Best and Worst of the NFL Combine
by Trevor Whenham - 02/25/2009
The NFL Combine is over, but the debate over what happened in Indianapolis and how much it really matters will rage on right up to the day of the NFL Draft. Some players exceeded the lofty expectations placed on them, while others had disastrous weeks. Here's a look at five winners and three losers at the NFL meat market:
Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest - Curry is the biggest winner of the week. In fact, he likely made himself very rich. Curry was viewed by many as the best defensive player in the draft coming into the Combine. All he did in Indianapolis was strengthen that position. He was an absolute beast - faster, stronger, and more athletic than linebackers usually are. He had the fastest 40-yard time, the longest broad jump, and the highest vertical jump. There hasn't been a linebacker as the top pick since Aundray Bruce in 1988, but Curry has done everything possible to break that streak.
Jared Cook, TE, South Carolina - Cook obviously isn't as high profile as Curry, but he helped himself almost as much. Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew is seen as the best tight end in the class, but he was far from impressive in Indy. That opened the door for the next tier of players, and Cook stepped through it. Cook ran the fastest 40 in a couple of years at 4.50 seconds. He also topped the vertical jump and broad jump. Cook has some solid stats, and he has outstanding hands. Tight ends with good fundamentals and great workouts have a history of rocketing up the draft board.
Connor Barwin, DE, Cincinnati - Barwin came to Indy way under the radar. Up until a year ago he was a tight end. He opened a bunch of eyes at the Combine, though. He ran the second fastest 40 for his position, and he put together the top result in an impressive list of categories - vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill, and 20-yard shuttle. He also showed very good movement in his hips, and a good ball sense. His biggest asset is his versatility - he can play offense if needed, he has put in his time at DE, and he has the look of a linebacker in 3-4 or 4-3. He likely secured himself a spot in the first two rounds.
Darius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland - Heyward-Bey earned the distinction of running the fastest 40 of the year at 4.30 seconds. The first two receivers are reasonably secure in Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin. Percy Harvin probably sits third on most lists, but he could be displaced between now and April. Heyward-Bey's impressive showing alongside flat showings by Maclin and Harvin will strengthen his case significantly. He wasn't flawless in his receiving - the ball got too close to his body often when he was catching it - but he has time to work on that.
Stephen McGee, QB, Texas A&M - This is not a particularly deep or impressive quarterback class, so there is a lot of room for players beyond the top two (Stafford and Sanchez) to move up. McGee is making a real case to move up. He showed impressive athleticism, with strong performances running and jumping. He also exceeded expectations and shone compared to his peers in the passing drills. He still has to overcome an injury-filled senior season and a quirky offensive system, but in the absence of strong alternatives he helped himself significantly and made himself some money.
Andre Smith, OT, Alabama - Smith seems determined to lose millions of dollars and make himself a punchline. A couple of months ago Smith was seen as the top left tackle in the draft, and was sitting atop a couple of prominent NFL mock drafts. He has done nothing right since then, though. He got suspended for his bowl game for contacting an agent. He showed up at the Combine out of shape, then he told anyone who would listen that he had chosen left tackle because his dad told him it was the highest paid position. Then he disappeared from the camp without telling anyone on Saturday morning - the day he was due to work out. Smith is in freefall, and could end up outside of the first round entirely. Idiot.
Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State - The cornerbacks were universally disappointing this year, but none more than Jenkins. He was projected as the top corner in the class coming into the Combine. The biggest concern about him was his speed, and he did nothing to ease those worries. He was more than a 10th of a second slower than he needed to be. He also flopped in the position drills, not showing good movement in his hips or easy changes of direction. This performance won't change things by itself, but it could combine with other factors to make Jenkins look more like a safety than a cornerback. That would drop him down the board and cost him money.
Shonn Greene, RB, Iowa - This isn't seen as a great running back class, so players really needed to make a statement to stand out and move up. Greene, the Doak Walker Award winner as the nation's top running back, didn't do that. He isn't a speedster, but he ran even slower than expected at 4.63 seconds for the 40. He also got fewer lifts in the bench press than expected. Greene doesn't have the advantage of being a serviceable receiver, so this lack of strength and speed will scare teams off and could see him fall as far as the third round.