The NFL Scouting Combine is important, but it's not everything. That is to say, falling short of expectations in Indy doesn't necessarily guarantee a player won't shine on the field as a professional.
Take Marcus Peters, for example. The 2015 Defensive Rookie of the Year had a less-than-dazzling showing at the combine last year, making my "combine duds who can be NFL studs" list, along with offensive lineman Rob Havenstein (who went on to start for the Rams) and running back T.J. Yeldon (who had a promising rookie season in Jacksonville).
Who among this year's crop should we expect to shine despite unexceptional combine performances? See my list (in alphabetical order) below:
Vadal Alexander, OL, LSU: Alexander ran a slow 40 (5.57) and didn't look good in drills, but he plays faster than his timed speed and was good in games. He only gave up one sack last season and was called for one holding penalty and one false start -- despite playing on a team that had a rusher (Leonard Fournette) who attempted 300 carries and racked up 1,953 yards. The bottom line is, he's 6-foot-5 and weighs 326 pounds -- he's a massive man with long (35 1/4 inches) arms. Sure, you'd like to see him run faster, and he might not appear to be all that quick, but the bottom line is, he's like a house to get around, and I think he can be a starter despite the lack of speed.
Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh: Boyd didn't run as fast (4.58 40) as you would like; he looks faster on tape. A productive player with very good hands -- he had very few drops in his college career -- Boyd can start for someone, though not as a lead receiver. He can be a lot like Jordan Matthews in Philadelphia.
Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State: Cook looked a lot like Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater -- who ultimately went 32nd overall in the draft -- when he was at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2014. Cook's arm is slightly above average; it's not weak, but it's not exactly strong, either. The Michigan State product did not look very good in Indy, but his winning record (34-5 in three years) is just too good to ignore. He should be good in a West Coast-style offense, and I feel certain someone will move up from the top of the second round to the bottom of the first to select him. He looks like a good developmental guy, someone who could sit behind an established starter and learn the speed of the game.
Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech: Dixon didn't flash and didn't seem real quick in drills, but he put up numbers in school (4,483 rushing yards, 72 rushing touchdowns and 87 total touchdowns in four seasons at Louisiana Tech). He looked great at Senior Bowl practices. I like Dixon because he's a compact (5-10, 215 pounds) running back who can run inside.
Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State: Higgins ran a 4.64 40 and didn't look real quick in the drills. But he had a very productive career at Colorado State, especially in 2014, when he had 96 catches, 1,750 yards and 17 touchdowns. Higgins has size for the position and very good hands, and he runs good routes. He doesn't project as a No. 1 receiver, but he'll be a starter who runs better than his timed speed on tape.
Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State: Miller didn't run as fast (4.50 40) as expected, and his route-running needs a lot of work. But he's got good size (6-1, 201 pounds) for the position and loads of long-range potential. Though it might take some time, Miller can learn to become an effective receiver in the NFL; he runs faster in his uniform than he does in shorts. In the meantime, Miller can be a very good kick returner. He reminds me a bit of fellow Ohio State product Ted Ginn, though he's not quite as fast.
Noah Spence, DE/OLB, Eastern Kentucky: Spence's combine numbers were not off the charts. He ran slower than expected and did not jump out in drills. But he's got a knack for rushing the passer that will enable him to contribute right away; I could see him finishing 2016 with something like eight sacks. In his defense, he ran a very good 10-yard split, which is a prerequisite for being a good pass rusher. The way that skill is valued today, with guys like Von Miller highlighting how impactful a dominant pass rusher can be, I could see a team taking Spence at the end of the first or top of the second round, provided any questions about his past off-field issues are answers satisfactorily.
Jihad Ward, DE, Illinois: Ward didn't run as fast as I thought he would, posting a 5.11 40. He looks faster playing in uniform. I like this player. As a junior-college product, Ward has just two years of major college experience under his belt, so he'll need a coach who will take time with him to develop him into a good starter. He's a big guy (6-foot-5, 297 pounds) who I think is pretty strong, even though he only lifted 20 times in Indy. He's got a lot of good ahead of him.
Daryl Worley, CB, West Virginia: Worley didn't run real well, posting a 4.64 40, but he has very good coverage skills. I think at his pro day, Worley will run faster and his stock will recover, likely pushing him back up into the third round or so.