- Steve Muench, Scouts Inc.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the NFL combine is watching players go through drills that test their ability to do things they were not asked to do in college and are designed to expose athletic limitations. These drills help teams determine where a player without a natural position might fit best at the next level.
The most obvious example is college defensive ends moving to outside linebacker, such as Pittsburgh Steelers 2007 second-round pick LaMarr Woodley. However, defensive ends aren't the only prospects who change positions and/or play in different schemes.
Here are five 2012 prospects whose recent combine workouts might have affected their NFL futures, and the teams that could be interested. (Non-seniors noted with an asterisk.)
South Carolina DE/OLB Melvin Ingram
(Scouts Inc. grade: 95)
The sixth overall prospect on our board, Ingram had more to prove in Indianapolis than most top-tier prospects, thanks in large part to lack of a perfect NFL fit. At 6-foot-1, Ingram is two inches shorter than the average end prospect at the last four combines, and his shorter arms (31.4) raise concerns about his ability to line up as defensive end in a four-man front at the next level.
The question then became whether he could play outside linebacker in a base three-man front. Ingram did all he could -- both at the combine and the Senior Bowl in late January -- to show 3-4 teams he's worth a first-round pick. While he's not an elite athlete, Ingram showed above-average balance and burst during coverage drills, especially for a 264-pound prospect. The Miami Dolphins (No. 8 overall) and Arizona Cardinals (No. 13) need linebacker help and could be possible landing spots early on.
Memphis DT Dontari Poe* (93)
It's understandable that much has been made of the 6-3, 346-pound Poe running a 4.98-second 40-yard dash and bench-pressing 225 pounds 44 times. Those are remarkable numbers, but his 10-yard split (1.63) in the 40 and the foot speed he showed during bag work are even more impressive. Poe is now drawing favorable comparisons to Baltimore's Haloti Ngata and New England's Vince Wilfork in terms of size and agility.
Poe should have plenty of suitors given that he is big enough to anchor the middle of a three-man front, and athletic enough to line up at defensive tackle in a four-man front. However, he is a raw prospect and might be a better fit for a one-gap scheme that simply asks him to explode upfield, rather than a two-gap scheme that requires him to stay low and control blockers with his hands. The Kansas City Chiefs (No. 11) need help at nose tackle, and Poe is such a unique talent that the Chiefs could reach for him even if he isn't an ideal fit at this point. The Philadelphia Eagles (No. 15) are another team that needs defensive line help.
Syracuse DE/OLB Chandler Jones* (89)
Coverage drills at the combine exposed some tightness in his hips, and Jones (6-5, 266) didn't show great body control throughout the workout. He's capable of dropping into coverage on occasion and could still line up at outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, but he looks like a much better fit at defensive end. The good news is he had a strong workout for an end prospect.
Jones laid down a quick 10-yard split (1.63) and showed good bend during drills, and there's also a lot to like about his arm length (35.4 inches) and upper-body strength. His 22 reps on the bench press are slightly below the four-year average for ends, but given his arm length it's a noteworthy number. Jones is on the fringe of the first round, where the New England Patriots (Nos. 27 and 31) could be looking for help along the line. The Jacksonville Jaguars are another possible fit early in the second round.
Montana DC/DS Trumaine Johnson (85)
The 6-2, 204-pound Johnson posted a disappointing 4.61 in the 40 and had problems staying low in his backpedal. He's still fluid enough to play corner for teams that value size on the perimeter (like the Seattle Seahawks or Baltimore Ravens), but he might be a better fit at safety, where his range, ball skills and arm length (33.2) could help him become a playmaker.
With the 2012 safety class looking weak overall, teams that need help there should take a longer look at bigger corners like Johnson. The Pittsburgh Steelers are another team that plays bigger corners (Ike Taylor is almost exactly the same size as Johnson) and should address a need at corner. The Steelers could also stand to infuse some youth at safety, so drafting Johnson late in the second makes sense.
California LB Mychal Kendricks (79)
Kendricks has experience lining up both inside and outside in California's 3-4 scheme, but he doesn't have the bulk (5-11, 239 pounds) most 3-4 teams look for on the outside. However, he is a good fit inside and has the ability to push for immediate playing time there. Kendricks also moves well enough in space to play weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme.
His 40 time (4.47), vertical jump (39.5) and broad jump (10-foot-7) were better than any other linebacker in Indianapolis, and he showed off his athleticism and smooth footwork in drills, making him a possible option for the San Diego Chargers in the second round.
Steve Muench looks at five players who stood out at the NFL combine, why they might be heading for position changes in the NFL, and where they might land in the NFL.