2015 NFL COMBINE: Lookin for Edge Rushers – DE/OLB Drills | Winners and Losers | Defensive prospects worth noting

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After Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack were each selected in the top five a year ago, it seemed preposterous to think that the 2015 NFL Draft could be even more blessed with pass rushers. Sunday’s defensive line and linebacker drills, however, provided plenty of evidence that this might indeed be the case.


2015 TOP NFL DRAFT PROSPECTS: DEFENSIVE ENDS:

RANK

PLAYER

POS.

POS. RANK

SCHOOL

CLASS

HT.

WT.

PROJECTED

3

*Randy Gregory

DE

1

Nebraska

rJr

6-5

235

1

8

*Shane Ray

DE

2

Missouri

rJr

6-3

245

1

17

Alvin Dupree

DE

3

Kentucky

rSr

6-4

269

1

34

Owamagbe Odighizuwa

DE

4

UCLA

rSr

6-3

267

1-2

38

*Arik Armstead

DE

5

Oregon

Jr

6-7

292

1-2

43

*Danielle Hunter

DE

6

LSU

Jr

6-5

252

2

55

*Mario Edwards Jr.

DE

7

Florida State

Jr

6-3

279

2

68

Trey Flowers

DE

8

Arkansas

Sr

6-2

266

2-3

89

Preston Smith

DE

9

Mississippi State

Sr

6-5

271

3

99

Za’Darius Smith

DE

10

Kentucky

Sr

6-4

274

3

2015 TOP NFL DRAFT PROSPECTS: OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS:

RANK

PLAYER

POS.

POS. RANK

SCHOOL

CLASS

HT.

WT.

PROJECTED

9

*Dante Fowler Jr.

OLB

1

Florida

Jr

6-3

261

1

15

Vic Beasley

OLB

2

Clemson

rSr

6-3

246

1

18

*Shaq Thompson

OLB

3

Washington

Jr

6-0

228

1

36

*Eli Harold

OLB

4

Virginia

Jr

6-3

247

1-2

42

Nate Orchard

OLB

5

Utah

Sr

6-3

250

2

44

Paul Dawson

OLB

6

TCU

Sr

6-0

235

2

69

Hauoli Kikaha

OLB

7

Washington

rSr

6-2

253

2-3

90

Lorenzo Mauldin

OLB

8

Louisville

Sr

6-4

259

3

102

*Kwon Alexander

OLB

9

LSU

Jr

6-1

227

3-4

.


Several collegiate defensive ends who will be asked to make the transition to outside linebacker in the NFL demonstrated that they have the agility, speed and explosiveness to handle this conversion with Clemson’s Vic Beasley, Florida’s Dante Fowler, Jr. and Nebraska’s Randy Gregory enjoying particularly impressive performances. What’s even more exciting for NFL scouts is that Missouri’s Shane Ray did not participate (citing a foot injury sustained in the bowl game) and some expect that he’ll match or even exceed some of Beasley’s eye-popping numbers when he works out at the Tigers’ March 19 Pro Day.

Here are five takeaways from today’s defensive line and linebacker workouts:

5. Beasley is a beast. The 6-foot-3, 246 pound Beasley enjoyed one of the great Combine workouts in recent memory, leading all linebackers in the 40-yard dash (4.53 seconds) and bench press (35 repetitions of 225 pounds) and finishing among the top five in the 3 cone drill (6.91 seconds), short shuttle (4.15), the vertical (41″) and broad jumps (10’10”).

Unlike some of the other workout warriors in these and other position groups, Beasley is also a verified productive player, leaving the Tigers as the program’s all-time leader with 29 career sacks.

Boasting as explosive a first-step as any pass rusher in this class, Beasley is a first round cinch and could be wind up in the top 10.

4. So-called second-tier prospects staking their claim. Beasley was terrific (and so too were other projected first round picks Fowler, Gregory and Kentucky’s Alvin Dupree) but scouts won’t let their widely-expected performances on Sunday to distract from more surprising results, including from a handful of underclassmen attempting to break into the Day Two conversation.

Among the defensive linemen, LSU’s Danielle Hunter and Washington State’s Xavier Cooper showed off the athleticism that could result in a late charge up draft boards

The rangy 6-foot-5, 252 pound Hunter showed off his unusual combination of length (including 34 1/4″ arms), strength (25 reps) and speed (DL-best 4.57-second 40-yard dash). The 6-foot-3, 293 pound Cooper quietly proved to be one of the more athletic among the defensive tackles, clocking in at 4.86 seconds – fastest among any of the defensive tackles tested on Sunday.

3. Did Paul Dawson forget to eat his Wheaties? The tape says that Dawson is one of this year’s best three down linebackers, but he certainly didn’t look the part of a top 50 selection on Sunday, clocking in at a startlingly-slow 4.93 seconds in the 40-yard dash after weighing in shorter than expected at 6-foot, 235 pounds.

The poor showing wasn’t limited to just the 40-yard dash – complicating the narrative that perhaps Dawson just lost his technique on the drill or is faster on the field than the track due to good instincts. Dawson also showed very little explosiveness in the leaps. His 28″ vertical ranked dead last among linebackers tested Sunday and would have ranked fifth worst among the defensive linemen. It was a full 2.5 inches shorter than that of Washington’s 6-2, 339 pound nose guard Danny Shelton.

2. Dawson not the only disappointment. Dawson’s numbers were surprising because on tape, he looks much faster. Two other players who looked much more athletic on tape than they appeared during drills Sunday included Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman, arguably the best traditional Mike ‘backer in the draft.

At 6-foot-5, 329 pounds and flashing terrific burst and straight-line speed on tape, Phillips has generated comparisons to former workout warrior (and current Kansas City Chiefs star) Dontari Poe. He won’t be charging up draft boards after a relatively non-descript workout Sunday that saw him register a 5.17-second 40-yard dash, 28 repetitions of 225 pounds and a 30″ vertical jump. Dawson’s numbers aren’t bad given his massive size, but given his hype, talent evaluators expected more.

Unlike Phillips (who struggled with inconsistency throughout his Sooners career), Perryman was the picture of reliability for the Hurricanes, leaving the program as a four-year starter with 351 career tackles to his credit. While instinctive, physical and tough, however, Perryman didn’t exactly quiet critics of his speed and overall athleticism with a 4.78-second showing in the 40-yard dash. In fact, it may give voice to those who suggest that the 5-foot-11, 236 pounder is just a two-down run-stuffer in the NFL.

1. Positional drills most important. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the information overload that comes with all of the statistics from the Combine. At the end, we all know the tape is most important and that among the “tests” given in Indianapolis, the medicals and interviews hold the most weight. Perhaps the most underappreciated workouts (at least by the media and fans) conducted each day are the positional workouts.


2015 SCOUTING COMBINE: Winners and Losers


The early portion of the NFL Draft is always an exciting time, but the first few picks come late April 2015 could end up being fairly boring as a core group of prospects — the draft’s biggest winners — established themselves as the top players available.

Stock Up

Danny Shelton: The Washington defensive tackle is a BIG BOY.

And for his size he can flat-out move. His 5.64-second 40 was actually the slowest number for all participating defensive linemen, but most of the other guys don’t weigh 339 pounds.

He threw up 34 reps on the bench press and did a 7.99-second 3-cone drill. Sub 8 seconds at that size is pretty impressive. So is a 30-inch vertical jump for a dude that size. Shelton might very well have locked himself as a top-10 pick — or close to it — with his combine performance.

Ali Marpet: The 300-pound offensive lineman from tiny Hobart and Williams Smith Colleges has been drawing attention leading up to the combine with a strong Senior Bowl performance. He opened a lot of eyes in Indy with a white-hot 4.98 40-yard dash. Marpet put up 30 reps on the bench, fifth most among all offensive linemen and was second in the cone drill at 7.33 among the big boys.

People say the combine doesn’t matter but guys from out of nowhere can absolutely increase their stock with performances like this. Marpet’s also a great quote and treats eating food as “a job.”

“It’s a job. It’s something I take really seriously,” Marpet said. “I know there are some guys down here who have to stay away from the desserts, but I don’t have to worry about that — I’m the opposite way. I was just pounding pasta a little while ago, before I got up here.”

Vic Beasley: Before the combine began, no one doubted Beasley was a freak athlete. After he worked out on Sunday it was obvious just how athletic an animal the Clemson edge rusher really is.

First off: he’s fast.

Beasley ran a 4.53 40 (first among defensive linemen and linebackers) including a 1.59 second 10-yard split. Those are good things for a speed rusher.

He’s not just fast though. Beasley also threw up 35 reps on the bench press (1st), did a 41-inch vertical jump (3rd), 130 inches in the broad jump (3rd), 6.91 seconds in the cone drill (1st) and 4.05 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle (1st). If the NFL handed out medals for the combine, Beasley would have a gold.

It’s entirely possible the combination of his upside, the success of Bruce Irvin last year (the Seahawks rusher is an easy comp for Beasley) and his performance during workouts could vault him as high as the top five in the draft.

Bud Dupree: The Kentucky linebacker predicted a long time ago he’d do well at the combine. And he was spot on. The 6’4″, 269-pound outside linebacker ran a 4.56 40 and posted a 42-inch vertical jump plus a 138-inch broad jump.

There are some projection concerns with him and he’s far from a finished project, but he might be creeping pretty high in terms of draft-day slotting based on blowing up Indy with his freakish athleticism.

Stock Down

Running Backs: This is a very deep running back class, but apparently not a very fast one. Only three guys — Jeremy Langford of Michigan State, Karlos Williams of Florida State and Trey Williams of Texas A&M — ran the 40 in less than 4.5 seconds. Melvin Gordon’s 4.52 was fine, Duke Johnson was surprisingly slow at 4.54 and Ameer Abdullah only clocked a 4.60. The 40 doesn’t tell you everything about running backs either of course, and these guys should still end up going in a big run late in the first round and early in the second round.

With Todd Gurley sidelined by a continued ACL recovery, there’s just no one really distinguishing themselves from the rest of the class.

Ereck Flowers: Liked Flowers a lot while watching him against Florida State and with teams needing offensive linemen, he definitely projects as a first-round pick. But he didn’t help himself in the kickstep drill for linemen:

That is a total miss and you can bet GMs prospecting for quarterback protection will be concerned. Flowers is a nasty, physical player who gets to the second level very quickly but he can also get beaten with speed sometimes.


DEFENSIVE PROSPECTS: Noteworthy numbers and quotes


The strength of the 2015 draft may very well be with its pass rushers, which was demonstrated by the sheer athleticism shown Sunday, with LSU’s Danielle Hunter, UCLA’s Owa Odighizuwa and Washington State’s Xavier Cooper among the most impressive performers. Cooper’s speed doesn’t look as impressive as his competitors until you realize that he is 6-foot-4, 293 pounds, compared to the much slighter Hunter (6-foot-5, 252) and Odighizuwa (6-foot-3, 267). The impressive straight-line speed that each demonstrated in the 40-yard dash projects well to an NFL increasingly turning to the pass.


While there was a lot of action on the field from the offensive skill players, the defensive prospects were focused on the interview portion of the process, including several potential first-round picks. Here are five takeaways from the media session:

Virginia DE/OLB Eli Harold

One of the most fascinating aspects of the NFL Draft process for an analyst is learning about a player’s journey to this point. And Harold is no exception. The former Virginia player lost his mother to cancer while he was in high school, something that forced him to grow up at an early age.

“Growing up without a father and having a mother really doing everything for you, it’s pretty tough when you lose her,” Harold said. “She was my rock. She would be proud of me right now.”

Harold’s mother was diagnosed with yellow jaundice when he was just 14 years old and that would later turn into pancreatic cancer. She died a year later and Harold’s older brother acted as a father figure, giving him a support system. Now, Harold just wants to leave a lasting legacy for his mom.

“The man upstairs blessed me, I’m going to do it for my mom,” Harold said. “I just want to show the world that I can do more than just having my hand down. So tomorrow is the day. It’s the proving ground and I’m psyched for it. That’s what I worked all my life for.”

Harold felt he was ready for the NFL game and left Virginia early to follow his dreams. He launches himself off the line of scrimmage and plays with a relentless motor that pops on film. But even Harold admits he needs to get bigger. Currently at 247 pounds, he ideally wants to get to 255 for the next level.

“I feel like being in the league, you have to be a little bit bigger than what I am now,” Harold said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes. My pro day is March 2 and I’m going to go back and try to bulk up a little bit and show the scouts I can play and not lose a step with the weight on.”

Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

With 40 straight starts under his belt, few thought Ekpre Olomu would face durability questions during the draft process, but after a knee injury during December practice, everything changed for the former Ducks’ defensive back. Nonetheless, Ekpre-Olomu is staying positive after surgery eight weeks ago.

“I’m not really too worried how it will affect my draft stock,” Ekpre-Olomu said on Saturday. “I’m more worried about once I get there, how I’m going to move on from there, and how I’m going to perform once I get onto the team.”

Ekpre-Olomu said he feels great and the doctors tell him the knee is healing ahead of schedule. Although the reality is, he likely won’t be ready for the start of the 2015 NFL season, which will put him at a disadvantage, missing rookie mini-camps, training camp and the pre-season. So how does he plan to compensate while on the sidelines?

“I’m going to have to be determined to learn the playbook and make sure all those mental reps those guys are getting on the field, I have to make sure I’m getting a double amount because I’m not going to actually be on the field. You just have to work as hard as you can every day.”

Ekpre-Olomu cited his instincts and quickness as his best strengths, which fits what the tape says. The bigger question might be, is he ideally suited to stay outside or might he be better inside as a nickel cornerback in the NFL?

“I’m a versatile player,” Ekpre-Olomu said in response to that question. “I was able to play nickel throughout my career at Oregon and it is going to help me in the long run because now the league runs through the slot receiver. If you can have a guy that can cover the slot and shut him down, it helps the team. And that’s all you’re looking forward to, trying to win games for the team.”

Nebraska DE Randy Gregory

After weigh-ins, Gregory created some buzz on Friday, but for the wrong reason. He tipped the scale at only 235 pounds, a lighter weight than most expected for his 6-5 frame. But according to Gregory, NFL teams aren’t worried about it and know he will get bigger, although it might be tough for him to keep on the added weight.

“I can probably say it is a little harder to maintain,” Gregory said. “But I have always been able to put on weight real quickly and lose it real quickly.”

Gregory plans to be heavier for Nebraska’s Pro Day and is confident that he can carry and play with added muscle mass, saying he has weighed anywhere from “230 to 258” pounds in the past. He revealed that while he has received positive feedback and he isn’t worried about it affecting his draft projection, some teams have been “stuck” on the lower weight. Gregory has the pass rush ability to be appealing to any scheme, but also admitted the lighter weight could be a turn off for some teams.

“I’ve had a mixture of both,” Gregory said when asked about the teams interested in him and the schemes they run. “But with the weight right now, I am sure a lot of 3-4 teams will look at me instead of the 4-3 teams.”

While his size isn’t imposing, Gregory does play stronger than he looks, which can be attributed to the emphasis on fundamentals he learned at Nebraska. And he thinks players at the next level can take that for granted.

“Even at 235 pounds, I still think I set the edge pretty well because of my technique,” Gregory said. “I use my strength well for what I weigh. I just did 24 on the bench so I’ll only get stronger.”

Washington CB Marcus Peters

A prospect with considerable baggage, Peters did his best to quell the concerns about his character on Saturday, saying he made his mistakes and has to grow from them.

“It was just a miscommunication, mostly on my behalf,” Peters said regarding his dismissal from Washington. “I didn’t take the coaching transition too well.”

Peters was kicked off the team in November after several altercations between him and the new coaching staff, although he did call the reports of him choking a coach on the sidelines “false.” Since leaving the Huskies program, he has been enjoying family time at home, especially with his newborn son (Carson) who was born last fall. Peters has also received advice from an unlikely source: Seattle Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch.

“That’s someone that has mentored me throughout my whole life,” Peters said regarding his relationship with Lynch. “I watched him grow up playing Pop Warner football. I watched him in high school and I watched him through college. And I got a chance to play at Washington and he played for Seattle.”

Peters said his talks with Lynch are personal, but it was encouraging to hear that he did reconcile with the Washington coaches and will participate at the school’s Pro Day on April 2.

“I recently went up there a couple of weeks ago and had a real good conversation with Coach (Chris) Petersen. We sat down and talked about everything that happened. I sincerely apologized to him again for what I put him and the team through this year. But it was a good conversation and he welcomed me to the Pro Day.”

Peters’ mea culpa has mended things at Washington, but is it enough to convince NFL teams he’s worth an early first round pick? Time will tell.

Washington OLB Shaq Thompson

It was the first question asked: What position are you? And unequivocally and unmistakably, Thompson answered: “Outside Linebacker.”

Thompson quickly denied the rumors that he would also be participating in running back drills and said his return to offense was “out of the question.” He plans to tell NFL teams that he wants to stay at linebacker instead of moving to safety or offense.

“It’s where I feel most comfortable,” Thompson said on why he’s so adamant on staying at linebacker. “I like to be up by the line of scrimmage. I feel like I’m physical enough. I’m not the biggest guy, but I have a lot of heart.”

With experience at both inside and outside linebacker, Thompson said he doesn’t have a preference and he has talked to both 3-4 (inside WILL) and 4-3 teams (outside SAM). He said his best strength is making plays in space and being a team leader, having fun and beating up the ballcarrier, which sounds very similar to the player he patterns his game after: Lavonte David.

“He’s a little bit taller than me. But we have the same attributes, the same speed. We can cover tight ends and running backs. I feel like I can do the same things.”

Although the size doesn’t stand out, Thompson (6-0, 228) was absolutely correct when he said height is overrated at the position. And both he and UCLA’s Eric Kendricks will have to battle the “undersized” labels.

“Being too short is overrated,” Thompson said. “You have a lot of short linebackers out there. London Fletcher was 5-9 and he brought a lot of inspiration to us. I don’t feel height makes the player. Both Eric and I have a lot of heart and toughness. He’s a great linebacker, size doesn’t matter.”

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