This is the second in a series of NFL Combine, unrestricted free agency and predraft reports that Real Football Services is filing for newyorkjets.com.
Over six days, NFL personnel men, scouts and coaches ran this year's draft-eligible players through the gauntlet of interviews, exams, and exercise and came out with a clearer picture of the talent available in April's draft. While underclassmen appear to dominate the skill positions, the seniors show a wealth of talent in other areas, such as offensive tackle and linebacker. With the last train already pulled out of Indy, here is a position-by-position look at some of the players who should (or shouldn't) be on your radar.
Quarterback — Georgia's Matthew Stafford elected not to throw at the combine, but no one took the opportunity to move ahead of his in the QB rankings. USC's Mark Sanchez was sharp and possesses a quick release, but he didn't do anything out of the ordinary. Kansas State's Josh Freeman has excellent physical tools and was expected to be a riser during the week, but he did not show great accuracy on his throws and tested only adequately. He's now only a borderline first-rounder.
West Virginia's Pat White was the most athletic of the QBs, as expected, but he may have also performed the best of anyone in the passing drills. Teams are seriously considering him as a QB after it was initially thought he's be more of an athletic "slash"-type player
Running Back — While Knowshon Moreno and Beanie Wells still sit atop the RB rankings, a few other backs helped themselves in Indy. UConn's Donald Brown impressed with his athleticism. He had a 41½" vertical, best among the backs, and he ranked second in the short shuttle and the broad jump. He's got good explosiveness and showed well in drills.
Others who helped themselves include Virginia's Cedric Peerman and Ian Johnson of Boise State. Both ran 4.4 40s and had similar numbers in the bench (27 and 26 reps respectively) and short shuttle (4.2 and 4.1 seconds).
Wide Receiver — The big story was the stress fracture in Michael Crabtree's foot, but he and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin, who didn't run as well as expected, are still the frontrunners. Darius Heyward-Bey of Maryland and Percy Harvin of Florida both ran well, but there are questions that remain about both with regard to durability and consistency.
Players who are moving up boards include Kenny Britt of Rutgers, who has excellent size, strength and speed, UNC's Hakeem Nicks and Ohio State's Brian Robiskie. Initially thought to be a possession-type receiver, Robiskie showed some speed and was far and away the best route runner with the best hands in drills.
Tight End — The consensus top TE, Brandon Pettigrew of Oklahoma State, did not perform well, running 4.8 in the 40 and showing a general lack of strength and explosiveness. There is some concern about whether he can be a legitimate downfield receiving threat. South Carolina's Jared Cook had an excellent week, running in the 4.5s and recording a 41-inch vertical and a 10-foot broad jump.
Fullback — Tony Fiammetta of Syracuse, a former TE, is a physical blocker in the run game and a very capable receiver out of the backfield who could start at the next level. He should be an early Day Two selection. Brannan Southerland is another powerful athlete who has the physical tools to earn a draftable grade.
Tackle — Andre Smith's meltdown was the big story at this position. While he was sliding down draft boards, Baylor's Jason Smith and Virginia's Eugene Monroe took control of the top of the rankings. Jason Smith is a physical specimen who showed great physical tools and athleticism. Monroe's footwork and agility in drills reinforced his ability to stand up in pass pro at the next level.
Michael Oher out of Ole Miss also showed excellent footwork and didn't hurt himself. UConn's William Beatty, South Carolina's Jamon Meredith and Penn State's Gerald Cadogan all showed well.
Guard — Louis Vasquez of Texas Tech is 6'5", 333, and put up 39 reps on the bench. Eastern Michigan's T.J. Lang ran a 5.1 40 at 312 pounds while BYU's Travis Bright showed strength and agility with 34 bench reps, a 35½" vertical and a 9'0" broad jump at 321 pounds. They are all likely second-day picks but helped themselves a great deal with their showings here.
Center — This is the deepest class of centers in recent memory. Cal'sAlex Mack (who didn't work out due to injury), Max Unger of Oregon and Jonathan Luigs are all potential first-day choices. Joining the group this week was Louisville's Eric Wood, who measured well at 6'4", 310, and whose 5.1 40 time and 30 reps on the bench showed he is more than just a tough guy in the middle. He's athletic and can move in space.
End — Who are the conversion guys? That's the big question regarding this position. With so many teams playing some version of a 3-4 scheme, teams are looking for OLBs who can drop in coverage and play in space in addition to being able to rush the passer from a standup position.
FSU's Everette Brown may be too short to play DE at the next level, but luckily he showed enough athleticism to play LB. He was overtaken by Texas' Brian Orakpo, who has an excellent combination of size, speed and agility and has a great motor. He'll be a fit in just about any system.
We question whether Penn State's Aaron Maybin can make the move to LB at the next level, but he is vastly undersized to play DE in the NFL. San Jose State's Jarron Gilbert is a phenomenal athlete who would be an ideal 3-4 end, as would Tyson Jackson of LSU. Lawrence Sidbury of Richmond had an excellent combine and is another candidate to move to LB.
Tackle — BJ Rajiis still the class of this group, but measuring in at just 6'2", he may not be tall enough to be a true nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme. His teammate at BC, Ron Brace, may actually be a better fit for that type of scheme at 6'3", 334. Peria Jerry (Mississippi) and Evander Hood (Missouri) are both 4-3 DTs who have excellent quickness and burst. Both are 300-pounders who ran sub-5.0 40s, and Hood had 34 reps on the bench.
Outside Linebacker — Wake's Aaron Curry put up stellar numbers and is making a case for himself as the top overall pick in the draft. USC's Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews also had good workouts and all three are certain first-rounders at this point. Northern Illinois' Larry English might be better suited playing inside in a 3-4, and though some teams like Cincy's Connor Barwin as a 4-3 DE, he showed more athleticism than expected and could play LB at the next level
Inside Linebacker — Though neither necessarily helped himself this week, USC's Rey Maualuga and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis are still the best of the bunch at this position. Both ran near 4.8 in the 40, but both are thumpers inside who can wrap and tackle.
Cornerback — Malcolm Jenkins of Ohio State, generally believed to be the top corner coming into the postseason, may actually have to move to safety at the NFL level. There are some questions about his fluidity in turning his hips and getting upfield, and he could not break 4.5 in the 40. In certain schemes, those weaknesses could be covered, but look for a position change for him in all likelihood.
Vontae Davis tested well and is now considered the top corner on the board. DJ Moore of Vanderbilt is in the top group despite a less than strong showing, and UConn's Darius Butler vaulted into the first-round discussion with an outstanding workout.
Safety — A weak class. Patrick Chungof Oregon is still at the top of the list, but Chip Vaughnmay have secured a first-day grade with a low 4.5 40 and a 4.12 short shuttle, showing excellent change of direction.
David Buehler of Southern Cal showed some very good athletic ability for a kicker.