Combine observations: Speed thrills

2/25/2013 - NFL

INDIANAPOLIS -- As mentioned Saturday, one of the weirdest Indy scouting combine news conferences involved the NFL trying to persuade players to run 40-yard dashes years ago on what was considered a slow track.

Before the combine was televised, the NFL had an impossible time persuading draft prospects to run because the artificial turf in the old RCA Dome was slow. In response, the NFL purchased something called Mondo Track, a rubberized surface used in Olympic venues that is supposed to be fast.

Unfortunately, the NFL placed Mondo Track on top of the old surface. The league brought in a world-class sprinter to test it out and he ran a 4.8-second 40. Whoops.

Well, speed isn't a problem at the 2013 combine.

Here is what we learned Sunday:

1. There is plenty of speed in the year's class of receivers. According to NFL Network times, 30 of the 34 wide receivers who ran 40s clocked 4.5 or better. When the official times came in, 15 were credited with 4.5 times or better, which was still impressive. The big winner was West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin, who not only ran a blistering 4.34, but he caught the ball very well. Austin might have sprinted his way to the bottom of the first round. The consensus is that Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee and Keenan Allen of California are the sure first-round choices. Patterson didn't hurt his cause by running a 4.42 40. Allen was injured and didn't work out. Nevertheless, most believe they will both go in the first round because they are big receivers who can play the outside. Austin could be the next DeSean Jackson, only faster. He's 5-foot-8, 174 pounds and is explosive and exciting. Eleven more receivers could go in rounds 2-4. What was evident Sunday is that most of the receivers have good size and great speed. Teams heading into this draft now don't have to worry and panic about getting a quality athlete at receiver too early. Sunday's track meet showed this draft has depth at the position even though many of the receivers looked raw in running precise routes.

2. None of the quarterback prospects made a breakthrough. On Sunday, the hope of the NFL was for the quarterbacks to step up and claim top-10 draft spots. That didn't happen. Geno Smith of West Virginia probably did the best of the quarterbacks who worked out, but he didn't put on a show. When he did a seven-step drop, he had a hop in his footwork that took away from his throws. He wasn't consistently great, but he showed a strong arm and a lot of promise. That's the problem with the quarterbacks in this draft class. They continue to prove consistently inconsistent. Mike Glennon of North Carolina State showed a strong arm but was inconsistent throwing. Ryan Nassib of Syracuse didn't show a strong arm and didn't make a move. EJ Manuel of Florida State could be the next Colin Kaepernick, but he's going to need someone willing to wait until he develops. Tyler Wilson of Arkansas would be among the top three quarterbacks of Sunday, but he needs more work. Landry Jones of Oklahoma looks like a quarterback who's struggling moving from a shotgun offense to any kind of dropback scheme.

So where does that leave teams such as Arizona, Kansas City and others in need of quarterbacks? Sunday's quarterback show could re-open some trade thoughts. It might make the Chiefs more willing to look into a trade for Alex Smith. It might prompt teams such as Jacksonville and the New York Jets investigate the availability of Seahawks quarterback Matt Flynn. It also showed that the Bills and Eagles probably made the right moves in sticking with most of last year's quarterbacks.

3. The Honey Badger's was the second-most anticipated news conference of the combine. Former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu took to the podium Sunday and tried to explain his troubled past at LSU. A couple of drug incidents and an arrest led to Mathieu's dismissal from the team. A possible first-round talent at cornerback, Honey Badger came to Indy hoping to convince a team to select him in the second or third round. "First of all, I want them to be able to trust me," Mathieu said. "I hold myself accountable for everything I've done, and in this past year it's been tough. At the end of the day, I want them to know that I am a football player. I want to be a great teammate and I want to be the same leader on the field that I know I can be off the field." Mathieu said he's been to rehabs, he's been to counseling and he even has a sponsor. "I'm surrounded by people who do what I want to do, and that's be a professional football player," he said. "I think the last few months have been pretty good for me." He said players such as Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis, Morris Claiborne and Corey Webster form his support system. That's a strong group. It sounds as though he gets it.

4. Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner isn't healthy, but he's confident: Milliner is considered the best cornerback in this draft, but he has a problem. He has a torn labrum in his shoulder and needs surgery. But he postponed surgery until March 12 in order to run and do all the drills at the combine. He deserves some aspirin and a medal. He believes he suffered the injury in a game against Texas A&M. "I didn't want to sit out the combine and pro day and then y'all guys get to wondering," Milliner said. He wanted to put on a show, thinking he can still run and he can still swing his arm. What you like about Milliner is his confidence and engaging personality. A reporter asked him to respond to analysts who say he doesn't have elite athleticism and top-end speed. "Watch the NFL combine," he said. "That's another reason why I wanted to come to the combine and participate in the drills." To most other questions about his skills, Milliner said, "Watch the combine." We'll be watching Tuesday.

5. There wasn't a first-round running back on the field Sunday: Alabama halfback Eddie Lacy is considered the one running back who could draw first-round consideration, but he skipped the combine because of a hamstring tear. The good news is 33 of the other 37 invited halfbacks ran Sunday. The bad news is that they are not very fast. An incredible total of 28 backs ran slower than 4.5 40s. Giovani Bernard of North Carolina, a possible second-round pick, didn't hurt himself with a 4.53 40, but top backs such as Montee Ball of Wisconsin (4.66), Stepfan Taylor of Stanford (4.76), Joseph Randle of Oklahoma State (4.63) and Le'veon Bell of Michigan State (4.6) didn't help their ratings. Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson ran a 4.72 on Saturday. That was faster than nine backs. Scary. That doesn't mean many of these backs can't pound out yards. It just means there aren't a lot of explosives coming into the league this year. Onterio McCalebb of Auburn was the fastest running back Sunday with a 4.34 40, but he's more of a late-round pick. Knile Davis of Arkansas had a nice 4.37, but he's in the low rounds. This could push more teams looking for backs toward free agency.