With the work in Indianapolis complete, several prospects helped their causes at the scouting combine. Here’s a closer look at some of the biggest winners.
QB Kirk Cousins, Michigan State – Before his combine performance, Cousins was relegated to the third division of this year’s quarterback class — the vat of players below the dynamic duo of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, and the second-tier Ryan Tannehill, whose foot injury gave him a pass on throwing. Cousins was often dinged for poor decisions during his collegiate career, but he made a great choice to work with Chris Weinke at IMG pre-draft. Cousins was a standout at the Senior Bowl, and his performance during Sunday’s QB/WR drills was extremely impressive. He zipped the ball on every throw to every route, showed a new economy of motion, and will leave Indianapolis with a lot of buzz. If he repeats it at his Pro Day, Cousins could be a solid second-round pick.
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QB Robert Griffin, Baylor – Griffin didn’t throw, explaining that he didn’t want to try to time up with receivers he’d never worked with before. He also has the benefit of some absolutely ridiculous game tape — unlike Cousins, RG3 has nothing to prove to anyone who has studied his 2011 season. However, his official 4.41 time in the 40-yard dash, combined with the most impressive media session I’ve seen from any player in my six trips to the combine, now have a group of NFL teams clamoring to trade with the St. Louis Rams and take him with the second overall pick.
WR Michael Floyd, Notre Dame – Questions abound regarding Floyd’s consistency and ability to break tight coverage with what is at times some very average on-field speed. But he put some concerns to rest with a 4.47 official 40-yard dash, proving that he came to Indianapolis with a determination to succeed. He was also solid in every receiver drill, from the gauntlet to the deep routes. Floyd will still have to answer questions about his alcohol-related arrests, but he cemented his place as the No. 2 receiver in this class, behind Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon.
WR Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech – Georgia Tech’s current offense may not be very receiver-friendly, but that didn’t hurt Demaryius Thomas in 2010, and it won’t hold Hill back, either. He ran an official 4.36 40 and looked good enough in drills to have people looking past his 26 catches in 2011 to what the upside could be. Like Thomas, Hill might surprise a lot of observers with his final draft position, as evaluators have learned to isolate the talent of Tech receivers, as opposed to focusing on the production.
DT Dontari Poe, Memphis — The 346-pound Poe absolutely tore up the combine, pacing the field with 44 bench press reps at 225 pounds and amazing everyone with a 4.98 40. Poe needs some serious finishing work before he’ll excel at the NFL level, but even a cursory look at his game tape shows a player with very intriguing upside. Haloti Ngata is rightly seen as a total one-off because of his speed and agility at his size — Poe, at his very best, might be able to replicate Ngata’s success.
OLB Melvin Ingram, South Carolina – Ingram dropped 12 pounds for the combine to show NFL teams that he was ready to take the plunge and be considered very seriously as a 3-4 pass-rushing outside linebacker. After running a 4.79 40 and displaying impressive agility (not to mention an ungodly hand-strike in the pad drills), Ingram is sure to get a lot of looks outside, just as Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan did last year.
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OLB Bruce Irvin, West Virginia — Irvin didn’t graduate from high school — he got his GED after spending some time in juvenile jail, and has spent the years since focused on being a great football player. He certainly impressed at the combine, running 4.5-ish times on both of his 40s at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds. Add in his agility and intriguing potential, not to mention his willingness to be upfront about his past, and you have a player with a good chance to rise up the boards. “They’ve heard the stories, read the articles,” Irvin said at the combine. “They’re questioning me, which I don’t blame. They kind of want to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”
LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College – When you hear phrases like “leader,” “instinctive,” and “tackling machine” about a linebacker, speed doesn’t really come to mind. But in Kuechly’s case, he was able to break the stereotype with some impressive 40 times. The intangibles are real — and well-discussed before he got to the combine — but the athleticism was a pleasant surprise. A safe player whose stock will continue to rise.
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CB Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama – Off-field issues have plagued Jenkins and got him booted out of the University of Florida, but his pure football talent has never been in question. He was perhaps the most impressive defensive back on the field at Lucas Oil — smooth in the drills, and his upper body barely moved as he ran sub-4.5 times in the 40-yard dash. The potential is limitless if Jenkins can clean things up, and you can bet that his combine will have a lot of teams rushing back to the game tape to try and talk themselves into the risk.
CB Josh Robinson, Central Florida — People might still wonder about the level of competition Robinson faced, but there’s no question about his raw speed, especially after he timed at 4.33 officially in the 40-yard dash. Robinson looked pretty wonky in the backpedal drills — he wasn’t refined in his technique and he stumbled when asked to turn and run — but that pure speed will have some team taking a shot on him pretty early on, just as the Oakland Raiders took a flyer on DeMarcus Van Dyke based on his straight-line explosiveness.