Yesterday, our network of NFL Draft analysts highlighted the offensive players who have gained some "buzz" from their performances at the recently completed NFL Scouting Combine. Today, we explore those players who impressed on the other side of the ball.
Defensive End (Eric Galko - Optimum Scouting):
The defensive end position seems to always feature some of the more impressive complete athletes in the draft, and despite it being a relatively down year for the position, the NFL Scouting Combine still featured a variety of fantastic workouts. Whitney Mercilus, 6-4, 261, of Illinois and Andre Branch, 6-4, 259, of Clemson showcased quick get-offs to complement their college production, and both likely kept themselves in the mix as 3-4 outside linebackers as well. Bruce Irvin, only 6-3, 245, of West Virginia also showcased his outstanding speed and explosion for a rush linebacker, but it's his rush versatility that has scouts a bit nervous. Despite those great performances, it was Melvin Ingram of South Carolina wowing scouts as a linebacker, running well in drills showcasing the requisite athleticism to play linebacker in a 3-4 at 6-1, 264. Along with Ingram, Southern Cal's Nick Perry, 6-3, 271, put on a show test-wise, combining a 4.5-second forty with a 1.56 10-yard split, 38.5-inch vertical leap, and 35 bench reps. His film may show inconsistency, but Perry's athletic numbers may be enough to wow scouts and general managers enough to consider him in the top 15.
Our Take: All of these players had great workouts and showed the ability to succeed in the Eagles' "Wide 9" scheme – showing explosive first steps and solid athletic ability off the edge. While there are a lot of issues with Irvin as a prospect (maybe more than I would necessarily want in a potential draft pick), he is a player who could stand out under Jim Washburn because of his elite speed off the edge. Branch was also surprising, posting one of the best 10-yard splits in the position group.
Defensive Tackle (Cecil Lammey – ESPN Denver):
Outside of the Quarterbacks, Memphis' Dontari Poe has been the talk of the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. Poe ran a 4.98-second 40-yard dash, an extremely impressive mark for a player who measured in at 6-4, 348. In college, he regularly bench pressed over 500 pounds, so getting 44 reps at 225 pounds was not a problem. Before the Combine, some felt Poe could only fit in a 3-4 system as a Nose Tackle. However, in Indianapolis he showed the movement and agility to play either inside tackle position in a 4-3 defense. Position versatility, in addition to a fantastic workout at the Combine, could propel Poe into the top 15 picks come April. Another athletic defensive tackle, Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox, stood out as well. Cox, 6-4, 298, is known as a naturally gifted, high-motor player and he put on an impressive show at the Combine. He ran a 4.79 40-yard dash, and was able to push up bench press 30 reps at 225 pounds. Beyond the measurable drills, Cox also looked explosive when asked to change direction in positional drills. He got by in college on raw ability, but will have to refine his technique if he wants to play up to his potential in the pros. Michigan's Mike Martin, 6-1, 306, followed up a fantastic week at the Senior Bowl with another strong showing in front of scouts at the Combine. He's considered by many to be the best nose tackle prospect in the 2012 NFL Draft and did a good job standing out during the interview process. Martin also shined in the weight room where he tied for the second most reps at his position (36). He displayed good explosion to the ball on film and his 33.5-inch vertical jump backed that up.
Our Take: Poe and Cox are two names that Eagles fans are becoming more and more enamored with for the 15th overall pick, and for good reason. Though they are different types of players, they both showed the type of athleticism and versatility to thrive under coach Jim Washburn. Martin, who was one of the standout performers at the Senior Bowl, also impressed with his athleticism. Poe and Cox at this point seem locks for the first round and possibly the top 15, while Martin could be had somewhere in the middle rounds.
Linebacker (Josh Norris – Rotoworld):
Standing at 5-11, 240, California's Mychal Kendricks certainly wouldn't scream "NFL linebacker" if you passed him on the street. But on the field Kendricks is a missile at the second level, knifing through blocks and showing impressive instincts while stalking the ball carrier. Once he reaches the runner, Kendricks plays much bigger than his size and delivers jarring hits at or near the line of scrimmage. Additionally, Kendricks' closing speed when blitzing or running free is outstanding (as he showed in Indianapolis with his 1.53-second 10-yard split and 4.47 40-yard dash). That burst to close and his comfort in space make Kendricks effective in coverage, though he will struggle to contain taller receivers at the catch point. If Kendricks attacks blockers with the wrong shoulder he has trouble fighting over blocks, but his tenacity and persistence often result in being near the football. Before the Combine, I thought Kendricks was an early starter as a second-day pick and his amazing workout certainly helped that possibility. The question is not when for Kendricks, it is where, as I believe he can be a quality starter either at inside linebacker or firing from the weak side.
Our Take: Kendricks is one of my favorite linebackers in this draft, and what he lacks in size he makes up for with toughness, athleticism and technique. As one of the most physically gifted linebackers at the Combine, Kendricks could hear his name called as early as the second round.
Cornerback (Tommy Lawlor – ScoutsNotebook):
Josh Robinson, a junior cornerback from Central Florida, posted the best numbers of any defensive back at the NFL Scouting Combine. He ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash. He also posted the best results in the broad jump and 3-cone drill. Robinson came in second in the vertical jump. He also did 17 reps on the bench press. Simply stated, that is a great workout. Teams saw speed, strength, explosion, agility, and quickness in the 5-foot-10, 199-pound cornerback. Now, teams have to go back and re-watch game tape of him to figure out whether Robinson is a great athlete who is underrated or if he was an underachiever at UCF and never played up to his ability. Robinson sure got everyone's attention with that workout and will be a hot topic for a while. Meanwhile, Iowa State cornerback Leonard Johnson, 5-10, 196, did not have such luck. He only ran 4.71 in the 40. Johnson was a terrific player for Iowa State, but teams now have to do some serious work on him. Is Johnson simply limited to playing in a Cover-2 scheme? Is he a player who plays faster than he times and will be able to overcome a lack of top speed? Johnson will get a chance at his pro day to run better, but in the mean time, teams must adjust their grades on Johnson to reflect his poor showing in Indianapolis. Johnson is a very popular player in the scouting community so you can bet he'll have his share of supporters, despite the slow time.
Our Take: Robinson was one of the bigger surprises of the group of juniors who declared for the draft in January, but he was easily one of the most pleasant surprises from the entire Combine. His workout numbers will surely force teams to take second look at his film, and in a cloudy cornerback group, it will be interesting to see where he comes off the board. Johnson underperformed at the Combine, and how that affects his ultimate draft placement will be interesting to see moving forward.
Safety (Jared Counterman – NFLDraft101):
If someone was to ask me about buzz at the safety position, at this point George Iloka is the only player who stands out. After putting up solid numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Iloka has opened the eyes of the NFL to the type of player he could be. With athletes like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham sweeping the landscape of the league, safeties who can cover man-to-man with those guys are in high demand. Iloka, 6-4, 225, has played a split amount of time at both cornerback and safety during his college career, making him really intriguing to teams that covet his versatility. During drills, he was able to show elite fluidity in the hips and above average ball skills. All this being said, I think Iloka could sneak into the second round.
Our Take: Iloka is one of the more highly debated prospects in this year's draft class, regardless of position. Some oogle over his physical tools, while others are not nearly as impressed with his play on film or ability to play in space. Despite all that, he should be one of the first safeties off the board, likely at some point in the second or third round.