INDIANAPOLIS -- If you're looking for a running back at the top of the draft you might want to wait a year or two. There's only one, Clemson's C.J. Spiller, who fits the description, and he may be the lone back worthy of a first-round grade.
Now the good news: While the group isn't top-heavy it is deep and solid through the middle, which means you can find talent galore in the second and third rounds.
But don't forget about Stanford's Toby Gerhart. He came to this weekend's NFL scouting combine determined to prove he could run, and he succeeded: He was timed at 4.6 seconds in the 40, and while that may be slow for some backs it isn't for one of Gerhart's size.
"I was surprised," an NFC scout said. "I think the guy just pushed himself into the top of the second round."
Another back who helped himself here was Auburn's Ben Tate. He aced all the tests, finishing first among running backs in the bench press and broad jump and second in the 40 and vertical jump. Tate described the combine as "an opportunity" to excel, and he didn't disappoint. Look for him to start climbing draft boards.
Then there's one of my favorites, Mississippi's Dexter McCluster -- though he really doesn't qualify as a running back because of his size. At 5-7 and 160 pounds, the guy is what one scout called "tiny tiny," but he's quick, elusive and dynamic. In short, he's part Darren Sproles/part Percy Harvin, which makes him attractive to anyone looking for a third-down specialist.
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"You can't help but like him," an NFC scout said. "He'll run through a brick wall for you."
McCluster is instant offense, and while his size is a concern, his skills are not. There isn't much he can't do, and that includes promoting himself.
"I want to show people there is something different about me," said McCluster. "Don't look at my stature. I don't care how big or small you are, I'll come at you. I'm not afraid of nothing or nobody."
Color me sold.
First to leave?
Maybe the better question in this year's draft isn't which player goes first but which defensive tackle -- Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy -- is first off the board. Suh is the highest-rated prospect by most clubs, though I ran into a couple of GMs who had McCoy rated slightly ahead. All I know is that both are so good they'll be gone by the third pick of the draft.
They worked out here and worked out well -- with Suh running a 4.98 40 and McCoy a 4.96. Both are highly productive, strong on character and at or near the top of every draft board. With so much to like, it is difficult to make a choice between them -- unless, of course, you happened to watch the Nebraska-Texas Big 12 Championship Game, when Suh produced 4½ sacks.
"They're great players," said St. Louis GM Billy Devaney, whose team has the first draft pick. "They're going to be great players. They're character guys. They love playing football. I hope something happens where there is separation. But in our eyes, there isn't.
Raiders might have their man
I'm with Michael Lombardi of the NFL Network. I think the Oakland Raiders will consider Maryland tackle Bruce Campbell with their first pick, even though some people may not have a first-round grade on the guy. So why the Raiders? It's all based on what Campbell did here -- which was test off the charts, including running a 4.78 40.
Yeah, I know, he only has 17 games of starting experience. That shouldn't discourage Oakland. This is the team that made Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey the first wide receiver in last year's draft, even though he wasn't the first wide receiver on 31 boards.
"The Raiders know who they are in the draft," said Lombardi, who once served as one of the club's highest-ranking front-office executives. "They will [choose players] by the watch. When they get off the bus they determine [who they take] by size and speed. It's really easy to figure out whom they're going to pick."
For now, make it Bruce Campbell.
Light on the resume
Derrick Morgan and Jason Pierre-Paul are the top defensive ends in the draft, but Pierre-Paul scares some people because of his inexperience. It's one thing to be a one-year wonder; Pierre-Paul didn't start the first three games of last year, then produced 6½ sacks.
"He's going to be a first-rounder," one scout told me, "but he has a long way to go. There is a lot there to work with -- with the kid able to put on another 20 pounds -- but he may have boom or bust potential. I'd be careful."
So, why show up?
But what about someone like Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour, an intriguing mid-round prospect who had 102 touchdown passes in his career? He decided to throw only to stationery targets here, puzzling scouts who wanted to see him.
"With receivers," LeFevour said, "it's getting into a rhythm and throwing to guys that I'm used to. I'm doing it so I can put the best product out there on pro day."
That didn't go over well with some NFL persons who wondered why he would hold back. All I know is that 27 of the 29 running backs here ran, and all 26 offensive linemen did, too.
Most, if not all, of the defensive backs here for Tuesday's workout were expected to run, and leave it to Tennessee safety Eric Berry to explain why it was never a decision for him.
"This is the combine," he said. "Not a fashion show."
Looking to No. 1
The more I listen to the Rams the more I believe they're leaning toward quarterback Sam Bradford with the first pick -- provided, of course, that Bradford's shoulder checks out with physicians.
First of all, Bradford is the best quarterback in this year's draft. Second, he would've been the top pick a year ago if he declared for the draft. Lastly, there are the Rams themselves, and where once I thought they'd lean to the best two players in this draft -- namely, Suh and Gerald McCoy -- now I think they won't.
Here's why: Because they need a quarterback in the worst way, and they don't see much of a separation between Bradford and Clausen and the top two defensive tackles.
"If all things are equal you go with the quarterback," said Devaney. "Even if it's a little bit lower you go with the quarterback. But the two DTs are way, way up. They're difference makers and we have them graded extremely high. But I have a feeling that at the end of the day if the quarterbacks aren't right there they're going to be within striking distance."
One person, ESPN's Adam Schefter, reported that the Rams will make Bradford their first choice -- a gutsy prediction considering that the draft is seven weeks away, that Bradford hasn't thrown and that he hasn't been cleared by the team's physicians.
"That took a lot of pressure off us right away when Dr. Schefter cleared him medically," Devaney said in one of the combine's lighter moments. "We feel really good about the health of Sam Bradford now, with Dr. Schefter giving him a clean bill of health and guaranteeing our pick. So we're on to the second round right now."
Time to grow up
I know Oklahoma State's Perrish Cox is a highly touted cornerback, but he'd have to convince me to draft him after he was suspended at the Cotton Bowl for missing curfew -- not once but twice in the same week.
"The first time was Sunday night," he said. "Me and a few other guys on the team decided to go out [because] we didn't have practice the next day. We came in after curfew and got caught. We didn't get suspended but [our coach] gave us other punishments. We actually went in the next few days, talked to him, got punishments and he gave it all back.
"But it happened again on New Year's Eve. I went out and met up with my girlfriend at the time. It was a bad choice. I couldn't make it back on time. It was a stupid mistake. I learned from it, and it won't happen again."
OK, so at least the guy is honest. But when Cox talked about clubs questioning him, he used the word "harassed." Excuse me? This is a job interview. If you're going to invest millions in an employee you want him to be responsible -- or at least someone who can tell time.
Cox used the word "harassed" more than once, and, I'm sorry, that might knock me out of the box.
"It's done," Cox said of the suspension. "You can't get it back. Just move on. I can't let anybody get in my pocket."
Reason for hope
The Saints' Drew Brees is the quarterback who is supposed to give someone like Colt McCoy hope for the NFL -- basically because both are undersized for their positions. But how about what Brees can do for Bradford? Brees overcame a serious shoulder injury to become one of the game's top quarterbacks, and it's a surgically repaired right shoulder that is the concern with Bradford.
Maybe it shouldn't be, and cue to Brees: He threw for 4,000 yards in each of the past four seasons, including 5,000 yards in 2008, and won a Super Bowl.
"I'm in a great rehab program now," said Bradford. "My throwing sessions are really starting to pick up in intensity, and my last session consisted of 100 throws.
"I throw every other day. That's the schedule I'm on right now. When I get back from the combine I'm hoping to finish that rehab schedule and get to throw every day."
He gets to throw for scouts on March 25, his pro day.
Can't change his spots
One of the most illuminating comments on what's happening to Florida quarterback Tim Tebow came from Cleveland president Mike Holmgren. Tebow has tinkered with his mechanics -- including shortening his delivery -- with the results there for pro scouts to see on his March 17 pro day. In the meantime, it's up to people like Holmgren to determine what it all means.
"It's always been my opinion that that's [the throwing motion] the most difficult thing to change in any quarterback," said Holmgren. "I've read that he's got a number of guys coaching him up on that and that he's trying to change it, but it's really hard to do -- particularly in pressure situations."
Former general manager Charley Casserly, now with CBS, was a little more direct.
"History shows you can tweak a release," he said. "You can't change a release."
Casserly speaks from experience. He drafted David Carr.