hands in receiver drills); Arizona TE Rob Gronkowski (showed that he had recovered from a back injury that kept him out of the 2009 season); Ohio receiver Taylor Price (ran a blazing 4.41 in the forty and showed good hands in drills); Pittsburgh TE Dorin Dickerson (explosive player, who can play fullback or tight end in college, was timed in 4.40 and jumped 43.5 inches vertically); Arkansas OL Mitch Petrus  (tied combine record with 45 reps of 225 pounds); Georgia DL Jeff Owens (showed good explosion in drills and banged out 44 reps); Fresno State RB Ryan Mathews (looked like a prototypical power back at 5-11, 218 plus ran well in drills)

Event Maintainers – These players were solid and did not hurt their value at the 2010 NFL Combine.

Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh – Even though he entered the combine with a bull’s eye, Suh was not intimidated by the process.  He was solid in drills and showed his strength by producing 32 reps.  Despite all the buzz around Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, Suh made an impression in the interview process too. As is the norm this time of the year, as everyone was saying that the Rams liked Bradford as their No. 1, ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli reported different.  He said that Rams scouts were becoming increasingly convinced that Suh is the best player in the draft. In Rams head coach Steve Spanuolo’s scheme, Suh would play the “three technique” defensive tackle spot next to run stuffer Cliff Ryan.

Clemson WR Jacoby Ford – After a solid Senior Bowl, Ford came to Indy looking to stay on the radar of NFL teams.  He did just that and more as the former Clemson track star produced the fastest time at the combine with a 4.28-second forty. The 5-8 5/8, 181 pounder also drew comparisons to veteran Panthers receiver Steve Smith by catching the ball well in the passing drills and showing a good burst in and out of his cuts.  Look for this potential 2nd or 3rd rounder to be a great returner and slot receiver at the next level.

Clemson RB C.J. Spiller – Looked like the next “Reggie Bush” homerun threat type of player.  Weighed-in at 5-11, 196 pounds plus showed breakaway speed with a 4.37-second forty – some unofficially timed him at 4.27 seconds.  Right now Spiller looks like the first running back to come off the board and teams love his explosiveness — in 2009 had 31 carries of 10+ yards and eight receptions for 20 yards or more plus contributed five TDs on returns. As for worrying that Spiller may have some of Bush’s durability concerns, he never missed a game in college due to injury.

West Virginia QB Jarrett Brown – After a solid Senior Bowl, Brown continued to step out of the shadow of former WVU teammate Pat White, who was a second round pick by the Dolphins in 2009.  Brown ran the forty in 4.54 seconds and showed good zip on his passes in drills.  Brown will need to perform well on his Pro Day for him to solidify his position as a good 3rd or 4th round developmental pick.

Ole Miss RB/WR/KR Dexter McCluster – The former Ole Miss running back maintained the level from his strong Senior Bowl week.  McCluster is a true game-breaker as shown by his 37.5 vertical jump and superior agility in pass catching drills.

Virginia CB Chris Cook – Had a strong Senior Bowl week, where he was physical in drills, so he wanted to show again in Indy that he was a high corner prospect.  Cook showed the speed (4.46 seconds in the forty) and explosiveness (best broad jump of 11’0″) that a tall (6’1) corner needs. Had good footwork in drills, but needs to work on his strength as he only produced seven reps on the bench press.

Florida State safety Myron Rolle – Continued to show leadership and maturity in interviews after everyone was abuzz regarding his alleged treatment earlier by the Tampa Bay Bucs.  Reportedly during a 45-minute interview before the Senior Bowl with members of the Buccaneers’ staff, one member of the staff was said to have asked Rolle, “What it felt like to desert his team last season”.  Rolle also looked to be in great shape (6’2, 215) after being away at Oxford, England (Rhodes Scholar).  The aspiring doctor still has to change some hard core football people’s minds about his commitment to play in the NFL, but to me some team will give him a shot.  As crazy as it sounds, Rolle still has to finish a 10,000-word thesis and take his final exams in June before reporting to any NFL training camp in July.

Stanford RB Toby Gerhart – The former two-sport star (supposedly gave-up baseball) showed that he has the ability to play running back in the NFL.  Though he didn’t run the forty, Gerhart (6-0, 231) displayed explosiveness by producing a 38-inch vertical jump.  The 2009 Pac Ten Player of the Year and Heisman runner-up (1,871 rushing yards in 2009) also showed his agility in the shuttle runs.  Looks like he can be a power back at the next level.

Event Crashers – These were players that we believe hurt their value at the 2010 NFL Combine and will need to make up ground going into the draft.

Florida Joe Haden – Going into the Combine, the Gators sticky corner was considered a can’t miss first round shutdown corner.  Some were even saying the name “Darrelle Revis” in comparisons to Haden.  But a pedestrian forty time of4.57 seconds has put doubt in some evaluators’ minds.  We will have to see if Haden can rebound by the Gators’ Pro Day on March 17th in the Swamp.  To me, I still believe the film doesn’t lie about Haden and he is very good player, who is more than a Rhonde Barber zone corner.

Michigan CB Donovan Warren – Unfortunately, the combine showed that Warren may have difficulty as a man-to-man corner.  Warren recorded unofficial forty times of 4.65 and 4.68 seconds, which raised a red flag in the minds of evaluators.  Still could be a valuable special teams and nickel player due to his good size and physicality.  You know Warren wants a better showing at Michigan’s Pro Day on March 12th.

 Alabama CB Javier Arenas – The smallish corner from the National Champions, unfortunately tweaked his right hamstring so bad running his first forty that his combine was quickly over. Arenas will need to heal quickly as Alabama’s Pro Day is on March 10th.

Michigan DE Brandon Graham – After being named Senior Bowl MVP, Graham came to the combine with comparisons to former Michigan teammate LaMarr Woodley — now a Pro Bowl outside linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Unfortunately after posting a pair of 4.69-second forties (10th among D-linemen), Graham pulled up lame with a hamstring injury and had to shut it down.  However expect the former All Big Ten player to get a look as a 3-4 linebacker after he put up 31 reps on the bench.  Hopefully by Michigan’s Pro Day on March 12th, he will be able to further impress NFL talent evaluators.

Georgia Tech RB Jonathan Dwyer – Still considered one of the bigger backs in the 2010 NFL Draft.  Unfortunately, Dwyer (5-11 1/4, 229) looked like a plodder as he ran in the 4.7 range and did not look as fluid as Spiller, Best, Matthews, and other backs.

Arkansas State DE Alex Carrington — Lost out as several pass rushing prospects passed him after he had to shut it down after twisting his ankle.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

Speed was back at Lucas Oil stadium – There were 27 players who ran sub-4.5 forties at Lucas Oil including this year’s champion Clemson WR Jacoby Ford who ran an official 4.28 second time.  Ford blazed past other speedsters LSU returner Trindon Holliday (4.34), Cal RB Jahvid Best (4.35) and Clemson teammate CJ Spiller (4.37) to win this year’s college football version of the fastest man.   Also with everyone from NFL Network to team officials leaking times (i.e. USC safety Taylor ran an unofficial 4.19 second forty according to his former coach and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll), remember the only times that count are the three official times clocked by National Football Scouting (two electronic and one handheld). Anyway I think people put too much emphasis on the forty anyway as one draft evaluator said at the event, “Larry Fitzgerald ran more than 4.6 when he went through the draft process and I don’t hear too many people now talking about what he ran Pre-Draft”

Back courageously returns to the bench – Miraculously, USC running back Stafon Johnson was back participating in the bench-press. Unfortunately way back in September, Johnson (5’11, 214) was hurt while bench pressing when the bar slipped from his hands and crushed his neck and larynx. The former USC star underwent seven hours of emergency throat surgery.  Five months later, he showed some real “guts” here at the combine by putting up 13 reps .

Podium time for the Coaches and GM’s – For the third year in a row, the combine had a full slate of GM’s and coaches holding their own press conferences at the event.  The media could go from hearing new Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan (first real appearance for his new organization) to new Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey to Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid to Rams GM Bill Devaney without missing a beat.  Though you know the evaluators are smoke-screening this time of the year, it is always good to get some insight.

The ‘Wildcat’ is still loose in the NFL – Though the number of teams running “Wildcat” plays last season was less than in 2008, there is still a strong presence of the formation in the NFL.  So in a copy-cat fashion, Lucas Oil Stadium was abuzz looking for players who could run the “Wildcat” formation.  Evaluators were asking running backs and receivers whether they had been a high school quarterback (ex. Fresno State RB Ryan Matthews and Buffalo RB James Starks).  Plus mobile throwers like Florida’s Tim Tebow, Appalachian State QB Armanti Edwards, and Penn State QB Darryl Clark were definitely looked at as potential future Wildcat signal-callers. 

What You Benching?? – I would love to see a 225-pound bench pressing contest head-to-head of this year’s champ Arkansas OG Mitch Petrus (45 reps – tied NFL Combine Record of former Ohio State DE Mike Kudla) and current NFL strongman Eagles defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (44 reps back in 2006).  Of course we would need loud mouth Arizona Cardinals Strength and Conditioning Coach John Lott as the moderator – “Come on Meat, HUP, HUP!!”

Who needs the Combine?? – Some players that I still believe will be on the NFL’s radar even though they were not invited to the NFL Combine are Bowling Green WR Freddie Barnes, Alabama-Birmingham QB Joe Webb, Grambling State DE Christian Anthony, Auburn CB Walter McFadden, Utah S Robert Johnson and Army WR/TE Ali Villanueva.

How Awesome is NFL Network!! – Again NFL Network brought the combine to the masses by providing the aforementioned 25 Hours of original programming of the event and all 327 hopefuls.  I could listen to draftnik Mike Mayock all day as he breaks down all of the players.  Mayock can rattle off an NFL prospect’s bio, college football honors, and combine times/numbers/figures before you can say, “Jack Spratt” (Sorry Mel and Todd, but this guy is the best).  By the way, Mayock kept saying during combine broadcasts that this is the deepest draft for defensive players he’s seen in nearly 10 years.

The official workout results of the top performers at the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine are now posted at http://www.nfl.com/combine/top-performers

That is a wrap and Taking It to the House will definitely be there next year to cover the Combine, which is now a major happening as seen by the over 400 credentials handed out this year.

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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