Though players began arriving in Indianapolis late in the week, the actual combine workouts didn't finally get underway until Saturday at the RCA Dome. The first groups to "perform" were the offensive linemen and the tight ends, and there were several standouts.
Among the offensive linemen, Wisconsin's Joe Thomas was clearly the head of the class. Already considered the top lineman in the draft and a potential top three overall selection, Thomas separated himself from the pack even further by running a pair of 4.9's (4.92 and 4.95) in the 40-yard dash and putting up 28 reps on the bench. He also finished near the top of the O-line group in the vertical jump and broad jump, showing good explosiveness. This is a perfect example of why top prospects should work out in Indy. Thomas was surely a guy who didn't have to, and wasn't really expected to, but his performance here has effectively secured him a spot near the top of the draft board.
Another well-known prospect who did a good job in workouts was USC center Ryan Kalil. He ran a 4.96 in the 40 and also impressed in the broad jump, hitting 8'8". But the thing scouts noticed right away was his size. The primary knock on Kalil had been his lack of size, but he showed up in Indy at just under 300 pounds and appeared very strong in drills throughout the day, carrying the extra weight well.
After that, the O-line group was a bit of a disappointment, mostly because the top prospects were slowed by injury. Texas tackle Justin Blaylock put up 40 reps on the bench, tying for the lead in the lineman category with guard Manuel Ramirez of Texas Tech, who couldn't finish the rest of his workout. Neither could Joe Staley of Central Michigan or Tennessee guard Arron Sears. Arkansas tackle Tony Ugoh was off to a good start, turning in personal bests in the 40 and the broad jump, but injured his quad and was done for the day after that. And while the Penn State players have faired well thus far overall, offensive tackle Levi Brown wasn't one of them, running no better than 5.3 in the 40.
The other group that was up on Saturday was the tight ends, and once again there was a clear winner. Miami's Greg Olsen was already considered by some to be the top TE in this draft, and he reinforced that notion with a 4.51 in the 40, 23 reps on the bench, a 9'6" broad jump, and more than 35" in the vertical leap. Oh yeah, and he also caught just about everything that was thrown at him.
This is good news for the Jets, who are in the market for a tight end. At 6'6", 254 pounds, Olsen is a rock. Combined with the athleticism he showcased in Indy, look for Olsen to come off the board in the mid to late first round and surpass Arizona State's Zach Miller as the top TE in the draft. Sitting at #25, the Jets could be in position to grab him. Olsen is obviously a great athlete and a polished receiver who will demand safety coverage in the NFL with his speed. Though he isn't a strong blocker, he could give the Jets the two-TE combo that head coach Eric Mangini saw so much of in New England with Ben Watson and Daniel Graham.
On Sunday, scouts got to see the offensive skill position players. There is a lot of talent in this year's receiver class and it was on display this weekend. Nine wide receivers ran a sub-4.4 40!! Included in that group was Georgia Tech phenom Calvin Johnson. The junior is considered a top five overall prospect and wasn't expected to work out here, but once he touched the RCA Dome turf, he couldn't help himself. He borrowed a pair of running shoes (yes, you read that right, he borrowed shoes) and ran a 4.35 (at 6-5, 239 pounds)!! Tennessee's Robert Meachem, a player who was on the 1st-round bubble, also ran well, clocking a 4.36, and as a result, may have helped secure a spot for himself in the top 32.
Two other top WR prospects helped their cause with strong showings on Sunday. Ohio State's Anthony Gonzalez ran a 4.4 40 and performed well in the agility drills and should remain a solid 2nd round prospect. Steve Smith of USC also ran a 4.4 and showed good athleticism. We certainly know he can catch the ball, and while many are pegging him for the 3rd round, we wouldn't be surprised to see him slip into round two after what had to be considered a very solid showing for him.
The one disappointment amongst the WR's was LSU's Dwayne Bowe. Considered a solid Day One prospect and a possible late 1st rounder, Bowe didn't perform badly, but he didn't stand out. At 6'2", 220 pounds, he has excellent size, and his 4.5 40 is solid. But he must show more consistency catching the ball at his pro day workout to convince scouts he's worth the risk of an early pick. Another prospect who leaves Indy with some lingering questions is South Carolina's Sidney Rice. He did fine in agility drills and the position drills, but considered the 4th-highest rated WR coming into this event, his lack of size (just 200 pounds) and speed (he ran no better than 4.57 in our reports) could hurt his status.
Adrian Peterson, the standout Oklahoma RB, was a star on Sunday. Dispelling any concerns regarding his health, Peterson was outstanding, clocking a 4.38 in the 40, a 38-inch vertical leap, and a 10'7" broad jump, all of which ranked among the best scores of the running back group. He's another potential top three pick in April's draft.
Auburn's Kenny Irons was expected to be a top back heading into this draft, but a disappointing '06 season left scouts with some questions. But he was able to clock sub 4.5 in the 40, which will help his draft status. Irons has a full slate of skills as a runner, receiver, and blocker, but concerns about his lack of size and breakaway speed have been concerns. One down, one to go.
There were also two pleasant surprises in Arizona junior Chris Henry and Rutgers FB Brian Leonard. Henry, at 5-11, 230 pounds, is built in the same mold as Louisville's Michael Bush. But he showed great athleticism by ranking among the top finishers in the 40, the long and short shuttles, and the broad jump, leaping almost 11 feet. His grade will most certainly go up after this weekend. Leonard is a classic 'tweener who has played tailback and fullback in college, but his wide variety of skills will be of value to the team that eventually selects him. He has shed some pounds in the offseason and ran well, clocking just under 4.50.
The disappointment of the running back group had to be Notre Dame's Darius Walker. He showed great explosiveness with a vertical leap of more than 40", but he performed poorly in the 40 and on the bench, and his lack of size (205 pounds) is a concern to scouts.
Three of the top QB prospects, LSU's JaMarcus Russell, Notre Dame's Brady Quinn, and Troy Smith of Ohio State (only threw), did not work out this weekend. But several others performed well. Michigan State's Drew Stanton showed a strong arm. Houston's Kevin Kolb, as expected, also showed very well in the passing drills, particularly when throwing on the run. He's a very good athlete with a strong arm, who played on a bad team, and should climb the board over the coming months. But scouts seemed most impressed with Florida's Chris Leak. Already known as an athletic QB, he showed good accuracy and touch on his passes and he gets rid of the ball quickly. Several scouts also commented that he impressed in the interview room, which is an important part of the equation for quarterbacks. This is where coaches and scouts can get a better feel for the QB's leadership qualities and their understanding of the game. Leak appears to be the prospect who helped himself the most here in Indy.
Look for reports on the defensive players on Friday.