INDIANAPOLIS -- With all due respect to the offensive linemen, tight ends and defensive players, Sunday's combine workout group of QBs, running backs and wide receivers usually stands as the headliner.
There was no difference this year, even with several of the top quarterbacks either unable or unwilling to participate fully in the drills. Who stepped up and who struggled during the second day of on-field action at Lucas Oil Stadium?
John Brown, WR, Pittsburg State: The combine is a grain-of-salt situation in a lot of ways -- a couple of 40 times or positional drills (usually) do not supersede years of game performances. For the small-school guys, though, it's a prime opportunity to get some face time after college careers spent mostly off the radar.
That's why at just about every combine a few of those lesser-known prospects stand out as "stars." This year, it was Brown, who followed up a strong Shrine Game week showing with an impressive effort in Indianapolis.
The standout moment for the 5-foot-10 receiver came in the 40-yard dash. Brown clocked in with a 4.34, just shy of Brandin Cooks' top time for the position of 4.33. Cooks, by the way, may have solidified a spot in Round 1 with workout. He's a smooth, confident pass-catcher with elite speed.
But Brown turned in strong work during the "gauntlet" drill, just like Cooks -- that drill asks receivers to spin into catches twice on the sideline, then sprint the width of the field while attempting five more catches at various intervals. That Brown has shown scouts multiple times now his pass-catching abilities certainly should help him from here on out.
"(He) has great work ethic, and his teammates see that, that’s why they elected him as a captain again," Pittsburg State coach Tim Beck said earlier this season, according to The Wichita Eagle. "He doesn’t take plays off. He jumps to be the first in line in every drill and wants to be out there, working, constantly. A lot of people can run really fast, but not a lot of people can run full speed and catch the ball and make decisions on the fly like he can."
A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama: We didn't get to see Teddy Bridgewater throw on Sunday, nor Derek Carr, nor Johnny Manziel. How much one can take away from QBs throwing to open receivers with no defense on the field is debatable, too.
That said, McCarron was sharp Sunday.
"I just felt it was a good choice for myself," said McCarron of throwing in Indianapolis. "I’m healthy. Better than I’ve ever been. I know free agent week starts the same time as our Pro Day, so some teams’ coaches and GMs might not be able to come down. I felt this was the best opportunity to showcase what I’ve been working on since our last game."
Scouts have no lack of game tape to pull on McCarron, a multi-year starter for the Crimson Tide. He nonetheless continues to fight that "game manager" tag, which for some reason often comes with a negative connotation. McCarron does not have a rocket arm by any means -- at least a couple QBs had more zip on their deep balls Sunday -- but he dropped his passes in to all areas of the field.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: Evans doesn't have enough speed? He can't run routes? Well ...
The 6-5 Evans locked in a very respectable 4.53 40, comfortably ahead of several other receivers. Better yet, he glided through pass-catching drills with little trouble. Add that performance in to what he showed teamed up with Johnny Manziel in college, and it's hard to see him slipping far out of the top 10, if he even lasts that long.
"Everybody can improve on route running -- that's a quality to have," Evans said. "My freshman year, I felt my route running wasn't as good. This past year, I felt I improved."
"But I have a high ceiling. I think I'm one of the best players in this draft and I think I can just keep getting better."
Dri Archer, RB, Kent State: Dude can fly. Archer nearly beat Chris Johnson's combine record in the 40, finishing at 4.26 -- barely off CJ2K's 4.24 mark. If not for an injury-plagued 2013 season, Archer would have been on more radars already. When he's healthy, he can be extremely dangerous for an offense.
Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech: Thomas was far from flawless in passing drills, but he left little secret for why he's even still considered a draftable prospect after a shaky college career. The 6-6 Thomas ran a QB-best 4.61 40.
There have been rumblings about Thomas moving to another position at some point in the future and that speed is part of why. Thomas is two inches taller than the top projected tight end in this draft, Eric Ebron; weighs just two pounds less; and that 4.61 was a fraction of a second shy of the 4.60 Ebron wowed scouts with earlier.
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State: I've been very high on Robinson throughout the draft process thus far (he was the 23rd-overall pick in my January mock.) Nothing really changed those opinions Sunday, but Robinson did have a rough afternoon.
His 40 time of 4.6 does not stack up all that well with the rest of the receivers, even though Robinson does not rely heavily on his speed to excel. The Penn State product also dropped one and bobbled another during the gauntlet -- hardly killers but disappointing.
Meanwhile, LSU's Jarvis Landry posted a slow first 40 time, then passed on his second with an announced calf injury. Antonio Andrews, RB, Western Kentucky: One of the most productive college backs in this draft, Andrews carries a reputation for being a bit careless with the ball. He also now has the tag of being slow after posting a 4.82 40 time, better than just four backs and more than a half-second back of Archer's score.