With Michael Crabtree out of the NFL Combine mix, the prospects in perhaps the deepest wide receiver class in recent years had plenty to prove. A few took advantage of the opportunity to pull the focus onto themselves.
WRs. ACT FAST. No need to act. These guys can move. Last year, Dexter Jackson was the only WR to pull of a sub 4.3 40-yard dash. Johnny Knox from Abilene Christian clocked an unofficial 4.25 in the 40-yard dash (4.34 official), Deon Butler from Penn State did it in 4.26 (4.38), Mike Wallace from Ol’ Miss clipped a 4.28 (4.33) and Maryland standout WR, Darrius Heyward-Bey edged it out with a 4.29 (4.30). Like the supply of quality left tackles, the hoarding of WRs will probably begin in Round 1 of the draft contrary to the usual Round 2 assemblage.
Much to the chagrin of draft analysts, Michael Crabtree will have an opportunity to run his 40-yard dash during his pro day on March 26th. Hopefully he’ll heed their advice and just have the surgery…but don’t bet on it. Ranking the rest of the wide receiver class is about as easy as flipping a coin. I like Brian Robiske as the second choice and a great long-term selection. Nevermind that his father is the Atlanta Falcons WR coach, his knowledge of the game is only one of his weapons.
Jeremy Maclin and Percy Harvin are the sexy picks that cannot be ignored because of their playmaking abilities. Whether or not that translates into success at the next level remains to be seen. I believe that regardless of where they end up, those teams will have to come up with creative ways to get them the ball to get the greatest return. Thank goodness for the wildcat.
Hakeem Nicks is another wideout that, like Robiske, has all of the pure WR fundamental talents necessary to be successful in the NFL including the all-important ‘run after catch’ ability. He may have also had the best catch of the year in the Meineke Bowl.
If my list included six WRs, #6 would be Jarett Dillard from Rice. He's easily a top consideration. He boasts the 'go-get-it' of Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. If you find it hard to believe, watch some film on the guy. If you're still skeptical, perhaps you'll find his group best 42.5" vertical impressive.
QBs. CONTROVERSY? The only controversy this year is whether or not Matt Stafford or Mark Sanchez will be chosen first. Both are being criticized for their early exits from college. But when you consider the crop of guys coming next year — Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford — it may have been the best option for the two underclassmen.
Matt Stafford has obvious pros including his fundamentals and laser, rocket arm, and he will likely be the first QB taken. Mark Sanchez has some great traits as well, but what’s more noticable is the cloud of inexperience hovering over him…with only 16 collegiate starts. Both ran similar times in the 40-yard dash: 4.84 on both attempts for Stafford, 4.88 and 4.97 for Sanchez.
As for Nate Davis of Ball State, I’ve referred to him before as a Swiss Army Knife…full of valuable tools. He has great awareness and field vision…a point guard on the football field. He’s got a powerful arm, but a weapon whose intensity he controls very well. He’s impressive with the long ball (even on the run), but more importantly he places the ball with precision in the short game.
Brian Hoyer from Michigan State is a huge question mark with great pro potential. His lackluster senior season has kept him under the radar. His biggest knock is his inconsistency, which may be a product of his lack of receiving targets. He had a solid, mistake-free East-West Shrine game. The 6′2″, 215-lb Hoyer is reportedly working with former Giants QB, Scott Brunner, who also worked with Joe Flacco last year. Josh Freeman from Kansas State will have more questions to answer…also under the radar as a product of his surroundings. But he’s got ideal size and tremendous arm strength, which he put on display at the NFL Combine.
Regardless of where they go in the draft, keep your eye on Brian Johnson from Utah, John Parker Wilson from Alabama, and Rhett Bomar from Sam Houston State. Pat White of West Virginia will work out as a QB and WR at his upcoming pro day. All of the talk about Pat White has been related to the wildcat formation. White threw the ball exceptionally well today, and he was able to run unofficial times of 4.50 and 4.49 in the 40-yard dash. With impressive post season play, Texas A&M QB Steven McGee has also been noticed…another wildcat prospect. McGee ran an unofficial time of 4.58 in the 40-yard dash.
RBs. MORE THAN ONE RINGER…AND A LUCKY ONE. There are a handful of solid runners in this draft. Perhaps the most promising — and my favorite — is Donald Brown from University of Connecticut. With the stats to back up his NFL roster spot, his biggest question mark going into the NFL Combine was his speed. Not anymore. Brown ran a pair of unofficial 4.48s (4.51 official) to go along with his 41.5″ vertical jump (#1) and 10′5″ broad jump (#2).
Chris “Beanie” Wells showed his leg strength by leaping 10′8″ (#1) in the broad jump. He unnecessarily made 5 more attempts only to fall short of his personal best. That may have tired his legs for the vertical jump and 40-yard dash, which was slower than even he anticipated. Despite the NFL Combine numbers, the biggest concern surrounding Wells is his durability. There’s no doubt in his playmaking ability. He’ll probably be better off in a two-back offense.
Lesean McCoy is a tremendously talented runner. I previously referenced the Tron light bike scene (starting at about 1:08) to describe his running style. We’ve seen him time and time again turn nothing into something. And he has super awesome hands. I really wish he would have stayed back another season, so hopefully he proves me wrong. He didn’t perform in the NFL Combine due to sickness.
Gartrell Johnson might be the next Marion Barber III. He’s built like a freight train, and moves like one too. Don’t confuse that analogy with straight line running. He has excellent lateral ability as well. Gartrell ran a 4.71 and 4.77 unofficially in the 40-yard dash. At the end of the season he pounded his way to 285 yards rushing and had 90 yards receiving in the New Mexico Bowl. He also achieved 6.3 yards/carry in the 2009 East-West Shrine Game.
Knowshon Moreno has alot of expectations to be the immediate homerun hitter coming out of the draft. In fact, many draft analysts believe he’ll be the first RB taken. He’s got an amazing work ethic that translates into his on-field performances: a very tough finisher. He also boasts great hands. Knowshon sprinted the 40-yard dash in an unofficial 4.55 seconds and he threw 225 lbs up 25 times (T-6th).
One RB most would expect in any top 5 list is Shonn Greene from Iowa. Despite running a respectable and unofficial 4.65 and 4.63 in the 40-yard dash, a 37″ vertical jump, and shedding some weight for the NFL Combine, I can’t help but think of Ron Dayne…NFL Ron Dayne. Not good. Another noteworthy RB that just doesn’t do it for me is Javon Ringer. If anyone proves me wrong, I really hope it’s Javon.
Ian Johnson of Boise State and Marlon Lucky from Nebraska have also made late arguments to be noticed. Marlon Lucky surprised alot of people in the 2009 East-West Shrine Game with his bursts — 9.7 yards/carry, 1 score and an offensive MVP award. He ran 4.59 and 4.55 unofficially in the 40-yard dash. And with 75 receptions in 2007, he can catch a little too. As far as Ian Johnson is concerned…the only thing I’m concerned about is whether or not he’ll be able to transition from blue to green turf. That’s a joke. Ian ran 4.38 and 4.44 unofficially in the 40-yard dash.