The annual Scouting Combine has emerged as the third largest event on the NFL calendar (behind only the Super Bowl and the draft, itself) almost entirely due to the measureable tests that make for captivating television.
Perhaps the single most underrated element of the Combine, however, is the positional drill.
By now, you've read that Central Florida's Blake Bortles was the only one of the top quarterbacks to throw in Indianapolis. Each other position is run through drills at the Combine, as well, however, and there were several standouts - both good and bad - that caught scouts' attention.
|March 1||40-yard dash|
|March 2||Vertical leap|
|March 3||Broad jump|
|March 5||Short shuttle|
|March 6||Long shuttle|
|March 7||Positional drills|
Scouts, of course, are looking for athleticism and consistency in these drills. They're also gauging coachability, or the quickness with which a player can take a new idea or technique and apply it on the field.
The Results: All measurable results can be sorted by name, position, size, school or event here. The positional drills, however, are not numbers-based.
The Winners: When polling scouts for this report, several wide receivers were mentioned. Clemson's Sammy Watkins certainly received lots of praise due to his remarkable blend of easy athleticism and vacuum-like hands. LSU's Odell Beckham and Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, each of whom I've highlighted in previous Combine Closeups over the past several days, were also mentioned in glowing terms.
In many ways the two couldn't be much different. Whereas the 6-foot-2, 198-pound Norwood was often the second or third option for the Crimson Tide and is valued because of his ability to line up on the outside or in the slot, the 5-foot-9, 192-pound Campanaro let Wake Forest as the school's record holder with 229 career receptions. Each, however, ran impressive routes, showing the ability to accelerate smoothly, sink their hips and explode back towards the quarterback and, most importantly, of course, simply catch the ball reliably.
Though neither wowed with their overall athleticism, reliable routes and hands earned Georgia's Arthur Lynch and Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz strong grades during my trip inside Lucas Oil Stadium as part of the first group of media members to get to watch the tight ends work out.
The stellar positional workouts certainly weren't limited to players on the offensive side of the ball. A pair of undersized linebackers from the ACC -- Boston College's Kevin Pierre-Louis and Florida State's Telvin Smith - each earned positive comments from scouts for their quick feet and balance when running through the bags, as well as the fluidity when dropping back into coverage.
The Losers: Given the fact that UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr and Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro are two of the bigger and more athletic players at their respective positions, scouts were hesitant to list them as "losers" - especially with a number of the players cited as "winners" lacking ideal size for the NFL.
However, Barr's relative inexperience at linebacker was fairly evident as he struggled keeping his feet during positional drills. One scout operating for team that generally relies on a traditional 4-3 look, in fact, questioned where Barr fit in his club's scheme.
"I don't know that he's tough enough to hold the point," the scout said. "And if you're not letting him attack the quarterback, then you're not putting him in position to succeed. He'll get taken apart [in the NFL] if dropping into coverage."
While I was very impressed with the secure hands and reliable routes from Lynch and Fiedorowicz, Amaro struggled during his positional workout. He dropped several easy passes and didn't look natural with many of the receptions he did make, allowing them into his chest rather than plucking them outside of his frame.
The Surprises: Given that his success came as a defensive end for the Razorbacks, Arkansas' Chris Smith (6-foot-1, 266) showed better fluidity when dropping back into coverage than some scouts expected. They were quick to point out that he didn't have to locate the football - which is something he struggled with at times at Arkansas - but that "he moved pretty damn well for a guy with that build."
Those who have been paying attention to Minnesota's Brock Vereen perhaps weren't surprised by how well the former cornerback/safety moved during drills but it given his relative lack of publicity, his ease of movement deserves mentioning here. Like Smith, Vereen (6-foot, 199) is a fluid athlete whose "biggest" question at the next level might be size. But on this stage, his ability to change directions and accelerate without losing a step stood out amongst a safety group that in some scouts' opinions, failed to live up to its hype.