The completion of Sunday's combine workouts in Indianapolis means the focus shifted from offensive personnel to defensive personnel for NFL scouts. But before that page was turned, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden delivered an emphatic statement, blazing to a 4.27 in the 40-yard dash.
"I feel like it's a good time," McFadden said. "I was looking to run in the 4.3 range and me running a 4.27 is one of my fastest 40 times I've ever run."
It's hard to imagine McFadden falling anywhere out of the top five in April's draft. The New York Jets, who own the sixth overall selection, have a nice combination at RB with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington and don't have a need at the position. But the 6'2", 211-pound McFadden, who rushed for 100 yards 22 times in his collegiate career, will surely rank very high on all teams' "Big Boards" in the spring.
"I'm a tough guy," he said. "I run the ball hard — I'm not going to go down on first contact and I can break tackles. I can make big plays and be in short-yardage situations also."
The Razorbacks' backfield had a good afternoon as Felix Jones, McFadden's teammate at Arkansas, ran a 4.44. Jones is also a big-play guy, having averaged 7.6 yards per carry and 28.2 yards per kickoff return. Last season, McFadden (1,830) and Jones (1,162) combined to run for almost 3,000 yards.
The Hogs ran wild Sunday but a number of other backs impressed. Rashard Mendenhall, a 5'11", 210-pounder from Illinois, is regarded as a tough inside runner but he's got some wheels. He averaged a 4.4 on his two runs (4.43 and 4.37) and his stock will continue to rise in the weeks ahead. He set school-single season rushing records in 2007, totaling 1,681 yards and 17 TDs.
Jonathan Stewart is another big back who helped himself this weekend. At 5'11" and 235 pounds, Oregon's second all-time leading rusher (2,891 yards) showed some bounce at 4.44. And Rutgers' Ray Rice probably surprised a few onlookers, checking in at 4.44 on his first attempt. Jamaal Charles, who averaged 180 yards in his final five games at Texas, has track experience and turned in a 4.36.
The running backs were joined by the quarterbacks and wide receivers on Sunday. Boston College QB Matt Ryan was on hand this weekend but won't throw until his Pro Day on March 18. That opened the door for Joe Flacco to garner some more attention and the Delaware signalcaller not only passed well again but also showcased his feet.
Before the weekend concluded, East Carolina RB Chris Johnson (5'10½", 195) produced an even faster 40 time than McFadden. The speedster ran one of the lowest 40 times ever recorded in Indy, shaving a couple of hundredths of a second off McFadden's effort with a 4.24.
Cal wideout DeSean Jackson, who averaged 15.0 yards a reception and caught 22 touchdowns during his collegiate career, paced the receivers with a 4.35. Andre Caldwell, coming off a 56-catch campaign at Florida, wasn't far behind at 4.37.
Before the skill performers took center stage, Michigan T Jake Long lived up to the hype. The 6'7", 315-pounder, a two-time team captain, posted 37 reps of 225 pounds on the bench.
Long may or not be available when the Jets pick in Round 1, but this is said to be a good year for tackles. Vanderbilt's Chris Williams was in the 5.0 range and also performed well in drills.
And Jeremy Zuttah, one of Rice's leading blockers at Rutgers, had 35 reps of 225 pounds on the bench, ran a 4.99 in the 40, and scored well in the vertical jump and the 20-yard shuttle. The 6'3", 295-pounder has experience at both guard and tackle and that versatility will help him find a pro home.
When the tight ends were tested, Purdue's Dustin Keller excelled. The John Mackey award semifinalist led his group in the 40 (4.55), the 20-yard shuttle (4.14), the vertical jump (38.0) and the broad jump (10'11"). Keller caught a career-high 68 passes last season and his 5.23 receptions per game placed him fourth nationally at his position.
The Jets have a large contingent in Indy that is paying close attention to all the workout results. But the Green & White also continue to place great emphasis on the individual under general manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Eric Mangini.
"One of the things I really enjoy from the combine is the chance to sit down with the players that we're able to bring in for interviews," Mangini said, "to put a face with a name, to spend some time with them talking about the scheme and the things that they've done and maybe some questions you had based on your research, and get a feel for who they are."