Players That Helped their Cases at the Combine

Players That Helped their Cases at the Combine

Players That Helped their Cases at the Combine
by T.O. Whenham - 02/26/2007

The NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is way more interesting to watch on TV than it probably should be. It's better than any reality show that they have ever made. I'm also pretty sure that it's a heck of a lot more fun to watch it than it is to be in it. The players get poked and prodded and measured and viewed from every angle until all of their dignity has been robbed from them. As much as they would probably rather not be there, though, for all but the very best of the elite the Combine is crucial because it can make or cost a player a pile of money. Some players thrive under the pressure and the scrutiny, while others wilt and fade from the minds of scouts. Here's a look at five offensive players who helped themselves on the field of the RCA Dome this weekend:
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Joe Thomas, OL, Wisconsin - Thomas didn't have very far to climb because he was already regarded as a nearly certain top five pick. He made the commendable but far from certain decision to do all of the drills and tests at the Combine, which many people in a similar position wouldn't have done. The gamble paid off. Thomas lifted well, he ran well and he jumped well. He wasn't always the top player in each drill, but he was near the top in every one, and he looked like a man among boys. He was clearly skilled, polished and well prepared. If anyone had any nagging doubts about Thomas, they were erased by this performance. It would now be a major shock if Thomas dropped lower than No. 3. Thomas ensured himself a huge payday with his big performance.

Greg Olsen, TE, Miami - Coming into the Combine, it was a toss-up between Olsen and Zach Miller of Arizona State over which player would be the first tight end chosen. Olsen went a long way towards making that decision much easier on Saturday. He was a Combine beast. He was significantly faster than the rest of the tight ends, while Miller was unimpressive in the 40-yard dash. Miller dropped a pass in the gauntlet drill while Olsen had a firm grip. Olsen was sharp and impressive all day. The Combine was especially important for both players because they are underclassmen, so scouts didn't get to watch them perform at an all-star game. If a team had the two players graded similarly then Olsen just took a giant step ahead.

Steve Smith, WR, USC - With such a deep class of wide receivers available this season, Smith is the forgotten one. He was the MVP for the Trojans this year, and he has a freakish ability to catch any ball that's in his zip code, but he hasn't been thought of as anything more than a third round receiver up to this point. Players like his teammate Dwayne Jarrett, the incredible Calvin Johnson and Tennessee's Robert Meachem have been perceived to be in a different class. While that's still likely the case, Smith closed the gap at the Combine. The biggest knock against Smith has been his speed. He hasn't been seen to be explosive or have separation speed, as his early 40 times in the high 4.5 range indicated. Smith changed some of that perception at the Combine by knocking over a tenth of a second off of his previous best time at the 40, and ending up in the same range as many of the elite receivers at 4.44 seconds. Scouts will be taking another look at the tape now that Smith's biggest problem isn't as much of a concern, especially since the rest of his workout was very solid.

Chris Leak, QB, Florida - Leak is a guy who can't seem to get a break. He has a boatload of Florida career passing records and a national championship to boot, but his team's fans, his coach and now the NFL scouts have never given him a lot of respect. This is a good year for him to be coming out, though, because outside of JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn it is a confused class of similar and underwhelming QB prospects. Leak has not been seen among the top five quarterbacks by most analysts, but the race is so wide open that any QB could help themselves with a good performance at the Combine. Leak wasn't head and shoulders above the crowd, but he had a very good day in Indianapolis. He ran well, he jumped very well and his passing was more than respectable. It still doesn't mean that he's guaranteed to be a first day pick by any means, but he did as much or more than any quarterback who worked out to help his case. Now if only find a way to grow a few inches.

Brian Leonard, RB, Rutgers
- Leonard is, if nothing else, incredibly selfless - after being the starting back for three years for the Scarlet Knights, he had to step aside for Ray Rice this year, and yet he didn't say a word of complaint. Instead he worked very hard, contributed significantly in his more limited role, and helped lead his team to unbelievable heights. The problem is that scouts are determined to pencil Leonard in as a fullback while Leonard wants to be a running back. He is a player that fits between the two positions in terms of size, speed and fundamentals. He can gain yards on the ground, he has great hands and he is a smart player, but he's also a very solid blocker that might not have the big play ability scouts love. Leonard certainly helped to make his running back case at the Combine. His 40 time was at least a tenth of a second faster than expected, and he looked like he belonged in the other drills. We won't know for a long while which position he will end up playing, but Leonard likely secured a position among the top five backs in the draft with the performance.

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