The NFL Combine may not be the most important aspect in judging talent heading into the draft, but it sure has its place. Players can move up or down draft boards, based on their physical capabilities. A player's strength, speed or vertical jump all come into play when coaches and general managers are deciding where a certain player ranks among every prospect. Game film is the most important component in judging a talent, but every year the Combine causes a team to fall in love with a certain player. After all, a coach can dramatically help a player's football ability, but you can't teach a guy speed or agility. This year's combine was no different, as certain players saw their stock rise going into the draft, while others may have hurt their positioning based on their combine performance. Here are the guys who really stood out and have undoubtedly raised their value going into May's draft.
10 Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
The adage that game film is what one should look at first in judging a player rings especially true for quarterbacks. However, Blake Bortles is undoubtedly tempting some teams picking in the top five based on his physical abilities. He's the most physically gifted quarterback in this draft, and he showed it in Indianapolis at the combine.
Bortles impressed in the three-cone drill and vertical jump. He stands at 6'5" and 232 pounds, an ideal size for the quarterback position. A big part of the combine is also seeing how players handle the media circus at the combine. Bortles impressed in that department as well. There have been rumblings that if the draft were to be held today, Bortles would go no.1 to Houston, as the Texans need a quarterback and Bortles fits Bill O'Brien's quarterback profile.
9 Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks may have been locked in as a first-round pick last year, but this year's depth at wide receiver compared to last year's may push Cooks down to the second round. However, he sure made his case to be a first rounder at the combine.
Cooks finished with a 4.33 40-yard dash, as well as a short-shuttle time of 3.81, leading all wide receivers in both categories. His performances at Oregon State show he's a great playmaker and has explosive ability which may cause a team to pull the trigger in the first round. He's likely to go later in the first round, so maybe a team like Denver, who will likely lose Eric Decker in free agency, or the Patriots who might lose Julian Edelman will look at Cooks, as the only thing working against him is his height at just 5'10".
8 Dri Archer, RB, Kent State
Running a 4.26 in the 40-yard dash will inevitably get people talking about you. Kent State's Dri Archer nearly broke Chris Johnson's record of 4.24. While we already knew Archer was fast, I don't think anyone foresaw that he would be that fast. That alone doesn't make Archer a first round pick. It's almost a stretch to think that any running back will be taken in the first round this year, but perhaps Archer surpassed fellow running backs on teams' big boards.
Archer is 5'8" and around 175 pounds which may make teams question his durability. He had an injury plagued senior season, but still managed 527 yards on just 68 carries and six touchdowns. He added 25 catches for 327 yards and four scores. His junior year was electrifying, with 1429 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. He also recorded 39 catches for 561 yards and four touchdowns and even returned three kicks for a score. He's an all-around threat and he'll certainly find a place on a team looking for an explosive player.
7 Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
The NFL is a copycat league and with the Seattle Seahawks winning the Super Bowl, teams will be looking to follow Seattle's blueprint of big defensive backs. Jason Verrett may tempt some teams to ignore that standard. Verrett needed an incredible combine to lure teams away from the draft's bigger corners.
He ran one of the fastest 40-yard dash times at 4.38. He also had a 39-inch vertical jump and had a 6.69 three-cone drill, showing that despite being just 5'9" he can run with receivers. He's shifty enough and can play for the jump ball with certain players.
He'll likely play as a nickel corner and cover slot receivers where his height won't be as much of a mismatch. He's another guy who will likely go late in the first round or early in the second.
6 Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney came into the combine with extremely high expectations and while he may have disappointed in some drills, what we suspected is confirmed. Clowney is an athletic freak. He measured in at 6'5" and 266 pounds. He has 34.5" arms and 10" hands which will help him bat passes at the line of scrimmage and even cover tight ends if need be.
Clowney clocked a 4.53 40-yard dash, which was faster than all but one tight end this year and would put him sixth amongst running backs. He also had a 37.5" vertical jump and a 10'4" broad jump. What prevents Clowney from being higher on this list was his 21 reps on the bench press. Clowney's work ethic is a concern as many felt he phoned it in this past season at South Carolina, but his potential is just too great to pass up. Despite Houston's need at quarterback, it's easy to see Clowney going to Houston and being paired up with J.J. Watt.
Clowney was already projected as a top-five pick and his combine cemented that notion. There's no way he's sliding on draft day.
5 Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
This draft class is rather deep at tackle, but Taylor Lewan may have closed the gap between him and the top two in Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews. His 33 7/8" arm length is considered average for a tackle, but his athleticism and agility at 6'8" and 309 pounds makes it a high possibility that he will be among the top 15 in the first round. NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock has Lewan as a top-1o talent. Mel Kiper has Lewan being picked at no. 11 to the Tennessee Titans in his mock draft.
Lewan was the fastest offensive lineman at 4.87 in the 40-yard dash, first among linemen in the broad jump at 9'9", third in the vertical jump at 30.5" and fourth in the three-cone drill at 7.39. With Robinson and Matthews' game film being so good though, Lewan still didn't surpass either of them. However, being the third best tackle in a draft still usually warrants a high pick.
4 Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Guys weighing 285 pounds aren't supposed to run 4.68 40-yard dashes, but that's what Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald did in Indianapolis this year. He also added 35 reps in the bench press drill. Donald even beat Clowney in the three-cone drill, clocking in at 7.11 seconds to Clowney's 7.27. This is coming from an interior lineman. Donald was already projected to be the best interior pass rusher in this draft and now he's bound to move up on a few big boards.
Donald has amazing stats to back up his athletic promise, as he had 59 tackles as a senior at Pittsburgh. He had 28.5 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. He wasn't seen as a consensus first-round pick before the combine, but now it seems he's worked his way into the first round and may continue to move up as we get closer to May.
3 Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Sammy Watkins is the top WR prospect, but Mike Evans has the ideal measurables of a receiver at 6'5" and 231 pounds. He dominated at Texas A&M as Johnny Manziel's go-to target. In two years, he caught 151 passes for 2,499 yards and 17 touchdowns.
At the combine, Evans separated himself from the rest of the pack and moved a lot closer to Watkins. While Evans didn't finish as a top performer in any drill, he was consistently impressive with a 4.53 40-yard dash time, a 37" vertical jump, 7.08 in the three-cone drill and 4.26 in the short shuttle. He also has an arm length of 35 1/8".
He can now be pencilled in as a top-15 and possibly a top-10 pick. With the Detroit Lions' need for a receiver alongside Calvin Johnson, Evans seems like a perfect fit. Evans is already a mismatch for many defenders, and with teams focusing on Megatron, Evans would really get a chance to shine in Detroit. His skill set warrants the Lions, or several teams high in the first round to look at Evans once Watkins is off the board.
2 Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Khalil Mack put up eye-popping numbers at Buffalo and the only concern with him coming into the draft is that he played against weaker competition compared to other top prospects. His combine at least showed that he has the athletic skill set to be a top-10 and possibly a top-five pick. NFL Network's Mike Mayock actually said he'd pick Mack at no.1 overall.
Mack showed he has elite strength, speed and athleticism and didn't just benefit from playing in a weaker conference. He was once seen as a two-star recruit. Now he could possibly be the best prospect in the 2014 draft. He put up 23 reps on the bench press drill, a 4.65 40-yard dash, a vertical jump of 40", broad jump of 10'8" and a 4.18 short shuttle. Those are amazing numbers across the board. His combine performance seems to have separated him from fellow OLB Anthony Barr, and Barr had quite an impressive combine himself. Mack's stock has just gone up more. It's hard to imagine him sliding past Atlanta at no.6, as the Falcons need a pass rusher.
1 Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Greg Robinson has continued to attract attention since helping the Auburn Tigers ride to the BCS Championship game behind an amazing running game. That running game was incredible in large part due to Robinson. Many people are torn between whether he or Jake Matthews is the top tackle in this year's draft.
His combine performance may have convinced many that Robinson has the higher upside. At 6'5" and 332 pounds, with 35" arms, he managed 32 reps on the bench press, ran a 4.92 in the 40-yard dash, and had a vertical jump of 27.5".
As physically gifted as Clowney is on the defensive side, Robinson appears to be about as impressive on the offensive line and shows the measurables to match up with just about any pass rusher and create lanes for his running back, whoever that may be.
Many have Robinson pencilled in as a top-10 pick and now we may see more people pencilling him in on the Rams at no.2 overall. That's quite the jump Robinson has made, considering not many people knew who he was back in August.
The combine inevitably affects teams' opinions, so let's see how much of a factor these amazing combine performances will play in May's draft.
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