published Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Combine hits could be misses

The stories of workout warriors and combine superheroes have become part of the folklore of the NFL draft.

Be it Darrius Heyward-Bey’s 40-yard-dash time of 4.30 seconds that moved him into a top-10 overall pick or Ryan Leaf’s jaw-dropping workouts during the physical tests at the NFL combine more than a decade ago.

These are the guys who ultimately make general managers look good or make them look for new jobs.

Sure, Heywood-Bey’s world-class 40 time was great, but he has all of 35 catches in two seasons with the Oakland Raiders, who made him the No. 7 pick in 2009. Speed kills, and in this case, it killed the Raiders’ draft two years ago.

So with every “Holy Buckets” moment from the combine, there needs to be some reserve, some pause to reflect that Heywood-Bey was that guy two years. And Leaf was the No. 2 overall pick behind some guy named Peyton in 1999, who actually was ranked higher on some NFL draft boards in large because of a dynamite combine showing.

With that grain of salt, there have been a number of players who have raised eyebrows and their earning prospects with elite showings the last four days in Indianapolis. Here are the winners — the guys who made themselves some money — through the first four days of the NFL combine:

• Julio Jones, Alabama: Jones measured at 220 pounds and close to 6-foot-3 (If you remembered from the season that Jones was a solid 6-4, well, he was far from the only player who somehow shrank from his school’s program). He jumped through the roof — 38 inches up and 11-foot-3 broad — and ran a blistering 4.39 in the 40. Georgia’s A.J. Green may still be the first receiver off the board come April, but Jones turned a lot of heads in Indy.

• Stephen Paea, Oregon State: Welcome to the party, Stephen. The massive defensive tackle shot up draft boards with a record-setting bench-press showing with 49 reps at 225 pounds. Paea made himself arguably more than $1 million Sunday. Think of it this way — Paea bench-pressed a total of 11,025 pounds in less than a minute. That sounds like it could be a useful quality for a defensive tackle.

• Roy Helu, Nebraska; Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech; Mario Fannin, Auburn: These three and a slew of other lesser-known running backs surely will benefit from the two-back NFL craze. Helu, who is a touch undersized, was awesome in the drills designed to show quickness and agility. Fannin, who had trouble with fumbles at Auburn and ranked as the team’s fourth leading rusher, measured bigger than Mark Ingram and ran a faster 40 (4.38) than Julio Jones. Allen, the fullback in Tech’s option, measured in the 230-pound range and ran a 40 in the mid-4.5s.

• Randall Cobb, Kentucky: The former Mr. Do-It-All for the Wildcats was moving up draft boards as a playmaker, in the Hines Ward-mold. He was not expected to test particularly well, but that was of little concern. Cobb ran a 4.46 in the 40 Sunday and secured his spot in day two and may have moved into Round 1. 

• Von Miller, Texas A&M: Miller may have jumped into the top three Monday. The pass-rushing specialist reportedly ran a 4.46 40 — meaning that at a shade under 6-3 and at 237 pounds, Miller is fast enough to get to quarterback or cover the slot. That’s a wide range of skills.

• Nick Fairley, Auburn: A biscuit short of 300 pounds, Fairley showed amazing speed Monday. The Lombardi Award winner reportedly clocked a 4.8 40 time. Wowo. Somewhere in east Georgia Aaron Murray just unknowingly cringed and grabbed his lower back.

• Cam Newton, Auburn: Despite the overwhelming star power at the combine, Newton was again the center of attention this weekend. It was a mixed bag for the Heisman Trophy winner. He discussed his “entertainer, icon” comment — he said the question was about his endorsement deal and how he certainly could have phrased it better. He showed out on the physical tests Sunday — running a 4.59 and posting the best quarterback broad jump. His throws were dubbed inconsistent, though, and that seems to be generous — especially on the midrange throws that have become the hallmark of NFL offenses.

Newton’s potential is off the charts, matched only by the potential for disaster by making him a high first-round choice. He ranks as the biggest conundrum for GMs: Do you invest your future (and your job) on him or risk the club’s future (and your job) by passing on him.

At this point it’s impossible to know. That’s the combined beauty and the tragedy of the combine.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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