Reflections from the Combine: Offensive Players
The 2014 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall is quickly approaching and if you are anything like me you cannot wait to see who will be your team’s future stars. I love the draft because it gives me a chance as a fan to see the direction the management wants to take the team. There’s always the hope that this year, they will get that one game-changer that will help boost your team’s chances of lifting the Lombardi Trophy. Of course any real savvy fan knows that games are not just won by first-round draft picks. In fact, the current champions, the Seattle Seahawks, had at least eight key defensive players that were drafted in the fourth round or later! Let’s take a look at some of the best potential late-round draft picks this year that I had the distinct pleasure of watching live at the 2014 NFL Combine, broken down by position.
If you truly believe that championship teams are built in the trenches, but you’re worried that your team doesn’t have a high enough pick to get someone like Greg Robinson, Taylor Lewan or Jake Matthews, fear not. This year’s offensive line draft at all of the positions is deep. Here are some of my favorites that I saw first-hand at the Combine.
There are a lot of things to like about Bodine and reasons why he could be a great late-round pickup for your favorite team. First off, he’s a beast and in fact lead everyone regardless of position in the bench press pulling off an impressive 42 reps. To put that in perspective, the next highest total for anyone was 36. Jadeveon Clowney, the potential first overall draft pick, only did 22 and Greg Robinson, who is touted as one of the top offensive lineman in the draft, did 32 reps.
And this guy is pretty darn fast. His best 40-yard dash time was 5.18 which was fifth best for his position and top fifteen for all offensive lineman. I know what you’re thinking, who cares about the 40 time for a center, right? Well, historically, this is true but look at the direction the league is going now offensively with mobile quarterbacks that can extend plays with their legs to do designed runs. With that in mind, the lineman around him are going to need to be quicker too to help keep your star QB on his feet.
On top of all that, he had the best vertical for his position at 29” which is pretty amazing considering he weighs 310 lbs. He had the second best broad jump at 109,” which is just over 9 feet. This guy definitely has some explosiveness in his legs.
Brandon Linder, Guard, University of Miami
Here’s a guy who’s stock has risen since the Combine and could be a great 4th round pick, maybe earlier (guards typically go no earlier than 2nd round) pick for any team in need of interior help. Before the Combine, one of my top choice guards I wanted to watch was Cyril Richardson out of Baylor, but since then, Linder is quickly shooting up as one of the top guards on the board. He’s still not going to get the draw that Richardson will get in this year’s draft, but here is why I think he could be a great steal overall…
First off you need to look at strength and Linder ended up with a position-tying 30 reps at the bench press. That number is not as mind-blowing as Bodine’s 42 but it still puts him towards the top of the entire Combine. Again, another offensive lineman that out-lifted the lion’s share of the defensive lineman. Combine that strength with his near 6’6,” 311 lbs. frame and you have a guard that can keep gaps from getting plugged and keep your quarterback upright.
Linder also had a pretty good 40-yard dash time as well- 5.35 seconds, which is good for a man his size. On top of that, he has solid footwork and pulls well which is very important. He also has strong hands.
Joel Bitonio, Offensive Tackle, University of Nevada
One of the great things about Joel Bitonio isn’t just how well he performed at the Combine, but the fact that he also has the ability to play any position on the offensive line well. This is great for NFL teams that want to save a roster spot or two for other positions. He is listed as a tackle but do not be surprised if he ends up a guard at the next level. He isn’t quite as strong as some of the other guys that were at the Combine, only performing 22 reps at the bench press, but he is a solid pass and run blocker that could go as high the 2nd round, but more realistically probably 3rd or 4th.
He has some serious explosiveness in his legs, putting up a 32” vertical and 114” broad jump, both of which were second in his group. In addition to that he is also fast. In fact, he is one of only five offensive lineman that ran a sub-five 40, clocking in at 4.97 seconds. His 3-cone drill and shuttle times were both top amongst tackles as well. He has a good combination of speed and athleticism that is crucial in the NFL.
I’m not going to say much about the tight ends or running backs from this year’s Combine because frankly outside of Eric Ebron from the University of North Carolina, there was not much to see. I think players like Jace Amaro and Austin Seferian-Jenkins proved that they could be solid draft picks either towards the end of day one or early day two.
As far as quarterbacks go, pretty much anything that could be said about them has been written already. We all know that teams have strong interest in Blake Bortles from the University of Central Florida, Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville and of course Johnny Manziel from Texas A & M. Unfortunately, it is hard to fully evaluate the others since very few of them threw at the Combine, but there was one player that stood out to me from the group of less-touted QBs.
When Shaw first stepped up to the starting line for his 40-yard dash, he didn’t look like a guy that was going to put up the third best time for quarterbacks but that’s exactly what he did, ending up with a 4.66 second 40 yard dash. The only noteworthy quarterback that had a better time was Logan Thomas from Virginia Tech. He even beat out (barely) Johnny Manziel, who is considered one of the best mobile quarterbacks from this year’s draft class. During drills, his throws were accurate and tight. He’s not going to be a quarterback-hungry team’s solution but he could be a solid backup for a few years before getting a starting gig. Hopefully, he will have more success at the next level than your typical Steve Spurrier coached quarterback.
The wide receiver class this year is also deep. Not quite as deep as the offensive line draft class but still plenty of talented wide-receivers to go around. Here are two receivers that have the potential to boost your team’s wide receiver corps:
Donte Moncrief, Wide Receiver, Ole Miss
Moncrief was a player that entered the Combine without all the hype of some other big-name SEC receivers like Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr., but I was more than wowed by the performance he gave. You could literally see his draft stock rising as the day went on. He’s a pretty big, strong receiver standing at 6’2” and 220 lbs. but on top of that, he is also fast. His 4.40 40-yard dash was the eighth best of anyone at the Combine. His route running was crisp and solid and his hands were pigskin magnets, snagging everything that came near him. As if that wasn’t enough, he also had a 39.50” vertical which was top ten of the entire combine as well. I see him going 2nd or 3rd round for sure, but it’s hard to say with such a deep draft at just about every position.
Robinson is another big, strong wide-receiver who was also the top pass-catcher in the Big 10 this year. Despite those great attributes, he entered the Combine with very little hype and could be a great 3rd or 4th round draft pick this year. He didn’t quite show off blazing speed, running a 4.60 second 40-yard dash, but his route running looked tight. He also displayed good quickness off the line and some terrific pass catching abilities. He had a very good 39” vertical and 127” broad jump. His stock is on the rise and he will be a great addition to any team.