Despite all of the attention heaped upon Jimmy Clausen's workout yesterday, the true star on the field, one scout in attendance told me, was Clausen's former wide receiver, Golden Tate.
"Clausen was good. Give him credit. He fired the ball in there better than I thought he would and he handled the pressure well. He looked like he was having fun out there, and that was important to the guys who questioned his leadership," the high ranking scout told me on the condition of anonymity.
"But, the best player on the field was Tate. No question."
Tate's strong showing doesn't surprise me -- nor should it surprise any one who has done any legitimate film review of him.
While I'm always hesitant to make comparisons of college players to NFL standouts, I've consistently compared Tate to Panthers All-Pro Steve Smith.
Smith (5'9, 185) and Tate's (5-10, 199) lack of prototypical size might be the most obvious reason for the comparison, but in reality, this is just one of the several attributes each player brings. Both are more like running backs after the catch than wide receivers, showing not only the agility and acceleration to make defenders miss and pull away from them -- but also the vision to set up downfield blocks and the willingness to cut back into the middle (where few undersized receivers are willing to go). Both are short in stature, but giants in terms of toughness and physicality.
What I like most about Tate (and Smith) is that despite their height, they each boast spectacular timing and body control during their leaps for contested passes. Few, if any receivers, consistently win more "jump balls" than these two so-called "undersized" receivers.
And let's not forget that Tate is far from just a workout warrior. Sure, his 4.42 time in the 40-yard dash at the Combine was impressive, but his production at Notre Dame was even better. Tate won the Biletnikof Award as the nation's best receiver, breaking school records for receptions (93) and receiving yards (1,496) and tying the mark for receiving touchdowns (15). He also scored two touchdowns as a runner and another as a punt returner.
When Tate falls out of the first round -- and according to sources throughout the league there is a growing consensus that he will -- don't take that as a sign that he's been overrated or that his former quarterback was the best Notre Dame player last year.
If taken with anything less than a first round pick, Tate will prove to be one of the great steals of the 2010 draft.