INDIANAPOLIS – Each year at the NFL Scouting Combine a different position group takes center stage as the one with the most talent and potential first-round draft choices. Unfortunately for the defensive backs this year, they were overshadowed.
Offensive line is considered to be the deepest in talent and a handful of quarterbacks, wide receivers and pass rushers commanded most of the attention in the media center and in the workouts. From a news coverage standpoint, the cornerbacks and safeties also are at a disadvantage by being the last group to go through the workouts and press conferences, with television viewers and even reporters a little burned out by today’s final day.
Still, these players tend to be among the fastest on the field and they have to be in a league that has placed a priority on the passing game with speedy and tall receivers stretching the field. That speed also can be utilized on special teams as a returner, which Arizona’s Patrick Peterson has managed to perfect, and based on his unofficial time of 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash this morning, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert could follow in his footsteps.
“I think I’m a dangerous return man with the ball in my hands and on an interception there is always a possibility for me to take it back to house,” said Gilbert, who is seen as the biggest threat to Michigan State’s Darquez Dennard’s status as the top corner in the draft. “I think that Big 12 defensive backs are some of the best DBs in the country and college football. Sometimes we’re overlooked because we give up plays, but at the same time we have way more plays coming at us instead of, for instance, the SEC, they have a lot of run attacks where the corners are not being a lot pressured. So we have a lot to live up to.”
Gilbert turned in a faster time than Dennard and he is slightly bigger at 6-feet and 200 pounds compared to Dennard (5-11, 199). Behind those two is a group of corners very close in talent and physical characteristics consisting of four from Florida schools – FSU’s Lamarcus Joyner and Florida’s Marcus Roberson and Louichez Purifoy and Jaylen Watkins.
Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller will remind some of Desmond Trufant, who came into the league last year out of Washington, because of his last name. Trufant came from a football family that already had produced two NFL players and Fuller is the younger brother of Detroit Lions wide receiver Corey Fuller and former Tennessee Titans defensive back Vincent Fuller. His younger brother, Kendall, will be a sophomore cornerback at Virginia Tech this year
“It definitely makes you want to get to that level,” said Fuller, who is projected to be chosen higher in the draft than both of his brothers. “It definitely keeps you humble to continue to work hard to get there. I believe it just shows all the hard work all of my brothers have had to get to this point and we’re just thankful and blessed for that.”
As far as the safeties, Alabama’s Clinton Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor are the two that have been first-round draft grades but Florida State’s Terrence Brooks hopes to ride the momentum from his senior season that culminated with a national championship. He got off to a good start this morning with an unofficial 4.41 in the 40 and at 5-11, 198 he has the prototypical size for a free safety.
Brooks pointed to Peterson and Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas as two current NFL players he wants to pattern his game after because of their coverage skills and athleticism. He believes Peterson could easily play safety because f his size and footwork and he likes Thomas’ ability to be physical as well as effective in coverage, which is why he believes he will be attractive to teams in need of a top-caliber safety.
“I feel like I’m able to stay on the field with my cover skills, whether it’s man to man or up high,” Brooks said. “And I’m physical, too. I can go down in the box and handle things, too. Being versatile and being plugged in, I feel like that’s one of my good things, just being very instinctive. I have a great feel for knowing where the ball is going. I’m fast and quick and physical, too. Just all those things tie into being a good player.”
One advantage of being the last group to workout in Indianapolis is these players will get leave the final impression on the scouts, coaches and general managers before they all head their separate ways. That’s where a player like Brooks could make the kind of leap on someone’s draft board he believes he is capable of.
The consensus among those players that participated in the Senior Bowl last month in Mobile, Alabama is that it helped them immensely in getting ready for this week at the Combine. Not only were they exposed to an NFL playbook and practice regimen with the coaching staffs of the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars but also they interviewed with teams in a similar format. “You get to see what the coaches want at that level,” Brooks said. “Being able to work with the Jaguars staff, they showed me a lot of things in my game that I can improve on. Each day, I felt like I got better at the Senior Bowl.” Missouri linebacker Michael Sam also was appreciative of his experience in Mobile. “It was a new thing. I’m always around college coaches,” he said. “Seeing that it’s just a business, this is a legit business, a multi-billion dollar organization, it got me to feel what to expect on that next level.” … North Carolina center Russell Bodine earned the title of strongest man at the Combine by bench-pressing 225 pounds 42 times, six more than the next closest player. … Dixie State tight end Joe Don Duncan was the strongest non-lineman in Indy as he completed 35 reps on the bench press. … Usually it’s a wide receiver or cornerback that leaves Indy with the highest vertical jump, but this year that distinction went to Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier at 42 inches. He also was a top performer in the broad jump at 130 inches (10 feet, 8 inches) and the 3-cone drill at 6.91 seconds. … Baylor running back Lance Seastrunk’s 41.5-inch vertical jump was second overall and tops at his position, which is even more impressive considering he measured in at only 5-9 and 201 pounds. … Baylor wide receiver Tevin Reese (41 inches) led all receivers and Sheperd defensive end Howard Jones (40.5 inches) was the best big man overall.