By Jeff Risdon
As one of the very few people that can honestly say I’ve both operated an actual combine and attended the NFL Combine (five times), here are some observations from the first handful of days from Indianapolis:
--Arkansas-Pine Bluff tackle Terron Armstead continues to build a strong résumé. His 4.71 40 time topped all offensive linemen, and he put up impressive numbers in all the other drills as well. This reaffirms what we already know about Armstead: he’s a gifted athlete. Armstead won several SWAC titles in track and field as one of the best shot-putters in the nation. He was the best player on the field regardless of position during Shrine Game Week and looked very adept during his brief foray at the Senior Bowl as well. He has the length, footwork, and tenacity to draw comparisons to Joe Staley or even Jason Peters, but he’s not quite that good of an anchor and needs to prove he can make the big jump to the NFL. I’ll be very surprised if Terron Armstead winds up lasting past the middle third of the second round.
--Cal center Brian Schwenke garnered lots of positive attention for running under 5.0 as an interior lineman and showing good fluidity for a man that resembles Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. Schwenke was the best center in Mobile for Senior Bowl week but has never been noted a much of an athlete. The impressive showing here erases some of the concerns that he is too slow and lacks enough range to be effective in the NFL. I still worry that he gets his hands too high and doesn’t sink his hips well, but in a truly awful year for centers he’s worthy of a 4th or early 5th round pick.
--Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher continues to build momentum with a fantastic showing in the agility drills. He clocked the quickest time in the 20-yard short shuttle at 4.44 seconds, and his 7.59 seconds in the 3-cone drill and 27 reps on the bench displayed good overall athleticism. There are some who are promoting Fisher over Luke Joeckel as the top tackle in this draft, and the Combine gives them more fodder for their argument. Having seen both play extensively, I disagree; Joeckel is the better prospect but that’s more a testament to how good Joeckel is than any dissing of Fisher. Both are worthy of top five picks in April, and both could very well attain that status.
--North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper has been asked by some teams if he can play center, and Cooper has embraced the challenge. He performed in drills as expected: phenomenal feet with good length and long, powerful arms. I like the idea of Cooper as a center, or at least the potential to try him there. As strictly a guard he’s somewhere in the 21-35 overall range, but if he can also market himself as a center--a more valuable position--he could crack the top 15. There is not a true center (i.e. someone who played C for more than one year) worthy of drafting before the 4th round and there is a definite demand above that range. Cooper is smart to offer himself as an option.
--Tyler Eifert put to rest any questions about who is going to be the first tight end taken with his on-field performance Saturday. The 35.5” vertical, the 4.68 40 time, the 11.52 in the 60-yard shuttle, the 4.32 short shuttle, all that at a legit 6’5”, 250 pounds makes Eifert a given to be the top TE on team boards. That he often played split end, not tight end, at Notre Dame and consistently showed great hands for the Irish reinforces the impressive display in Indy. I’m not sold that he is a first rounder, but I will put good money down that Eifert comes off before Zach Ertz, who looked pretty average athletically and measured with very short arms for his height.
--Another tight end who did not help himself is Levine Toilolo from Stanford. While he showed great length at 6’8”, his 34” arms are actually short for that height. In the volleyball world, a player who is 6’8” had better have at least 35.5” arms. I’m a shade under 6’5” and have 35.25” arms and I’m decidedly average. Football is a different game, but I saw too many people reacting about his great arm length and that is simply not the case. He was also decidedly underwhelming in the workouts too, and his height is a detriment in blocking smaller linebackers and DBs.
--Vance McDonald from Rice was right with Eifert in most drills, another highly impressive athlete. He lacks the pedigree, coming from a non-BCS school that didn’t really know what they had in McDonald, but there is good tape of McDonald streaking down the seam from the slot. He blew past defenders all week in Mobile, and the speed was on display at the Combine as well. McDonald bears some resemblance to Patrick Swayze, which is a real plus for this Point Break fan. He will be the 3rd or fourth tight end off the board, sometime in the 60-75 overall range. That happens to be where two TE-needy teams, Atlanta and the New York Jets, are picking. I do not find that coincidental.
--Ohio University guard Eric Herman put up the most reps on the bench press of all offensive linemen with 36, making Bobcat nation proud. Unfortunately the rest of his display was not very impressive; Herman ranked near the bottom in agility and jumping drills, which measure explosiveness and athletic range. That’s not his game, though. Herman is a heavy-handed mauler with a great initial punch and a genuine desire to try and rip his opponent in half. I put his chances of being drafted at 50/50 as a road grating guard for a power-oriented team like the Rams or Bengals.
--Every year some lightly-regarded players turn some heads with impressive workouts in Indy and get artificially raised up. One such player this year is UCLA guard Jeff Baca, who tore up agility drills and clocked an impressive 5.03 in the 40. He also looked good with 34.25” arms at 6’3”. In short, he has excellent physical attributes to play right guard for a zone blocking schemed offense. But on tape I see a player that should not be drafted. He continually leans out over his feet and relies on impact with the defender to keep his balance, and his hand placement is consistently high and weak. He won’t get his quarterback killed as he is pretty smart and quick to react to rushes, but his poor technique will draw too many holding and illegal hands penalties at the next level. Beware the false Combine bump!
--An inordinate amount of attention went to the Manti Te’o press conference, his first direct Q&A with anyone but Katie Couric since the whole Lennay Kekua brouhaha. I was impressed with Te’o and how he handled himself in the face of a Tebow-esque throng of cameras and gawking media kangaroos. He came across as sincere, honest, and grounded in life. Te’o faced a barrage of redundant questions about the worst moment of his life, forced to relive a very public humiliation in front of many who refuse to own their own minor faults. His answers didn’t seem canned. Practiced, yes, but not written for him or staged by media coaches. I appreciate his desire to focus on football and how he owned up to having a bad game versus Alabama, and his seeming befuddlement with why he had such a bad game made sense to me. Very talented athletes in any sport often have no idea why things just don’t go their way all the time. He picked a very bad time to have his worst game. Here’s hoping all the tired jokes and overly harsh stone throwing by people who would snap under similar scrutiny ended on Saturday.