Feb 22, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Southern California Trojans defensive linemen Leonard Williams runs the 40 yard dash during the 2015 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Day Three of workouts at the NFL Combine has ended, with defensive linemen and linebackers doing their on-field drills and defensive backs getting measured and bench pressing. This years’ crop of defensive linemen and outside linebackers was impressively deep, with a number of very productive athletes in a wide range of sizes, shapes and positional fits. This group impressed even further today at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Here’s five impressions I had today.
1. Inside Linebackers are Disappointing
One of the key needs the Raiders have going into the 2015 season is the future of the middle linebacker position. Nick Roach may never play again after a season-ending concussion suffered last preseason, and Miles Burris is certainly not a fit for the position. I identified five potential candidates the Raiders may have an eye on in this Combine, and all five – along with nearly every other player in the position group – disappointed in their workouts today in one way or another.
Apparent super-athlete Benardrick McKinney out of Mississippi State, whom I identified during the season as a potential prospect to watch, had a decent but unimpressive workout, showing about average upper-body strength (16 reps of bench), with good speed in the 40 and good lower-body explosion in the vertical and broad jump. He also was stiff and tended to play high in the position workouts, showing that, while he has some good physical tools, he’s still very raw from a technique perspective.
South Bound & Down
Paul Dawson out of TCU is on tape perhaps the most instinctive linebacker in the group, but the knock on him was that he was undersized. At 6’0″ and 235 pounds he has decent size for the position, and his 21 reps on the bench suggest enough upper-body strength. But he ran a deplorable 4.93 second 40-yard dash, and was below average in both the broad jump and vertical. While straight line speed isn’t hugely important for linebackers, you still want a guy who can get to the boundary quickly from the middle, or potentially run with tight ends and backs in coverage. Dawson also looked stiff and slow-footed in position drills, and ran unimpressively in the shuttle run. His draft stock will fall.
Denzel Perryman and Eric Kendricks did not have lousy workouts, but neither really did anything to help their draft stock or stand out as must-have athletes. Kendricks was a bit small, but showed really great speed (a 4.61 official time in the 40) and lower-body explosion and demonstrated good feet and athleticism in position drills. Denzel Perryman measured at 5’11”, but put up an impressive 27 reps of bench, though his 40-yard dash time was an unimpressive 4.78. The two represent two different styles of player: big inside thumper or speedy slasher. Both are potentially situational players, at least as rookies.
2. Leonard Williams is Who We Thought He Is
Leonard Williams is widely regarded as the best defensive lineman in the draft, and indeed many are calling him the best defensive player or the best overall player in the draft. Leonard Williams came to the Combine and confirmed it for everyone.
Williams measured just below 6’5″ and 302 pounds with a very even, athletic build. He declined to participate in the bench press, but ran a full workout today, and impressed everyone with his speed, quick feet, and lower-body explosion at his size. Williams ran the 40-yard dash in 4.97 seconds, the fastest 40-yard dash for a 300+ pound player so far in this Combine, and had an impressive 10-yard split of 1.72 seconds. He showed great lower-body explosion with a 106″ broad jump, and impressed in the 3-cone and short shuttle.
But where Williams really made his money was in his individual workout. In the change-of direction drills and bag drills, he stood out, showing quick high feet, rapid change of direction and ability to get up to full speed in a hurry. He also delivered strong blows to the heavy bags and showed great hand speed and strike. It was impressive to watch on TV, and was apparently impressive for the media in attendance, who sang his praises throughout the workout.
Leonard Williams’ Combine workout did exactly what an elite player’s Combine workout should do: confirm what everyone has seen on tape and from watching his games. He showed that he has the quick feet and speed for his size that can make him the versatile type of defensive lineman that everyone hopes he can be. While it’s almost assured that Williams will be off the board within the first three picks, if by some miracle he falls to the 4th overall pick, Reggie McKenzie would be a complete fool not to take him.
3. Vic Beasley is a Beast
Yesterday, I took notice when Clemson’s Vic Beasley recorded an eye-popping 35 reps in the bench press. The speedy edge rusher, who projects more as a 3-4 rush linebacker at the NFL level, came into the Combine apparently hoping to show that he can play with his hand in the ground at the next level as well, weighing in at 246 pounds, ten pounds above his listed playing weight at Clemson.
Beasley continued his dominance of the NFL Scouting Combine today in the rest of the workouts. Known as a speedy edge-rushing technician already, he confirmed this status and more. He ran an eye-popping 4.53 second time in the 40-yard dash, a speed on par with some of the better wideouts in this rookie class. He also showed incredible athletic ability and lower-body explosion: a 130 inch broad jump (that’s 10’10”), and he added a 41″ vertical to that.
He finished the measurable workouts as a top performer in every single measurable event. But he wasn’t done there. Beasley excelled in positional workouts as well, showing very fluid movement, quick feet, great changes of direction and smooth hip turns. There wasn’t a single flaw to be found in his workout, and he likely sent NFL scouts scrambling to their laptops to take another look at his college tape. Beasley may have gone from a late first-round pick to a top 10 guy after today’s command performance. With the Raiders considering edge rushers in this draft, look for him as a potential target, especially in a trade-back situation.
4. Three Other Potential Rush Ends Emerged
Three other players had strong performances today as potential edge rushers, players who could fit either in a 4-3 base front as 7-tech ends, but also as potential 5-tech ends or 3-4 rush linebackers. Two of the three I had identified as potential fits for the Raiders in my previews: Florida’s Dante Fowler, Jr. and UCLA’s Owamagbe Odighizuwa. The third was a player I had overlooked: Kentucky’s Alvin “Bud” Dupree.
Dupree was a bit of a dark horse player who had some good production on a bad college team that got beat up week after week in the SEC. Dupree, who worked out with the linebackers at the Combine, weighed in at 6’4″ and 269 pounds, which is prototypical size for a 4-3 7-technique end and also big enough to play the 5-tech in a 4-3 over front or a 3-4 front. Dupree was apparently suffering from some mystery injury that prevented him from benching or running position drills, but he looks to be all muscle, indicating a lot of physical strength necessary for the end position.
Dupree has all the speed you’d want from either a 4-3 end or a 3-4 rush linebacker. He ran an impressive 4.56 second 40-yard dash, elite speed for either position and among the best finishers in this class. He also jumped out the building, recording a 42 inch vertical and a 138 inch broad jump. While he’ll have some work to do in his Pro Day, he definitely did enough today to get a LOT of teams heads turned.
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Odighizuwa, who at 6’3″ and 267 pounds appears chiseled out of stone, has some questions to answer regarding his pass rushing ability at the next level after not being particularly productive as a pass rusher for Jim Mora. But in terms of his athletic ability, there will be no more questions after today.
Odighizuwa put up a respectable 25 reps in the bench press yesterday, but he showed uncanny speed, athleticism and explosiveness today. He ran the 40 in 4.62 seconds, and had impressive showings in both the short and long shuttle as well. He also showed great lower-body explosion with a 39 inch vertical and a 127 inch broad jump. His performances in the position drills were solid, showing good hips, fluidity and explosive hands and quick feet.
While he still hasn’t really answered questions about his lack of pass-rushing ability on tape, he definitely showed that he has all the physical tools to line up on most downs at the next level. If he can be coached to develop a couple of good pass rush moves – or if he can be lined up outside and use his speed – he can likely be at least a potent pass-rushing threat, good enough to command attention. He could be a good fit on a team that already has one elite pass-rusher, like the Raiders with Khalil Mack.
Dante Fowler is widely considered the elite edge rusher in this draft class, and he did nothing in the Combine to dispel that narrative at all. Fowler, who played as a 3-4 rush linebacker last year for Florida, weighed in at 261 pounds, which is not ideal size but is good enough to play as a 4-3 end from a 7 or 9 technique, as well as a stand up rush linebacker. Fowler didn’t blow anyone’s mind with his Combine workout, but he didn’t do anything to get scouts reviewing tape looking for problems, either.
The Landry Hat
Fowler ran an impressive 4.60 in the 40-yard dash, was quick in both shuttle runs and the three cone, and recorded a 112 inch broad jump and a 32.5 inch vertical. While his bench number was a bit subpar – only 19 reps – his speed, athleticism and moves are how he will beat blocks, the bench number won’t hurt him much. Fowler ran drills with both the linebackers and the defensive linemen today, and performed very well, showing his great feet, fluid hips and quick change ability.
The Raiders have a need for a book-end who can line up on the opposite side of the defensive formation from Khalil Mack and command attention on passing downs. Depending on the type of base scheme Jack Del Rio wishes to run next year, he may look for a pure 3-4 rush player like Randy Gregory, but it’s more likely he and Reggie McKenzie will target one of these versatile players who can be used in either scheme.
5. Josh Shaw Means Business
Last week, I included Josh Shaw’s name among my list of safeties to watch in this Combine, despite the fact that Shaw is a cornerback, and despite Shaw’s glaring off-field blunder early this past season that limited his action at USC in 2014. Shaw is highly regarded by scouts and analysts as a zone corner who could be a potential fit as a safety, but some concerns emerged about his ability to get physical in press coverage or against the run.
Josh Shaw decided to answer some questions about his ability to be physical with bigger opponents by benching 225 pounds 26 times. While the bench isn’t a huge drill for defensive backs, a defensive back who can bench like that likely can be taught how to use his upper-body strength to effectively press and shove receivers, beat downfield blocks, and just generally play the game with a lot of physicality.
Shaw is six feet tall, over 200 pounds, and has clear upper-body strength. He’ll be a player to watch tomorrow, to see if he can also show lower body explosion and leaping ability, as well as adequate speed for either a corner or a safety. If you happen to get a chance to check out tomorrow’s DB workouts, keep an eye on Shaw.