The annual NFL scouting combine came to a close Tuesday as the nation’s top defensive backs took to the field in Indianapolis to show off their talents in front of the league’s talent evaluators. There were few surprises on the last day as the top prospects showed the world why they are the best and those fighting to gain some notoriety did little if anything to help their draft stock.
Starting with the top, Dee Milliner was and still is the best DB in this year’s class; it’s really not even close. I did a profile of Milliner last week and fell in love with the guy from what I saw on film. He solidified himself as a probable top-5 pick with his performance today on the field.
Milliner started off the day right with a very impressive showing in the 40-yard dash. He officially clocked in at 4.37 seconds, just .01 seconds slower than the fastest defensive back of the day, Darius Slay of Mississippi State. Where Milliner really shined though was in drills. He showed great hands, fluid hip movement, and great ability to change speed and direction. If he doesn’t go in the top-5 in April I’d be shocked and disappointed in the NFL’s scouts. I think the Lions right at that 5th pick makes a lot of sense for both parties.
The other story of the day came from former LSU Tiger Tyrann Mathieu, the player formally known as “The Honey Badger”. After managing a pathetic 4 reps in the bench press on Monday, Mathieu needed to do a lot to prove himself in the defensive back drills, and he did just that. He ran a solid time in the 40, officially clocking in at 4.5 seconds. But, like Milliner, where Mathieu really brought it was in the drill portion of the day. He showed good quickness and hands in the drills along with good movement in his hips, something I thought he needed to work on when I watched him on film. With his performance in Lucas Oil, Mathieu might have solidified himself as a third round draft choice. He showed good speed and quickness, so at the very least he has some good value as a kick returner. And all Mathieu needs to do is make a roster so he can begin to prove to the world he can make plays in the NFL like he did while at LSU.
A couple of other names that stood out today were Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes and Washington’s Desmond Trufant. Considering his size, Rhodes ran a pretty impressive 40 time at 4.43 seconds. I didn’t realize that Rhodes brought that combination of both physicality and speed to the table, and NFL teams are really going to like that. Trufant on the other hand probably solidified himself as, at worst, the third corner in the class with his performance today. He ran an official 40 time of 4.38, one of the top marks of the day, and had some good times in the shuttles. Trufant, like Rhodes, is slightly bigger than your average corner and should be a very intriguing prospect for teams looking to add someone to their secondary.
One player who fell slightly short of expectations was Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. In what is generally considered a very deep safety class, Vaccaro has been the consensus #1 at the position. He fell short of that label in Indy, running a pedestrian 4.63 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He redeemed himself somewhat in the 3-cone drill, and looked decent in the defensive back drills. Vaccaro probably didn’t hurt his draft stock much, if at all, with his combine performance, but he needs to pick it up at his pro day if he wants to remain the top safety in this year’s class.
One of the lesser-known names who showed up in Indy was cornerback Steve Williams out of the University of California – Berkeley. Williams didn’t make any all-conference teams this season, but he did garner a lot of praise from coaches in the Pac-12. He showed that at least some of that praise was deserved at the combine, running a good 40 at 4.42 seconds, having one of the best vertical leaps at 40.5 inches, and looking solid in the defensive back drills. Williams could be a very good pickup later in the draft for a team looking to add someone with a lot potential in the defensive backfield to their roster.
The annual NFL scouting combine is a very good resource for NFL talent evaluators, but it is far from their only resource. There is still plenty to be learned about these and the rest of the player available in this year’s class. Pro days, individual meetings and workouts, and more are still to come for these players..