Either the NFL Scouting Combine is looked at as a valuable event to showcase NFL talent or it is fodder that's overruled by NFL general managers in favor of a prospects' tape. This year, there wasn't the mesmerizing 40-yard dash time or a bench press beast, but some players who were expected to dominate workouts generated buzz.
Many propelled their draft status and likely earned millions by performing at a level higher than initially expected. It happens every year, but it's compelling to see players who were projected to go in the later rounds ascend draft boards-as teams chase athleticism and potential. Today we examine the players defined as outside linebackers at the Combine, keeping in mind that many players labeled with that position would likely transition inside in a 3-4 scheme.
Ohio State's Darron Lee showed that the offseason work leading up to the Combine paid off and he looks to be next in line among talented Buckeyes in the NFL. On the other end of the spectrum, Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith didn't participate in any drill in the Motor City, as his leg injury is a concern for NFL personnel.
This list is based on who gained the most and the least from participating in the 2016 NFL Combine.
1. Darron Lee, Ohio State Buckeyes
Darron Lee might now be out of reach for the Packers with his captivating performance in drills. The Ohio State product finished first in the 40-yard dash and the broad jump, showcasing his athletic versatility that teams will drool over. Projected as a 4-3 outside linebacker, Lee, evidently, has the athleticism to play in any system.
In the 3-4, he'd slide over to middle linebacker and not have to be relegated to rushing the passer. His burst and agility plays in the run game and his build allows him to be a diverse talent. While not as athletically gifted as former Buckeye Ryan Shazier, Lee is one of the safer plays in the teens for a team looking for an off-the-ball linebacker.
The 6-1, 232-pound animal should be a dynamo in the league right away. With a cloudy forecast of players who could be selected in the first round, starting from pick No. 7, Lee could enter the top-10 consideration chatter based on his performance.
2. Travis Feeney, Washington Huskies
Finishing in the top five in four out of the six drills he competed in, Washington linebacker Travis Feeney made an impression that should garner substantial buzz heading into the draft. Running a 4.50-second 40-yard dash time, his speed was on full display-with general managers monitoring his performance. Totaling 8.5 sacks in his senior season, the weak-side linebacker flashed the necessary tools to have his athleticism translate to the next level. Many pass rushing linebackers can't replicate their collegiate ability to rush the passer.
However, Feeney, who measured in at 6'4" and 244 pounds, has the ability to play in a 3-4 system as an outside linebacker who is asked to rush the edge. It will be worth monitoring to see how he'll perform at Washington's Pro Day, but if he can replicate the numbers he put up at the Combine, Feeney could warrant a mid-round grade.
3. Leonard Floyd, Georgia Bulldogs
One of the more prominent linebackers in the nation, Georgia's Leonard Floyd cemented his first-round label with a solid performance in the three drills he ran. Sporting a 4.60-second 40-yard dash time, Floyd showed scouts that his game speed translates in drills. Totaling just 4.5 sacks in his junior season for the Bulldogs, anything over a 4.7-second timing would have derailed Floyd's stock, costing him a decent amount off of his initial paycheck.
He'd be more of an ideal candidate as a 3-4 OLB used as a pass rusher, as he excels more in the passing game than against the run. Floyd was the center of attention in most games, so his stats aren't as impressive - but consider that he was a focus of teams' offensive game plans at times. He'd be a fit for the Packers if the team decides to look at outside linebacker with one of their first picks. Don't expect the 10-sack years to pile up for Floyd initially, but working on technique could be pivotal in his development as a pass rushing linebacker who can contribute in coverage as well.
1. Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Jaylon Smith's unfortunate leg injury suffered in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl is going to have significant ramifications regarding his future. He didn't participate in the Combine and teams are reportedly hesitant to take a chance on the hyper-talented linebacker, until further information is leaked.
Smith is regarded as an arguable top-five talent in this year's class, but if he cannot suit up in 2016, his impact is diminished due to the absence. He might have done admirably in the Combine drills, but NFL personnel will never know. Not competing at all makes Smith a definite question mark post-Combine, as do the conflicting reports about the severity of his knee injury.
2. Eric Striker, Oklahoma Sooners
When you're noted for speed and quickness off the snap as a pass rusher, putting up sub-par numbers at the Combine will hijack your stock and future prospects as a speed rusher. Striker led the Big XII in tackles for loss (18), per sports-reference.com, but if his speed doesn't translate, there are no finesse moves that can save him against advanced pass blockers.
Timing out at 4.80 seconds flat in the 40-yard dash, Striker will have to respond emphatically at Oklahoma's Pro Day and convince teams that his edge speed is worth investing into. Not a stout talent playing against the run, teams are going to have to overlook Striker's mediocre Combine performance. He's quick off the snap and is a dynamite pass rushing specialist on third down. However, his size (5'11", 227) probably limits him to 4-3 systems.
3. Kyler Fackrell, Utah State Aggies
Kyler Fackrell is a long, athletic linebacker from possibly the G5's version of Linebacker U (G5 referring to the non-power five FBS conferences). The 6-5, 245-pound senior exactly mirrored, in 2015, the amount of tackles and sacks he totaled in his sophomore year (83 tackles, five sacks), per sports-reference.com, and had a chance to impress scouts with his athleticism. He didn't stand out in any category though, and will have a hard time selling teams on his frame, which stands out from other outside linebackers.
Fackrell could transition inside in a 3-4 scheme, but he played in a 4-3 system at Utah State. The competition factor might also be an issue, as the Mountain West doesn't boast the talent teams face weekly in conference games. That's not to knock Fackrell or past G5 talents' ability, it's just harder to sell when your combine numbers don't stand out additionally.