- Todd McShay, Scouts Inc.
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Todd McShay will be filling you in on the daily buzz from the combine, breaking down measurements and workout results and giving you all the news and notes coming out of Indianapolis. To see this and more, become an ESPN Insider.
INDIANAPOLIS -- With Alabama OT Andre Smith's stock free falling, Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree finding out he has a stress fracture in his left foot and Georgia QB Matthew Stafford not throwing, we hadn't seen much from the elite prospects at the combine. That changed Monday, though, when Wake Forest OLB Aaron Curry looked every bit a top-five pick.
Curry finished with the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.56 seconds) and longest broad jump (10 feet, 4 inches) and tied with two other players for the best vertical jump (37 inches) among the linebackers. He also impressed with his work during drills, particularly one that's designed to simulate a linebacker shifting through traffic between the tackles.
In that drill, each prospect steps over a set of pads while sliding laterally in one direction, quickly reverses direction, slaps the pads with his hands as he shuffles back and then explodes through the cones to finish. It's important to be fluid and quick,and just as important to keep your eyes up because teams want to know whether you can locate the ball as you scrape down the line of scrimmage. Most prospects were seen peeking down at the pads, but Curry did an excellent job of keeping his eyes up. It's a small difference but an important one. And weighing in at 254 pounds and measuring 6-foot-1 made Curry's performance that much more impressive.
One of the reasons Curry hadn't been getting much predraft hype was the overshadowing presence of the trio of USC linebackers in this class. After all, MLB Rey Maualuga, OLB Brian Cushing and OLB Clay Matthews all could hear their names called in Round 1. Furthermore, fellow Trojans OLB Kaluka Maiava projects as a middle-round pick. We expected this group to continue dominating the headlines here at the combine, but their performance Monday was met with mixed reviews.
Maualuga's day ended almost as soon as it started when he pulled up with hamstring injury after completing his first 40-yard dash (4.77). Maualuga said the injury was an issue before he came to the combine but that he didn't want to use it as an excuse not to work out. The good news is he has time to heal before USC's pro day April 1, so his stock won't take much of a hit if he works out well in Los Angeles.
Cushing didn't run as well as expected (4.74), and he had to follow the more athletic Curry during drills, which never helps. Cushing also turned the wrong way on one of the cover drills, which didn't look good at the time but certainly needs to be kept in perspective. He still finished with the seventh-best 40-time, recorded the top time in the three-cone drill (6.84 seconds) and, compared to the rest of the group, had a strong showing in the position-specific drills.
Matthews had a better day than Cushing, running a 4.67 40, recording a 10-1 broad jump and notching a vertical jump of 35.5. We were impressed with the way Matthews sank his hips and planted his outside foot when asked to switch directions. He also showed adequate burst coming out of his backpedal and looked more fluid than Cushing when asked to open his hips while backpedaling.
Maiava, who had a week of strong practice at the East-West Shrine Game in January, continues to fly under the radar, even though he has the skills to develop into a starting weakside linebacker at the next level. He isn't as big (5-11, 229) or as fast as his college teammates, but he moved well during position-specific drills and showed great upper-body strength by benching 225 pounds 30 times. In fact, his 30 reps were good enough to tie Cushing and Ohio State's Marcus Freeman for tops among the linebackers.
Maualuga wasn't the only potential first-round pick to sustain a hamstring injury. Texas DE/OLB Brian Orakpo also tweaked a hamstring, and although we would have liked to see him participate in cover drills, he did run the third-fastest 40 (4.70) and record the second-highest vertical jump (39.5) among the defensive ends. In addition, any teams interested in seeing his ability to open his hips and transition out of his backpedal should get a chance to see him work out at his pro day March 25.
If Monday was the first time you had a chance to see Georgia Tech DE/OLB Michael Johnson in person, you might have wondered why he isn't a first-round lock. At 6-7 and 266 pounds, Johnson ran the 40 in 4.75, broad-jumped 10-8, vertical-jumped 38.5 and ran the 20-yard shuttle in 4.37. More importantly, he moved extraordinarily well for a man of his size during cover drills, changing directions effortlessly and covering ground quickly. His physical skills come as no surprise, but this showing must be kept in perspective.
Sure, Johnson is a tremendous athlete for a player with his massive frame. That's why Scouts Inc. -- and most college scouting departments across the league -- considered him a potential elite prospect prior to the 2008 season. However, Johnson has never played to his potential on the field, and there's reason to believe he never will. We're not saying he's the next Mike Mamula, or even the next Vernon Gholston. It is our view, though, that a team will be making a considerable error if it gambles on Johnson's upside, because along with that upside comes the risk of a player with questionable toughness, marginal strength and an inconsistent motor.
Unheralded prospects Connor Barwin (Cincinnati) and Lawrence Sidbury (Richmond) turned in two of the more noteworthy performances Monday. Barwin, who made the position switch from tight end just last spring, displayed remarkable speed, explosiveness and athleticism. He ran the second-fastest 40 (4.66) among defensive linemen, and he finished atop the group in the vertical jump (40.5), broad jump (10-8), three-cone drill (6.87) and 20-yard shuttle (4.18). In addition to experience at defensive end and tight end, Barwin displayed the hip fluidity during drills to project as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or even as a "Sam" linebacker in a 4-3. That kind of versatility, combined with the athletic upside he showed at the combine, should earn Barwin a spot in the top 50 overall picks.
Sidbury did not look as fluid during his workout as a linebacker, which is a bit concerning, considering his lack of ideal height (6-2). However, he is solidly built at 266 pounds and ran the fastest 40 (4.64) among defensive linemen. In addition, Sidbury has surprisingly long arms (35.5 inches) and enormous hands (10.6 inches), and he showed excellent upper-body power with 28 reps on the bench press. From his three-sack showing in the Football Championship Subdivision title game, to his strong outings at the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, to the jaw-dropping performance in Indy, no player has improved his stock more in the past four months than Sidbury. He now projects as an early Day 2 pick.
Barwin, Sidbury and Johnson turned in three of the top workouts during Monday morning's defensive linemen session, but none of them ranks in our top five at the end position. That it's not an indictment of any of the players mentioned above, just a reflection of how much talent exists in this year's crop of defensive ends.
For an overview of how many of the top DE-OLB hybrids performed Monday, here's a breakdown by current ranking. And note that this list does not include Matthews and Cushing, who fit the category but already have been profiled in this report:
1. Aaron Maybin, Penn State (6-3¾, 249) -- Ran a somewhat disappointing 40 (unofficial 4.77) but showed explosiveness with fourth-best vertical jump (38). Also displayed above-average initial quickness and good body lean during pass-rushing drills.
2. Brian Orakpo, Texas (6-3, 263) -- Can overcome the hamstring injury suffered here with a solid pro day workout.
3. Everette Brown, Florida State (6-1½, 256) -- The good news: ran fourth-fastest 40 (4.73) of the defensive linemen. The bad news: measured in well short of 6-3, which limits his value for some teams and/or schemes.
4. Robert Ayers, Tennessee (6-3⅛, 272) -- Is a bigger prospect than all others on this list. Might be best suited as a traditional 4-3 end. Ran a solid but unspectacular 40 (unofficial 4.80) but did not finish among the top 10 defensive linemen in any of the measured drills.
5. Larry English, Northern Illinois (6-2⅛, 255) -- Did not run as fast as expected but tied for fourth in the short shuttle (4.38 seconds) and placed seventh in the vertical jump (36) and eighth in the three-cone drill (7.26).
6. Paul Kruger, Utah (6-4¼, 263) -- Ran a decent 40 (unofficial 4.84), but his 10-yard split (1.74) was not as fast as expected. Showed solid upper-body power with 24 reps on the bench press and fluid hips in linebacker workouts.
7. Clint Sintim, Virginia (6-2¾, 256) -- Scouts clocked Sintim in the same high-4.7 range as Maybin in the 40. Had a top-10 broad jump (9-11) but didn't stand out in any other area.
8. David Veikune, Hawaii (6-2⅜, 257) -- Ran the fastest 10-yard split of the defensive linemen, which is more important to this position than the full 40-yard dash (4.87). Also put up 35 reps on the bench.
9. Cody Brown, Connecticut (6-2⅛, 244) -- Impressive overall workout. Ran the 40 in 4.84 (seventh among defensive linemen) and finished in the top 10 in the vertical jump (36.5), broad jump (10-0), short shuttle (4.4 seconds) and three-cone drill (7.1 seconds).
And if you're wondering why LSU DE Tyson Jackson was left off the list, there is a reason. At 6-4 and 296 pounds, Jackson is a different breed of defensive end. His best fit will be as either a five-technique (inside) in a 3-4 defense or as a versatile power end in a 4-3 scheme, in which case he can occasionally move inside to rush the quarterback on passing downs. Jackson had a solid showing, notching a 4.94 in the 40 and displaying good quickness and athleticism for his size during position drills. Jackson projects as a mid- to late-first-round pick.
Curry isn't the only Wake Forest linebacker making noise at the combine. In fact, MLB Stanley Arnoux did all he could to steal the spotlight from his college teammate Monday. Arnoux's 40-yard dash time of 4.61 seconds was good enough to tie him with Southern Miss MLB Gerald McRrath for second-best in the group, and Arnoux tied for the third-longest broad jump (10-1). He also looked fluid during position-specific drills, so we feel he helped himself.
Ohio State also has multiple linebackers here in Indianapolis and, at the risk of piling on, we have to say we were disappointed with the performances of Freeman and MLB James Laurinaitis.
Laurinaitis didn't crack the top 10 in any of the tests, and we thought he would run faster than his 4.81 in the 40. Making matters worse, he struggled to transition out of his backpedal during drills. He clearly is a better football player than athlete, so don't expect his stock to free fall, but this kind of performance is exactly why we continue to feel that Laurinaitis really hurt himself by not going to the Senior Bowl and showing what he can do on the field.
Freeman actually ran well, finishing the 40 in the same 4.74 seconds as Cushing, and opened his hips well when asked to turn and run in coverage. He opened his hips better than Cushing but was more stiff than Cushing when moving side to side or attacking upfield. So why is Cushing ranked higher than Freeman? Because on film, Cushing masks his lack of ideal hip fluidity by jamming tight ends at the line, and he's capable of doing the same at the next level. Although Freeman weighed in at 239 pounds, he projects as a weakside linebacker and will need to slip blocks and make plays in space, so he's going to have a tougher time masking his lack of ideal foot speed.
One player who really impressed us Monday was South Carolina MLB Jasper Brinkley. Brinkley has lost 10 pounds since the East-West Shrine Game, and you could see it on the field. The now-252-pound interior run-stuffer ran a strong 40 (4.72), and he looked more agile during position-specific drills than we expected. In addition, teams have to be impressed with shape he's in right now.
Boston College DT B.J. Raji didn't make the same kind of splash here that he did at the Senior Bowl, but that was to be expected because he isn't a track star. That said, Raji he did nothing here to hurt his draft stock. He checked in at a massive 337 pounds and locked out 33 bench-press reps, and his solid performance continued into his on-field workout. He turned in a respectable 40 (unofficial 5.08) and moved well during drills.
Texas DT Roy Miller flew under the radar a bit during his time in Indianapolis, but we think he helped himself. He weighed in at 310 pounds and put up 36 reps on the bench, which was good enough for second among defensive linemen. Miller also showed he can move well for a player his size, recording an impressive (although unofficial) 4.94 in the 40 and looking fluid during drills. We also were particularly impressed with his ability to stay low and change directions quickly. Scouts we have talked to love his overall toughness, and thanks in large part to his performance at the combine, Miller has inserted himself into the mid-round conversation.
It comes as no surprise that San Jose State DT Jarron Gilbert ended the combine as one of the top performers at his position. Gilbert checked in at 6-5 and 288 pounds and tied for the longest arms (36.6) at the combine, then posted an impressive 4.82 (unofficial) in the 40. He also recorded a 35.5 vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump, both best among defensive linemen. Of course, all this should come as no surprise to anyone who's seen the YouTube video of Gilbert jumping out of a 3-foot deep swimming pool and landing on his feet on the deck. He's gone from a fringe draft pick a year ago to a projected early second-round pick.
Sticking with the theme of good athletes at defensive tackle, Purdue's Alex Magee helped himself Monday as well. Magee posted a 5.00 (unofficial) in the 40, which is a respectable time, considering he weighed in at 298 pounds. It was during the position drills that he really started to turn some heads, though. Magee was light on his feet during bag drills, showing the ability to plant his foot in the ground and transition quickly when changing directions. Magee even went as far as to participate in coverage drills, and while he isn't going to move to linebacker any time soon, he did show scouts he has above-average athletic ability by taking part in the drill.
Kentucky's Myron Pryor showed some flashes of upside but was inconsistent throughout. He did a nice job of staying snug to the bag but didn't stay low, and his plant foot slipped, causing him to fall to the turf. Also, while the 319-pound Pryor posted a strong 40 time (unofficial 5.04), he didn't carry the weight well during position drills. He appeared heavy-footed sliding over the bags and failed to stay low when asked to change directions. A pass-rushing drill that required prospects to loop around a bag and then sprint through the line gave Pryor the most trouble.
Todd McShay is the director of college football scouting for Scouts Inc. He has been evaluating prospects for the NFL draft since 1998. Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl also contributed to this report.