February 28, 2011
As the scouting combine drills move from offensive linemen and tight ends to running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers, the focus increases on the kinds of drills that are supposed to show just how well each player will play his position at the NFL level changes. These drills aren't always representative, but they expose enough to separate the winners from the losers in every day of the process.
Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Rated as the second receiver on most boards behind Georgia's A.J. Green, Jones did everything he possibly could to prove that he's just as deserving of a top-10 selection. From start to finish in his drills, Jones impressed tremendously. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, and in the quarterback-receiver drills, Jones looked great to the writers who were allowed to watch the drills inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
Jones has a great sense of functional speed, especially for his size -- when he needs to get quick and process things in a hurry, he doesn't get frantic like a lot of young receivers do. The second long post-corner route he ran may have been the best route run all day; Jones just looks great when making cuts in short spaces. And because these drills were non-contact, observers will go back to Jones' game tape and see the in-game things he does so well -- his ability to get downfield despite contact, and the way he crosses fearlessly into traffic. The one debit about him -- the fact that he'll drop passes he shouldn't -- didn't show up as a factor in the combine drills.
Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
There's only one way to put across the ridiculous extent of your strength in a dog-and-pony show -- set a combine record for the 225-pound bench press. That's exactly what Paea did Sunday, and it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who's watched him play. Born in New Zealand and raised in Tonga, the former rugby player came to America at age 16 and fell in love with football. Paea is not an elite pass disruptor, per se -- he's more a fireplug in any inside role. In his football training, he's benched 500 pounds, squatted 600, and rattled off 49 bench-press reps in combine training.
Of course, the real question is -- how does all that strength transfer to his on-field play? Turn on the game tape, and it's very obvious. Paea is extremely difficult to block because he comes off the snap so low, gets under the pads of the blocker, and starts to break protections apart.
Jake Locker, QB, Washington
Nobody questions Locker's athleticism; when he ran dual 4.52 40-yard dashes, those who have seen him play for the Huskies the last half-decade yawned and moved on to the next drill. But in the quarterback sessions, Locker displayed everything we knew he had (the ability to make every throw) and managed to find the one ability he's been lacking all along -- throws that show consistent accuracy and anticipation.
Locker hit deep seam routes with timing and touch, threw slants with good anticipation despite some unfortunate drops, and only really showed any yips on the deeper routes in which he had to throw against his body. Clearly, the work Locker's doing with former New York Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien is paying off. If Locker throws like this in his Pro Day on March 30, he may confirm a first-round grade.
Ricky Stanzi, QB, Iowa
On the other hand, Stanzi was not able to erase the memory of his sub-par Senior Bowl performance. Through the week in Mobile, Stanzi kept having trouble making throws with the necessary velocity, undercutting receivers who had run the right routes and were in good positions to produce. His deep balls were generally short in the combine drills, which can be embarrassing.
When the receiver has to hang there at the end of a route and wait for the throw to catch up, it's a very clear signal that the quarterback throwing those passes is going to get his teammates in trouble with defenders closing in and getting ready to make big hits.
Jon Baldwin, WR, Pitt
Baldwin's got the raw talent for a potential first-round grade, but questions persist about his consistency on the field and his maturity off. On the Lucas Oil Stadium turf, Baldwin didn't help himself with the on-field stuff. He caught the ball decently, but he struggled as much as any receiver in the drills with route-running; he looked unfinished running some of the different patterns and missed a few cones outright. It's been a trend toward sloppier routes in the last few years at these drills, and Baldwin didn't bring up the ratio of route-solid players.
Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Smith hasn't run his drills yet; the defensive backs won't do that until Tuesday. And his podium gaffe wasn't as bad as Ryan Mallett, but a guy with far more pass deflections (18) than interceptions (three) probably shouldn't be saying things like this when a reporter asks him how he feels about being compared to All-World cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha(notes): "I like the comparison, he's a shutdown corner in the NFL. I mean, I like the comparison a lot. I think I have better ball skills than he does, though."
Well, no. Smith is a good young cornerback with a great deal of potential; Asomugha has some of the best ball skills any defensive back has ever displayed. Smith will get his chance to show his estimable stuff in front of coaches and scouts, and he'll most likely be very impressive ... but a little humility might take him a long way.
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