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NFL Combine: Scouting the Defensive Backs
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Ricky Henne’s Take: I was only able to watch the first of the two secondary groups going today as I needed to catch my flight back to San Diego, but I was impressed by a number of players. One guy who I was interested in seeing out on the field was troubled LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. This kid hasn’t been on the football field in a year after being kicked off the team, but I thought he showed little to no rust in drills. He located and plucked the ball out of the air nicely and showed quick, smooth footwork. If he can convince teams that he’s turned the corner in his personal life, I think he can have a productive career in the NFL. Meanwhile, the consensus top DB in this year’s draft class, Alabama’s Dee Milliner, had a mixed day. At the time I left the Combine, he had the top unofficial 40-yard dash time. That was a major question many were asking about since they know he has tremendous coverage skills. I don’t know if it was nerves or not but Milliner struggled during the on-field drills. He dropped a number of balls and at least two times had to stop and start the drill over again after messing up at the beginning. Still, everyone knows how strong he is in coverage when up against a wide receiver, and with his speed being the biggest question mark coming into the day, I think he probably helped his cause overall despite his hiccups. One safety that impressed was Florida’s Matt Elam. He came into the Combine a borderline first-rounder according to NFL pundits, and he helped his cause by posting a tremendous 40 time and displaying strong ball skills despite a late drop.
Ryan Schuler's Take: It’s no question the NFL has become a pass-happy league. Now it’s up to NFL head coaches and general managers to find players that can cover wide receivers. That means it’s defensive backs day. This year’s class has both playmakers and depth with the 40-yard dash being the most important because of explosion. Alabama’s Dee Milliner is NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock’s top rated cornerback and a likely top 10 pick come April. Milliner’s 4.37 40-yard dash confirmed that. In my opinion, Milliner struggled with the backpedal and catching the ball. He looked nervous from the start of the football drills. San Diego State cornerback Leon McFadden was another mid-round guy who received positive reviews from the analysts. Mayock said McFadden had one of the best Senior Bowl weeks of anyone and McFadden has the quick feet to be successful at the next level. McFadden ran a 4.54 40-yard dash to go along with a 34.5-inch vertical leap and a 119-inch broad jump. No one needed a better day than LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and he delivered. Mathieu missed all of last season after being removed from the LSU football team due to positive drug tests and entering rehab. From what I saw from Mathieu today, he had one of the best days. He ran a 4.50 40-yard dash and had some of the best hands of anyone in the group. He is a projected middle-round selection. His off-the-field issues still raise a concern. I was most intrigued to see Mayock’s top two safeties, Texas strong safety Kenny Vaccaro and Florida free safety Matt Elam, respectively. Both are coming off of very strong seasons, though Elam’s Florida defense was one of the most feared in the country. Though Vaccaro does have a slight height and weight advantage, Elam outdid Vaccaro in the measurable drills, running a 4.54 40-yard dash and putting up 17 bench press reps, compared to Vaccaro’s 4.63 40-yard dash and 15 bench press reps. Vaccaro was able to out-jump Elam by 2.5 inches in the vertical leap, though. Both were very similar in the backpedaling and catching drills, Elam stuck out more in my mind.
TOP FIVE PERFORMANCES
1. Darius Slay, Mississippi St. - 4.36
2. Dee Milliner, Alabama - 4.37
3. Desmond Trufant, Washington - 4.38
T-4. Robert Alford, Southeastern Louisiana - 4.39
T-4. Jamar Taylor, Boise St. - 4.39
1. Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse - 28
2. John Boyett, Oregon - 27
3. Shawn Williams, Georgia - 25
T-4. Dwayne Gratz, Connecticut - 22
T-4. Jamar Taylor, Boise St. - 22
T-1. Eric Reid, LSU - 40.5
T-1. Xavier Rhodes, Florida St. - 40.5
T-1. Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse - 40.5
T-1. B.W. Webb, William & Mary - 40.5
T-1. Steve Williams, California - 40.5
T-1. Eric Reid, LSU - 11'2"
T-1. Earl Wolff, N.C. State - 11'2"
3. Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse - 11'1"
T-4. Robert Alford, Southeastern Louisiana - 11'0"
T-4. Xavier Rhodes, Florida St. - 11'0"