Tuesday, March 1, 2011

2011 NFL Combine: Winners and Losers

Now that the 2011 NFL Combine has drawn to a close in Indianapolis, it's time to look at the four-day spectacle's winners and losers. As we dissect what happened at the Combine, a former NFL scout offered some perspective on the event, saying it's hard to get too wrapped up in the performances at the Combine. A lot of teams already have their targeted players and the Combine is just one more opportunity to evaluate the athletes.

With that in mind, here are 12 players who left an impression, both good and bad, this weekend at the Combine.   

Stock rising:

Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Peterson was already considered a top 10 talent, but now he's being talked about as a possible top choice overall. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 and 4.37 seconds at the Combine. That speed, along with is playmaking ability, puts him firmly in the top 5. At 6'0" and 220 lbs., Peterson also showed off his athleticism with 38-inch vertical jump and a 10'6" broad jump. If I were the Carolina Panthers, I'd take a long look at Peterson. 

Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
While Peterson grabbed the headlines at the Combine, Amukamara quietly solidified his status as a potential top 10 pick. Amukamara ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 and 4.44 seconds. Speed was a question mark for Amukamara heading into the Combine, but not anymore. Amukamara is a big cornerback who can be physical with bigger NFL wide receivers. He will be a top 10 pick come April 28.

Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Dareus helped himself a lot during the Combine and likely moved ahead of Nick Fairley as the top defensive lineman in the draft. Dareus ran a ridiculously fast 40-yard dash, clocking in at 4.94. That's very good for a guy who's 320 pounds. But what put him ahead of Fairley is his 10-yard split. Dareus got to ten yards faster than Fairley, which is considered a measuring stick for defensive linemen. I wouldn't be surprised if Dareus replaces Fairley in the top 5.

Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
Ponder made a good impression at the Combine by showing off his accuracy and athleticism. Ponder is considered a pro-style quarterback coming out of Florida State and is ready to compete in the NFL sooner rather than later. Ponder displayed a quick release and good mechanics during the throwing drills. Ponder is still considered a second or third round pick.

Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
Paea amazed Combine watchers when he bench pressed 225 pounds a stunning 49 times. To put that number into perspective, the next highest total was 38 reps. While his bench pressing skills would impress even the people at Muscle Beach, there is a good reason for why his 49 reps is important. NFL scouts believe the bench press is the best drill for grading defensive linemen. The bench press shows the athlete's upper body strength, which is critical for a defensive tackle. Paea is probably now a late first-round pick.

Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
NFL scouts knew Jones was big and physical, but his speed turned heads at the Combine. In his two 40-yard dash attempts, Jones came in with a time of 4.39. Perhaps even more impressive, Jones did it with a fracture in his foot that requires surgery. I see Jones as a top 15 pick. However, I could see a team trading up into the top 10 to draft him.

Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
When you're 6'8", you have a tendency to standout. Solder stood out in a good way at the Combine earning praise from everyone he spoke with. Solder reportedly did very well during the interview portion of the Combine. He also showed very good athleticism for a big guy during the drills. His 81-inch arm span drew a lot of attention as well, which makes him a perfect candidate to play the all-important left tackle position. Solder should be the top offensive line taken in the draft, maybe even in the top 15.

Stock falling:

Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
The sky is not falling for Newton, but he didn't do himself a lot of favors this weekend. Newton struggled during the passing drills and left many people wondering if he's coachable. If you watched his body language on the field when the Combine coaches were talking to him, red flags should have gone up. He didn't seem to pay attention to them (or he was disinterested) when they were explaining the drills. Newton is the biggest star in this draft, but he didn't prove this weekend that he's all about football. Newton is still a top 10 talent, but he missed an opportunity this week to solidify his spot in the top 5. 

Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Without knowing what happened during the private interview portion of the Combine, I would say Mallett did nothing to convince teams he doesn't have character concerns. He was short with reporters when pressed about his alleged drug use, and eventually cut the interview short. Mallett has a public perception problem that may be unfounded, but it's present and that will hurt him on draft day. The only reason Mallett is still be discussed as a top draft prospect is because of his abilities on the field. He threw extremely well at the Combine, making every throw look effortless. Mallett is a smarter quarterback than people give him credit for and may be the most NFL-ready QB in the draft. I see Mallett slipping to at least the second round.    

Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Most scouts felt the #1 overall spot was Fairley's to lose, and by most accounts, that's what happened at the Combine. Fairley was outperformed by fellow defensive lineman Marcell Dareus in most drills and Fairley showed up lighter than expected. At 291 pounds, Fairley isn't the biggest or the quickest defensive linemen in the draft. Questions about his work ethic also followed him to the Combine and I'm not sure he convinced enough people that he is the hardest worker. I will be moving Fairley down my draft board, but he's still a top 10 talent.  

Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Smith showed he's an athletic freak who can fly. At 6'2", Smith is tall enough to defend the league's bigger receivers, he also proved at the Combine he's fast enough to cover the speedsters too. Smith clocked a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash, which is remarkable for a guy his size. Despite all that talent, his character concerns are what made headlines at the Combine. Smith's had flunked drug tests, alcohol arrests and a mouth that doesn't stop. Smith's cocky attitude didn't sit well with some scouts and when he said he has "better ball skills than (Nnamdi Asomugha)," that raised eyebrows. Cornerbacks need to be confident in NFL, but Smith might be too confident for some teams. He's sliding a bit, but he'll still find a spot in the first round.     

Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
Smith is getting mixed reviews for performance at the Combine. Some people believe he had a good showing, while others believe he struggled. I would be in the latter group that believes Smith didn't show enough to warrant a first round pick. Smith has blazing speed, he ran a 4.43 40-yard dash, but he runs poor routes. His inability to run the underneath routes may hurt his draft stock, but he's still a very good talent with good upside. The reason he's on this list is because I thought he had a chance to solidify his spot in the first round and maybe move up to the mid-first round. I don't think he did that.      

Ricky Stanzi, QB, Iowa
Many scouts believed Stanzi was one of the most NFL-ready quarterbacks in this draft. That assumption took a hit this weekend when Stanzi struggled during throwing drills. After watching him throw at the Combine, I'm convinced he's not the most NFL-ready QB in this draft. He was awful at times, throwing the ball all over the field, except to his receiver. Stanzi was hoping to build on a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, but he may have lost some potential suitors. I still think a team will target Stanzi in the fourth round, maybe third.

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