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NFL Combine 2015: The athletic freaks that stood out

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Every year there are a handful of players who help themselves dramatically by showing off their raw physical abilities at the combine. In doing so these guys potentially improve their draft position by multiple rounds and earn themselves a significant amount of money in their rookie contracts. Other players go from unknown, small college prospects to mid-round draftees by showing off their athleticism. Let's look at who stood out at the combine this year by taking a look at the top 3 performers in every drill this year as well as for the past 4 years.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The caveat

As always combine results are only one part of the tripod of player evaluation.

  1. Game film
  2. Game stats (hard to come by and compare for offensive lineman and some defensive lineman)
  3. Combine results

So treat these numbers as one part of the player evaluation - not the ENTIRE player evaluation.

The "almighty" 40-yard dash

The 40 yard dash garners the most attention (unwarranted, IMO) so we will start there. We'll look at the top three times from this year and then see the results from the previous four combines.

2015 Pos Value
J.J. Nelson WR 4.28
Trae Waynes CB 4.31
Phillip Dorsett WR 4.33

2014 Pos Value
Dri Archer WR 4.26
Brandin Cooks WR 4.33
Phillip Gaines CB 4.34
John Brown WR 4.34
De'Anthony Thomas WR 4.34

2013 Pos Value
Marquise Goodwin WR 4.27
Ryan Swope WR 4.34
Tavon Austin WR 4.34
Onterio McCalebb RB 4.34

2012 Pos Value
Michael Smith RB 4.33
Josh Robinson CB 4.33
Stephen Hill WR 4.34
T.Y. Hilton WR 4.34

2011 Pos Value
Demarcus Van Dyke CB 4.25
Edmond Gates WR 4.31
Patrick Peterson CB 4.31

2010 Pos Value
C.J. Spiller RB 4.27
Jacoby Ford WR 4.28
Taylor Mays FS 4.31

Looking at the list we see some guys who went on to become great (Spiller, Peterson, Hilton), some guys who went on to become decent (Goodwin, Ford) and some guys who were "busts" (Mays, Swope, McCalebb, Van Dyke, Hill). J.J. Nelson got into the draft discussion with his 40, but he will most likely be a late round pick if he gets chosen at all.

Rail-thin slot receiver at the next level, but missing the suddenness and "after-the-catch" talent desired for that position. Getting drafted might be a long shot, but his kick-return numbers will have teams taking a close look at him as a specialist.

At 5'10" 156 lbs, he's weighs as much as Trindon Holliday but he is 5 inches taller. I'm guessing Nelson ends up like McCalebb in 2012 - as an UDCFA who makes a practice squad as a return specialist. McCalebb has appeared in one game for the Bengals in two years in the NFL.

So it's possible that the three speed-merchants from the 2015 combine could have awesome NFL careers, but the 40 alone is a poor predictor - at least for the guys with "elite" speed. To correct for this, the speed score was developed. The speed score factors in weight with the underlying though being that guys who are both big AND fast have a better chance of NFL success than guys who are small and fast.

Speed score

So let's turn our attention to top 3 guys in each of the past 5 combines in terms of speed score which is calculated this way

(weight*200) / (40-time^4)

100 is average. 110 is good. 120 is great. 125+ is elite.

Speed Score
2015 Pos Value
Bud Dupree DE 124.4
Darren Waller WR 120.3
Kevin White WR 120.1

2014 Pos Value
Jadeveon Clowney DE 126.3
A.C. Leonard TE 122.9
Horace Miller OLB 122.0

2013 Pos Value
Knile Davis RB 124.5
Terron Armstead OT 124.4
Margus Hunt DE 123.7
Cornelius Washington DE 123.7

2012 Pos Value
James Hanna TE 124.0
Adrien Robinson TE 122.1
Stephen Hill WR 121.2

2011 Pos Value
Dontay Moch OLB 132.3
Martez Wilson ILB 131.0
Von Miller OLB 128.9

2010 Pos Value
Taylor Mays FS 133.3
Ben Tate RB 124.0
Jimmy Graham TE 123.5

Interestingly enough, while there are some elite NFL players shown above (Graham, Von Miller), many of the players above are (were) average to below average NFL players whether they were drafted early, late or not at all. It would appear that Dupree, Waller and White will all be drafted fairly high. Dupreeis a first round lock most likely a top 10 pick. His combination of size, speed and explosiveness calls to mind Jamie Collins who is currently one of the best, if not the best, defensive players for the Super Bowl Champion Patriots (I hated typing that). Their combine numbers are eerily similar (Dupree's listed first)

40 - 4.63 to 4.64

Bench - ? (didn't do it) to 19

Vertical - 42 to 41.5

Broad - 139 to 138

Dupree strained his groin running the 40 so he did not do the 20yd shuttle or the 3-cone drill.

Waller is the next in the line of big and fast WRs to come out of Georgia Tech. A 6-6, 238 he is a massive target who is also quite quick and has good leaping ability. He is currently predicted to go in the 4th to 5th rounds, but I would not be surprised to see a team take him earlier based on his combination of size and speed.

Late bloomer who is faster than quick and has coveted size-speed combination. Waller isn't just a tall receiver, he has legitimate hands and body control and can impose his size on mismatched cornerbacks. Waller has a low floor, but with a little more competitive fire and technique work, he could become a legitimate touchdown maker in the league.

White will be a first round pick and could be the first WR taken. Since we don't really need WRs, I would be really surprised if we drafted Waller. If we draft White, I'll eat my hat.

Bench Press (# of reps at 225 lbs)

I've never liked using an endurance test like this to measure upper body strength (it rewards guys with short arms which do not help you in the NFL), but I'll still show the data. This combine test is one of the worst in terms of correlation to NFL success.

Bench Press
2015 Pos Value
Ereck Flowers OT 37
Mitch Morse OG 36
Vic Beasley tied with two others DE 35

2014 Pos Value
Russell Bodine OC 42
Antonio Richardson OT 36
Matt Feiler OT 36
Tyler Larsen OC 36
Corey Linsley OC 36
Kaleb Ramsey DE 36

2013 Pos Value
Margus Hunt DE 38
Brandon Williams DT 38
Akeem Spence DT 37

2012 Pos Value
Dontari Poe DT 44
David Molk OC 41
Mike Martin DT 36

2011 Pos Value
Stephen Paea DT 49
Marvin Austin DT 38
Bruce Miller OLB 35

2010 Pos Value
Mitch Petrus OG 45
Jeff Owens DT 44
Linval Joseph DT 39

It would appear that showing up in the top 3 on the bench would indicate that you can be a serviceable (or better) NT in the NFL. Joseph, Austin, Paea, Poe, Williams. According to draftmetrics.com, doing well on the bench is poor predictor for NFL success of Centers and OTs. The correlation to success for OGs is better, but still not great. Historically DEs who put up huge numbers on the bench get drafted quite high, but Beasley was going to be drafted on the first day unless he bombed the combine.

Vertical Leap

The vertical leap shows, very demonstratively, how much lower body power a player has. Big players who can really jump stand out more than little guys who can leap, but there is no adjustment for weight like there is with speed score. I've normalized for weight before, but I didn't spend the time to do this with 5 year's worth of vertical data from the combine. So here are the unaltered numbers.

Vertical Leap
2015 Pos Value
Chris Conley WR 45
Byron Jones CB 44 1/2
Davis Tull OLB 42 1/2
Ameer Abdullah RB 42 1/2



2014 Pos Value
Ryan Shazier OLB 42
Lache Seastrunk RB 41 1/2
Stanley Jean-Baptiste CB 41 1/2
2013 Pos Value
Christine Michael RB 43
Jamie Collins OLB 41 1/2
6 tied at 40 1/2
2012 Pos Value
Kashif Moore WR 43
Jerrell Jackson WR 41
David Wilson RB 41
2011 Pos Value
Virgil Green TE 42 1/2
Dontay Moch OLB 42
Jon Baldwin WR 42
2010 Pos Value
A.J. Jefferson CB 44
Dorin Dickerson TE 43 1/2
Eric Berry FS 43

Berry and Collins are the only two guys above who have had "good" NFL careers. We know about Virgil Green and his contributions, but the rest of the league views him as simply a good blocking TE. David Wilson was on his way to a decent career when he had to retire because of neck injuries.

Of the 2014 "leapers" only Shazier really played (SJB didn't play much and Seastrunk didn't play at all). The leapers from the 2015 combine all appear to be slated for early to mid rounds. Jones and Abdullah currently have 2nd round grades. Tull has a 3-4 round grade and Conley has a 4th round grade. Tull is the most intriguing of the leapers this year. He played as a "hand-in-the-dirt" DE at UT-C, but at 246 he will have to move to OLB in the NFL unless he shows Bruce Irvin-style coverage abilities. Prior to the combine there were worries about his athleticism since he dominated the FCS level competition but had limited time against FBS talent (he did play well against UT). His combine performance showed that his athleticism is definitely up to par with NFL-talent.  He had a strained hammy at the combine so he didn't run the 40, but he ran a 4.57s 40 at his pro-day. As much as I dislike Pete Carroll, his strategy from a few years back of stockpiling edge rushers appears to have paid off. Imitation is the highest form of flattery so I would not be surprised if the Broncos pick this guy up in the 4th if he is still there. He did have labrum surgery recently so that might cause him to fall far enough that we use a pick on him even though we have to elite edge rushers at OLB.

Tull uses smarts, skill and toughness to dominate his level of competition. Tull has the athleticism to play outside linebacker in an odd front and his relentless nature and ability to outplay expectations could make him an NFL surprise.

Broad Jump

Another way to track how explosive a player is (lower body strength and flexibility) is the standing broad jump.

Broad Jump
2015 Pos Value
Byron Jones CB 147
Chris Conley WR 139
Bud Dupree DE 138

2014 Pos Value
Lache Seastrunk RB 134
Pierre Desir CB 133
Tevin Reese WR 132
Jerick McKinnon RB 132
Donte Moncrief WR 132

2013 Pos Value
Jamie Collins OLB 139
Justin Hunter WR 136
Eric Reid FS 134
Earl Wolff SS 134

2012 Pos Value
Adrien Robinson TE 135
Stephen Hill WR 133
Josh Robinson CB 133
Rod Streater WR 133

2011 Pos Value
Julio Jones WR 135
Edmond Gates WR 131
Virgil Green TE 130
Andre Holmes WR 130
DeMarco Murray RB 130

2010 Pos Value
Dekoda Watson OLB 134
Dez Bryant WR 133
Chris Cook CB 132


Like most of the these "top 3" lists we see a mixture of familiar names (Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Virgil Green, Jamie Collins and Julio Jones) along with a bunch of names that I had to look up to see if the were even drafted. We've already heard about the three guys who finished in the top 3 in broad jump this year, so the fact that they ALSO killed it in the broad jump just shows how athletic those three guys are.  I doubt that the Broncos will take either of those three (not positions of need) unless they fall significantly from their predicted rounds.

Byron Jones 12'3" broad jump is the best broad jump in the past 10 years at the combine. Combine that with his top 3 performance in the vertical and you have one of the most powerful lower bodies of a defensive back at the combine. There are worries about Jones man coverage ability, but supposedly some teams are looking at drafting him to play safety even though he played CB exclusively at UConn. Jones is currently listed as a second round prospect, but it will be interesting to see if his lower body strength vaults him into the first round. Is it possible that Broncos draft him to play FS? He's smart and strong and he fits the mold of what Elway and company like to draft - high character players who are smart.

Instinctive cornerback with good size and adequate speed. Has the ball skills and anticipation needed for the position. Jones' balance and overall athleticism could be a concern in man coverage and his season-ending shoulder injury will need to be examined. He would be an interesting free safety prospect with his instincts, but might lack the physicality for the position.

Quickness Score (Quix)

Much like the speed score I wanted a way to factor in body weight when discussing a players quickness. The two main drills for measuring quickness are the 3-cone and the 20-yd shuttle. Like the speed score 100 is average, 110 is good, 120 is great, 130 is elite. Big guys who are obscenely quick tend to do well in football.

Quix
2015 Pos Value
Ben Heeney ILB 124.3
Frank Clark DE 123.6
Henry Anderson DT 122.3

2014 Pos Value
Tyler Starr OLB 129.1
Daniel Sorensen FS 121.7
Anthony Barr OLB 121.5

2013 Pos Value
Devin Taylor DE 118.8
T.J. Moe WR 117.9
Christine Michael RB 117.0

2012 Pos Value
Jake Bequette DE 132.4
Bruce Irvin OLB 129.4
James Hanna TE 126.4

2011 Pos Value
J.J. Watt DE 134.2
Von Miller OLB 128.5
Jordan Cameron TE 128.3

2010 Pos Value
Scott Long WR 122.5
Tim Tebow QB 120.1
Junior Galette OLB 114.3

So looking at the previous 4 seasons we see some elite (Von Miller, JJ Watt, Bruce Irvin), decent (Barr, Hanna, Taylor, Tebow, Cameron) and marginal  NFL players. So I don't know how much to read into these numbers. 2011 would seem to indicate they are a great indicator while 2014 seems to indicate the exact opposite (none of the 2014 top 3 contributed much as a rookie). Jake Bequette, despite being taken in the 3rd round by the Pats and having a really high Quix score, has played in 8 NFL games in 3 seasons. So let's look more closely at the top three from this year since we could stand to draft a player at all three positions in the early rounds.

Ben Heeney is intriguing in that he is an undersized ILB (231 lbs) and he played on the defensive side of the ball at Kansas (we seem to like Jayhawks on defense).  Unfortunately he sounds a lot like the LB from Kansas that we already have on the roster and this line from his NFL.com evaluation:

"I'm not saying he doesn't have instincts or work hard, but he guesses way too much. He's always around the ball, but he's also missing too many tackles to play in our league." -- NFC area scout

If that doesn't scare you enough, he led all of college football in missed tackles last season. He sounds like a great special teams player with a ceiling of a 2-down ILB in the NFL.

Henry Anderson has the protypical 3-4 DE body at 6-6, 295, but he lacks the power of his former teammate Trent Murphy. I watched both guys play against the Irish over the past 5 seasons. Murphy worried me as and Irish fan. Anderson did not. Anderson's bottom line evaluation is pretty damning:

Data driven teams will be intrigued by Anderson's stuffs, impact tackles and total pressures, but the tape doesn't validate his potential to produce these numbers on the pro level. The body type screams 3-4 defensive end if he can bulk up and add power, but he might lack the balance and toughness to make it there. Anderson might just be a "tweener" without a clear NFL position fit.

Anderson is currently projected as a 4th round pick. Again I could see the Broncos picking him up in the 5th if he falls in the hopes that he can develop strength and balance, but I'd prefer a college  underacheiver with NFL strength and balance to a college overacheiver without those two traits.

Frank Clark is a undersized DE who has the power and the quickness to move inside (similar to Malik Jackson). Like Jackson Clark played some DT despite giving up 30-50 lbs of size to the offensive lineman across from him. Clark got into trouble off the field and ended up getting kicked off the team at Michigan (domestic violence allegations). He most likely be a late round pick (7th) if he is drafted at all.  The potential upside, based solely on athletic ability, to using one of our 7th round picks on him is tremendous, but I don't know if Elway and company would use a draft pick on a guy with this much off-the-field baggage - even in the 7th round. The bottom line on Clark from NFL.com:

Clark has mid-round talent, but his arrest and prior indiscretions make it unlikely that teams will be willing to draft him. If he gets everything sorted out, he has a shot at getting into a camp.

So of all of the "workout warriors" in the 2015 combine, which would do you most want to see on the Broncos roster next season?