Don’t always buy into combine numbers

Every year, we see the stock of some very good draft prospects take a major hit because they don’t quite perform up to par at the NFL Combine. Case and point: Iowa’s Shonn Greene, who fell to the third round last year after posting a less than impressive 40 time. Today, the National Football Post highlights a group of players who might not run or work out as well as some others at their positions this week but have the game to make a difference in the NFL.

RB Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State (6-1, 245)
Make no mistake, Dixon isn’t a guy who’s going to run away from NFL-caliber defensive backs once he gets to the second level. However, because of his combination of power, short-area quickness and acceleration, I still think he’s capable of creating his share of 20-plus-yard runs in the NFL because of his ability to break tackles. Dixon averaged over 5.0 yards per carry in 2009 running behind a poor offensive line in the SEC, the country’s toughest conference. He was consistently asked to make defenders miss behind the line of scrimmage while exhibiting impressive lateral quickness for a back his size. Again, he’s not going to blister a 4.4 in the 40 at this year’s combine, but he’s the type of back who can carry the load and be productive at the next level.

WR Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas (6-3, 200)
Briscoe is simply a wideout who plays faster than his times are going to indicate. He’s a bit of a strider who takes a couple of steps to reach full speed, but when he’s asked to get down the field, you can see on tape he has enough of a second gear to track the football vertically. Pair that with his impressive balance as a route runner, shiftiness off the line and vertical explosion, and you have a guy who can making a living on the outside, even with a 4.5-plus 40-time.

Right tackle who runs a 5.5-plus 40 time
It happens every year, a right tackle-only prospect who weighs in in the 325-pound range and runs a 5.5-plus 40, and right away he’s given a thumbs down from the media. But don’t forget that both Jeff Otah and Phil Loadholt ran in the 5.5-5.7 range at their respective combines and still went on to get drafted in the top two rounds and start as rookies. Athleticism is great for offensive linemen, but at the right tackle position, don’t put to much stock into the 40 times they post.

Long-armed left tackle who struggles put up 25-plus reps on the bench
There’s a reason so many short-armed, barrel-chested offensive linemen put up good numbers on the bench press -- they simply don’t have to lift the bar as high each time. When you think about it, there’s a big difference between an offensive tackle who has 32-inch arms compared to an guy who’s asked to lift the same weight but with a 34-inch reach. If you add up those two inches over the span of an entire workout, the distance quickly becomes significant. So if you see one of your favorite offensive tackles fail to measure up in the weight room with some of the others at the combine, be sure to check out his arm length first.

DE Jammie Kirlew, Indiana (6-2, 259)
Although he’s a bit undersized for the defensive end position, Kirlew showcases a good first step out of his stance with the lateral quickness and body control to side-step blocks and flatten out around the corner. Don’t rip the guy just because he’s small and might run in the 4.8 range. It’s not often a pass rusher is asked to track the quarterback 40 yards in order to create pressure, and Kirlew is certainly a guy whose 10-yard split will be more indicative of his NFL future than his 40 time. Either way, he’s a guy I really like in this year’s defensive end class, and although he might get overlooked because of his lack of ideal size/speed numbers, he still has the ability to get after the passer.

ILB Brandon Spikes, Florida (6-3, 256)
One guy who has really been forgotten in recent weeks due to the emergence of junior underclassmen entering the draft is Florida’s Brandon Spikes. Two of the main reasons for that: He plays the middle linebacker position, and he isn’t an elite-caliber athlete. But even though Spikes is expected to run in the mid/late 4.7 range and could even hit the low 4.8’s, fear not. As we’ve seen in the past, middle linebacker is all about instincts, redirection skills and the ability to quickly locate the football. That’s why we’ve seen guys like Lofa Tatupu and Ed Hartwell succeed in the NFL despite running less than impressive 40s at the combine.

S T.J. Ward, Oregon (5-10, 199)
Much like the middle linebacker position, safety is another place where instincts and fluidity reign over pure straight-line speed, which is exactly the case with Ward. He isn’t the biggest or fastest safety prospect, but he does a great job quickly finding the ball, keeping his feet under him and driving on the throw. He isn’t going to “wow” anyone at the weigh-in or with his 40 time, but Ward can cleanly get out of his breaks and is a football player in all areas of the game.

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