This year's much-heralded running back class was put to the test on Friday and did not disappoint.
Garnering the most eyeballs at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis were four notable names: Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara. The quartet of tailbacks, each of whom have been given first-round grades by NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, ran similar 40-yard dash times, ranging from 4.48 to 4.53, impressed in pass-catching drills and, most importantly, backed up the tape.
But for Fournette, the back most analysts think will go off the board first, Friday's outing didn't have its intended start.
Having to confront concerns over his size -- the LSU running back was measured at 240 pounds on Thursday, higher than expected and due mostly to what he called "water weight" -- Fournette had to prove that he could "carry the weight" in his workout, as Mayock put it.
When Fournette recorded a 28 1/2" vertical jump, the second-lowest measurement among tailbacks, there were immediate fears that he wasn't as physically fit as he looked and demonstrated in college.
But soon after, the Heisman finalist quelled those concerns, running the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds, the fastest time by any RB weighing 240 pounds or heavier since 2003. Fournette's agility and improved pass-catching ability in the drills further cemented his status as the top back in the draft for Mayock, who clarified that his larger size was actually an asset when combined with his unprecedented speed.
"I don't think (the weight) really matters in all honesty," Mayock explained. "I'd still to like to know what you're getting, weight-wise and where you think he's gonna be. But at the end of the day, his tape is so good and he's such a special athlete that it's not going to matter.
"Big-time speed at 240 pounds. The power. He runs with an attitude. He's a top-10 running back right there. ... I think it was fair to have the conversation about the 28 inches, but the flip side to it is he ran 4.51 and looked really good in the drills."
Marveling more over Fournette's "freakish balance and body control" than worrying about his questionable vertical, Mayock spoke for a lot of scouts Friday when he insisted that the Bayou back remains the draft's top RB prospect.
But did a near-perfect performance for the draft's self-proclaimed "disrespected" back do anything to change that narrative?
The Cardinal rules
For whatever reason, Christian McCaffrey has -- or feels like he has -- been overlooked by scouts leading up to late April's draft. We doubt they'll overlook him now.
The versatile Stanford product put on a show on Friday, running the fastest 40-yard dash of the four projected first-rounders at 4.48 seconds and dominating the pass-catching drills. McCaffrey's effortless work out of the backfield inspired Mayock to call him "the most natural pass catcher" in the group.
"This kid had a special day," Mayock elaborated. "He was just kind of showing off in the pass game. It's so easy for him. His feet in the running drills were crazy. ... Nothing hit the ground with McCaffery today."
Slated in some mocks to be drafted in the late first round and ranked behind Fournette and Cook in Mayock's RB rankings, McCaffrey could see increased interest as we approach draft day. Those concerned that the 5-foot-11, 202-pound back would not be able to run in between the tackles won't be moved by Friday's open-field outing, but those in need of a dual-threat option out of the slot might be intrigued.
Either way, McCaffrey needs to find the right fit, one that NFL Network analysts suggest could be in New England.
"The interesting thing about Christian is it really depends on what offense he goes to," NFL Network's Steve Smith said. "He needs to go to an offense that can utilize all the great attributes he has, but at the same time, he is a prototype New England Patriot type of guy."
"He's a matchup player, and Bill Belichick is the best matchup coach in football," Mayock offered. "For me, the whole key is you got to have a game plan for this kid. You got to utilize him to maximize him."
The Patriots just so happen to own the 32nd pick of the draft, which is square in McCaffrey Territory unless he shoots up draft boards.
Cookin' up some hype
Rounding out the top four backs Friday were Cook and Kamara, both of whom impressed with their speed and pass-catching ability.
In the Florida State workhorse, who ran the 40 in 4.50 seconds, Mayock saw an all-around talent.
"Dalvin Cook, to me, is today's NFL tailback," Mayock mused. "He can get 15 to 20 carries in the run game. He catches the football. He's got an ability to make cuts. He's an instinctive runner. He's got great speed. For a guy with long legs and size, he gets through that really well and his burst in the open field's ridiculous. Typically, a natural catcher of the ball."
Kamara also continued his rise up draft boards with an impressive day that began with position-pacing measurables. The Tennessee talent led all tailbacks with a 39.5" vertical jump and a 131" broad jump. His 4.53 40-yard dash time and performance in position-specific drills moved Mayock to liken him to a "bigger LeSean McCoy."
"As far as a guy laterally that can make you miss and has an unbelievable amount of quickness and explosion, Alvin Kamara is special," Mayock added.
He will walk out of Indy as the biggest winner in RB class. He crushed the interviews. High football IQ & great personality.. https://t.co/mzdGqJ8ijpâ Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) March 3, 2017
We love Lamp
There's a reason why Forrest Lamp is garnering so much first-round buzz, and he showed it on Friday.
The Western Kentucky guard inspired Forrest Gump references stadium-wide with a 5.00 40-yard dash time and impressed Mayock in position-specific drills, earning comparisons to Cowboys offensive guard Zack Martin.
"Everything about this guy screams, 'I've got it. I'm gonna start day one and help a team,'" Mayock raved on Friday. "He's crossing off every single box and trust me, the teams around the league are very aware of him. The more I see him -- I love his tape, especially against Alabama -- the more I've seen this kid and how he responded at the Senior Bowl and then here, I think he's going to be a first-round draft pick."
Rich has Eisen Mama
Three days out from the highly-anticipated "Run Rich Run" 40-yard dash, NFL Network host Rich Eisen is looking to give one massive Mama a run for his money.
USC offensive lineman Damien Mama ran the slowest time of all linemen, completing the 40 in 5.84 seconds. For reference, Eisen ran a 5.94 in a suit during last season's combine.
Mama, who weighed around 400 pounds when he first came to Southern California, slimmed down to 334 by the combine. All that weight is apparently now on Eisen's shoulders.
You are what you wear.
Tennessee State offensive lineman Jessamen Dunker took to the combine field with some fashionable feet on Friday, wearing Adidas cheetah-print cleats.
When asked by NFL Network's Kimberly Jones why we wore the shoes, he responded, "Cheetah, got to run fast."
Well, they worked.
Dunker ran the 40-yard dash in 4.98 seconds, the third-fastest time among offensive linemen, sandwiched between potential first-round picks Lamp and Garett Bolles.
Below are a selection of Mayock's best takes on the big bodies and tailbacks that worked out Friday:
» USC offensive lineman Zach Banner: Mayock said of Banner's 5.58 40-yard dash, "That's not what you want to see there. He's fighting the whole weight thing." Banner weighed in at 353 pounds at the combine, but has seen his weight balloon to 385 in the past.
» Miami (OH) offensive lineman Collin Buchanan: "He's got some physical traits of a starting offensive lineman, whether it's guard or right tackle, I don't know, but Collin Buchanan's got a shot."
» North Carolina A&T running back Tarik Cohen: NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said after Cohen's 4.42 40-yard dash, "You just put your feet up on the desk when you watch him because it's maybe the most enjoyable tape of anybody that I've ever studied so far this draft." Jeremiah went on to nickname Cohen the Human Joystick and Chicken Salad, the latter because he can make chicken salad out of chicken, well, excrement.
» TCU offensive lineman Aviante Collins: "When you start putting Collins in that company (of Terron Armstead), just athletically, it gives you an idea how gifted he is." Collins led all linemen in the 40-yard dash, running a 4.81, the third-fastest time for a lineman since 2003. Mayock added that, despite Collins' "very wide base", he's so athletic that he gets away with it.
» Indiana (PA) offensive lineman Ethan Cooper: "Look at him drop that big butt. You talk about a bubble butt. That's what he's got right there. That's a power generator when you got that big bubble butt." Mayock sees Cooper and his butt playing at guard in the pros.
» Texas A&M offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor: "Whether he's a right tackle or guard, I'm not sure. I might like him at guard. ... (Offensive line coach Jim Turner) thinks he's a starting player in the NFL and I believe him. He's not a first-rounder, but at some point in first three, four rounds, you're going to hear his name called. "
» Ohio State offensive lineman Pat Elflein: "Elflein's a good player. He doesn't get talked about enough, but checks all the boxes: captain, three-year starter, plays all three positions. At the end of the day, a team's gonna fall in love with him." Mayock was impressed with Elflein's wrestling background and considers him a second-round pick that can be plugged into an NFL offensive line on day one.
» Troy offensive lineman Antonio Garcia: "He's an athletic kid with a friggin' edge to him. ... Watch the hands. Get off me! Look at the face. Look at the face. That's who this kid is." Garcia caught Mayock's eye when he full extended on a rabbit lineman during one drill, throwing him off balance.
» Miami (FL) offensive lineman Danny Isidora: "I liked him on tape, but I didn't think he would move like this." Mayock feels that Isidora, at the very least, can "hang around the NFL for a lot of years."
» Western Michigan offensive lineman Taylor Moton: "As you watch his movements skills, it's pretty impressive. He can play outside."
» Wisconsin running back Dare Ogunbowale: "He's a little quicker than he is fast. He's a third-down, pass-protection guy. ... He'll never be a feature back." Mayock was impressed that Ogunbowale interned with Merrill Lynch this summer.
» Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine: "This kid is underrated. With all the Joe Mixon stuff ... this man has gotten lost a little bit. ... He's really an impressive young man and a solid running back."
» Florida offensive lineman David Sharpe: Jeremiah had this fun fact to offer, "He got beat off the snap, he was late off the snap several times. So I talked to some coaches who met with him this week. It turns out he's legally blind in his right eye." Good to know. Didn't see that coming.