March 01, 2011
The more draft classes you watch, the more you understand that the preponderance of talent can hit particular positions at the right time, leading to an explosion in the way that positional talent affects the game. When looking at the defensive linemen who worked out on Monday, there weren't too many "losers" per se, because so many of those players in what some consider the best D-line class ever performed up to potential. The linebackers, on the other hand, were a mixed bag in a class that is one of the weakest in recent years.
Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn - He's projected by many to be the best at his position, but even so, Fairley impressed those who were already captivated by his game tape. He showed great intensity all day and displayed such exceptional turn and hit in the bag drills, it was easy to forget that he's not a rush end and inadvertently debit him for missing a step in the faster portions of the drills in which linemen must change direction. Fairley does not have Ndamukong Suh's(notes) potential, but like Suh, he came to Indianapolis and worked his tail off despite an almost certain top-three draft pick status.
Robert Quinn, DE, and Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina - Though Fairley didn't have much to prove, Quinn and Austin had to show that they still had it after missing their 2010 seasons as the result of various suspensions. Quinn looked dynamite in the pass-rush drills; his speed for his size is truly exceptional. And Austin showed good power and punch. Few players had more to gain at the combine than these two, and they both showed up in a big way.
Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Purdue - It's no surprise that Kerrigan looked quick and dynamic as a pass rusher; his high-intensity style is well known. But he also seems determined to prove that if needed, he could play the 3-4 outside linebacker position, which had him dropping back in linebacker drills. Kerrigan didn't look completely fluid - he's still blocky with his movements in space and his hip turn needs work - but there's no question that his desire to be more versatile will be duly noted by NFL teams.
Von Miller, OLB, Texas A & M - And who didn't know that Miller was a speedster? But the fact that he ran sub-4.5 40 while putting on weight to bulk up and answer his questions about holding the point was impressive. Miller also showed off his agility with the fastest three-cone time among outside linebackers.
Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon - A shoulder injury kept Matthews from working out, which doesn't help his case after a fairly strong Senior Bowl week. Matthers wasn't as dynamic as a pass rusher as his brother is, but he did show some fluidity in his drops and was a demon in the special teams drills. It would have been nice had he been able to carry the momentum over.
Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State - Some have questions about Heyward's ability to be an elite player in the NFL. He didn't do himself any favors with his combine workout. In truth, Heyward wasn't expected to work out in Indy for awhile - an injured elbow was to get in the way - so he should be credited for showing up and doing what he could do.
But a 4.92 40-yard dash at 6-foot-5 and 294 pounds doesn't compare to the 4.87 run by defensive tackle Nick Fairley, and it's something that may stick in the minds of evaluators. More and more, speed must match explosiveness among defensive linemen. It's not enough to be a big guy who just falls on people anymore.
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