A few days ago we took a look at the real offensive winners from the NFL combine, keeping in mind that sometimes the players who do the most for their draft stocks aren't always the ones who flash the fastest 40 times or put up the highest bench press results. Today we round out and (hopefully) wrap up our coverage of the combine, focusing in on several defensive players who impressed in Indianapolis. All results are based off of both NFL.com's official combine section, as well as results posted on DraftCountdown.com. As always, we suggest DraftDaddy.com's terrific blog to supplement the below.
DL: Conner Barwin, Cincinnati- Probably the consensus media choice for biggest riser on the defensive line coming out of the combine, it's hard to dispute Barwin's impressive showing in Indianapolis for a few reasons. It's not just that the former tight end ran a 4.66 40-yard dash (second highest for defensive lineman) or put up a 40.5-inch vertical (highest for defensive lineman and linebackers), but that he also showed a willingness to play wherever NFL teams have a need. Saying that he was open to playing outside linebacker not only highlights his versatility (something NFL teams love), but showcases Barwin's natural athleticism coupled with his still untapped potential to grow as a defender. He came into the combine as a guy generating a good deal of buzz for his "raw" skills, but leaves as a player with a realistic chance to be drafted in the tail end of the first round. Others: Roy Miller (Texas), Jarron Gilbert (San Jose State)
LB: Jason Phillips, TCU- While most college football fans know about the proud tradition of Gary Patterson coached defenses at TCU, I've often found that few people can name more than one or two players from the nationally recognized unit. This year was no exception, with defensive end Jerry Hughes and safety Stephen Hodge often (and rightfully so) garnering most of the airtime attention. Yet anchoring the middle of TCU's defense was the often overshadowed Jason Phillips, a three-time All-MWC selection who scouts, while high on, often struggled to identify outside of the stereotypical "overachiever" mold. Phillips did more than any other linebacker to dismiss the overused scouting clichés of "just makes plays" and "has a nose for the ball" at the combine however, as the native Texan ran a 4.69 40-yard dash (fifth highest for linebackers), 4.32 20-yard shuttle, and posted a 10'' broad jump. Already known to be a fundamentally sound player, Phillips' show of athleticism in Indianapolis should greatly improve his draft stock. Others: Clay Matthews (USC), Stanley Arnoux (Wake Forest)
CB: Bradley Fletcher, Iowa- It's no surprise that this year's cornerback class underwhelemed scouts at the combine, with none of the participants running under 4.4 in the 40-yard dash and only two prospects running under 4.5 (based on officially released times). Fletcher was a guy getting considerably little buzz coming out of Iowa, and despite a solid senior season for the Hawkeyes was never counted among national (not to mention Big 12) elites. While he may not have solidified himself as one of the top cornerback prospects, his 4.52 40-yard dash was respectable considering the field, while his 38.5-inch vertical and 20 reps at bench press were among the top numbers for cornerbacks at the combine. Taken together with an impressive week at the East-West Shrine game, Fletcher's combine could move him into the middle rounds of the draft despite his only one year of fulltime starting experience. Others: Morgan Trent (Michigan), Keenan Lewis (Oregon State)
S: David Bruton, Notre Dame- Year in and year out, it seems as though the national media predetermines that any player coming out of Notre Dame's secondary can't possibly match up with the better SEC or ACC defensive backs also entering the draft. Regional biases aside, Bruton flat out dispelled that notion for at least this year, completely dominating almost every event at the combine. His 4.46 40-yard dash was second for safeties only to Chris Clemons' 4.41, while Bruton's vertical jump, broad jump, and 3-cone drill were all among the best for safeties at the combine. Already a player known for his high football IQ and sterling work effort, Bruton's show of athleticism should dramatically improve his draft stock in a less than stellar safety field. Others: William Moore (Missouri), Chip Vaughn (Wake Forest)