I broke down the winners & losers from each day of the combine in detail already and also listed my ten takeaways from the combine. Here I’m going to list the players who improved their draft stock the most. Even moderate football fans know that Clowney, Mack, Lewan, Watkins and some other 1st round locks had great combines. They certainly did, but at best they are only moving up a couple of spots from where they were projected before the combine. My list is the players who have made the biggest jump from where they were projected pre-combine to where they are projected now.
DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh (6’1, 285) - My overall combine winner, Donald ran a very impressive 4.68 in the 40, put up 35 reps on the bench, and had a top five 3-cone time. Donald was on the 1st round bubble pre-combine, but now is a lock for the 1st round and my favorite option for the Bears at the 14th pick. I’d be surprised if Donald makes it past the Cowboys at 16.
WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon St (5’10, 189) - Was the best of a great receiver group at the combine. Cooks ran the fastest 40-time, showed the most explosive burst and change of direction skill in the drills, and didn’t drop a pass. His performance separated him from the rest of the top small receivers (Beckham Jr, Landry) and he may have passed Marquis Lee on some draft boards. Cooks went from an early 2nd rounder to having a legit shot at being taken in the top 20 overall. I could see the Ravens (17) or Jets (18) drafting Cooks.
WR Donte Moncrief, Mississippi (6’2, 221) - He wasn’t exactly an unknown pre-combine, but his speed was a definite question mark. Not anymore as Moncrief ran a blistering 4.40. At 6’2, 221 pounds, that is a ridiculous 40-time. Moncrief’s draft grade jumped from the 3rd-4th round all the way to the top of the 2nd. I could see the Redskins (34), Raiders (36) or the Bills (41) grabbing Moncrief.
CB Jaylen Watkins, Florida (5’11, 194) - Considered by most draftniks to be the 3rd best corner at his own school, Watkins attracted attention at the Senior Bowl by being one of the most consistent cover corners. He continued to move up draft boards after a solid combine and has passed both Purifoy and Roberson on my corner rankings. Watkins had the most impressive power (22 bench reps) / speed (4.41) combo of all the corners at the combine and should be a lock for the 2nd round.
OT Joel Bitonio, Nevada (6’4, 302) - Had the benefit of going in the first group of lineman when most of the talent was in the 2nd group. This let Bitonio stand out and drew more attention to his better than expected performance. Bitonio doesn’t look like much in shorts, but his tape is solid. His excellent performance in the 40 (4th), vertical leap (2nd), broad jump (2nd) and 3-cone (3rd), legitimized his strong play on tape and moved Bitonio from a 4th rounder to maybe a late 2nd.
OT Matt Patchan, Boston College (6’6, 302) – Was a top recruit out of high school and ended up at Florida so the talent has always been there, Patchan just couldn’t stay healthy. 2013 was the first year he played a full season and he played well enough to get drafted, but his impressive display of athleticism during the combine boosted his value at least a round or two. Patchan had a top five 40-time and the best vertical leap among the O-linemen. If a team is satisfied with his medicals, Patchan could sneak into the 3rd round. On tape he looks like a starting NFL right tackle.
CB Phillip Gaines, Rice (6’1, 193) - A 6’1 corner who runs a 4.38 is going to be a hot commodity in this year’s draft regardless of how his tape looks. Gaines is far from a perfect prospect, but with his height and speed ratio, he’s going to be drafted higher than his tape warrants. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up in the 3rd round despite being projected in the 5th-7th rounds before the combine.
RB Tyler Gaffney, Stanford (5’11, 220) - Might have been the most surprising 40-time of the combine. I don’t think anyone expected Gaffney to run faster than De’Anthony Thomas, but that happened. Gaffney was already considered a decent power back prospect (5th-7th rounder), but the 4.49 40-time gives him a more well-rounded profile and the measurables of a 3rd-4th round pick.
TE Colt Lyerla, Oregon (6’4, 242) - One of the biggest question marks coming in to the combine due to his off-season problems and the fact that he quit football last year. Lyerla showed he was one of the most athletic tight ends in the draft with the 3rd best 40-time, top vertical leap (39″), and best broad jump (128″). Lyerla caught the ball well in drills and showed more potential to be an offensive weapon than anyone but Eric Ebron (NC). Generally thought of as undraftable pre-combine, Lyerla might go as high as the 4th round if a team is satisfied that his off-field troubles are behind him. Drafting Lyerla with one of the Bears two 6th round picks would be a gamble, but one that could pay off big-time.
RB Dri Archer, Kent St (5’8, 173) - Everyone knows now about his 4.26 40-time, but I was just as impressed with his 20 reps on the bench press. Benching 225 20 times for a guy that weighs 173 pounds is pretty darn impressive. Archer is now the premier return man option in the draft and has moved up from a 6th-7th rounder to a 4th-5th rounder on my draft board.
RB Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern (5’0, 209) – I couldn’t leave off the guy who might have had the most impressive overall workout at the combine. McKinnon ran the 2nd best 40-time (4.41), put up the most bench reps (32), had the 2nd best vertical leap (40.5), the 2nd best broad jump (132″), the 3rd best 3-cone time (6.83), and the 4th best 20-yard shuttle (4.12) of the running backs. Wow. There is talk of McKinnon showing promise as a defensive back and some team is going to fall in love with his athleticism and draft McKinnon in the mid-to-late rounds. McKinnon was on the draft bubble coming into the combine, but has a secured a spot on day 3.
C Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma (6’4, 304) - Ikard was anywhere from the 5th to 7th center on most draft boards and a projected 7th round pick or UFA coming into the combine. Of all the O-linemen in attendance, Ikard put up the best 3-cone drill time (7.30) and best 20-yard shuttle time (4.37) showing excellent quickness and agility. To me both of those drills are more important for offensive lineman than the 40-yard dash. How often does an O-lineman run for 40 yards straight? The change of direction and agility measured in the 3-cone & shuttle are more relevant to line play. Ikard also showed good leadership skills and charisma at the combine and is now the 4th center on my board and a potential 5th-6th round pick.