The NFL Combine is behind us now, but plenty of prospects were able to raise — or lower — their draft stock with their performances. Strong outings in the 40-yard dash or in the bench-press workout does not consistently predict on-the-field talent, but it does make general managers and front office personnel aware of a prospect’s athleticism. And of course, in-person interviews are a key first step in the drafting process.
Here were the top 10 takeaways from the 2014 NFL Combine:
1. Jadeveon Clowney is an athletic freak
The 6-foot-5, 266-pound defensive end clocked in a 4.53-second 40-yard dash. He recorded a 37.5-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump, displaying the exceptional athleticism and outstanding measurables everybody has hoped to see.
Clowney’s outing has put his name back in the conversation to be the top pick in May’s draft. The debate is whether the Houston Texans can afford to pass up on a talent like Clowney in order to get their future quarterback.
2. Michael Sam disappoints
Michael Sam was never considered a top defensive player in this year’s draft, but coming out prior to the NFL Draft has brought an even bigger spotlight on the NFL’s first openly gay player. And in his first athletic test, Sam did not impress — at least on the field.
Sam ran a 4.91 40-yard dash, recorded a 25.5-inch vertical leap and put forth the second-worst number of bench-press reps (17) among defensive linemen. However, Sam reportedly killed it during interviews, and while his combine numbers weren’t great he still led the SEC in sacks this season.
3. Blake Bortles chooses to throw
With the spotlight on the Central Florida standout, Bortles shined. He displayed good mechanics and footwork, accurate throws and a fluid three-step drop. Come May, we’ll see whether Manziel’s and Bridewater’s decision not to throw costs one of them the top selection.
4. Jadeveon Clowney isn’t the only athletic defensive lineman
Aaron Donald was one of the most disruptive 3-techniques in the nation last season with Pittsburgh, finishing the year with 11 sacks and earning the No. 4 spot in the XN Sports Defensive Tackle Rankings.
Concerns about Donald’s size are legitimate, but not his athleticism. He ran a 4.68 40-yard dash and bench pressed 225 pounds 35 times, and in the process likely inflated his draft stock.
5. Is a divorce between Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers imminent?
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was nearly traded to the Cleveland Browns for draft picks, according to reports that surfaced during the NFL Combine, and the rumors about Harbaugh’s departure from the Bay Area have yet to quiet down. There’s an apparent rift between Harbaugh and Niners general manager Trent Baalke, and there are some indications the two cannot co-exist and the team will have to choose between one or the other.
There is reason to believe that 2014 could be a make-or-break season for Harbaugh in San Fran, despite the coach taking the team to back-to-back NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl appearance in 2013.
6. The battle to be the top-rated corner
Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert are largely considered the No. 1 and 1A cornerbacks in this year’s draft, a step above the rest of the prospects that still may fall in the first and second rounds of the draft. But the combine may have helped Gilbert create some separation.
Gilbert ran a 4.37-second 40 while Dennard turned in a 4.51-second 40 time. Jason Verrett was not too far behind Gilbert with a 4.38 time, while Kyle Fuller put his name in the conversation with a great workout.
7. Greg Robinson a top-10 pick?
Considered the No. 2 tackle in the draft, Auburn’s Greg Robinson may have solidified his status as a top-1o pick come May. Robinson’s arms measures in at 35 inches, then he bench pressed 225 pounds 32 times — oh, and he was doing this all while suffering through pink eye and a cold.
8. Sammy Watkins the clear-cut No. 1 wideout
Clemson’s Sammy Watkins ran an impressive 4.43-second 40, which proves as evidence to the type of burst he displayed on the field. The combine just re-established Watkins as the top wide receiver in the draft. Watkins has been connected to numerous teams within the top 10 and could come off the board as early as fifth overall to the Oakland Raiders.
9. Odell Beckham Jr. climbing up draft boards
Odell Beckham Jr. was another underclassmen to draw a lot of attention at the combine, and the LSU standout could have solidified his status as a first-round pick. Teams such as the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers have all been linked to Beckham, who is a home-run threat as well as a return specialist.
10. Close, but no cigar
A running back may not come off the board in the first round in 2014, but Dri Archer might have put himself on teams’ radars as a late-round selection. The Kent State speedster was the fastest running back at the combine and clocked in a 4.26-second 40-yard dash, a hair behind the record set by Chris Johnson (4.26 seconds) back in 2008).