BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine drew to its close Tuesday when the final two groups, composed alphabetically from 59 of the 2014 draft class’ top defensive backs, took the field for their on-field workouts.
While there were a good number of high-profile prospects from other groups who chose to sit out part or all of the combine workouts, just about all the top defensive backs were full participants Tuesday. Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward was forced to sit out with a foot injury, as reported by Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net, but top DBs such as Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby went through a full set of drills in Indianapolis.
Top Cornerbacks Stand Out with Speed
Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, TCU’s Jason Verrett and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby arguably make up the 2014 draft’s top trio of cornerbacks, each in part because of their explosive athleticism. By proving their athletic ability Tuesday, each helped solidify himself as an early-round, possible first-round selection.
Gilbert, who tops all cornerbacks as the position’s best prospect in this year’s draft class, also topped the speed chart Tuesday by running a 4.37-second 40-yard dash. At 6’ and 202 pounds with 33 1/8”, Gilbert has a prototypical physical skill set for the position.
There are some concerns about his footwork and technique, and his day in the on-field drills was up-and-down, but he is the best all-around defensive back in this year’s draft and should be a top-15 selection.
Despite a treacherous redshirt junior season in which he gave up as many big plays as he made, Roby still has a case for being the draft’s most talented cornerback. Unsurprisingly, the 5’11”, 194-pound Buckeye stood out Tuesday.
With a 4.39-second 40-yard dash (fourth among defensive backs), 38.5” vertical jump (tied sixth among DBs), 10’4” broad jump (T-11th among DBs) and 4.04 20-yard shuttle (sixth among DBs), Roby put up great numbers throughout the day. Between both groups of defensive backs, no one looked more fluid throughout the drills than Roby.
Not to be outdone, Verrett ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, which he combined with impressive numbers across the board including a 39” vertical jump and 10’8” broad jump, both tied for third among defensive backs, a 6.69-second 3-cone drill (fourth among DBs) and a 4.00 20-yard shuttle (fifth among DBs).
Verrett has size concerns at only 5’9” and 189 pounds with 30 5/8”, and he was inconsistent with his fluidity and footwork in Tuesday’s on-field drills, but he is a very well-rounded cornerback whose impressive combine only adds to a dominant four-year collegiate career.
The other cornerback jockeying with that trio for potential first-round position is Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard. As expected, the 5’11”, 199-pound Spartan didn’t stand out as much athletically as the other three, running a 4.51-second 40, and he was solid but not exceptional in the on-field drills.
That said, Dennard’s greatest strength is his ability to press receivers off the line of scrimmage and challenge them with his physicality; he is better than all of the other top cornerbacks in this class in that capacity, but there was no drill at the combine to demonstrate that.
Gators Run Slow
Florida cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson came into the combine as projected second-round selections, but they might have left it as Day 3 draft picks. Both cornerbacks had disappointing days, especially in the 40, where both finished with an official time of 4.61 seconds.
Tuesday’s poor performance was especially devastating for Purifoy (5’11”, 190 lbs), who was expected to stand out athletically among his peers. He failed to do so, also recording marks in the vertical jump (35.5”) and broad jump (10’) that were just average, while his six repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press were the second-worst of all prospects who attempted that drill.
Purifoy had a stronger day in the on-field drills, showing off quick feet and good ability to backpedal and turn, but his disappointing measurables are likely to haunt him on draft day. He has a long way to go in his development as a coverage cornerback, while he failed to validate his athletic upside in Indianapolis.
Roberson’s draft stock wasn’t as reliant on a strong combine as Purifoy’s, but he looked to be among the worst athletes on the field Tuesday. Every drill he participated in seemed to be a step slower than most of the other cornerbacks. The 6’, 191-pound Gator might have been surpassed Tuesday by some other second-tier cornerbacks in this year’s draft.
One of the cornerbacks who could surpass Purifoy and Roberson is their own teammate, Jaylen Watkins. While Watkins (5’11”, 194 lbs) has not gotten as much attention as his teammates as a prospect, he is a good nickel/dime cornerback prospect who impressed at the Senior Bowl. Unlike his teammates, he was not a full participant in Tuesday’s combine, but ran a 4.41-second 40, tied for fifth-fastest among all defensive backs.
Sorting Out the Top Safeties
Many believe Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (6’1”, 208 lbs) and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor (5’11”, 207 lbs) are competing to be the first safety selected in this year’s drafted. Tuesday, a day on which both recorded official 40 times of 4.58 seconds, didn’t give significant clarity to that battle.
Between the two, Clinton-Dix looked more the part in drills. He wasn’t exceptional in anything, showing some hip tightness, dropping a couple passes and even inadvertently getting in the way of one competitor during a drill after his group had finished their on-field drills. Still, he showed a decent amount of fluidity for a safety and drew praise from Joe Haden during an appearance by the Cleveland Browns cornerback on NFL Network.
Pryor’s day, on the other hand, was littered with sloppy footwork and transitions. He has enough physical tools and the overall skill set to develop into a very good NFL safety, but there wasn’t much about his day Tuesday that asserted him as worthy of a first-round selection.
Their top competition could come from Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner, a hybrid safety/cornerback who is known to play bigger than his 5’8”, 184-pound stature. That said, his combine was also a disappointment. In addition to measuring in even smaller than he was listed, his athletic numbers were disappointing as he ran a 4.55 40 and finished among the bottom six participants in both the 3-cone drill (7.26 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.40). He was solid but unspectacular in drills.
USC’s Dion Bailey (6’, 201 lbs) had a very good junior season after switching from outside linebacker to safety, but he might face some questions about his ability to play the position after a disappointing showing Tuesday. He ran a poor 40 time at 4.66 seconds, while he showed tightness in his hips throughout the drills, though he was consistent in catching the ball with his hands.
Baylor’s Ahmad Dixon (6’, 212 lbs) is a physical presence as an in-the-box safety, but Tuesday validated expectations that he is limited athletically and in coverage. He was one of the least fluid DBs in drills, showing a lot of stiffness in his hips. He ran a subpar 40 time at 4.64 seconds, while he was dead last among all DBs who participated in the vertical jump (32”), broad jump (9’3”), 3-cone drill (7.55 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (12.01 seconds). To the final end, he does deserve credit for participating in every drill he could.
Like Dixon, LSU’s Craig Loston (5’11”, 217 lbs) is a physical run-support safety whose likely limitations in range and in coverage showed Tuesday. He looked slow and stiff throughout the drills, including on his 4.65-second 40-yard dash, while he had a high number of drops.
Stanford’s Ed Reynolds (6’1”, 207 lbs) was a highly-regarded and productive player at Stanford, but there’s reason to doubt his ability to translate to NFL success, much of which showed Tuesday. He ran a solid 40 time for his size at 4.57 seconds, but looked tight and had some bad drops in drills.
One player who looked completely out of place Tuesday was San Diego State’s Nat Berhe, a likely undrafted free agent who did nothing but increase that likelihood at the combine. He ran the slowest 40-yard dash of all defensive backs at 4.71 seconds. He then did little well in drills, as tight hips and sloppy footwork were exposed and he dropped a number of catchable balls.
Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller (6’, 190 lbs) made a serious push to round out the draft’s top five cornerbacks with a strong showing Tuesday. A well-rounded player with two brothers in the NFL, Fuller looked fluid in all of his drills at the combine, consistently caught the ball with his hands away from his body and had strong measurables across the board, including a 4.49-second 40-yard dash and 10’8” broad jump.
Outside of the first three cornerbacks discussed, the only other defensive back to officially break 4.4 seconds in the 40 on Tuesday was Rice’s Phillip Gaines (6’, 193 lbs) who finished his run in 4.38. He made a big play for his draft stock by not only showing straight-line speed, but also impressing with quick feet, fluid hips, impressive ball-tracking ability and good hands in the drills.
Although Utah’s Keith McGill has age and injury concerns, there will be an NFL team ready to take a chance on his size and athleticism. At 6’3” and 211 pounds, McGill was the second-biggest cornerback at the combine, and he put up impressive measurables including a 4.51-second 40, 39” vertical jump (tied for fourth among defensive backs) and 10’9” broad jump (second among DBs). Though his tape and week at the Senior Bowl have shown issues with his footwork and fluidity, he was surprisingly smooth in drills and caught the ball well.
No defensive back displayed better hands Tuesday than BYU safety Daniel Sorensen (6’1”, 205 lbs), who seemed to catch the ball effortlessly. He is an older prospect, having served on a two-year Mormon mission in 2009-10, and he displayed a lack of explosion Tuesday, including with his 4.67-second 40-yard dash. That said, he is a smooth lateral athlete who led all defensive backs in the 3-cone drill (6.47 seconds, best among all participants), 20-yard shuttle (3.95 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (10.80 seconds).
Baylor’s Demetri Goodson (5’11”, 194 lbs) is a draft long-shot at 25 years old with a long injury list, but he made a strong impression Tuesday. He put up solid measurables, including a 4.52-second 40, while he showed terrific hands and was fluid all over the field in positional drills.
For a full look at results from this year’s combine, check out the results tracker at NEPatriotsDraft.
Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, Ahmad Dixon, Bradley Roby, Calvin Pryor, Cornerbacks, Craig Loston, Daniel Sorensen, Darqueze Dennard, Defensive Backs, Demetri Goodson, Dion Bailey, Ed Reynolds, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Jason Verrett, Jaylen Watkins, Justin Gilbert, Keith McGill, Kyle Fuller, Lamarcus Joyner, Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson, Nat Berhe, NFL Draft, NFL Scouting Combine, Phillip Gaines, Safeties, Scouting Combine