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2009 NFL Combine: Sorting it out
After six days of medical evaluations, interviews and on-field workouts at the scouting combine, teams are ready to evaluate all the new information they have and prepare for the slew of pro days around the country over the next two months.

The combine is important, but it's not a make-or-break event for the vast majority of prospects. The information gathered is added to film study and data gathered at various All-Star games last month for a more complete picture.

While some questions were answered in Indianapolis, others were not. And new ones inevitably arose.

Is there a legitimate race for the No. 1 quarterback spot?

Matt Stafford's (Georgia) decision not to work out in Indy opened the door for Southern Cal's Mark Sanchez to close the gap between the top two quarterbacks. Although Sanchez looked like a first-round quarterback behind the lectern and on the field, his performance was not so impressive that Stafford -- who also performed well in media interviews -- should be concerned about his status as the number one signal-caller.

Both have another opportunity to impress scouts at their March pro days.

Josh Freeman, the junior from Kansas State who could have been a riser this week because of his physical tools, was adequate but not exceptional on and off the turf. A team could still trade into the late first round to select him, but it's no sure bet.

Where will Pat White play?

Scouts had been saying all season that their film study is telling them he's a quarterback, and Pat White appeared to enhance that possibility in Indy.

Despite his below average height, slight frame and small hands, White has the necessary arm strength to make all of the NFL throws. His athleticism proved as advertised in Indianapolis, but he's not viewed as a "slash" type prospect at this time.

The only question now is whether a team will go the Quincy Carter route, picking White in the second round like the Cowboys did in 2001 with the former Georgia bulldog, or wait until the third -- where project quarterbacks should be taken.

How will the top four offensive tackles shake out?

Virginia's Eugene Monroe and Baylor's Jason Smith distanced themselves from Ole Miss' Michael Oher and Alabama's Andre Smith. Jason Smith was as intense in interviews as he is on the field, which is appreciated by offensive line coaches. Monroe's athleticism in position drills reinforced scouts' feelings about his pass-protection abilities.

Oher's interview with the media did not go particularly well, but teams were okay with how he did in the room with them. And he once again proved his exemplary footwork on the field. Andre Smith may have done Oher a huge favor by making poor decisions about his training regimen (he appeared not to have one) and his lack of communication with combine officials about his earlier-than-expected departure. He could be the tackle to drop into the mid-to-late first round instead of Oher.

Can any of the top defensive ends become 3-4 linebackers?

Everette Brown (Florida State), Brian Orakpo (Texas), Connor Barwin (Cincinnati), Michael Johnson (Georgia Tech) and Aaron Maybin (Penn State) all displayed the athleticism to play linebacker if required. The trend of teams moving to the 3-4 base defense, or inserting 3-4 concepts into their base 4-3, makes the versatility of these players very valuable.

Orakpo and Johnson performed about as expected, although there is no comparison between the two when teams go back to the film room. If Johnson had Orakpo's motor, he'd be a top 10 pick. But as of now, he's stuck in the late first while Orakpo's ticket should be punched early on.

Brown came in at less than 6-foot-2 and about 255 pounds, which were not the numbers 4-3 teams wanted to see. Maybin's slight 249-pound frame also projects him to linebacker despite his success at end for Penn State in 2009.

Barwin has been a second-round pick on teams' boards since midseason. He was among the top two performers in almost every drill, showing even better athleticism than teams believed he had. Even Barwin now believes linebacker will be his best position -- although 4-3 teams still think he can be a force off the edge.

Are these USC linebackers really that good?

Yes. Right now, it appears that three of the four Trojan linebackers invited to Indy will be first-round picks.

But it is not clear which one will go first. Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews Jr. had almost identical test results in Indianapolis, save Cushing's 30 reps at 225 pounds. But teams believe Matthews has the highest ceiling (along with great bloodlines), while Cushing might be maxed out physically.

Rey Maualuga is a thumper between the tackles, but cost himself a bit by tweaking a hamstring after running in the 4.8's. The historical devaluation of inside 'backers by NFL teams means he could be the lowest-rated of the three, but he will still be a first-round pick.

The fourth linebacker, Kaluka Maiava, finally got his chance to play this season. He's a bit undersized at 6-feet, 230 pounds, but he's worth a late-round pick as a very good special teams player and reserve weak-side linebacker.

Are any senior skill position players worth first-round picks?

Underclassmen will once again dominate at the skill positions. Each of the top 14 offensive playmakers ranked in this draft by NFLDraftScout.com left school before they completed their eligibility.

Juniors Sanchez, Stafford and Freeman are still the top quarterbacks. Stafford's teammate at Georgia, Knowshon Moreno, and Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells also top the list at the running back position. Neither ran jaw-dropping 40-yard dash times, but teams aren't concerned about taking them in the mid-to-late first round. UConn's Donald Brown looked like the early second-round pick he is, and Pittsburgh's LeSean "Shady" McCoy is in the same category despite the illness that prevented him from shining at the combine.

Despite the revelation that Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree has a stress fracture in his foot and Jeremy Maclin's (Missouri) disappointing mid-4.4's in the 40, the juniors are still the top two receivers in the draft. Percy Harvin (Florida) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland) ran very well, as expected, but Harvin's injury history and DHB's inconsistent hands might prevent them from jumping into the top 15. Hakeem Nicks (North Carolina) also ran and caught the ball as expected before a hamstring injury during positional drills ended his combine early.

The only senior skill position prospect potentially breaching the top 50 picks this week was Ohio State receiver Brian Robiskie. He ran slightly better than expected, caught every ball thrown his way and displayed the quick feet and route-running ability you'd expect from the son of an NFL receivers coach. He may end up following in former Buckeye Michael Jenkins' footsteps as a late first- or early second-round selection.

Where do the top cornerbacks rate?

Midwest scouts already questioned Ohio State defensive back Malcom Jenkins' ability to play corner at the next level because of his relatively stiff hips. He couldn't bust the 4.5 mark in the 40 and demonstrated average fluidity and hands in drills.

A team relying heavily on press coverage may still consider him a corner, but most teams will value him more at free safety where he could still be a top 10 pick. But remember: long-time Ravens corner Chris McAlister ran in the mid 4.5's coming out of Arizona.

The next two in line, Vontae Davis (Illinois) and D.J. Moore (Vanderbilt) are fighting for the top corner spot on a lot of teams' boards. Davis lifted well and ran a nice 40, but was inconsistent catching the ball and flipping his hips in drills. Moore did not help himself with a 4.5-plus 40. UConn's Darius Butler jumped (literally, with a 43.0-inch vertical and 11 feet, 2 inch broad jump, second among corners) into their tier with an outstanding combine.

Davis' inconsistency and Moore's playmaking ability could bring them both back to mid-to-late first-round status, with Butler and Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith following closely behind.

Who are some of the under-the-radar success stories of this combine?

Arizona receiver Mike Thomas might not threaten the first round because he's only 5-8. A team could take him in the late second or early third, however, because of his toughness, hands and quickness in the slot.

Scouts knew Eric Wood from Louisville was tough and durable, but he showed more athleticism than expected. Wood, Alex Mack (Cal), Max Unger (Oregon) and Jonathan Luigs (Arkansas) comprise up the most talented center groups in quite some time.

Florida tight end Cornelius Ingram sat out all last season with a preseason knee injury, but proved himself healthy. He's now back to his preseason second-round grade. Shawn Nelson (Southern Miss) and Cameron Morrah (Cal) are other tight ends on the rise because of their length and speed.

Texas A&M quarterback Stephen McGee continued his ascension into the mid-rounds with solid athletic and throwing performances on Indianapolis, building on his success at the East-West Shrine Game practices.

Tom Brandstater also looked good in Houston, but really stood out throwing in Indianapolis. The former Fresno State bulldog has all of the tools to be a successful NFL quarterback.

Nebraska right tackles aren't known for being among the most athletic at the combine. Lydon Murtha, however, showed excellent athleticism this week. Adding that to his impressive performance during East-West Shrine week may make teams forget his injury issues in Lincoln.

If Liberty running back Rashad Jennings had not transferred from Pittsburgh because of his father's illness, he'd be the one getting the pub McCoy enjoys. This 6-1, 235-pound back ran well, displayed quick feet in drills and strength in the weight room. He should be the top senior back taken, likely in the second round.

Hawaii defensive end David Veikune has been considered a "try-hard" guy by scouts, although a well-respected one. His testing in Indy proves he's more than that. Now teams looking for his pass-rush skills must consider him in the third round.

Ian Campbell, from Kansas State, is a taller high-motor end who made money for himself in Indianapolis by demonstrating good lateral quickness.

South Carolina linebacker Jasper Brinkley was playing at 270 pounds early in his senior year after coming off an injury. He lost 20 pounds and gained fans among the scouting community, running in the low 4.7's and in the top 10 of all linebackers in the short shuttle and three cone. Teams may go back to his junior tapes to see if he's worth taking a slot in the fourth or fifth round.

Teams don't know where Nicholls State defensive back Lardarius Webb will fit in their defense, but whether it's at corner, safety or nickel back they will try to fit that sub-4.4 speed in.

Clemson safety Chris Clemons was overshadowed by teammate Michael Hamlin over the past couple of seasons. His 4.41 40 time shocked scouts, who believed him nothing more than an in-the-box player.

Chad Reuter is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.


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