A great workout at the NFL Combine doesn’t necessarily increase your draft stock by any large measure. In some cases however, it can cement a player’s status as the best at his position like Alabama CB Dee Milliner, who ran a 4.37 40-time. For a prospect considered the third best at his position, a knockout workout could move him up a notch into second. At the other end of the spectrum a solid workout at the Combine could ensure a player is drafted instead of the alternative. Here’s a look at some of the prospects that helped themselves the most.
DE/OLB Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah – BYU
He had the fourth-best time in the 40 at defensive end (4.63) and was a top performer in the vertical and broad jumps, chief indicators for explosiveness. He has a high ceiling in the eyes of many NFL talent evaluators as a pass rusher.
What Ansah is saying:
"I’m gonna be dedicated and do everything I can just to be the best player. I want to be the best player at this position. Even with the little experience I have. That is the challenge that I have.”
What they’re saying about Ansah:
“This is an interesting defensive end/outside linebacker class because a lot of them you are betting on the upside, and Ansah is certainly one of them,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. “Minimal amount of football, average practice week at the Senior Bowl and then he dominated the game. I think he‟s going to go in the first round and he has phenomenal upside. It‟s just going to take a little time.”
OT Terron Armstead – Arkansas Pine-Bluff
Considered a better athlete than a football player, Armstead has made the most of his opportunities in the pre-draft process. An injury replacement at the Senior Bowl, Armstead got better as the week wore on. Then he wowed at the Combine with a 4.71 40-time and a 34 ½” vertical at 6’4” and 306 pounds.
What Armstead is saying:
“I’ve been blessed with a unique skill-set,” he said. “I’m extremely light on my feet for a big guy, I have to say. It’s a blessing. It was nothing that was coached. I’m working on a lot of technique and polishing form.”
What they’re saying about Armstead:
“The important thing for Armstead is the process,” said Mayock. “It’s less about running 4.71 and more about having a real good week at the All-Star Game, which he did. He has a lot of upside. He’s raw as can be and that’s why you’re not going to run up and say, ‘I’m taking him in the first round.’ He’s very, very raw but he has the skill set to be a starting left tackle. So the process is important to him and he’s doing all of the right things.”
WR Tavon Austin – West Virginia
Austin was the best receiver on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium. He has elite speed, was among the leaders at his position in several of the other drills (bench press, 20-yard shuttle) and hands down was the sharpest route runner of all the prospects.
What Austin is saying:
“My durability’s pretty good. (The NFL game) definitely shouldn’t be a problem. I haven’t gotten hurt or missed a game in eight years. A lot of teams are looking for a guy who can do multiple things on the football field. I think I’m that guy.”
What they’re saying about Austin:
“Worst-case to me, he’s a second-round pick. Worst case,” said Mayock. “If you buy into him as a route runner and toughness, and if you can get him enough touches every game for him, he might be a first-round pick. The NFL has evolved into more and more of a college look; spread the field, get the football in the playmakers’ hands, and that’s what he is. He’s a playmaker, he’s a mismatch.”
G Jonathan Cooper – North Carolina
Finishing second among all offensive linemen on the bench with 35 reps, Cooper was also in the top 10 in the 40 and the broad jump. Another outstanding athlete, Cooper has a game to match as he’s considered one of the top two guards in the draft class. His performance at the Combine may see him leapfrog fellow top flight guard Chance Warmack from Alabama.
What Cooper is saying:
We had a few gap schemes and zone-blocking schemes. Prior to my senior season we were a big power team,and even this year we had multiple power plays. I feel comfortable in a zone scheme, a power scheme, whatever they ask of me I feel I can do it and do it well.”
What they’re saying about Cooper:
“Jonathan Cooper from North Carolina is just a tiny notch behind Warmack and probably a better athlete,” said Mayock. “If either of them is there at 10 I’d jump all over them. I don’t care what people say about the value position. If anything he’s one of the most athletic guards I’ve ever seen. All the Combine should do for this kid is help him. He’s an athletic kid and explosive.”
OT Lane Johnson – Oklahoma
It was well documented that Johnson had athletic ability that was rare for an offensive tackle, but he put on a show for scouts anyway. He was first among offensive linemen in the broad jump (9’10”) and second in the vertical leap (34”), the 40 (4.72) and the three-cone drill (7.31). Coming off a strong Senior Bowl Johnson’s stock might have been boosted more than any other player at the NFL Combine.
What Johnson is saying:
“About halfway through my senior year I knew I had maybe a good chance of playing in the NFL. Now I’m here talking at the combine. It’s been a crazy transition. Everything has gone so fast. I’m just happy to be where I’m at.”
What they’re saying about Johnson:
The tape from the beginning of the year at Oklahoma to the end got so much better, and what augments the argument that he’s going to continue to get better is his athletic ability,” said Mayock. “There might be some teams that very quietly think he could become better than those other tackles, [Eric] Fisher and [Luke] Joeckel, with time because of that athletic ability. He’s going to end up somewhere maybe in the 10-15 range in this draft and he has the ability to be an All-Pro left tackle.”
WR Markus Wheaton – Oregon State
Wheaton was tied for the third-best vertical jump (37”) and bench press (20) among receivers. He also finished in the top 10 in 40 time (4.45), the three cone drill (6.80) and was fourth in the shuttle (4.02).
What Wheaton is saying:
“I think I have all the tools necessary to be successful at the next level, whether it's route running, speed, hands.”
What they’re saying about Wheaton:
“I like Wheaton and I was hoping he would run fast,” said Mayock. “He showed me a lot, both on tape against some of the teams in the Pac-12 that press cover, and also at the Senior Bowl. I thought he played real well both in practice and in the game at the Senior Bowl.”
DE/OLB Trevardo Williams – UCONN
Williams is a pass rusher first and has the athleticism and burst to bend corners. That was evident in his Combine workout where among defensive ends he was the fastest in the 40 (4.57) and second in the bench press (30 reps), the vertical leap (38’) and the broad jump (10’4”). And that was with a reported bad ankle.
What they’re saying about Williams:
“The one outside linebacker for the 3-4 that you can find later is Trevardo Williams out of Connecticut,” said ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper. “He has all the components and capabilities you want in a 3-4 OLB. He was a heck of a player for Connecticut. If you get him in the middle rounds, that’s one heck of a player at that point for that scheme.”
Other prospects that helped themselves in the workouts
RB Knile Davis – Arkansas – Seen as a late pick or priority free agent, his workout may have ensured he’ll be drafted due in large part to a 4.37 40-time and 31 reps on the bench, second-best among running backs.
DE Margus Hunt – SMU – A native of Estonia, this track and field athlete was bound to excel, but at 6’8 1/8” and 277 Hunt tied for the best bench press at the entire Combine, had the third-best vertical leap among defensive ends (34.5”) and leapt more than 10 feet in the broad jump. The workout only enhanced Hunt’s perceived upside.
WR Ryan Swope – Texas A&M – He didn’t look great in the receiver route-running drills, but Swope surprised with his timed speed (4.34), vertical (37”) and broad jump (10’5”). He’s earned second looks from scouts who are headed back to the tape.
SS Shamarko Thomas - Syracuse - He was seen as a late round prospect at best, but has ensured that he'll be drafted after a monster workout that included a 4.42 40-time, a 40.5-inch vertical, 28 reps on the bench and 11'1" broad jump.
OLB Cornelius Washington – Georgia – With Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree in the same front seven it was hard for Washington to stand out, but he did just that at the Combine. Projected as a day 3 pick, Washington forced double takes with his gaudy Combine numbers, which featured a 39-inch vertical, an outside linebacker best 38 reps on the bench along with a blistering 4.55 40-time and 10’8” broad jump.