The first day of the televised portion of the NFL Combine 2016 saw the running backs and offensive lineman take the field to run, jump and work through a series of on-field drills as the final part of their experience of the event. The medicals and interviews as always are the most critical elements of this part of the process, but there’s plenty to be learned from the workout as well. The first rule though of factoring in these results to the evaluation is to go back and re-watch the game film with the new information in mind, before adjusting any grades. Here are a few from these first two groups of prospects who require doing just that after catching the eye. Sr = Senior, Jr = Junior, So = Sophomore. An “r” prefix indicates a redshirt year (sat out for a year without playing, usually their first year of college).
Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
The former Spartans left tackle has long been considered a likely first round prospect, but has polarised many in terms of his best fit in the pros. Some think he can continue on the blindside, others think he’s a right tackle only or even to be shifted inside to guard. He’s been a rock in college, rarely giving up any sacks due to his excellent length, strength and gritty, physical style of play. The question has been based around his relative lack of athleticism compared with the likes of Laremy Tunsil and Ronnie Stanley. His mostly impressive workout on Friday therefore could force some to rethink where he could eventually play, and how high he might be worth grabbing on day 1 of the draft. His 5.00 40-yard dash time was the 4th fastest among all offensive lineman, while his work on the field drills showed off his footwork that has always helped negate his weaknesses. All that said, his fast run, though impressive, clearly came at great effort, with Conklin straining quite a bit, not looking as smooth and easy as a more gifted natural athlete would. In addition, it was a little disappointing to see Conklin as one of those who was really struggling by the end. The mirror drill comes at the end of the O-line workout and often reveals a few guys who lack the stamina to keep up their technique at the end of a tough session, and Conklin’s conditioning was exposed a bit. Overall a mostly positive day that confirms his 1st round status, but doesn’t close the gap between him and those at the top of the tackle position.
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
The Heisman trophy winner was certainly expected to put up some quality numbers in the drills, but for him to firstly confirm his rare size for the position at nearly 6ft 3 and a toned 247 lb, then put up some of the explosive numbers he did was still something to see. His 4.54 dash time isn’t breaking any records, but at his size is special. To finish 2nd in the broad jump among RBs with a leap of 10ft 10 and backed that up with a 37” vertical, again at his size, made him a winner on the day. What stood out much more though was Henry proving that he has good hands to contribute in the pass game, collecting almost every catchable ball thrown his way in the workout reps. He’s looked solid in the past for the Crimson Tide when asked to make a play out of the backfield, but was rarely used that way, limiting the sample size. Alabama had Kenyan Drake as their primary receiving running back on passing downs, and in the 12 games after a 5 catch performance versus Ole Miss in week 3, Henry had only 4 receptions in the 12 games that remained over the rest of the season.
Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia
The leader in the clubhouse in the 40 yard dash this year after day 1 is the Bulldogs running back, who got himself back on the radar as a draft prospect with his 4.31 time. Marshall joined the Georgia team alongside his high school teammate and friend Todd Gurley, and put up good numbers himself in his freshman season that at times kept the future rookie of the year on the sidelines. Injuries and falling out of favour with the coaching staff, along with both Gurley and Nick Cubb’s presence, have combined to derail his career a bit, so a strong showing of his excellent athletic traits made this weekend a more important one for him than most. The fast run will make all the headlines, but what really should be getting as much attention is the fact that he also led all running backs in attendance in the bench press, with 25 reps to prove he has strength to match the speed. While all this is great, and might earn him a draft pick now despite the worryingly long history of bad knee injuries, there’s a lot of flaws in Marshall’s game when he was able to play. Marshall has the straight line speed, and can make the most of a large open running lane, but he really lacks any kind of vision that sees him run head on into traffic and rarely break any tackles. He lacks lateral movement and the creativity to make space for himself that really limits his upside as a runner. His average footwork and change of direction skills were a bit exposed in some of the field drills at the end of Friday’s session. A good day for Marshall, but some perspective to be maintained regardless.
Austin Blythe, C, Iowa
This is a good draft for centers, in particularly for potential bargains on day 3. The four-year starter has played a lot at guard over his Hawkeyes carrier but has limited size and length that will keep him as a center only in the pros, where he played his senior season. As with most Iowa lineman, Blythe is as polished as they come, with superb technique, footwork, strength and body control that combined with his wrestling background makes him a potential starter, possibly early on in his career. His times and jumps were fairly average on day one of the combine, but where he really demonstrated his abilities was in the field drills that followed where he looked as clean and smooth as anyone in each of the various tasks. Most of the seemingly unusual looking drills that the offensive lineman are put through are done to expose tightness in the hips, lack of fluidity, footwork issues and such like. While others struggled, Blythe nailed every rep; he could probably come back next year to teach that portion of the workout to the next crop of prospects.
Daniel Lasco, RB, California
The combine workout for Lasco was also a much-needed bit of publicity, having missed the vast majority of his senior season to injury. As a result, his strong 2014 season, which included a stand out performance against USC, was largely forgotten to many. Not only was he able to prove himself fully fit (hopefully the actual medical itself backs that up), but proved himself to be one of the top athletes at the position among the running backs in Indy this year. Lasco led the group in both the broad jump (11ft 1) and vertical jump (41.5”), along with running the fourth fastest 40 yard dash time at 4.46 seconds. All this despite not being one of the smaller shifty backs at a solid 6ft 0 & 209 lbs. Lasco is at his best in space and being used in the pass game where he can eat up yards, and he backed that up with a good showing in the pass receiving section of the workout session, barring one poor drop. The Cal Bear prospect’s performance will have been a good reminder of what he offers and should result in scouts returning to those productive games he had as a junior pre-injury. He ought to be a late round selection and useful 3rd down change of pace back in the NFL.