INDIANAPOLIS -- When it comes to combine drills, especially those that require very large men to run very fast in a straight line, many wonder ... what's the point? You hear every year about "Underwear Olympics" and the fact that this has nothing to do with actual football, but NFL teams do find these drills informative to a point. Most personnel executives and coaches grade combine performances down with All-Star game weeks as way behind game tape on the spectrum, but these exercises do provide value, if for nothing beyond a reference point.
"Check out lower body explosion, that translates to the vertical or broad jump," Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said in a recent conference call. "I want to check the short shuttle. There are a bunch of guys I have notes on checking their 40s. The whole thing about the numbers—what do the best evaluators do, they use the numbers for a cross-check. So if a fast guy runs fast, check. Slow guy runs slow, check. Should jump about 37 inches, check. However, whenever you find something that doesn't match up to the tape, that should be the red flag to make you go back and watch some more."
On Sunday, the defensive tackles, defensive ends and linebackers worked out at Lucas Oil Stadium, and here are a few names who probably made a lot of NFL teams' cross-check list, for better or worse.
Vic Beasley, OLB/DE, Clemson
Beasley was the Kevin White of Sunday: The guy who was already in the conversation as a first-round prospect, but blew it up at the combine and assured himself a closer, and very positive look. Beasley ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at 6'3" and 245 pounds, and benched pressed 35 times. His speed transfers to the tape, as Beasley might have the quickest first step in this draft class, and he's a potentially elite pass-rusher. He racked up 33 sacks and 52 1/2 tackles for loss in his collegiate career, and though he could be a little more stout against the run, his overall skill set may have him jumping above guys like Florida's Dante Fowler on the edge-rusher list.
“Guys I look up to are guys like Von Miller and Bruce Irvin, guys who I plan on mirroring my game out there at the next level," Beasley said. "I see those guys drop back in coverage here and there, and that’s why I try to mirror their game."
From a pure athleticism standpoint, Beasley proved that he belongs in that class. Even the fastest NFL quarterbacks will not like it when he's chasing them around.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA
Put him in your spell-checkers right now, folks.
In UCLA's defense, Odighizuwa alternated between 3-4 end and pass rusher with his hand off the ground, and he was ranked by many as a borderline first-round pick for his effective versatility alone. However, a combine performance that saw him run an unofficial 4.64 40 with a 1.63 10-yard split at 6'3" and 267 pounds? That's good stuff, and it may have people rethinking the idea that Odighizuwa doesn't have elite speed off the edge for his size. He had two hip surgeries in 2013, but he checked out with the combine medical team, and he certainly checked out on the field.
"I think of myself as a versatile athlete," Odighizuwa said this week. "I was able to do a lot of things at UCLA. What I do Sunday I believe will display what I can do athletically."
Odighizuwa, who totaled 12 1/2 sacks and 24 1/2 tackles for loss at UCLA, is off to a very good start in the pre-draft process.
Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State
At 6'5" and 271 pounds, Smith is an above-average defensive end who can get some rush off the edge and stops the run very aggressively. But it's his ability to excel in multiple gaps, everywhere from strong-side end to one-tech shade nose tackle, that sets him apart from other players in his size class. At the combine, Smith had a lot of people wondering about those prevalent (and based on my tape study, erroneous) dings related to his speed off the snap. Smith ran a 4.78 40-yard dash with a 1.64 10-yard split, and then came back ran another 4.78 with a 1.63 10-yard split.
That's the kind of performance that will have teams going back to the tape and wondering how he could fit into their plans, and it might take him from a mid-round prospect to a second-day sure thing. He's a valuable, versatile player with a lot of power and hidden speed and agility. Some lucky coach is going to teach him to use his hands more effectively, and that coach will be rewarded with some serious upside.
Bud Dupree, DE/OLB, Kentucky
At the 2013 combine, Southern Miss linebacker Jamie Collins really blew it up with a 4.59 40-yard dash and a 1.58 10-yard split at 6'4" and 250 pounds. He added a 41 1/2-inch vertical leap and an 11'7" broad jump. That brought him to the Patriots in the second round, and when Jerod Mayo got hurt halfway through the 2014 season, Collins stepped into the role of athletic lead linebacker without missing a beat, playing at an All-Pro level all the way though to New England's Super Bowl victory. There's a subset of draft analysts looking for the next Jamie Collins, and they just may have found him in Kansas' Bud Dupree. On Sunday, Dupree ran a 4.57 40 on his first try with a 1.60 split, a 42-inch vertical and an 11'7" broad jump. Moreover, Dupree's game tape tells an impressive story: This is no workout wonder.
Dupree ran a 4.73 40 with a 1.71 10-yard split on his second try, and he couldn't do the positional drills due to an injury, but you can bet that he's in for a closer look from a lot of teams. Nobody wants to be the guy who missed on the next great unheralded linebacker.
Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Ray led the SEC in sacks (13 1/2) and tackles for loss (20 1/2) in 2014, and the hope was that he would add to his draft stock with an outstanding combine performance. A foot injury kept him from positional drills, and Ray was hoping to run, but that idea was nixed by combine doctors. That's a shame because Ray's tape is pretty impressive, and he's going to get a lot of looks as a 3-4 edge rusher at 6'3" and 245 pounds.
"Personally, I feel like I bring everything you need as a defender to the table," Ray said of his game. "I play with a lot of passion and a lot of energy. I’m really physical. I’ve shown that I can make plays in the open field, that I can drop into coverage. Throughout my career, my coaches moved me all around the defense. I’ve played over three techniques and beat guards, I’ve stood up and rushed from the middle, I’ve dropped into coverage and came back and covered guys coming out of the backfield. And I’ve just displayed my speed consistently, and what I can do as a 4-3 defensive end and outside linebacker."
The tape shows that Ray can do all these things to a greater or lesser degree, though pure edge speed is his primary attribute. But if he's unable to go at his Pro Day on March 19, Ray could get lost in the shuffle in a packed group of pass-rushers.
Shaq Thompson, OLB/RB/S, Washington
Thompson started his Sunday with an unofficial 4.78 40-yard dash and a 10-yard split of 1.78 after insisting on Saturday that he was a linebacker in the NFL, though some teams are looking at him as a running back or safety. With those speed numbers, Thompson may have proven his positional acumen. Last year, Alabama's Jarrick Williams had the worst 40 for any safety at 4.72, and LSU's Kenny Hilliard ran the slowest 40 for a running back at 4.80.
Thompson has compared himself to Tampa Bay's Lavonte David, saying that at 6' and 228 pounds, he can shed blockers better than some might believe.
"I feel like size doesn’t matter," Thompson said. "There were a couple of times where I didn’t get off blocks. But there were other times when I did. If you’re a playmaker, you’re gonna make a play regardless, whether you’re getting blocked or not getting blocked. That’s part of my game I need to tighten up, and I’m getting better at it."
Fair enough, but David ran a 4.57 40 at the 2012 combine out of Nebraska at 6'1" and 233 pounds, and that's what the league expects of smaller, rangy linebackers. Thompson shows that range on the field, but given his positional inflexibility, it would have helped him to knock it out of the park from a speed perspective. Thompson came back with a 4.69 40 and a 1.72 10-yard split on his second try. He looked much better in the transitional drills, showing off an impressive range of motion, but those track times will have people wondering.
Leon Orr, DT, Florida
Well, this was weird. Orr, who was kicked off the Florida squad after leaving the team based on an argument with then-head coach Will Muschamp over playing time, had an interesting discussion with the staff at the combine about where he was supposed to start his 40-yard dash. He then ran a 5.19 40 with a 1.85 10-yard split. Not bad for a 6'5", 323-pound player, but it's hard not to see any deviation in behavior exacerbating the rep he came in with.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m trying to convince them, I’m just more or less just letting them know who I am as a person because that situation that happened was a one-time thing," Orr said this week, when asked how he would convince NFL teams that he's coachable. "It wasn’t something that was happening on a regular (basis). People know me, coaches know me. The one thing about the NFL and the scouts, they do their research and they know every player. Before they even ask you a question, they know the answer to it. I wouldn’t more or less say I was trying to convince them but just be honest with them and be up front about who I am as a person.”
This wasn't a good look for a player with one strike already against him, and as forensic as many teams get about prospects, one wonders what this will do to his stock.