When we left off with Part I, many of those same players who had not been invited to the combine had cracked the top five of most categories (see the updated rundown at the bottom of this post). As we make our way through early April, snubbed athletes continue to excel at combine drills and give themselves a shot on draft day.
As always, a big shout-out to Gil Brandt for his pro day blog on NFL.com, a fun, informative read that we get obsessed with this time of year.
For a rundown of the best NFL Combine performances, you can go here.
Now, on to some recent standouts who made impressions at their pro days…
Use The Force, Luc: Cincinnati linebacker Jeff Luc (6-0, 251) blazed a 4.57-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, which would have tied him for fifth-best among linebackers at the combine. A transfer from Florida State, Luc led the Bearcats with a double-take-worthy 134 tackles in 2014, including 10 for loss and 6.5 sacks. He also accounted for four pass breakups and six forced fumbles.
April, May, Junior: Another speedy linebacker, Toledo’s Junior Sylvestre (6-0, 233) also ran a 4.57-second 40 and added a quick 7.10-second 3-cone drill (top 10 among combine LBs) for good measure. The middle linebacker led the Rowdy Rutabagas (sorry, it’s the Rockets; definitely the Rockets) with 100 tackles, 9.5 for loss (2.5 sacks), five pass breakups, and four QB hits.
What You Talkin’ Bout? Wide receiver Austin Willis (5-9, 175) out of Emporia State was timed at 4.38 seconds in the 40. That time would have placed Willis in the top five for all combine receivers, tied for top seven overall. He leapt 39.5 inches (top seven for receivers) and had a 10-foot-5 broad jump (tied for sixth WR). Though small, he benched 225 pounds 21 times, top four for combine pass-catchers (and noteworthy for his size). Willis caught 56 passes for 757 yards (13.5 avg) and six touchdowns. He also returned seven kicks for 190 yards (27.1 avg) and one TD (89 yards).
Have You Herd? Both cornerback Darryl Roberts (5-11, 177) and defensive lineman James Rouse (6-5, 277) caught some eyes on Marshall’s pro day. Roberts ran a 4.36 40 (tied for top six overall), jumped 39 inches up and 11-foot-1 across (top four overall), completed a 4.08 short shuttle along with a devilishly quick 6.66 3-cone drill (tied for top four). The senior corner had 75 tackles for the Thundering Herd in 2014, along with one interception and a remarkable 17 pass break-ups. For his part, Rouse had a respectable 4.89-second 40 and put up the bench press 38 times, which would have placed him first among all combine invitees. Last season for Marshall, Rouse had 43 tackles, including 10.5 tackles for loss (2.5 sacks), and three forced fumbles.
Mal Es Bueno: Southern Illinois running back Malcolm Agnew (5-10, 202) won’t leave a trail of fire with a 4.57-second 40, but his quickness could leave tacklers in the dust. His 3-cone time of 6.75 seconds would have made him the shiftiest running back at the combine, top 10 overall. Meanwhile, his 3.9-second 20-yard shuttle – also a combine-best for ball carriers – would have put him in third place overall. Though he only played eight games last season before suffering an ankle injury, Agnew still led the Salukis in rushing attempts (136), yardage (820 yards, 6.0 avg), and TDs (10). He added 14 receptions for 192 yards (13.7 avg) and two TDs.
Patriot Fun Fact: If Agnew’s last name sounds familiar, that’s because his father is former New England defensive end Ray Agnew.
Quite The Rush: Defensive end Marcus Rush (6-2, 247) from Michigan State showed ability as both a pass-rusher and potential linebacker at his pro day. He ran a better-than-decent 4.69 40 (top three for combine defensive ends) and turned some heads with a 6.75-second 3-cone drill, good enough for second-best combine linebacker and top 10 overall. Rush was in no hurry to leave MSU, as he started 53 games for the Spartans (a school record). He had 37 tackles (10.5 for loss), 7.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles.
King For A Day: Describing himself as a “late bloomer,” safety Akeem King (6-1, 215) out of San Jose State found the right time to get noticed. King ran a 4.35 40, which would have been tied for fourth overall at the combine, fastest for safeties. His 37.5-inch vertical (fourth-best for combine safeties) and 20 bench reps (also fourth-best) gained further interest from scouts. At SJSU, King had 71 tackles and two pass breakups. Was Academic All-Conference for two years.
Follow My Liedtke: Illinois State OL Michael Liedtke (6-4, 305) would have had trouble fitting in with other offensive linemen at the combine, only because his pro day numbers tended to stand out. The left tackle ran a 4.91 40, which would have been the fastest time for a combine OL (Ali Marpet, 4.98). His 33-inch vertical would have been second-highest by half an inch; his 9-foot-4 broad jump would have tied for fourth; his 7.35 3-cone time would have come in third; and his 28 bench presses would have tied for 10th among linemen. Liedtke, a three-sport athlete out of high school (football, wrestling, and track & field), started at left guard for the Redbirds as a sophomore and junior before switching to left tackle last year.
I’m Lovin’ It: Looks like Dexter McDonald (6-1, 203) can add his name to the list of overlooked athletes. The Kansas cornerback ran an impressive 4.42-second 40, which would have tied him for 10th overall at the combine (third-best for CBs). He also had a 40.5-inch vertical (fourth for CBs, tied for 15th overall) and an 11-foot-2 broad jump (second for CBs, fourth overall). McDonald had 35 tackles, two interceptions, and 13 pass breakups for the Jayhawks in 2014.
Quick Rice: Tall receiver Jordan Taylor (6-4, 209) out of Rice had a respectable 4.53 40 at his pro day, along with a decent 36.5-inch vertical jump (tied for 15th best among combine pass-catchers). He made his impression, though, during his 3-cone drill, completing it in 6.69 seconds. That time would have come in fourth among combine receivers, fifth overall. Last season, Taylor led the Owls with 54 receptions, gaining 842 yards (15.6 avg) and seven TDs, good enough for second-team All-Conference USA honors.
Out Like A Lamm: Appalachian State offensive lineman Kendall Lamm (6-6, 305) was said to look quick at his school’s pro day in early March, and he showed impressive athleticism with a 10-foot-1 broad jump. That mark would have been tops among offensive linemen at the combine. Lamm earned First Team All-Sun Belt honors at left tackle, where he started 42 games in his career. He had only one sack in 817 snaps last year, which led the team. In 2014, the Mountaineers rushed for 1,747 yards.
Army Training, Sir: The NFL isn’t in his immediate future (all service academy grads must commit full-time for at least two years), but lanky defensive back Hayden Pierce (6-4, 197) out of West Point sported some measurements that should make coaches notice. Pierce ran his 40 in 4.5 seconds, jumped a 39-inch vertical (top six for combine defensive backs) and a 10-foot-6 broad jump (top eight for DBs), then completed a 4.12-second 20-yard shuttle and a 6.82-second 3-cone (top nine for combine DBs). Pierce had 45 tackles and three passes broken up last season.
You Won’t Have Him To Kick Around Anymore: Defensive back Taurean Nixon (5-10, 196) of Tulane reportedly ran a 4.30 40 (which would have placed second overall at the combine), and covered 11 feet, two inches in the broad jump (fourth best overall). Nixon, a transfer from Memphis, had 31 tackles, one interception, and four pass breakups in 2014.
Accomplished Cook: This may not be the strongest year for drafting safeties, which is why we’ve seen many combine snubs perform as well as invitees did in Indianapolis. We’ll add Charles Cook (6-3, 216) to the list. The Yale linebacker/safety hybrid ran a 4.58 40 (tied for 11th for combine safeties), had a 38.5 inch vertical (third best among combine safeties), 10-foot-9 broad jump (tied for top safety mark), and 18 reps on the bench (sixth among safeties). At Yale, Cook tallied 54 tackles, including 9.5 for loss (one sack). He also had one pass breakup, one forced fumble, and one blocked kick.
Forever Young: Two Brigham Young snubs of note were wide receiver Jordan Leslie (6-2, 204) and safety Craig Bills (6-1, 205). Leslie ran a 4.41 40 (tied for ninth overall at the combine, sixth for receivers), had a 10-foot-10 broad jump (fourth for receivers), benched 18 reps (tied for fourth), and completed the 20-yard shuttle in 4.08 (tied for fifth) and the 3-cone in 6.87 (eighth). Leslie, a UTEP graduate who transferred to BYU for his final year of eligibility, caught 55 passes for 779 yards (14.2 avg) and six TDs. Bills, a free safety, ran a 4.48 40 (fourth-best for combine safeties), benched 19 reps (tied for fourth safety), and did the 3-cone in 6.95 seconds (also tied for fourth). He had 51 tackles and one interception last year .
Patriots Fun Fact: New-New England special teams coach Ray Ventrone attended BYU’s pro day.
Gamecocks Show Them The Byrd: South Carolina wide receiver Damiere Byrd (5-9, 173) did some amazing work on his pro day. He ran a 4.28-second 40 on grass, matching the fastest combine 40 time accomplished on turf, while his 6.60 3-cone would have stood alone at the top. He also leapt a 42-inch vertical (top five overall) and a 10-foot-11 broad jump (top seven). His short shuttle (4.03 seconds) would have come in fifth overall in Indianapolis. Byrd caught 20 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns last year for the Gamecocks, and he had an eight-yard rushing average (seven carries for 57 yards).
No Pride In A Loss, But A Little Shane In This Wynn: Wide receiver Shane Wynn (5-6, 167. No, seriously) ran 4.29 in the 40 at Indiana’s pro day, which would have placed second over in Indianapolis. He also put up the bench press a notable 13 times, a top 15 mark among combine running backs. For IU, the diminutive dynamo racked up 1,159 total yards of offense: 56 catches for 708 yards (12.6 avg) and three TDs; 13 punt returns for 69 yards; 11 kick returns for 244 yards; and four rushes for a whopping 138 yards (34.5 avg) and two TDs. Wynn served as team co-captain.
How competitive have the snubs been this year? Observe some of their scores that would have made the combine top five below.
COMBINE BESTS (WITH PRO DAY WOULD’VE-BEEN TOP FIVES)
4.28 seconds – J. J. Nelson, UAB WR
4.28 seconds – Corey Grant, Auburn RB
4.28 seconds – Joe Hill, Utah State RB
4.28 seconds – Damiere Byrd, South Carolina WR
4.29 seconds – Shane Wynn, Indiana WR (second overall)
4.30 seconds – Taurean Nixon, Tulane CB (second overall)
4.35 seconds – Akeem King, San Jose State S (fourth overall)
43 reps – Dylan Wynn, Oregon State DL
38 reps – James Rouse, Marshall DL
37 reps – Ereck Flowers, Miami OT
45.0 inches – Chris Conley, Georgia WR
42 inches – Damiere Byrd, South Carolina WR (fifth overall)
12 feet, 3 inches – Byron Jones, Connecticut CB
11 feet, 5 inches – Chandler Worth, Troy WR (fourth overall)
11 feet, 2 inches – Dexter McDonald, Kansas DB (fourth overall)
11 feet, 2 inches – Taurean Nixon, Tulane CB (fourth overall)
11 feet, 1 inch – Darryl Roberts, Marshall CB (fourth overall)
6.55 seconds – Tyrell Williams, Western Oregon WR
6.60 seconds – Damiere Byrd, South Carolina WR
6.61 seconds – Justin Coleman, Tennessee CB
6.63 seconds – Darryl Roberts, Marshall CB (tied for second overall)
6.65 seconds – Brian Suite, Utah State FS (fourth overall)
6.66 seconds – Darryl Roberts, Marshall CB (tied for fourth overall)
3.82 seconds – Bobby McCain, Memphis CB
3.9 seconds – Malcolm Agnew, Southern Illinois RB (third overall)
4.03 seconds – Damiere Byrd, South Carolina WR (fifth overall)
Chris Warner tweets from @cwarn89