After Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III wowed scouts over the weekend, Memphis nose tackle Dontari Poe stole the show at the NFL Scouting Combine when the defensive prospects took to the field-turf at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday and Tuesday.
Poe weighed in at 6’4” and 346 pounds, as the fourth heaviest prospect since 2000 — just eight pounds lighter than the 354 pounds that Alabama’s Terrence Cody shamefully tipped the scales at in 2010. Unlike Cody, however, Poe was in tip-top shape, ready to run, jump and lift.
Before Daytona International Speedway caught fire on Monday night, there was a jet-fueled nose tackle torching the track in Indianapolis on Monday morning. Despite being just under 350 pounds, Poe ran a scorching 4.98 in the 40 yard dash. The time was nearly a full second faster than Cody’s 5.71 two years ago and a hair quicker than the 5.03 run by Ndamukong Suh, who worked out at 307 pounds and was drafted No. 2 overall that same year.
Along with a fast 40, Poe posted a 1.70 in his 10-yard split, showing the type of short-distance explosion more common to a hybrid end-linebacker edge rusher than for a zero-technique nose tackle. But Poe isn’t just a 350-pound track star; he also ripped off a Combine-best 44 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, an eye-popping 29.5-inch vertical leap and an 8’9” broad jump.
Several of Poe’s defensive tackle peers and first-round candidates looked good, but not nearly as good — including Mississippi State’s Fletcher Cox (4.79 in the 40, 30 reps on bench press), Connecticut’s Kendall Reyes (36 reps on bench press, 34.5-inch vertical) and Clemson’s Brandon Thompson (35 reps on bench press, 31-inch vertical).
From head to toe, this year’s defensive end class was more impressive. South Carolina stud Melvin Ingram — who worked out with the D-linemen but will likely be a 3-4 outside backer at the next level — continued his ascension up draft boards. Ingram ran a 4.79 in the 40, 4.18 in the 20-yard shuttle, 6.83 in the 3-cone drill and posted a 34.5-inch vertical at 264 pounds, while also lifting 225 pounds 28 times on the bench press.
Ingram’s close friend, North Carolina’s Quinton Coples, won the weight in — at 6’6”, 284 pounds and 33 1/4” arm length, compared to Ingram’s 6’1”, 264 pounds and 31 1/2” arms. A classic 4-3 end, Coples also performed well in drills, running a 4.78 in the 40, lifting 25 reps of 225 and skying for a 31.5-inch vertical.
USC’s Nick Perry, another likely stand up guy in a 3-4 scheme, was a workout warrior — with a 4.64 in the 40, 35 reps of 225, a 38.5-inch vertical and 10’4” broad jump at 271 pounds. Those totals stack up favorably to 2006 No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams, who ran a 4.66, lifted 35 reps and had a 40.5-inch vertical at 295 pounds.
Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus is a 4-3 end who led the nation with 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles in 2011, then had a respectable showing at the Combine — with a 4.68 in the 40, 27 reps on the bench and a 32-inch vertical. Clemson’s Andre Branch, likely a 3-4 outside backer, ran a 4.70, had a 32.5-inch vertical and an impressive 10’ broad jump.
Among linebackers, Boston College tackling machine Luke Kuechly stood out — running a 4.58 in the 40, a 4.12 in the 20-yard shuttle, lifting 27 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, posting a 38-inch vertical leap and a 10’3” broad jump. NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock — a B.C. alum — gave the 6’3”, 242-pound backer the Matt Ryan treatment and it was well deserved.
The Alabama slammer duo of Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw did not go through a complete workout. But Hightower impressed with a 4.68 in the 40 at 6’2” and 265 pounds, and Upshaw weighed in at an imposing 6’2” and 272 pounds. Expect the entire NFL scouting community to be in attendance at Alabama’s Pro Day on March 7. After all, this year’s Crimson Tide draft class just won Nick Saban two BCS national titles in three seasons.
Arizona State head case Vontaze Burfict entered Indy with question marks swirling around and did little to answer them on the field. Burfict seemed unprepared for Combine combat, running a sluggish 5.09 in the 40 — slower than Poe despite the Sun Devil being nearly 100 pounds lighter.
On Tuesday, the defensive backs held their track meet, with Central Florida’s Josh Robinson winning the foot race by posting a Combine-best 4.33 in the 40-yard dash — to go along with a stellar 38.5-inch vertical and 11’1” broad jump. LSU gunner Ron Brooks ran 4.37 and South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore posted a 4.40 in shorts.
The top two cornerbacks were clearly LSU’s Jim Thorpe award-winner Morris Claiborne and North Alabama’s talented but troubled Florida transfer Janoris Jenkins — both of whom received plenty of attention from Prime Time, or Neon Deion as it were. Dressed in the same highlighter-yellow Under Armor shirt as prospects, Sanders was quick to chime in with advice for a group of twentysomethings that aren’t old enough to have seen Prime in his prime.
“Open those hands up,” Sanders shouted at Claiborne, who ran a 4.50 with fists balled up.
Claiborne measured in at 5’11”, 188 pounds, with long 33 1/4” arms. Like Patrick Peterson — his LSU teammate who went No. 5 overall last year — Claiborne excelled in position drills, catching the ball at its highest point and showing the turn-and-go balance and agility of the excellent return man he is.
A compact yet fluid 5’10” and 193 pounds, Jenkins has an airport full of baggage off the field but looked the part of an All-Pro on the field turf. After starting his career under Urban Meyer at Florida, Jenkins — who ran a 4.46 in the 40 and posted a 10’1” broad jump — was kicked off the team by new coach Will Muschamp before transferring to North Alabama to play for Terry Bowden.
“I’m going to talk to him,” reassured Sanders.
“You should,” said NFL Network analyst Charles Davis, “because he is tal-en-ted.”
Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick is still a first-round lock, but was nowhere near as impressive as Claiborne and Jenkins in football-related drills. But Kirkpatrick has a rare size-speed combo — running a 4.51 in the 40 (and posting a 35-inch vertical and 10’ broad jump) at 6’2” and 186 pounds. Plus, the Saban product has held his own against the SEC’s best during his days in Tuscaloosa.
Another member of the Crimson Tide secondary was noticeably absent, as consensus top safety Mark Barron sat out the Combine while rehabbing from hernia surgery; and Barron is also likely to miss Alabama’s Pro Day. Due to a phenomenal career at Bama, Barron will likely be the first safety off the board even without working out. But that didn’t stop Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith from doing all he could to close the gap between the Nos. 1 and 2 safeties. Smith ran a 4.57 in the 40, had a 34-inch vertical and a 10’2” broad jump after measuring in at 6’2” and 213 pounds with 32 5/8” arms.
In the end, however, all anyone wanted to see was NFL Network’s face of the franchise Rich Eisen run the 40-yard dash in full suit and tie. This year, Eisen wore colorfully customized Under Armor cleats, rather than dress shoes, and ran a personal-best 6.03 in the 40 — coming closer and closer to the 4.27 his broadcast partner Deion famously ran en route to his limo waiting outside in 1989.
by Nathan Rush