Commentary

Sunday's combine observations

Receivers live up to hype and RBs show off speed, but QB class looks shallow

Originally Published: February 23, 2014
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- The fantasy football part of the NFL scouting combine made Sunday an exciting day.

The receivers were exceptional. A receiving class billed as the best in years dominated the day. The only problem came with the second group of receivers, because the quarterbacks who were throwing couldn't match the skills of those catching the passes.

Regardless, talent won out and it was easy to see that wide receiver was the best position during the first two workout days of the combine. Sure, guards and tackles did well Saturday, but the receivers were the best in drills over the entire weekend.

Fantasy fans better start studying this class of rookies.

Here are the five things we learned Sunday at the combine:

1. Blake Bortles is as advertised: With Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater electing not to throw, Central Florida's Bortles was expected to be the best of the seven quarterbacks who threw in the first group. As it turned out, he was clearly the best quarterback who threw Sunday. The question now is what it means. It's apparent that Bortles has a lot of work left to do on his footwork. Once he fixes that, he could evolve into a franchise-level quarterback. He has a nice release and throws a nice, catchable ball. Once his footwork is better, he should be able to throw a more consistent long pass and be more consistent on his short, quick throws.

Safe to say, though, there is plenty to work with for the team that acquires Bortles. He's 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds. He ran a 4.93-second 40-yard dash and is dangerous on rollouts and breaking a run. From what you saw Sunday, there is still a great chance Bridgewater and Manziel will be drafted ahead of Bortles. The debate is whether Bortles is worth taking in the top seven, which is likely to happen. The team that drafts him, though, might be advised to let another quarterback start at the beginning of the season in order for him to fully work on improving his footwork. Regardless, it was a good day for Bortles.

[+] EnlargeCombine
AP Photo/Michael ConroyDerek Carr (center) may have been better off if he had thrown at the combine instead of using the same strategy as top quarterback prospects Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel.

2. The skinny at the quarterback position: Manziel, Bridgewater and Bortles will go in the first round of the draft. The next group includes AJ McCarron, Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr. Garoppolo continued to score scouting points with his strong, fluid arm. Because he worked almost exclusively out of the shotgun at Eastern Illinois, a shotgun passing team would love him. But if he's asked to do a lot of dropback passing, he's going to need some time to develop. Still, his arm alone could draw a second- or third-round grade. McCarron was consistent with his throws and should have locked in a second-round grade. At 6-3¼ and 220 pounds, McCarron kind of reminds you of Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals.

It was no surprise that Manziel and Bridgewater didn't throw. Both are saving their best for their pro days. Manziel did impress scouts with a 4.68 40, and one handheld time had him at 4.56. The quarterback who most needed to work out, Carr of Fresno State, elected not to throw, and that might have been a mistake. Maybe it's unfair, but so many people around the league equate Derek with brother David Carr, who was the first overall pick in 2002 but had a disappointing career. Derek Carr would have had the perfect stage to win a lot of support. A good throwing day could have put him in line ahead of McCarron and Garoppolo to be the fourth quarterback drafted. Instead, there are questions that remain.

3. Concerns about quarterback depth were validated: Though there are expected to be 12 or more quarterbacks drafted, several throwers created more questions than answers. Tajh Boyd of Clemson has a strong arm, but his release point is all over the place. Some of his throws came a little sidearm, while the longer throws exposed a loop in his delivery. David Fales of San Jose State was inconsistent with his accuracy. Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech has the body to be a great pro quarterback (6-6, 248 pounds), but he doesn't get his legs into his throws and was inaccurate. Aaron Murray of Georgia didn't make a big jump with his combine workout. After the top six quarterbacks, there is a significant drop-off.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Michael ConroyReceiver Sammy Watkins looks like a top-five pick with his combination of speed and hands.

4. The receiving class is for real: The concept that this is the best wide receiver draft in years is true. This group has size, speed and great pass-catching ability. One of the main drills is "The Gauntlet,'' which requires receivers to go across the field while catching passes thrown from each side of the path. Rarely did the ball hit the ground. Sammy Watkins of Clemson was clearly the best receiving prospect and is a candidate to be a top-five pick. He's 6-0¾ and 211 pounds and ran a 4.43. He catches the ball with his hands exceptionally well. He reminds me a lot of A.J. Green of the Bengals. The big winner Sunday was LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham. At 5-11¼ and 198 pounds, he ran a 4.43 40 and looked explosive with this speed and solid with his hands. His performance could vault him in the top 15. Mike Evans of Texas A&M secured a top-15 rating with a 4.53 40 and strong hands. Marqise Lee of USC might have slipped a little with a 4.52 40. Jarvis Landry of LSU had a rough day with a 4.77 40 and a tight calf. But cases can be made for more than seven wide receivers going in the first round. Brandin Cooks of Oregon State was exceptional with a 4.33. This group is deep enough to get provide quality at receiver until maybe the fourth round.

5. It was a good day for running backs: There may not be a running back who could entice a team to use a first-round pick, but the backs who ran Sunday looked great. Bishop Sankey of Washington may have entered the combine as the No. 3 halfback, but his stock probably rose with a 4.49 40 time along with a good show of lifting strength. Tre Mason of Auburn displayed second-round numbers with his 4.5. Both backs might have jumped ahead of Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona, who had a 4.70. What's impressive about the class of runners is the amount of speed. Dri Archer of Kent Stat led the way with a 4.26, just shy of Chris Johnson's combine record of 4.24 from 2008. Nine RBs registered times in the 4.4s. The only disappointment was James Wilder Jr. of Florida State with a 4.86.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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