|Ben Liebenberg / NFL|
|Given that he worked out with a fractured foot, Julio Jones performed admirably at the combine.|
As more teams turn to the passing game as the primary means for moving the ball, the need for acquiring pass catchers has increasingly become a priority.
Teams can find those playmakers throughout the draft, and this year's NFL Scouting Combine showcased several intriguing options.
Green, who has been dubbed as the top player in the draft by some evaluators, was impressive with his overall receiving skills. He is the most natural pass catcher of the group, and his ability to easily track and adjust to errant balls earned rave reviews. He added to the performance by running a 40-yard dash time (4.50 seconds) that exceeded expectations, and showing better acceleration and burst than most observed while grading his game tape. Although he was roundly considered a legitimate No. 1 receiver prior to the workout, his combine performance only cemented his status as the top player at his position.
While Green's workout provided a mild surprise, the performance of Jones on the big stage threatens to shake up the first round. His dazzling display of speed, quickness and explosiveness had not been seen on tape, and his verified measurements will make it tough for teams to ignore him as a potential impact receiver. Though his broken foot threatens to slow his development, his talent, athleticism and potential are so intriguing enough that teams will take the gamble early on draft day.
The tight end position also provided an intriguing playmaker in Southern California's Jordan Cameron. The former basketball player is a fluid athlete with outstanding hands and ball skills. He effortlessly snares the ball out of the air and his athleticism makes him a potential matchup nightmare in the slot. If he can develop into a credible blocker on the edge, he could emerge as a star on the next level.
A stellar performance at the combine doesn't guarantee success at the next level, but based on the skills and athleticism that this trio displayed in workouts, it's hard to bet against their chances of becoming good -- if not great -- players as pros.
Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
After watching Jones put on a spectacular display during the combine, teams are rethinking their decisions to peg him as a possession receiver. His exceptional testing numbers (4.39 in the 40, 38.5-inch vertical, 11-3 broad jump, and 6.66-second three-cone drill) suggest he has the ability to be an explosive weapon in the passing game. Although his film doesn't support that assessment, he flashed a burst and acceleration as a route runner, and could emerge as an impact playmaker and a potential No. 1 receiver in the right offense.
A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Green's stellar workout flew under the radar, but his superior skill set stood out to all in attendance. He was the most polished receiver on the field, and his natural hands and ball skills are unrivaled in this year's class. He effortlessly tracked and adjusted to throws, and can snatch and grab balls from all angles was impressive.
While that aspect of his game was apparent on game film, his explosiveness was only confirmed when he clocked a 4.50 40. Given his verified speed, quickness and overall ability, Green left the combine as the undisputed top receiver in the draft.
Edmond Gates, WR, Abilene Christian
Speed kills in the NFL, and Gates' burst and acceleration makes him a valued commodity. He led all receivers with a 4.37 time in the 40, and his burst and acceleration stood out as he ran routes. He explodes out of his breaks and is a speedster with the rare ability to stop on a dime. Gates also showed strong hands and outstanding focus snaring passes. The ball doesn't move in his hands when he catches it, and he is far more polished as a pass catcher than anticipated. If he continues to perform well in a series of private workouts over the next month, he will very likely come off the board on Day 2.
Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
With a strong performance in Indy, Smith has seemingly cemented his spot as the third-best receiver in the draft. His combination of speed, quickness and explosiveness is impressive to watch in person.
Although he is ideally suited to function as a vertical threat, his route running is fairly solid and he appears to have the skills to develop into more than a one-dimensional weapon as a pro.
If he can continue to show dependable hands and good ball skills at his pro day on March 16, Smith might earn a place at the bottom of the first round.
Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami (Fla.)
Every team is looking for a big, fast and physical receiver to anchor the passing game, and Hankerson is increasingly looking like a solid candidate. He was outstanding in drills at the combine. He ran faster than anticipated (4.43 in the 40) and caught the ball well from all angles. He tracks the ball into his hands, and had little trouble adjusting to errant throws. With big receivers becoming a big part of today's game, it shouldn't come as a surprise to see Hankerson drafted within the top 50 picks if he continues to perform well in workouts.
Jordan Cameron, TE, USC
With former basketball players enjoying tremendous success in the league, Cameron has jumped on the radar following his spectacular postseason. He followed a strong performance at the East-West Shrine Game with an impressive workout at the combine. He displayed the same fluidity, body control and burst that makes him a tough cover in practices. His route running and ball skills are all-star caliber, and he has the ability to be an instant-impact player in the passing game. While he will need some time to develop as a blocker, Cameron is ready to shine as a receiver as a pro and his solid workout in Indy validated his potential.
Virgil Green, TE, Nevada
After posting mind-boggling numbers in the vertical (42.5 inches) and broad jump (10-10), Green has been dubbed a workout warrior because his athleticism hasn't matched his production as a player. However, his strong showing at the combine will prompt several evaluators to re-check his game film to see if any of that athleticism stood out. If they can find enough film to sell his potential to a creative offensive coordinator, Green's stock could move up as draft day approaches.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.