TWENTYMAN: A few takes from the NFL Scouting Combine

Posted Feb 26, 2014

Senior writer Tim Twentyman articulates his perspective on key players that performed at this week's NFL Scouting Combine

The 2014 draft class is done being poked, prodded, interviewed and tested down at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

As is the case every year, some players helped their chance of being drafted high in May's draft, some may have hurt their status a bit and others reaffirmed what we already knew about them.

Here are a few of my takes from the five days I spent in at the Combine:

1. Jadeveon Clowney is a beast

The former South Carolina defensive end would have been the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft had he been able to come out after two years, instead of having to wait a third year.

The fact that he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 just reaffirms how gifted an athlete he is.

Clowney received flak for taking plays off last year and then not doing some of the workouts at the Combine, but to me, that's just noise.

The kid had a front row seat to watch teammate Marcus Lattimore completely blow out his knee his senior season at South Carolina and the freefall that followed in the draft.

As for catching some grief for not doing some drills at the Combine, how is that any different from quarterbacks not choosing to throw and work out? Clowney is trying to be the No. 1 overall pick and he's going to control every aspect of his workout to make sure he gives himself the best chance to make that happen.

I'm not mad at him. He's going to be a terrific pro and Andrew Luck in Indianapolis should be very concerned over the prospect of facing J.J. Watt and Clowney twice a year if the Houston Texans take him No. 1 overall.

2. So is Aaron Donald

The former Pittsburgh defensive tackle had the unfortunate luck of being placed with Clowney during his workouts.

When Clowney ran an unofficial 4.47 at 6-foot-5, 266 pounds, one would have thought he was the only player at the Combine the way the NFL Network covered it.

It overshadowed Donald's performance, which was just as impressive. Donald, who was nearly unblockable down at the Senior Bowl in January, ran the 40 in 4.68, did 35 bench press reps and had a 32-inch vertical. Oh yeah, he's 6-foot-1, 285 pounds.

He's quick, he's fast and he's going to make some team very happy.

3. The draft is the deepest in years

Teams who draft in the high teens and low 20's this year are going to get just as good a player as was drafted in the top five last year. I truly believe that. It's that deep of a draft according to most NFL people I talked to in Indianapolis.

Teams are potentially going to get starters and impact players into the third round of this draft.

4. Receivers class has talent

It's one of the deepest position groups in this draft. This receiver group has a little bit of everything teams might be looking for in a receiver. There's fast guys, big guys and versatile guys, like Clemson's Sammy Watkins, who can do a lot of different things.

This group had 20 players run in the 4.4-seconds range or better in the 40. Players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Jordan Matthews are going to be very good players in this league as late first-round picks.

In fact, teams are going to find receivers who have a chance to be very productive into Day 2 of the draft and even Day 3.

I wouldn't be surprised at all, depending on how free agency goes, if the Lions address the receiver position a couple times in the first four rounds.

5. Mike Evans isn't polished, but I still like him

Evans ran a good 40 time of 4.53 for a player 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds. Some of the criticism surrounding him is his limited route tree and the fact he's not overly strong for his size.

I can agree with both of those points. I can also say those are two things that are correctable at the next level.

The right coach can help a player become a better route runner. Some of route running is natural flexibility and fluidness, but improving upon a route tree can be taught. Some of that comes naturally in the more complex passing schemes in the NFL.

Players, especially rookies, naturally become stronger when they get to the NFL.

What can't be taught is 6-foot-5, 231 pounds and soft hands. When I watched Evans play I saw a receiver who could catch the football. I'll repeat that one. I saw a receiver who could catch the football.

He caught low passes, high passes, back-shoulder passes and passes that were thrown into a crowd by Johnny Football.

Sammy Watkins is the best receiver in this draft and he'd fit terrific opposite Calvin Johnson. If he's not around, however, Evans intrigues me as a second option at the position.

Khalil MackKhalil Mack (Photo: AP Images)

6. Khalil Mack can play in any defense

A number of NFL people I talked to in Indianapolis said Mack could be just as much a monster in a 4-3 scheme as he could as a pass rushing outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

He's such a terrific athlete at 6-foot-3, 251 pounds that defensive coaches can find a place for him in any scheme. He ran the 40 in 4.65 seconds, jumped 40 inches in the vertical and had a 10'8'' broad jump.

Simply turn on the Ohio State game from this past season to see his impact on the football field.

Mack can play the SAM in a 4-3 scheme and then be a versatile pass rushing linebacker or even defensive end on third down. He'd be a devastating blitzing linebacker in a 4-3.

7. Who's the better cornerback Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard?

Gilbert gets the slight edge for me because of his combination of size (6-0, 202), speed (4.37 official 40) and ball skills.

Gilbert played both man and zone at Oklahoma State, which should quicken his adjustment at the NFL level.

Dennard didn't seem as fluid as Gilbert in drills and he might need some time to adjust if he asked to do anything but play press corner.

I also like the fact that Gilbert was a return man in college. He returned six kickoffs for a touchdown in his college career. He has terrific instincts as a runner and it helps with ball skills when defensive backs play offense or return kicks.

Dennard is a good prospect, but I like Gilbert a little better.

8. Who's the better safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor?

Pryor is the more physical player, while Clinton-Dix appears to be a better cover man.

I guess it comes down to what a defense prefers. In the Lions case, what defensive coordinator Teryl Austin prefers.

The in-the-box safety isn't as valuable as a good cover safety in today's NFL unless above-average cover corners or safeties surround him. Then he's a terrific asset to have.

Give me a player who can cover the seam and has range enough to get to either sideline or the deep middle of the field.

The Lions gave up 14 pass plays of 40-plus yards last year. That number needs to go down significantly in 2014 and someone who's comfortable in the deep portion of the field can help in that area. Clinton-Dix seems to do that a little better.