It was hard to find a player at the NFL Scouting Combine who hadn't put in a lot of work leading up to the event. So many of them performed above expectations -- not just the high-profile guys, but even the ones projected to go lower in the draft, which is a good sign.
Two things stood out for me at the combine: First, the emphasis on strength these days is unbelievable. Players these days are more strength-conscious than ever before.
To give you an idea of why that's notable, in 1997, an offensive line prospect out of Washington State named Scott Sanderson, who was a third-round pick by the Titans, threw the bar up only six times. At this year's combine, every offensive lineman who performed in the bench press put up 20 reps or more. That's never happened before.
The other thing that stood out for me was the incredible speed of these prospects, particularly the receivers and running backs. Of the 75 or so WRs and RBs at the combine, I personally timed 17 of them at under 4.4 seconds, and two of them at under 4.3 -- Oregon State's Brandin Cooks and Kent State's Dri Archer. (Officially, Archer was the only player who posted a sub-4.3 time, at 4.26; Cooks' official time was 4.33.)
On Wednesday, I talked about some of the top draft prospects who stood out at the combine. Let's turn to some of the less-talked-about guys at the combine who caught my attention, listed here in alphabetical order.
*(The 40 times mentioned below are ones that I hand-timed myself at the combine. The official times are listed in parentheses.) *
Abbrederis measured 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, and has 9 5/8-inch hands, which is a good size for a receiver. He ran an impressive 4.45 40 (4.50 officially). The one thing he didn't do is impress in the bench press -- he threw the bar up only four times. But he showed some great hands by making some really good catches, and I thought he really helped himself a great deal at the combine.
Bryant (6-3 3/4, 211 pounds) was known as the "other" receiver at Clemson, where Sammy Watkins was the star, but he averaged about 20 yards per catch last season and was a big surprise at the combine, catching the ball very well and running faster than anyone thought he would -- I timed him at 4.39 seconds (4.42 officially). Watkins overshadowed him again at the event, but Bryant looked pretty good himself.
Clarke has 34 5/8-inch arms and threw the bar up 22 times and also ran a 4.65 40 (4.77 officially). He worked as a strongside linebacker in the 3-4. He's probably too tall to do that in the NFL, at 6-6 1/8 (271 pounds), but he'll be someone that teams will keep a close watch on during his pro day and see if he can play that position or if he'll have to play defensive end and rush the passer. I think he'll do a good job either way as an every-down player.
The list of receivers who impressed at the combine could go on and on. Ellington (5-9 3/4, 197 pounds) looked exceptional with his quickness and body control. He is an athlete who just moves around really well, running right at 4.4 (4.45 officially). He also has 9 5/8-inch hands and caught the ball very well.
I drafted Jeffcoat's father, Jim, for the Cowboys, and he recorded over 100 sacks in 16 years in the NFL. Jackson Jeffcoat (6-3, 247) has 34-inch arms and put up 18 reps in the bench press. He ran a 4.69 40 (4.63 officially) and is a tremendous athlete who looks like he can probably play in that outside linebacker spot.
Martin (6-5 7/8, 272 pounds) helped himself considerably here. He worked as a linebacker and didn't look as though he could play there, but he has a lot of explosion and will be a very, very good pass-rushing DE, with his 35-inch arms and 4.69 speed (4.72 officially).
Matthews (6-3 1/8, 212 pounds) has huge, 10 3/4-inch hands and posted 21 reps in the bench press. I had him timed at 4.45 in the 40 (4.46 officially). Everyone was worried about his speed, and some wonder whether he's going to be just a possession receiver. What I know about Matthews is that he's one of the hardest-working prospects out there. He's the guy who, whenever he stops playing football, will be a hugely successful person, whether it's as a politician or a banker or an entrepreneur. He's a really special guy.
McKinnon (5-8 7/8, 209 pounds) is built like a fire hydrant. He's short but is really well put together, and his speed and strength really attracted my attention. He was timed officially at 4.41 in the 40, and he threw the bar up 32 times (actually, 34 times, but two reps weren't counted because he didn't get the bar up all the way). He doesn't have very good hands (8 5/8 inches), but with his speed and strength, somebody will find a position for him and bring him to training camp, and his athleticism is sure to excite a lot of people.
Moncrief is a big receiver (6-2 3/8, 221 pounds) with great speed; his 40 was timed officially at 4.40. He didn't play nearly as well last season as he did in his 2012 season, but he looked impressive catching the ball at the combine, and I thought he really helped himself.
Reid (6-2 1/8, 302 pounds) was very aggressive in all his drills and probably improved his draft status. He looks like he'll be able to play inside as a defensive tackle. Historically, defensive linemen with long arms and big hands have been more successful than those who don't have those traits. Reid has 10 1/2-inch hands and 33-inch arms. He also threw the bar up 20 times and ran a 4.85 40 (4.91 officially).
The concern with Richardson is that he's short and skinny, at 6-0 3/8 and 175 pounds, and has small hands (8 7/8 inches). But he got everyone's attention by running the 40 in 4.4 seconds officially, and he showed off impressive receiver skills by catching the ball really well.
The quarterbacks at the combine were divided into two groups. Savage's accuracy and velocity in his drills were probably the best of any QB in his group, which included South Carolina's Connor Shaw, North Carolina's Bryn Renner, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas and Ball State's Keith Wenning. I had Savage (6-3 7/8, 228 pounds) running the 40 in 4.85 (4.97 officially).
Tripp is small for his position (6-2 3/4, 234 pounds), but I think he'll be a good player. He had 22 reps in the bench press, and I timed his 40 in 4.57 (4.67 officiallly). One of the coordinators that worked the prospects out in the individual drills told me he was really impressed by Tripp's athleticism and the way he caught the ball. My feeling is that he probably will play on special teams for the first couple of years, but eventually will become a starter.
Turner (6-4 7/8, 315 pounds) played three years at left tackle for North Dakota State and is a guy with a lot of upside. He's a tough player who put up the bar 25 times, and with his 34-inch arms it looks like he can be a good pass protector. Turner had a good showing at the Senior Bowl, but he was better than anyone thought he would be at the combine.
Turner (6-2 5/8, 310 pounds) isn't a spectacular player, except he has good toughness -- he's the kind of guy you want as your offensive guard. He has 34-inch arms and posted 25 reps in the bench press. I think he'll end up starting in the league for a long time, probably not his first year, but the next eight or nine years after that.
Williams (5-11, 230 pounds) is going to be an interesting player to follow in the draft because he doesn't have good hands. He's worked hard to improve but has a long way to go. The question mark on him is going to be whether you can play a running back who defenses will know is not going to be involved in the passing game. But he ran pretty well for a player his size, with a 4.57 40 (4.56 officially), and he's a really bright, deep-thinking guy with tremendous character.