After years of conditioning us to watch football on Sundays, it was no surprise that Day 4 of the Combine brought the marquee names to the stage. While the defensive linemen and linebackers tipped the scales and tossed around 225 pounds, the backs and receivers took to the field for running, jumping, throwing and catching. And while there wasn’t a Chris Johnson 4.24 in the bunch, there were a few notables whose performance might impact their draft stock in late April.
With Georgia’s Matt Stafford on the sidelines, USC’s Mark Sanchez used the opportunity to shine. Scouts who hadn’t seen enough in his limited experience with the Trojans raved about his arm, his technique, his accuracy, how the ball came out of his hand, etc., etc. Part of the reason may have been an uninspiring group of quarterbacks, working off the theory that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king. That said, some draft analysts thought Sanchez had moved into a tie with Stafford atop the quarterbacks board.
Perhaps the most impressive quarterback of the day was Pat White of West Virginia, who opted to work out only as a quarterback at the Combine. Good choice, because he made all the throws and looked sharp doing so. White also flashed plenty of athleticism, running a 4.55 40—significantly ahead of the rest of the pack—with a 35-inch vertical and a 9-9 broad jump. White’s performance plant the seed that he can play quarterback at the NFL level, and his decision to focus on that position at the Combine—and willingness to work out as a receiver at his pro day—solidified his status as, at worst, an early Day Two selection.
The rest of the quarterback class was largely underwhelming. Physical marvel Josh Freeman measured a shade under 6-6 and 248 pounds and topped the field with a 9-11 broad jump, but his throwing exhibition was nothing special.—inconsistent, much like his career at Kansas State. Ball State’s Nate Davis was equally erratic, though he seemed to settle down as his workout went on and threw the best-looking deep ball of the group. Again, considering the overall talent level of this class that’s somewhat faint praise, but neither Freeman nor Davis did enough to suggest they’ll move up from an expected second- or third-round draft grade.
None of the running backs came close to exhibiting the home run speed Chris Johnson displayed last year, but several mid-tier backs flashed enough during drills and in the 40 to suggest they could step in and contribute at the NFL level. The expected duel between Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno and Ohio State’s Beanie Wells turned out to be a battle for 10th-fastest time amongst the backs, with Wells’ 4.59 tying for that spot while Moreno’s 4.63 earned him 16th place. Both looked impressive in drills, though, and neither’s anticipated first-round draft value took a hit.
Among the rest of the class, teams with varying needs should have little trouble finding what they’re looking for. The speediest backs were Virginia’s Cedric Peerman (4.45), Boise State’s Ian Johnson (4.46), Purdue’s Korey Sheets (4.47), and Andre Brown of North Carolina State (4.49). UConn’s Donald Scott was quick enough at 4.51 and showed tremendous explosion with a 41.5-inch vertical that set the position’s standard and a 10-5 broad jump that was second only to Wells’ 10-8 among running backs. And teams searching for brute force had to notice Liberty’s Rashad Jennings (6-1, 231 with a 4.60 40) and Colorado State’s Gartrell Johnson (5-10, 219, the slowest of the halfbacks at 4.75 but possessor of tree trunk thighs). Among pure fullbacks, Syracuse’s Tony Fiammetta (a 4.61 40 at 245 pounds and 30 reps on the bench press) and Georgia’s Brannan Southerland (4.68 at 242 pounds, 28 reps, plus a 38-inch vertical and a 10-foot broad jump) stood out during on-field activities.
While the backs may have left speed freaks lacking, the wideouts had plenty to show. Of course, Michael Crabtree did not run, though he did appear to address questions about his injury (he told the media it was an old injury, contrasting with initial reports suggesting it was new) and reiterating that he would delay surgery until after his pro day. And the two wideouts expected to dual for King of the Combine honors, Percy Harvin of Florida and Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin, clocked somewhat disappointing 4.41 and 4.45 times—though in his defense, Maclin was running on a hyperextended knee he suffered during throwing drills earlier in the day.
That left an opening at the top of the charts, and Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey burst through it. Heyward-Bey clocked a 4.30 40, tops in the field and tied for second-fastest Combine receiver this decade—maybe even enough to help teams overlook questions about his hands and route-running. Mike Wallace of Ole Miss (4.33), Abeline Christian’s Johnny Knox (4.34), and Deon Butler of Penn State (4.38) joined Heyward-Bey under 4.4, and another 14 wideouts posted times under 4.5. On the flip side nine receivers ran slower than 4.6—some of them understandable, as in the case of Cal Poly’s 6-6, 229-pound Ramses Barden and his 4.61, and some of them unexpected, such as Nebraska’s Nate Swift and a disappointing 4.67 combined with a sluggish showing in the receiver drills.
To the surprise of no one, Ohio State’s Brian Robiskie sparkled during the receiver drills. His 6-3, 209-pound size and 4.51 40 may sneak into the bottom of the first round, as there are few question marks about the NFL readiness of a big-college player whose father played and coaches in the league. Rutgers’ Kenny Britt also showed well, adding a 4.47 40 to his pro-caliber 6-3, 218-pound size.
Harvin’s somewhat slow 40 time wasn’t nearly as troubling as his decision not to participate in receiving drills, though it’s nothing a solid showing (and better 40 time) at his pro day can’t fix. North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks suffered what appeared to be a hamstring injury during his workout and may fall out of the first round (or maybe even the first day) if the injury is significant. And Oregon’s Jaison Williams did little to help himself; already battling the dreaded “underachiever” label, Williams logged a 4.67 40, put up just 14 reps on the bench press (suggesting that a switch to tight end for the 6-4, 237-pounder might not be a good move), and dropped enough balls during receiver drills that NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock suggested he was not only running himself towards a move to tight end but catching (or dropping) himself towards a move to tackle.
The defense takes over on Monday, with the focus today on which pass-rushing defensive ends might be able to move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.