INDIANAPOLIS -- Every year there are players who are deemed “risers” and “fallers” following the position drills at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. While those terms are used more in the media than in actual NFL circles, there is no denying that every February certain players generate buzz after dazzling athletic performances out on the turf. Who are the players that some expect will stand out in drills over the next few days? Let’s take a look at each position and the players to keep an eye on starting on the offensive side of the football ...
From a pure athleticism standpoint, Florida State’s EJ Manuel presents the most potential to stand out in testing. Manuel, who was the MVP of the Senior Bowl just a couple of weeks ago, is one of the bigger players at the position in terms of size, but throughout his career in Tallahassee proved that he can win with both his arm and his legs. Don’t count out Philadelphia-native Ryan Nassib either, as the Syracuse grad ran a good amount of read-option during his time with the Orange and displayed nimble feet throughout his career. Arizona’s Matt Scott, who played for first-year head coach Rich Rodriguez in 2012, should run well, while Minnesota’s MarQueis Gray should post some of the more impressive times throughout the day on Sunday. Gray, who surprised some by entering the Combine as a quarterback, spent time throughout his career with the Gophers as a wide receiver and practiced as a tight end at the Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Game this January.
At the running back position, there are a large group of talented players who offer a wide variety of skill sets that can appeal to any number of schemes. Who will be the ones that run well in Indianapolis? When it comes to long speed, it starts with Oregon’s Kenjon Barner, who had a very productive career for Chip Kelly with the Ducks. Barner has the speed and lateral agility to be one of the standouts at his position on Sunday. Other ball carriers who should run well include a pair of former SEC stars in Florida’s Mike Gillislee as well as Auburn’s Onterio McCalebb. It will also be interesting to see how some of the bigger backs run, with Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell and Arkansas’ Knile Davis (both 220 pounds) both proving they have deceptive athleticism throughout their college careers.
When it’s all said and done, it will not be shocking to see the wideout who has the most "buzz" surrounding his name when the week’s events come to a close is from Tennessee, though maybe not the one most are thinking of. While a lot of the media attention has surrounded former Volunteer receiver Coradarrelle Patterson after a very impressive junior campaign, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his former teammate Justin Hunter steal the show in Indianapolis. Hunter, at 6-4, 200 pounds, is a former track star who will certainly be one of the top performers in the vertical jump, where he previously recorded close to 42 inches as a sophomore.
Hunter has been known to run in the low 4.40 range in the 40-yard dash, and if he can post those type of numbers at his size he will certainly be one of the more talked about prospects at his position. The key for Hunter will be if he can follow up his performance in wide receiver drills, where he will look to disprove the notion that he has inconsistent hands. West Virginia’s Tavon Austin and Michigan’s Denard Robinson have been two of the most dynamic playmakers in college football over the last couple of seasons, and will likely test well in this type of setting.
Athletically, the pair of Virginia Tech wideouts in Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller should shine as well. Davis, a former quarterback, has been timed in the 4.37-range during his time in Blacksburg. At 6-3, 230 pounds, Fuller, a former track star at the University of Kansas, is new to football, but has run even faster times during his short career with the Hokies and will challenge for the top 40-time at his position. There is also Texas’ Marquise Goodwin, an Olympic-level track athlete, who could be the fastest player in the entire draft class.
In one of the deeper tight end classes in years, there are a lot of talented players from the top to the bottom of the board. While we likely won’t see any Vernon Davis-esque performances in the 40-yard dash, there are more than enough good athletes in the group that should stand out in drills. Florida’s Jordan Reed is considered to be one of the more dynamic prospects in 2013. Though he’s a bit undersized (6-3, 243 pounds), the former quarterback is built in the prototypical "move tight end" or "H-back" mold and should fit that type of role in the NFL. Keep a close eye on San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar as well, who showed over the last two seasons that he has great speed to get down the seam and the athleticism to win one-on-one matchups at the next level.
There are a number of players who have tremendous athleticism, balance and overall movement skills that will help them immensely at the next level. Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson exhibits great natural athleticism on tape and is expected to turn in a great workout. Johnson is a former junior college quarterback turned tight end who ended his career as a tackle with the Sooners. Florida State’s Menelik Watson lined up at right tackle for the Seminoles in 2012 and showed he had great athleticism for a player on the edge, particularly in the run game.
One small-school player who stood out at the East-West Shrine Game and earned himself a Senior Bowl invite is Terron Armstead from Arkansas Pine-Bluff. Armstead is a phenomenal athlete for the position and could put up some of the most impressive numbers in the group. Guard Jonathan Cooper’s athleticism just drips off the tape when you watch him, and the possible Top 15 selection is expected to put up some of the best workout numbers of the group. Overall, this is a very deep offensive line class.
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