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John Ross breaks record, but tight ends shine Saturday

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  • By Nick Shook NFL.com
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It stood for many years, and it even garnered its own chain and custom pendant, but let the record show that on March 4, 2017, Chris Johnson's 40-yard dash record finally fell.

Washington receiver John Ross was the culprit who unseated CJ2K, running a blazing fast 4.22 40 that even "looked fast in slow motion," as NFL Network's Ike Taylor said Saturday. It sent shockwaves through Twitter, with thousands mentioning him by name and more than a few questions about why he didn't try to run the 40 in adidas cleats and win himself his own private island.

"I really can't swim that well," Ross told NFL Network's Michael Irvin. "And I don't have a boat, so you know, I had to run in Nikes."

It didn't take long for the social team at Nike to post a photo of the famed 4.2 Nikes, or for the company to sign Ross to an endorsement deal. It'll likely take a little longer for him to come off the board, though, because his speed was a known commodity entering the combine and won't make much of a difference in his draft stock.

"I knew John Ross was going to run 4.35, 4.30, so when you say 'does it help him?' I mean he jumped 37 inches, he broad jumped 11-1, he had an extremely athletic workout," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "The problem is -- and I love John Ross, his tape is great -- so when you put the speed on top of that and all the rest, the issue is going to be medical. His small frame, he's had multiple knee operations, he's going to get his shoulder done, today he cramped up, couldn't finish, so that's going to be a theme for him going forward. There's no doubting the speed or the talent. We all knew he was fast."

Ross sat out the remainder of the combine after posting the blistering 40 time, which was a wise business decision, citing calf tightness and poor hydration as the reason for his premature finish. No need to bring a record into question, or attempt a second take when the first will do.

It's remarkable and a testament to modern medicine when considering Ross' path to here. The Huskies star rebounded from a torn ACL and ran the 40 Saturday with a torn shoulder labrum, which he's having repaired next week.

"I'm just thankful beyond measure, blessed and just really happy to be in this situation because two years ago, I was sitting on the couch for the whole season, torn ACL, and now to be in this position, I'm really thankful," Ross said.

Fastest group of tight ends ever?


The duo of Mayock and Rich Eisen gushed over the tight end class, which could go down as one the greatest in history. They didn't disappoint, breaking records in multiple events and posting blinding 40 times for the position.

"It's the freakiest athletic group we've ever seen," Mayock said.

Evan Engram followed up a 4.43 40-yard dash with a 4.42, proving his straight-line speed is legit. It matches up with the tape, too, and scouts are salivating, according to NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah, who spoke with a 30-year veteran of talent evaulation Saturday.

"Evan Engram, this guy they'd pick in the middle of the second round, (the scout) said we will not be seeing Evan Engram in the second round of this draft," Jeremiah said.

The class improves from there, with perhaps the safest pick in the draft in Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who turned in a 4.51 40 and finished with 22 reps on the bench at 249 pounds. Howard simply looked good in all areas.

"Catches the ball easily, in-line blocker, knows what he's doing, wide base ... I think he's a first-round pick all day long, despite the two drops (in receiving drills)," Mayock said.

Hurricane rising


Njoku's first attempt at the 40 underwhelmed, but he picked up more than half a tenth of a second on his second attempt, and it only got better from there.

Njoku's known as a tight end who is a jumper -- athletic enough to win almost every jump ball, and make plenty of plays in the open field to extend and end up in the end zone. His 37 1/2 inch vertical jump and 11-foot, 1-inch broad jump were examples of that.

What stood out most, beyond his ability to run precise routes and catch passes away from his body, was his blocking form.

While the position continues to trend toward a hybrid between receiver and traditional tight end, only a handful of the tight ends showed experience in a three-point stance and with blocking. Even Howard took a false first step in the bag drill. But Njoku, Toledo's Michael Roberts and Ashland's Adam Shaheen demonstrated sound footwork and technique in blocking.

"You can tell the guys that are used to playing in the three-point, and guys that aren't," NFL Network guest analyst Greg Olsen said. "Those are little things that coaches are looking for, again not a deal-breaker, but just to know where these guys are at."

The latter two are bigger tight ends who are expected to excel in the area, while Njoku gives up 16 pounds to Roberts and 33 to Shaheen, who could be a good blocking tight end for a team in the later rounds.

"I just want to know if they're willing to put their face in somebody's chest," Mayock said of the tight end class. "This Njoku guy, who quote 'only ran a 4.64,' is a freak, and he'll stick his face right in the fan. You've got to put him in the conversation."

Signal-caller spotlight


Saturday was billed as the big day for a polarizing quarterbacks class, but a familiar face finished the afternoon atop Mayock's rankings.

"The guy I was most impressed with was Deshaun Watson," Mayock said. "I thought his footwork was better than I expected coming out of the spread, and I thought his accuracy was outstanding. Once you've played Alabama twice in the National Championship Game, the combine's not going to phase you."

Mayock referred to North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky as "polished," and bookended a glowing review around his concerns regarding a lack of experience.

"I thought (Trubisky's) tape was the most consistent of all the quarterbacks here," Mayock said. "Thirteen game starter. Maybe I'm old school, that bothers me. I don't feel like he's had enough experience to step in and play Day One. But man, he's got arm strength, athletic ability, ran a 4.67 today, he throws with timing, has good pocket awareness, he can step up in the pocket, drive it."

Mayock had an interesting comparison for former Red Raider Patrick Mahomes II, who he aptly referred to as one adept at letting it fly.

"He's a gunslinger," Mayock said of Mahomes. "Every throw -- he doesn't really like being in the pocket. He wants to be out of the pocket and he wants to win every snap. He throws from every platform -- sidearm, overhand, underhand, to his left, to his right -- he's looking to make a big play every snap. That was Brett Favre. Brett Favre made as many bad throws as any quarterback in the history of the NFL and he's a Hall of Famer."

"Live" from Berkeley


Coming from the upward-trending pedigree of Cal passers (Aaron Rodgers, Jared Goff), Webb is an imposing figure, even more so in person. Olsen marveled at how large the Golden Bears passer was, and how much distance he covered on a five-step drop -- "11 yards, golly" -- during the passing drills Saturday.

But what Mayock, Olsen and David Carr kept marveling over when Webb threw was his arm strength.

"He rips it," Olsen said while standing on the field watching Webb throw. "You can tell his hasn't done many five or seven stop drops in the pocket. His feet don't look completely natural but I think that comes more natural the more he does it."

The footwork adjustment period is typical of many quarterbacks these days, with fewer colleges incorporating any under-center formations. It's a minor ding on a quarterback who garnered recognition as a premium value prospect from Saturday and should benefit from his pro day on March 24.

Let's not overlook the fact...


Ohio State's Curtis Samuel ran a 4.31 in the 40, but got about 4.31 seconds worth of a mention, because it came almost immediately after Ross' record-breaker. He had a solid workout that seemed to fade into oblivion. That tends to happen when a counterpart makes history, but it didn't go unnoticed by us.

So much for the trenches


Saturday wasn't an offensive lineman day in the traditional sense (we're excluding tight ends from the group here), but Mayock had an interesting note about the strength of the draft class.

"I think the offensive tackle class, as good as this draft is, that's where the weakness is," he said. "I think you can find some interior offensive linemen, but once you get past the first two guys, there's a bunch of question marks. ... There have been an average of 10 offensive tackles to go in the first three rounds. I've only got about four with grades in the first three rounds. Some other guys are going to get pushed up, I think."

Quick hitters


Here are some of Saturday's best short takeaways from Mayock and fellow NFL Network experts:

»  Arkansas tight end Jeremy Sprinkle: The bigger tight end ran a 4.69 40, but looked "pretty smooth for a big kid" in his cuts and in catching passes while moving through drills, Olsen said.

"If you play for Bret Bielema at Arkansas, and you're a tight end, you're going to block," Mayock said. "He's a good blocker, and a pretty good receiver."

»  Mississippi tight end Evan Engram: "What's he look like? A wideout or a tight end? That's why he's a hybrid. Look at him get up and go get it, and finish it. And now in the run game, he stays engaged. Did he knock him on his back? No, he stayed engaged. He's willing. I look at these tight ends, I'm getting excited," Mayock said.

»  Michigan State defensive end Malik McDowell: "Malik McDowell's a talented kid. Tomorrow's a big day for him. His football team wasn't as good last year as it's been in previous years. I think he's just got to prove that he can be more consistent. He's certainly flashy. We'll see how he is athletically tomorrow, which I think will be good, but he just has to be a more consistent person as far as his habits are concerned, his work ethic and his gameplan," Mayock said.

»  Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson: "He gets an awful lot of information from the sideline, which isn't going to happen in the NFL. So it's a transition for him pre-snap and post-snap. Dak Prescott did a heck of a job, we've seen different quarterbacks do a good job with it, but for the most part it's a huge transition. What I see with him is when he gets past that first look, it breaks down a little bit, especially with the underneath coverage."

»  "The guy who's really helped himself in the Senior Bowl/combine process is Taylor Moulton from Western Michigan. A lot of people thought he might be a guard, I think he's going to be a tackle," Mayock said.

»  Penn State receiver Chris Godwin: "Probably helped himself as much as anybody out here with his performance. Mike (Mayock) mentioned it, when you watch him on tape I saw the same things, maybe a high 4.5 type of player, he came out here and ran low 4.4 and had an outstanding field workout, really really helped himself," Jeremiah said.

»  USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster: "So many people we wondering about his speed, questioning his suddenness, I thought he had an excellent workout here, thought he ran his routes really well and we know he's strong around 220 pounds and goes up and gets the football, so I thought he had an excellent day here," NFL Network's Charles Davis said.

»  East Carolina receiver Zay Jones: "Great Senior Bowl, great combine, ran fast, had an excellent field workout," Jeremiah said.

»  Eastern Washington receiver Cooper Kupp: "Everyone's disappointed about the time he ran in the 40, go ahead and throw it out," Davis said. "This guy runs some of the best routes we're going to see in the 2017 draft, catches everything, crafty route runner, he's going to be an excellent player in the NFL."

»  Mayock on emoji use: "Keeping it real is 100? OK. I've never used an emoji in my life. I don't want to be an emoji guy. ... So he wasn't just 100, he was four of them. Does that mean I'm more sincere?"

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