Monday, February 24, 2014

Winners and Losers from the NFL Combine… So Far

Few players have accomplished so much in college, yet come into the Combine as scrutinized as Johnny Manziel. Basically, he's this year's Tim Tebow.

By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

The NFL Combine is halfway over, and we've already had a near record-setting run in the 40-yard dash, an openly gay player being welcomed with open arms and a few "RED FLAGS" being tossed out by national pundits. We've still got two days left, but seriously, you've got work to do. You're not gonna watch a bunch of guys run through cones during the week… Are you?

Either way, here are our winners and losers from the first two days of the NFL Scouting Combine.


Johnny Manziel

There's going to be so much debate about Manziel as the draft gets closer, but the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner did everything in his workout to at least prove that he's physically ready.

The height question really doesn't matter anymore, what with Drew Brees turning into one of the best quarterbacks ever and Russell Wilson leading a Super Bowl winner in Seattle, but Johnny Football was actually a little taller than I anticipated, officially measuring in at just a quarter-inch under 6-foot.

His 40 time wasn't in the RGIII range, but it compared favorably to recent quarterbacks that can move. His 4.68 was nearly identical to Andrew Luck's time in 2012 (4.67), and just below Cam Newton, Geno Smith and E.J. Manuel, who all ran in the 4.6-4.65 range. It's also faster than Tim Tebow's 4.72.

If you want a real shocker, while I was looking these numbers up, I saw that Blaine Gabbert ran a 4.62. Yep, that Blaine Gabbert is a tenth of a second faster than Tebow. Crazy, I know.

Anyways, 40 times are tough on shorter guys with shorter legs, so it makes sense that Manziel's time was good, not great, but he blew people away with his cone drills and shuttle runs.  Manziel's 6.75 seconds in the cone drill puts him among the five best QBs of the last five years. Only Tebow and this year's Jordan Lynch are players of note that performed better, and he finished a full .15 seconds faster than Luck.

In the 20-yard shuttle, a true test of body control and explosive speed, Manziel ran an astounding 4.03, the second best time a QB has run this decade behind only Matt Scott from last season.

So, while many will look at Manziel's 40 time and say he didn't run well, they're not getting the full picture. Johnny Football is as shifty an athlete as there is, and he showed he can change direction with virtually no wasted motion. If you've ever watched him play, you know his game is short bursts and cuts, not long strides.

If you think Johnny Manziel can play his game at the NFL level, his workout seemed to prove you right.

Dri Archer

When you come from a program like Kent State, and check in at 5-foot-8, under 175 pounds, it's easy to get overlooked. Well, Flash running running back Dri Archer (Kent State's team is nicknamed the Golden Flashes, though Flash applies to Archer as well) made sure people would not miss his performance, boasting before the Combine that he was going to break Chris Johnson's official 40-yard dash record of 4.24 seconds.

Well, Archer came up just short at 4.26, but he still has the best time of any player so far by .15 seconds. That's right, while he ran in the mid 4.2s, nobody else even ran in the 4.3s this weekend. Archer was an incredibly productive all-purpose player, and his experience at wide receiver should help him in a league that values a running back's hands more with each passing year.

An injury slowed Archer his senior season, but this workout shows that he's returned to his junior form, making him one of the most explosive players in the 2014 draft class. He was being projected as a late round pick and, perhaps, an undrafted free agent before the Combine, but look for someone to snatch him up in the 4th or 5th. This kind of speed doesn't come along often.

Odell Beckham

The undersized but slippery receiver from LSU set a new school record with 2,315 all-purpose yards, but his Combine workout may have gone a longer way toward getting him drafted early.

Beckham quieted talks that he lacked top-end speed, blazing through the 40-yard dash in just 4.43 seconds, and was one of the top performers in the vertical jump (38.5 inches), while finishing third overall in both the 20-yard shuttle (3.94 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (10.93 seconds).

He looks like an ideal candidate to come in and compete for a No. 3/slot receiver role and handle kick return duties right away for a contender. Many pundits had him going No. 22 to the Eagles, but after this type of a Combine, Beckham could go even higher.


Religious Visions

Look, I don't want to belittle anyone's religious beliefs, but San Diego State running back Adam Muema had one of the more unique religious experiences I've ever heard of. The mid-round prospect left the Combine because he said God told him to.

Oh, did he have a higher calling than football? Was God looking to place him somewhere else that would benefit humanity? Ok, don't tell me this guy is building an ark as we speak…

Well, no. You see, apparently God doesn't deal with big stuff like that anymore. God simply told Muema that if he didn't work out, he would ultimately be drafted by the Seattle Seahawks, his favorite team. Now, I get that this young man is taking a leap of faith, but doesn't he think that God might have more important things to worry about than what team a future back up running back plays for?

Plus, have you seen the Seahawks' depth chart? They've got Beast Mode starting and last year's second-round pick Christine Michael in the backfield. It would take some divine intervention to get Muema into the Seattle two-deeps.

Muema has also linked on his Twitter and Instagram accounts to a man named Lord-Ray-el, who claims to be the second coming of Christ. Again, I don't want to belittle anybody's religious beliefs… But the second coming of Christ is on Twitter?

And he has less followers than my editor at ESPN Boston? Something smells a little fishy...

Mike Mayock


Before I go any deeper, let me just say that I like Mike Mayock's stuff a lot. He's one of the better talent evaluators out there, and a lot of fun to listen to. But, like all other draft guys, they go crazy with these red flags around a prospect.

With Manziel, there is definitely something to them, but when pundits just create them out of thin air to be contrarian, that's when things get a little silly. Mayock, like many people, didn't think South Carolina defensive end/apex predator Jadeveon Clowney gave it his all in an injury-plagued 2013.

That's fine, but questioning his work-ethic, and saying he may not go in the top-5 are just silly. What's even sillier, is playing both sides, by saying that Clowney could be the most dominant player in the league, then saying you would take Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack (A fine player, to be sure) over him.

This is the classic case of a pundit taking a stab at the contrarian point of view, while still admitting that he could be totally wrong. Mayock's a smart guy, and this is a fun way to have his cake and eat it too.

The Cleveland Browns

The Browns have been losers for over three decades now. First, they lost 80s playoff games in heartbreaking fashion, then they lost Bill Belichick and their team in the mid-90s. Since returning to the NFL in 1999, they've pretty much just lost everything.

So, it makes sense that Cleveland would want to bring in a proven winner, but they couldn't even get that right. It was rumored, and has now been confirmed by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam that Cleveland attempted to trade for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh shortly after San Francisco lost to Seattle in the NFC title game.

The 49ers reportedly turned down the trade, which included draft picks, but no first round selections, immediately. The Browns then went on to hire consolation choice Mike Pettine, who will replace Rob Chudzinski. You remember him, he was fired after one season in Cleveland, and replaced Pat Shurmur, who was fired after two seasons there.

The Browns are now on their fourth coach since 2011, so it makes sense that they thought outside the box, but not even offering a first round pick for Harbaugh? That's just insulting.

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