IRVING, Texas -- I don’t want to sound like a “Back in the Day” guy, but there was a time where the defensive back workout at the Combine was not the last group we evaluated -- that honor went to the tight ends.
But the last several years, the organizers of the week decided it would be a better idea to have those defensive backs work out last for a couple of reasons. I think the NFL Network asked that switch to be made to hold audiences a little longer on programing, but the main reason is this: of all the groups that work in Indianapolis, defensive backs might be the one that’s watched most closely by front office staffs and coaches.
I’m not saying these teams don’t pay enough attention to the other positions that work, but I am saying is these are the players that the majority of the teams covet -- even if they are set at the position. If you ask guys that work in the front office or in coaching, not one would tell you they couldn’t use another defensive back.
In the two groups that worked Tuesday, you could see a wide range of height from a player like Keith McGill, at 6-3, to a guy like Lamarcus Joyner, at 5-8. There were also some players in the group that ran well like Phillip Gaines, who opened some eyes with a 4.38 40-yard dash.
Talking to some scouts about Gaines, they were not surprised at his speed because many of them had seen it during their school calls at Rice. Gaines is a physical corner that can excel in press man coverage. During his drills, you could see his ability to turn, open and then burst.
I think you could say the same about Justin Gilbert, whom I thought going into the Combine was a better player than Darqueze Dennard. Both of these guys are press man players, but there is more length to Gilbert – who was more of a fluid player in the drills. Dennard ran well at 4.51, but you could see a hint of tightness in the way he moved around.
A guy that caught my eye other than McGill, who was a combination of height and speed, was Dontae Johnson, who played cornerback at North Carolina State but might be a better projection to a safety spot at a lean 6-2, 200 pounds.
You have to be careful when playing with leggy safeties because of their inability to really turn and burst, because it takes them too long to make that transition, but this did not seem to be an issue with Johnson at all.
Speaking of safeties, I am not worried about the 40 times of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor. Both these guys do play fast enough on tape, but I also believe they will run better at their school pro days. If there was a concern, it was neither guy really jumped all that well in the vertical and broad. Clinton-Dix was 33” and 9’11”, while Pryor was at 34.5” and 9’8”.
One of the best cornerbacks that I had seen on tape pre-Combine ran one of the best 40 times for the group. Local product, TCU’s Jason Verrett, is barely 5-9 in height but when you study him, he plays far bigger than that.
Here is a guy that Oklahoma State tried to pick on during their game this season and he just kept battling all day. He is one of those players that plays to his 4.38 speed.
What was even more impressive about him and Bradley Roby was they both ran a 1.47 for the 10. Verrett also managed to vertical jump 39” and broad jump 10’8”. When you watched him go through drills, there is no wasted motion or false steps, it’s all about explosive quickness.
I mentioned Lamarcus Joyner earlier, and that is another player who has really good tape from Florida State and should run better at his pro day. I have to believe that he was very disappointed in his 4.55, as was Antone Exum, who looked very compact in drills with his movements but only managed to post a 4.59 which was very disappointing for him.