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LB Stock Report: Cal speedster Kendricks flying up draft boards

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Jayne Kamin/US Presswire
Mychal Kendricks is undersized, but the athleticism he displayed at the combine certainly boosted his draft stock.

It's not unheard of for a college football player to contribute on the school's track team, especially early in his career. But setting records on the oval is usually reserved for speedy cornerbacks or wide receivers -- not a first-team All-ACC linebacker like North Carolina's Zach Brown.

Brown set a UNC track record in the indoor 60-meter dash at 6.72 seconds back in 2009. This type of pure speed led scouts to believe he would rip it up at the NFL Scouting Combine. And he didn't disappoint in the 40-yard dash -- despite weighing in at 244 pounds, Brown recorded posted a 4.50 (second among all linebackers).

But Brown did not finish in the top 10 among linebackers in the vertical or broad jumps and did not participate in the bench press, short shuttle, long shuttle and three-cone drill. That left teams wondering about his overall athleticism and exponentially increased the importance of his March 20th pro day. He'll need to excel on campus to cement a first-round grade.

Meanwhile, these five linebackers didn't leave any doubts about their athleticism, and should reap the benefits come late April:

Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College: There was never any doubt about Kuechly's instincts or tackling ability, but scouts had serious concerns about his relative athleticism. He quickly silenced the critics with a 4.58 40, 38-inch vertical and 10-foot-3 broad jump. And just for good measure, he tied for fifth among linebackers with 27 reps on the bench press, finished fourth in the three-cone drill (6.92) and tied for the position's top 60-yard shuttle time (11.43). Kuechly even weighed 242 pounds when scouts thought he would stay around 235 to run quicker times. Combining very good athleticism with ultimate production (191 tackles in 2011, just two shy of the NCAA single-season record) locked up a spot in the top half of first round.

Draft projection: Top 15.

Mychal Kendricks, ILB, California: Some teams won't consider Kendricks a top-100 prospect because he measured 5-foot-11 1/8 at the combine. But leading the linebacker group with a 4.47 40, 39.5 vertical and 10-foot-7 broad jump only increased his stock among those teams intrigued by his productivity and experience inside and outside in Cal's defense. The 2011 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year will also benefit from the strong play of NFL linebackers measuring under 6-foot-0, such as London Fletcher, Brian Rolle and Stephen Tulloch.

Draft projection: Third round.

Nigel Bradham, OLB, Florida State: Bradham has always been considered a physically imposing player, so it was no surprise when his 33 3/4-inch arm and 10 1/2-inch hand measurements both topped the linebacker class. He also finished among the top five at the position with his 4.64 40 and 37-inch vertical, confirming the explosiveness he showed tracking down ball carriers in space for the Seminoles. In a draft class without great depth for true 4-3 linebackers, Bradham's size and speed will be coveted.

Draft projection: Third round.

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Demario Davis, OLB, Arkansas State: The late Senior Bowl addition looked like he belonged on the field in Mobile, Ala., and then more than held his own with linebackers from major programs in Indy. He led the group with 32 bench reps, ranked second in both the vertical leap (38.5 inches) and broad jump (10-foot-4), and finished fourth in the 40 (4.61). Davis displayed great closing speed in his first-team All-Sun Belt senior season, and confirming that athleticism at the combine may have earned him a top-100 draft position.

Draft projection: Third round.

Tank Carder, ILB, TCU: In a similar story to Kuechly, scouts weren't exactly sure how fast Carder really was, despite his ability to reach ball carriers at the sideline. His 4.69 40 and better-than-expected times in the other drills helped overcome general managers' trepidations about his speed and agility. The two-time Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year won't get a first- or second-round grade due to his average size (236 pounds) and strength (19 reps), but he undoubtedly helped his draft stock by putting to rest questions about his athleticism.

Draft projection: Fourth round.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @ChadReuter

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