Scouting Combine Winners: 10 Players that Improved their Draft Stock

It’s dangerous to put too much stock in combine workouts.

The 40-yard dash may measure straight-line speed but it won’t tell you if a running back has great vision or instincts. The bench press might be a good indication of how strong a player is, but people with long arms tend to struggle with the exercise and isn’t having long arms one of the qualities that scouts look for in an offensive tackle prospect?

That said: Forget what I just wrote. The combine numbers mean everything, which makes this post so worth your time. Listen to me, I’m not one of those idiots who sets up an article by telling you how combine numbers mean nothing and then compiles a list of prospects that improved their draft stocks based off their combine numbers. That would just be foolish and counterproductive.

Below are 10 prospects that may have improved their draft stock with their performance at the combine this week. I know there were more than just 10, so feel free to share whom you thought raised their stock in the comments section below (which is way more productive than calling me a flippin’ moron for not listing a player, and then smugly asking, “Did you even watch football last year?” which is one of my all-time favorite comments from readers).

Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
I’d be shocked if Miller weren’t selected in the top 6 after running a 4.53 forty at the combine. He was unofficially clocked at 4.46 and I don’t see him getting past Cleveland at No. 6. (I actually think he won’t get past Arizona at No. 5, but if the Cardinals take a quarterback I could see the Browns nabbing him at No. 6.) Miller put on nearly 10 pounds since the Senior Bowl and is already drawing comparisons to DeMarcus Ware. He’s the most NFL-ready pass rusher in the draft.

Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
Everybody is loving themselves some Christian Ponder right now. After displaying great accuracy and decent arm strength over the weekend, some believe Ponder may now go in the first round. I think that’s a stretch but I wouldn’t be shocked if he went to the Bengals at the top of the second round. He’s viewed as the best West Coast Offense quarterback in the draft and may have been the signal caller that improved his draft stock the most this week.

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Could the Bengals take a flier on Christian Ponder in the second round?

A week ago Christian Ponder was viewed as a third round prospect at best. But after impressing scouts at the combine, you would think that the guy is ready to go in the top 10 based on some media reports.

Rob Rang of CBS Sports is reporting that Ponder is generating first round buzz after his workout in Indianapolis over the weekend. He even says that Ponder is now “viewed by some as the top true West Coast Offense quarterback in the draft.”

I know Ponder looked good in his workout but I highly doubt he’ll go in the first round. He’s still a mid-round prospect, but one team that has emerged as an interesting candidate for the former FSU quarterback is the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Carson Palmer situation is getting a little hairy in the ‘Natti. He wants out and with each passing day, it appears as though the team is willing to abide by his wishes. If they trade or release Palmer, then quarterback becomes the biggest need for the Bengals, although I’m not convinced they’ll take a signal caller at No. 4.

Cam Newton isn’t a fit for Jay Gruden’s West Coast offense and neither is Ryan Mallett. The same goes for Jake Locker, who doesn’t have the accuracy to play in the system and while you can make a case for Blaine Gabbert, there’s a good chance that if the Bengals wait they could nab Ponder at the top of the second round (or later if they trade back or attempt to wait until the third round to nab him) and pay him significantly less than if they take Gabbert at No. 4.

Ponder fits in the West Coast because his best attribute is his accuracy. He also has a strong enough arm to make all the throws at the next level and as long as his confidence stays up, he could wind up developing into a nice quarterback down the road. Depending on how the situation plays out with Palmer, Ponder seems like a logical fit for the Bengals.

Will the Bears target a DT in the first round after releasing Tommie Harris?

Tommie Harris told the media in early February that he wouldn’t be a distraction like Albert Haynesworth has been with the Redskins when it came to the uncertainty of his future with the Bears. Of course, he wasn’t around long enough to be a distraction because the team cut him on Monday.

Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris walks off the field after warmups before a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at Soldier Field in Chicago on August 21, 2010. UPI/Brian Kersey

The Bears apparently had some interest in bringing the former Pro Bowler back next season, but only if he were willing to take a sizable paycut. He wasn’t, and the Bears had little choice but to release him seeing as how he was owed a $2.3 million roster bonus. His play has declined over the last several years and despite the addition of Julius Peppers to the defensive line last season, Harris finished with just 13 tackles and two sacks in 15 games.

There is no shortage of teams looking for defensive tackle help, so Harris will certainly resurface somewhere. Seeing as how he was just released, it’s difficult to narrow down a list of potential suitors for him, so the more intriguing question at this point is how this move could affect the Bears’ draft plans.

Chicago holds the No. 29 overall pick and it must upgrade its offensive line. Depending on how the first round plays out, Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi, Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod, Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo, Colorado’s Nate Solder and Villanova’s Benjamin Ijalana are all possibilities for the Bears at No. 29. But what if the decision to release Harris prompts GM Jerry Angelo to go in another direction?

Angelo has had a difficult time building an offensive line over the years and struggles to draft in the first round. He has an eye for defensive talent, however, so maybe he’ll stick with what he knows best. Releasing Harris opens a hole at defensive tackle and Chicago Sun-Times writer Neil Hayes recently suggested that Illinois’ Corey Liuget could be the Bears’ top pick.

Liuget’s stock appears to be on the rise the closer we get to April’s draft. Behind Nick Fairley and Marcell Dareus, Liuget is the best three-technique tackle in the draft. (Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson is somewhere in the mix, too.) Liuget, who isn’t even 21 yet, racked up 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as a third-year junior in 2010, leading the Illini in QB pressures as well. He’s quite the talent, although I’m not sure if he’ll fall to the Bears at No. 29. He’s expected to go somewhere late in the first, but I have the Rams taking him at No. 14 (which seems high now, but if Liuget’s stock continues to climb then maybe No. 14 won’t seem like such a reach come April).

Either way, the Bears’ draft plans just got a little more interesting.

NFL Scouting Combine Thoughts: Quarterbacks

The quarterbacks performed throwing drills at the NFL scouting combine on Sunday and below are some quick-hit thoughts on how each of them fared. (Thank you NFL Network for broadcasting the scouting combine for those of us who are unable to go to Indianapolis, or have a restraining order that mandates we stay 500 yards away from Rich Eisen, whom all I wanted to do was party with.)

– For those that were concerned with the way the ball comes out of Cam Newton’s hand, there’s no need. Unlike Tim Tebow last year, Newton doesn’t have a flaw that needs to be fixed when it comes to his delivery, which is important seeing as how he played in the spread option under Gus Malzahn at Auburn.

– That said, Newton was awfully inconsistent on Sunday. His passes on the out route sailed on him and he also overthrew his receiver on one of his post-corner throws. His footwork is still a work in progress but hey, he’s learning. He has to transition from being a spread quarterback to a conventional drop back passer in the NFL, so it’s going to take time. At least at this point he has better mechanics than Tebow and Vince Young when they were preparing for the draft.

Ryan Mallett was really impressive. He has a cannon attached to his right shoulder and the ball comes out of his hand rather effortlessly. He has the best physical tools of any quarterback in the draft and at 6’6” and 238 pounds, he has the size that scouts drool over. Of course, his physical tools have never been in question. His attitude and character are what some are concerned about. Personally, I think he has Oakland Raiders written all over him. He could thrive in a vertical offense and Al Davis can’t even spell character.

Christian Ponder had himself a great day as well. He outshined Newton and all other quarterbacks in the second group, displaying very good accuracy and decent arm strength. I can’t see him going any higher than the third round, but he looked healthy and confident on Sunday. Depending on what team he winds up with, he could be a player to watch in a couple of years.

– For those who followed him at Washington, it’s not surprising that Jake Locker ran one of the fastest 40 times (4.52 seconds) of any quarterback in combine history. The guy was blessed with a ton of athleticism and he looked good throwing the ball, which had been a concern heading into the combine. He was a little inconsistent with his accuracy when throwing the dig route, but it’s hard to complain about his performance. Of course, most quarterbacks perform well when there are no defenders in their face. When teams watch film of him from last year, there will be plenty to pick apart.

Ricky Stanzi, Jerrod Johnson and Andy Dalton all struggled with their accuracy. I don’t think anyone is surprised with Johnson, but I thought Dalton would put on a better performance. Of course, where he wins teams over is with his leadership, his football IQ and his instincts. You can’t measure those things in throwing drills. I will say this about Stanzi though: the kid throws a nice deep ball (at least when he’s not facing any DBs).

2011 NFL Draft Needs: AFC West

No. 2 Denver Broncos
Team Needs: DT, LB, RB, DE, G, S
The Broncos have a ton of needs to fill, most notably on defense where they’re switching to a 4-3 front. Jamal Williams isn’t a great fit in a 4-3 alignment, which leaves Denver with Marcus Thomas and Justin Bannan (who’s good in a rotation but might be exposed as a full-time starter) at defensive tackle. At defensive end, Elvis Dumervil is set to return after missing the entire 2010 season with an injury, but Jason Hunter is the only potential 4-3 DE on the roster. Linebacker is a major need as well, especially if the trade talk about D.J. Williams is true. Running back, guard and safety are also positions of need, although with the No. 2 overall pick, the Broncos are most likely to select DT Nick Fairley or DE Da’Quan Bowers. I can’t see them taking Patrick Peterson after they re-signed Champ Bailey, but you never know.
First Round Possibilities: Da’Quan Bowers (Clemson), Nick Fairley (Auburn), Patrick Peterson (LSU).

(No first round Pick) Oakland Raiders
Team Needs: CB, OL
Nnamdi Asomugha is a free agent and the Raiders can’t tag him, so assuming he heads to greener pastures, corner will become a huge need. The team re-signed Stanford Routt but Chris Johnson isn’t a full-time starter so look for Oakland to snag one of the available corners in the second round. Center and tackle are needs as well.
First Round Possibilities: Brandon Harris (Miami), Jimmy Smith (Colorado), Prince Amukamara (Nebraska), Aaron Williams (Texas), Stefen Wisniewski (Penn State), Mike Pouncey (Florida), Tyron Smith (USC), Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin), Derek Sherrod (Mississippi State), Anthony Castonzo (Boston College), Nate Solder (Colorado).

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