The 40-yard dashes, vertical jumps and bench press reps are all important exercises, but the on-field positional drills at the NFL combine are just as, if not more, important. And on Sunday morning in the first group of wide receivers and quarterbacks, Central Florida QB Blake Bortles and LSU WR Odell Beckham stood out above the rest.
I spent almost two hours in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday morning watching the first group of passers and pass-catchers and several stood out – some good, some bad.
With Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr choosing not to throw at the Combine, Bortles had the stage to show why many, including myself, have touted him as a possibility to be drafted No. 1 overall by the Houston Texans. And he didn't disappoint with the spotlight on him, displaying his smooth set up and release and tossing darts down the field. Bortles' accuracy and footwork on his three-step drops were excellent, showing very good rhythm, timing and precision to rip it with very good target placement. He was a tick late with his seven-step drops and has room to improve his feet and balance in this area, but Bortles was still able to be accurate down the field, especially on deep bucket throws.
The wide receivers in the first group included several possible first rounders, including Texas A&M's Mike Evans and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin, who both did well, but it was Beckham who looked the most impressive Sunday morning. He was terrific in the gauntlet drill with his quick, strong hands and easy extension to snare throws away from his body. While most receivers in that drill allow themselves to get wild and off balance, Beckham accelerated well and stayed in a straight line on the white, staying precise and making it look extremely easy. He needs to be more controlled in his cuts, going too fast at times in his breaks, but that's nit-picking. Oregon State's Brandin Cooks also performed well in the first wide receiver group.
Other notes from the QB/WR positional workouts:
- WR Martavis Bryant, commonly referred to as the “other” Clemson wideout, was very up-and-down during the positional drills. He was clearly one of the fastest on the field with his long, fluid strides and length to extend and pluck the ball. But Bryant slowed at the catch point too often and had his share of drops, something that plagued him in college. During drills, he looked like A.J. Green at times, but then followed it up with a drill where he looked like A.J. McCarron trying to catch the ball.
- Speaking of Alabama QB A.J. McCarron, he had a solid morning throwing the ball. He showed streaky ball placement on 10-yard out routes, but displayed good deep touch on bucket throws. McCarron and Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo were the next two most impressive passers Sunday morning during QB drills after Bortles.
- On the flipside, it wasn't a strong showing for Clemson QB Tajh Boyd or Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch, who both battled accuracy and touch issues on most of their throws. Boyd's slinging arm motion was wild on the 10-yard out routes to his left and inconsistent deep touch showed on the vertical routes. Lynch was very wild with his accuracy and his deep touch was inconsistent, struggling with his trajectory and overall feel.
- Wake Forest WR Michael Campanaro missed a good portion of his senior season and has his durability issues, but he reaffirmed Sunday morning just how talented of a pass-catcher he is with smooth athleticism and reliability catching the ball. He did have a drop off his hands on a comeback route, but he was one of the few who truly worked back to the ball during drills and attacked it in the air. Campanaro showed subtle, coordinated footwork and the game appears to slow down for him at the catch point, looking the ball into his hands. Coastal Carolina WR Matt Hazel also impressed with his natural body control, extension and hands. Both prospects had strong Sunday morning workouts.