LOS ANGELES – Winston Justice thrust his 320 pounds into the air, tapped a mechanism measuring his vertical leap and walked away with a twinge of disappointment. The delighted NFL onlookers be damned, 39 inches apparently wasn't enough.
"I thought I got 40, but they wouldn't give it to me," Justice said. "I thought I went higher."
If elevation was the goal, the University of Southern California tackle can rest assured that he pushed his draft stock to new heights Sunday. Justice was the big winner in the Trojans' annual pro day, entering as a top 15 through 20 pick, but looking more like top 10 material after putting on an impressive athletic display.
Not only did the USC right tackle register the best vertical jump and bench press performances (38 repetitions) of any of the premiere offensive linemen available, but he also put up a better pro day performance than Virginia offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who is widely considered the No. 1 tackle in the draft. While the display likely won't move Justice ahead of Ferguson on draft boards, it cements what few thought was possible in this draft.
Two elite tackles will be available on selection day.
"That 39-inch vertical jump is off the charts for a big man," Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox said. "He's a really good football player on tape, and that's the No. 1 thing we look at. But he certainly didn't hurt himself today. … He's athletic enough to move to left tackle, that's for sure. It's just a matter of him getting comfortable. But Winston is a smart guy. He can handle that."
"It was more than what we expected," Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "But you know, you could see flashes of that on the field. He's worked hard to get to this point."
Justice pulled his right hamstring and calf in the last few strides of his 40-yard dash, but still managed to clock a time of nearly five-flat seconds on stopwatches. His 10-yard split of 1.78 seconds suggests Justice could have run in the 4.9-range had he not pulled up at the very end. Despite the injury, he went though all of the drills, posting better numbers than Ferguson in the cone drills (7.37 seconds against Ferguson's 7.61) and shuttle (4.43 versus 4.85).
Justice weighed 15 pounds heavier than Ferguson at his pro day and still blew away the highly acclaimed Virginia product in the bench press (38-26 in reps) and vertical (39-30 in inches). And while Ferguson has spent the bulk of his career at left tackle and is known for being more technically sound, it wouldn't be surprising to hear some scouts suggest Justice is a better prospect.
As for the Trojan who made the opposite impact on talent evaluators, it wasn't hard to find a consensus.
Running back LenDale White, who chose not to perform at the scouting combine, did only the bench press Sunday, skipping the remainder of the drills due to a tweaked hamstring. He weighed in six pounds heavier than at the combine (244) and his bench press total of 15 reps was disappointing when you consider fellow running back Reggie Bush put up 24 repetitions despite weighing 42 pounds lighter. Even 204-pound punter Tom Malone managed 14 reps.
White kept a black long-sleeved track suit on for most of the day and looked out of shape in the brief periods he took the jacket off. That appearance was more than notable when White decided not to run – a decision that seemed to irk a handful of scouts and personnel men bunched near the finish line of the 40 with stopwatches in hand. Behind them, a marquee lit up a name they had been waiting for: "LenDale White." They craned their necks to the left – and the starting line was empty.
"LenDale White will not be running," yelled one of the men in charge of the 40.
The man then turned and repeated it to another throng of coaches and scouts in the bleachers, leaving some to shake their heads in disbelief. White explained his decision as a tender right hamstring that he pulled while working out at the combine. Apparently, he tweaked it when training for the pro day, and he didn't want to damage it further by running.
"It's tight," White said. "What I'm going to do is rehab it and try to get it stronger, and then maybe we can set up another date, whether it's out here or at home. I just don't want to strain it. I don't want to keep pulling it and blowing up. There's a football season coming around the corner. These tests and stuff really don't matter after a while.
"You can tell from the film what somebody can do and what they can't do. Now, when you come out here, that can help you – they want to see how fast you are. But these guys, they're not stupid at all. They know exactly what's going on. If they need me to come out and work out for them or whatever, I will do that for them. But these guys know football. I'm just going to relax and whatever happens happens."
White couldn't guarantee he would run again before the April 29-30 draft, but it was clear that the NFL representatives on hand didn't see that as an acceptable option.
"At some point, a running back has to run a 40-yard dash," Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly said. "If he doesn't, it's going to hurt him. Yeah, you can draft him, but he's going to go lower than he normally would."
Added another coach in attendance: "Now you have to wonder if he's a guy that is going to have injury and conditioning issues."
OTHER NOTABLE PERFORMACNES
- Running back Reggie Bush didn't disappoint, running an electronically timed 4.33 in his best 40. Most NFL stopwatches placed him in the 4.35 to 4.38 range. Performing in front of 150-plus onlookers from the NFL and about 1,500 fans, he also showed some explosion in the vertical, registering a 40½ and showcasing top-notch acceleration and quickness in all of his drills. He also served as a receiver during Matt Leinart's passing drills and showed good hands. All in all, it was something that should do nothing to dissuade Houston from taking him with the No. 1 pick.
"I had a chance to spend some good quality time with him and I walked away feeling very good," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "I think I was even a little surprised by how strong he was with the 24 reps (on the bench press)."
- The day's other superstar – Leinart – had a solid showing, completing 35 of 45 passes. Of the 10 incompletions, four were dropped passes. Overall, Leinart had a decent showing, completing every type of pass and showing some good mobility when rolling out of the pocket on throws. He also impressed with a 37-inch vertical leap. Overall, it was a good but not overwhelming performance as Leinart didn't appear to hurt his draft standing. The wind picked up during the latter half of his attempts, causing a handful of balls to float.
"I think he made all the throws," Fisher said. "The mobility, the discipline, the footwork and accuracy – it was there. (The wind) did kick up a bit and you saw a couple of balls sailed, but I thought he made a good adjustment."
- Guard Deuce Lutui ran a 5.33 in his 40-yard dash and did 26 reps in the bench press. His 1.7-second 10-yard split shows a good initial burst for his size (6-3½, 330 pounds). Lutui likely maintained his second-round grade.
- Safety Darnell Bing ran his 40 in the mid 4.5-second range and registered a 38-inch vertical He showed solid hands during drills and is still expected to carry a second-round grade.
- Tight end Dominique Byrd didn't have a good performance. He was timed in the low 4.8-second range in the 40, and ran a sluggish 4.5 seconds in the shuttle. He also had 16 reps in the bench press. He's likely to carry a late-second grade to mid-third-round grade.