as much is made about workout results at the NFL Scouting Combine, it is not numbers that have the greatest meaning to NFL teams. They already spent most of the fall assessing talent, with most teams having held meetings in the weeks leading up to the Combine to set their draft boards based on football-playing evaluations, which will comprise 90 percent of a player's final grade.
Combine testing helps break ties and forces evaluators to revisit the tape of performers who stand out, good or bad. What is valued most highly by NFL decision makers are the medical evaluations performed by team doctors and the 15-minute interview sessions with players, which help give a glimpse of player personalities and allow teams to assess any blemishes on their records and figure out if they would like to spend more time courting prospects through the spring workout process.
With evaluators having had less time to assess a junior class that only became official in mid-January, the evaluation of the underclassmen is especially important, as measurables are verified and character is dissected.
Following are 10 players who have helped themselves in Indianapolis and 10 who have raised concerns, with the highly scrutinized underclassmen marked by an asterisk. The players are listed alphabetically.
OT Bruce Campbell, Maryland*
The football gods could not sculpt a better-looking physical specimen, and Campbell worked out like a phenom, clocking in the high 4.7s in the 40-yard-dash, producing times better than some receivers and defensive backs at 314 pounds. His 36 1/4-inch arms were a Combine-best for offensive linemen and will allow him to recover much more easily at the next level when he gets out of position, which he unfortunately does too often. The tape of Campbell playing like a first-round talent does not exist
, but with impulsive decision makers dotting the first round, Campbell very well cemented his place in Round One with his performance, right or wrong. Whether he will ever live up to that lofty draft status remains to be seen.
DE-OLB Jerry Hughes, TCU
A college defensive end who projects to rush linebacker in the pros, Hughes was not asked to drop heavily at TCU, but he looked as smooth and fluid as any defensive lineman when he was passed through LB drills, with very clean footwork and balance that should allow for a wrinkle-free transition. Was clocked at an exceptionally quick 1.53 seconds in the 10-yard dash, showing the type of burst and acceleration that could make him a feared pass rusher in an even or odd front. He very likely solidified a spot in the first round, with much better production and tape than Larry English had a year ago.
OG John Jerry, Mississippi
Has gradually cut his weight during the season from 350-plus pounds a year ago to a svelte 328 at the Combine and moved much better than expected, showing good agility and natural bend for a big body. Has excellent bloodlines and may not fit into the first round like his brother, Peria, did last year, with questions still remaining about how well he will be able to adapt to sliding protections in a pro-style offense, but he may have moved into the second round with his performance.
DT Linval Joseph, East Carolina*
The early entrant showed exceptional strength when he repped out 225 pounds 39 times, and his strength and overall length, with 34 1/2-inch arms, could make him a commodity for an odd front, with ability to play inside or outside and stack the point. He is still raw on tape and has room to develop, but he is very unlikely to fall out of the top three rounds after the way he performed in Indianapolis.
RB Ryan Mathews, Fresno State*
In an uninspiring RB class, Mathews stood out as a gem of the Combine, along with Tennessee's Montario Hardesty and Auburn's Ben Tate, clocking in the mid-4.4s in the 40-yard dash at 218 pounds. Despite not having been used much in the passing game at Fresno State, he also caught the ball very well in drills, even showing he could track it over his shoulder. He is the best bell-cow back in the draft and may rise into the first round after performing very well.
OLB Eric Norwood, South Carolina
Norwood entered the Combine with questions about where he would play, having appeared less instinctive playing on his feet than when he lined up with his hand on the ground to rush the passer on third downs. However, he moved around very well in drills and despite measuring barely above 6-feet flat, he did have among the longer arms of any linebacker at 33 3/8 inches and should have a very safe landing spot potentially in the second round in an aggressive "30" front such as the Steelers' or Ravens'.
TE Dennis Pitta, Brigham Young
For a player not known for his athletic ability, Pitta tested much better than expected, clocking in the low 4.6s in the 40-yard dash and pacing all tight ends in each of the three shuttle drills, demonstrating the impressive agility that allows him to separate with quickness on the field. But even more impressively, when it came to drill work, he caught everything, appeared smooth adjusting to the ball and made the game look very easy with how seamlessly he caught it in stride. He may have solidified a place in the second round after how well he showed in Indianapolis.
OT Rodger Saffold, Indiana
Despite starting at left tackle the last four years, Saffold has been projected to guard by many NFL teams because of concerns about his overall length. However, after appearing very fluid in drills and measuring out longer than expected, at 6-4 5/8 with 33 5/8-inch arms, more than an inch longer than they registered in the spring of 2009, there is a good chance he could stick at left tackle, and there has been discussion of considering him in the bottom of the first round. Medical results regarding back pain he has played through could still have an effect.
QB Tim Tebow, Florida
Tebow did not throw at the Combine, but he did take the time to thoroughly explain his enhanced mechanics on camera, worked out extremely well for a quarterback and commanded the room during interview sessions. Whether he can effectively overhaul his pitcher-like, long delivery remains a big question that has left the vast majority of evaluators skeptical, but he left no questions about his intelligence, determination or intangibles, carrying himself like a pro's pro. And some evaluators were quietly enthused about his potential as an H-back after he leaped 38½ inches, clocking in the low 4.7s in the 40-yard dash and producing a blistering 6.66-second three-cone time.
FS Earl Thomas, Texas*
After playing late in the season considerably lighter than he weighed in at the Combine, evaluators were left to wonder whether he was one of the bloated-looking Combine participants who downed a gallon of water before he stepped on the scale, with the old trick known for adding 8-10 pounds of water weight. Regardless of how he put on the weight, the key is that it did not affect his performance in the Combine drills, as he still registered a sub-4.5 time in the 40, looked very agile in drills and showed the ball skills that made him stand out at Texas. Interviewing very well should only further enhance his status.