When Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota began his NFL Combine workout on Saturday, the perception by many was that he needed to outperform Florida State’s Jameis Winston in order to impress scouts and team executives.
The 6-foot-4, 211-pound Mariota blew away every other quarterback at Lucas Oil Stadium with impressive showings in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle. Mariota was tops in the dash and the three-cone, and tied for third with a 36-inch vertical.
Mariota and Winston also impressed scouts in their throwing displays, both for their performances and for actually taking part in a drill that so many quarterback prospects avoid for fear of dropping on teams’ draft boards.
But while Mariota and Winston jockeyed for the No. 1 pick, several less prominent prospects were improving their stocks ahead of April 30’s draft.
UCLA’s Brett Hundley solidified his case as the third best quarterback prospect in this year’s class. Finishing with a 4.63-second 40-yard dash, equaling Mariota’s vertical, and best Winston in the broad jump, Hundley showed all the athletic skills necessary for the next level.
Hundley, who threw for 9,966 yards and 75 touchdowns and a 151.1 passer rating over three years as the Bruins starter, is projected as a second-round pick, but he could have done enough to either squeak into the late first round or the very top of the second.
Like at quarterback, the race at running back will presumably come down to Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley. But Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, who holds an advantage over the injured Gurley, was second among running backs with a 4.48-second 40-yard dash, and beat out the field with a 42.5 vertical, 10’10” broad jump, 6.79 three-cone time, and a 3.95 second 20-yard shuttle. Gordon could only better Abdullah in the 60-yard shuttle with a flat 11 seconds, .18 better than Abdullah.
Abdullah may not hear his named called before his Big Ten rival, but he could be a steal for some team in the middle to late second round. The Cornhusker totaled 1,611 yards and 19 touchdowns at 5.6 yards per carry in his final season, and throughout his Nebraska career averaged 6.0 yards per play from scrimmage.
At receiver, scouts seem set on Alabama’s Amari Cooper as the league next great receiver, but UAB’s J.J. Nelson and Miami’s Phillip Dorsett. Clocking the only sub-4.3 time, Nelson’s speed could have moved up from a projected undrafted free agent to a late sixth or seventh round pick, assuming teams believe he can bulk up a slight 5-foot-11, 156-pound frame.
Posting the second-best 40-yard time among receivers, Dorsett was already seen as a second to third round talent, but could have firmly planted roots in the second round with the likes of Ohio State’s Devin Smith, USC’s Nelson Agholor and Michigan’s Devin Funchess.
Along the defensive line, several lower rated prospects outshined most of the blue chippers. He might not have the most glaring stats or size compared to Nebraska’s Randy Gregory or Missouri’s Shane Ray, but UCLA defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa showed incredible speed for size with the second-best times in the dash and 20-yard shuttle, and was tops among defensive linemen with a 39-inch vertical and 10’7” broad jump.
There was also Northwestern State defensive tackle Deon Simon, who was the strongest defensive lineman with 35 reps on the bench press, bettering Washington’s Danny Shelton and Stanford’s David Parry by one, and projected first-rounder Jordan Phillips of Oklahoma by seven.
And two offensive linemen to up their stocks were Oregon’s Jake Fisher and Ali Marpet, from Division III Hobart College. Fisher was a ranked as a second or third-round talent among offensive tackles, but his time in the Ducks high-powered, no-huddle offense likely contributed to his 5.01-second dash time and his 4.33 20-yard drill.
Though it was only by .02 of a second, Marpet submitted the only sub-5.0 second dash time of any offensive lineman and was second behind fisher in the 20-yard shuttle and the three-cone. Projected as a third or fourth-round choice coming out of a Division III school, Marpet showed he has the athletic tools to make it at the next level.