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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Some N.F.L. Combine Winners and Losers

For every Bruce Irvin, who meep-meeps through his 40-yard dash at the N.F.L. combine, there’s a Mohamed Sanu, who runs a disappointing time despite desperately needing a solid time to boost his otherwise blemish-free draft stock. Irvin, the former West Virginia rush technician who came into the combine at 245 pounds – solid weight for a 3-4 outside linebacker – scorched the track with unofficial times of 4.43 and 4.5 seconds. Sanu, who made a Rutgers-record 115 receptions as a junior, ran his 40 in 4.67 seconds, raising significant questions about his ability to create separation from defensive backs on the next level.

There are winners and losers at every combine, but no one test – of the many pokes, prods and measurements seen at this week-long cattle call – boosts or diminishes a player’s stock more than his 40 time. See Sanu, whose time pushed him from a borderline first-round pick into the bottom portion of the second round, if not tumbling all the way into the third round.

On the other hand, Irvin’s time in the 40 might push him into the draft’s upper tier of 3-4 outside linebackers, into a group currently paced by former Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw and former Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus. Already a proven pass rusher, Irvin’s 40 time indicates that his speed should translate to the N.F.L. level.

Irvin has been one of the several winners at the combine; Sanu, unfortunately, was one of the clear losers. Joining Irvin in the former category was wide receiver Stephen Hill, who ran a 4.36 40, tying him with fellow receivers Travis Benjamin and Chris Owusu for the fastest time among offensive skill players.

Hill’s production wasn’t outstanding at Georgia Tech, but he did make the most of his limited opportunities: he averaged a shade less than 30 yards per reception on his 28 grabs last fall. Owusu has concussion injuries to address, but his speedy 40 time will help offset some lingering concerns N.F.L. teams might have over his ability to stay healthy.

Robert Griffin III won merely by showing up: amid suggestions that he’d measure around 6’0, contrary to his height on Baylor’s depth chart, the Heisman winner measured in at 6’2. Three days later, Griffin ran a blistering 4.41 in the 40 – the fastest time by a quarterback since Michael Vick – perhaps ensuring that he becomes the second player to come off the board in April, not merely the second quarterback.

That he opted to leave San Diego State early – two years early, in fact – was puzzling, but Ronnie Hillman might have justified his departure with a solid combine. There were no issues surrounding his production; now, after running well, putting together a 4.41 40, and testing well, ranking fourth among backs with a 37’ vertical, Hillman might have moved himself into the first three rounds of the draft.

Two SEC tight ends – well, sort of – made the most of their time at the combine. The first, former Missouri all-American Michael Egnew, finished third among tight ends with a 4.63 40; leading the way was James Hanna, at 4.49, and Louisiana-Lafayette’s Ladarius Green, who significantly boosted his stock with a 4.53-second 40.

And Georgia’s Orson Charles put up 35 reps on the bench press, the second-most overall on the offensive side of the ball, trailing only David Molk, and most among skill players. Former Memphis nose tackle Dontari Poe, all 346 pounds of him, entered the combine as the top-ranked player at his position; he left in the same class, thanks to his combine-best 44 reps. This confirmed what we all knew already: Poe is strong. Then Poe capped his combine with a 4.87 40, which confirmed something we didn’t know: he’s a freak.

Sanu wasn’t the only wide receiver to put together a disappointing 40 time. The same can be said of former Toledo receiver Eric Page, who was unable to offset his lack of size and track record against premier competition with a 4.6-second 40. While another year in college wouldn’t have necessarily made Page any faster, it would have provided the N.F.L. with a larger sample size of Page’s superb college production.

You can’t teach size, which former Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams has in spades, and you can’t overstate how appealing his four years of experience in the trenches for one of the nation’s top programs is to N.F.L. teams looking for prospects able to step right into prime roles as rookies. But Adams didn’t impress: 5.4 in the 40, 19 reps of 225 pounds – among the bottom six among offensive linemen – and 4.95 second in the 20-yard shuffle, seventh among linemen.

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  1. Adam Nettina says:

    I think you also look at Rob Turbin. Martin and Hillman have been the big non-BCS names, but Turbin’s 28 reps and 4.5 time really gve him the measureable aspect of an every down back. Knowing the kind of person he is, teams are going to love how he interviews. Also says a lot about his work ethic to come back from the ACL.

  2. Parker says:

    Hi Paul,

    Andrew Luck ran a 4.66 at the combine. That kid is big and athletic enough to play TE or LB. It just so happens he has a Stanford IQ and a NFL QB for a father. He was born to be a football player.

    I think we can trace the “demise” of the University of Texas to the fact that the top 2 picks in this year’s draft are likely to be QBs from the Texas HS system, and UT didn’t recruit either one of them. Texas might have offered RG3 as an “athlete” but not as a QB.

    Texas chose not to sign any QB in February 2008 when Luck and RG3 signed their LOIs. Colt McCoy was about to enter his junior year, and they had GJ Kinne, John Chiles and Sherrod Harris as his backups. Plus the Horns had their eye on Garrett Gilbert in the 2009 class and didn’t want to scare Gilbert off.

    In 20/20 hindsight, it turns out that was a huge mistake.

  3. Andrew says:

    LMJ ran an unnoficial 4.37 40! And his official 4.45 tied for 2nd fastest!

    You’re extremely biased ducks fan,


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