Combine Storylines: Skill Position Sunday
Sorting out the deepest position in the draft didn't get any easier on Sunday, as every receiver, it seems, brought his A game to Indianapolis.
Twenty-three of the 45 receivers who ran at the Combine posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.50 seconds or faster. That included some of the draft's biggest receivers: Clemson's Martavis Bryant (6-foot-3, 4.42), Nebraska's Quincy Enunwa (6-2, 4.45), Saginaw Valley State's Jeff Janis (6-2, 4.42), Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews (6-3, 4.46), Mississippi's Donte Moncrief (6-2, 4.40), Alabama's Kevin Norwood (6-2, 4.48) and Missouri's L'Damian Washington (6-3, 4.46).
LSU's Odell Beckham solidified his standing as a legit first-round prospect, and Clemson's Sammy Watkins showed in pretty much every drill why he's considered the class of perhaps the most talented receivers class in recent memory.
But four receivers perhaps helped themselves more than anyone else:
Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss: Moncrief showed himself to be among the top athletes at the position. He showed up determined to make a positive impression, a powerful statement in the wake of an occasionally lackluster 2013 season. Anyone looking for reasons to break a tie betwen Moncrief and Penn State's Allan Robinson got more than enough on Sunday, as Moncrief performed at least as well as Robinson in every measurable category (his 11-foot broad jump was tied for tops) and looked far more dynamic during the receiving drills.
Mike Evans, Texas A&M: Just as Moncrief got some separation from Robinson, Evans may have broken some ties in the minds of evaluators between him and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin. They are widely considered the two best big receivers available (though, I still have Jordan Matthews rated above them both). Evans ran faster than Benjamin and had a better vertical leap, and he ran the receiver drills -- particularly the gauntlet -- with more apparent confidence. It's important to note that the Combine drills simply provide more data points for the overall evaluation process, and nothing Evans did on Sunday could dispell the concern that he is not a particularly sharp route-runner, that he doesn't get separation consistently and that he didn't work enough between the numbers during his college career. Still, one day's worth of side-by-side impressions could tilt the scale in Evans' favor.
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State: It's no longer just his name. It's a succinct bull's-eye of an evaluation of the former Beavers receiver. Brandin cooks. He sure does. His 4.33 40 time was the best among receivers, and he seemed to spend the entire day in fifth gear, which is pretty much how he played his college career. He showed elite speed and quickness, and his 16 reps on the bench press more than doubled Beckham (7) and matched Bryant, who's 22 pounds and half a foot bigger than Cooks. He already was considered the top slot receiver prospect in the draft, but he made a case to be taken in the first round (in my two-round mock, I had him going to Seattle with the last pick of the second round; I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Seahawks take him instead at the end of the first).
Jon Brown, Pittsburg State: Brown introduced himself to the Combine crowd with a blazing 40 (his 4.34 was second-fastest of all receivers), but then he showed he had more clubs in his bag that just speed. His routes were sharp, he was smooth in and out of cuts and adjusting to deep balls, and he caught everything. That might have been even more important than his 40 time, as his 8.5-inch hands are the smallest of all the receivers. He still won't come off the board before the fifth round, but he came out of the Combine with a far greater chance at getting drafted than he had coming in.