Mar 11, 2011
In this series of articles related to the 2011 NFL Draft, we’ll take a look at the effects that the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine had–either positively or negatively–on well-known and lesser known draft prospects on both sides of the ball. These players demonstrated that they have the skills needed to potentially make an impact at the professional level. To be clear, the results of Combine tests and drills only go so far in determining future success. All we have to do is look at the professional careers of former top-five picks like Vince Young, JaMarcus Russell, Courtney Brown and Alex Smith to see that there’s no guarantee of future success. All these guys displayed drool-inducing abilities at the Scouting Combine, only to achieve very limited success or rather differing degrees of failure in their respective NFL careers. So while running the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds or recording a 44-inch vertical leap undoubtedly indicates the type of athleticism that would play well at the next level, the Combine is only the beginning. This article discusses the defensive prospects whose stock is on the decline after less than expected or poor showings at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine.
Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois Fighting Illini
Few prospects garnered as much pre-Combine buzz as former Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget. Then all it took was a highly-disappointing workout and the chatter that Liuget might be a top-15 pick quieted down considerably. His four-day Combine experience got off to a rough start when he measured in an inch shorter (6’2”) and two pounds lighter (298) than his junior season measurements of 6’3” and 300 pounds. While the versatile Liuget has the skill set to play in either a 4-3 or a 3-4 scheme, the height and weight differences –though seemingly small– tend to make him a somewhat less attractive option for teams that run a 4-3 defense. Liuget’s hopes for a top-15 selection were dealt another blow when he delivered a below expectations performance in the Combine workout. The strength and athleticism that characterized his excellent 2010 junior season were not evident on the field in Indianapolis. Liuget ran the 40-yard dash in 4.99 seconds, produced a broad jump of 8 feet, 6 inches and a vertical leap of 27.5 inches and completed 27 reps in the 225-pound bench press. There’s no denying that he still has first-round appeal as a three-technique, however a solid showing at the Illinois Pro Day on March 16 will help his cause considerably.
NFL Comparison: Larry English, San Diego Chargers
Jeremy Beal, DE/OLB, Oklahoma Sooners
Beal really needed a strong showing at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine to the downward trend in his draft stock that began when he failed to impress during Senior Bowl workouts. While the former Sooner had a productive college career, he doesn’t really project well at the next level. Beal is too small (6’2” and 262 pounds) and lacks the explosiveness off the snap to be a good fit for teams that run a 4-3 defense. And after he turned in the worst 40-time (5.16 seconds) at his position and managed a vertical leap of only 28.5 inches during the Combine, Beal’s limitations as an athlete and his below-average speed make him too slow to move to linebacker in the NFL. He’s a “tweener” whose future as a pro is decidedly bleaker than it was a few months ago. The NFL is nothing if not fickle.
NFL Comparison: O’Brien Schofield, Arizona Cardinals
Akeem Ayers, DE/OLB, UCLA Bruins
In his three years at UCLA, Ayers developed into one of the Pac-10’s top defenders and was named an AP Third Team All-American for the 2010 college football season. His superior size, athleticism and playmaking ability were on full display as he racked up 177 tackles in his career despite not becoming a full-time starter until his sophomore year. Ayers was viewed as a possible late first rounder heading into the Scouting Combine, however he did himself no favors when he turned in a stunningly slow 4.80 seconds in the 40-yard dash and completed just 18 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. His disappointing Combine results will likely result in him falling lower overall than he could have gone had he turned in a 40-time under 4.70 seconds. Fortunately for Ayers, scouts who watch his 2010 season on film will see that he plays like a guy who runs a 4.60, shows natural ability as a pass rusher off the edge and has a versatile skill set that would make him an asset in a variety of schemes. Though his draft stock took a post-Combine dip, most agree that Ayers has what it takes to be successful at the next level. He should still generate plenty of interest as a linebacker for 3-4 teams.
NFL Comparison: Gerald McRath, Tennessee Titans
Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado Buffaloes
Smith ended his college career at Colorado as one of the country’s top defensive backs in 2010 and received First Team, All-Big 12 honors for his efforts. The former Buffalo is widely viewed as the No. 3 corner in the draft behind Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara. Unlike other prospects that have been discussed, Smith’s appearance on this list has nothing to do with his on-field workout at the Scouting Combine. In fact, the 6’2” 211-pound Smith dazzled scouts with his 40-yard dash time of 4.38 seconds and 36-inch vertical leap. . Heading into the Combine, most teams said they had more questions about Smith’s character and off the field behavior than they did about his skills on the playing field. He was arrested twice for possession of alcohol as a minor and tested positive for drugs in 2007 while a student at Colorado. Smith knew that he’d face repeated questions about his character and personality during team interviews at the Combine. While it was reported that he admitted to only one arrest, Smith and his agent Drew Rosenhaus insist that he’s owned up to his mistakes and answered any and all questions teams might have about his maturity and habits. Despite being a top-10 talent in a class stacked with talented cornerbacks, there are some organizations that have already decided that he’s not worth the trouble. Smith will have a lot to do between now and April 28 to ensure that he doesn’t fall beyond the bottom of the first round. He’ll get his first post-Combine opportunity at Colorado’s Pro Day on March 9. It remains to be seen whether or not he can convince at least one NFL team that his troubles are a thing of the past.
NFL Comparison: Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets
Ahmad Black, SS, Florida Gators
Black was one of the top defensive backs in the SEC and Florida’s most consistent defensive player in 2010. In his two seasons as a starter, Black compiled 220 tackles and 13 picks and proved to be an intelligent, sure-handed playmaker with excellent instincts. In the Gators’ 37-24 victory over Penn State in the Outback Bowl, Black was named the MVP after he intercepted two passes and returned one 80 yards for a touchdown. Though he lacks the ideal size (5’9 ½”) and bulk (184 pounds) that most scouts look for in a safety, the majority were willing to see past it given his success at the college level. That’s why it was particularly disconcerting when Black delivered a surprisingly slow–in fact the slowest time–at his position in the 40–yard dash. His 4.76-second performance gave rise to concerns that without size or speed, he’d be a liability in coverage and his draft stock took an immediate hit. Once projected as high as a second-round pick, Black will do what he can to prevent a fall beyond the middle rounds. He’ll get the opportunity to address the speed issue at Florida’s upcoming Pro Day on March 15 in a situation reminiscent of Joe Haden’s in 2010.
NFL Comparison: Paul Oliver, San Diego Chargers