The workout numbers that come out of the NFL combine get plenty of attention, and they are a useful tool for scouts when formulating final evaluation on prospects.
Strong numbers can put a final stamp on a high grade for some players, but for others they simply don't match up to what we see during film study. Some prospects confirm what we've seen on many hours of game tape, while others force us to take a deeper look to see if we missed anything in our initial scouting report.
As far as the 2013 combine goes, three prospects have stood out to me in the days since the combine because of workouts that back up their solid game tapes. On the flip side, a trio of workout warriors got a second look after posting big numbers, but still don't warrant higher grades.
Here's how the film and the workouts for all six -- including a first-round receiver and a big-name cornerback -- stack up.
Walking the walk
Tennessee WR Justin Hunter:
I got four live looks at Hunter in 2012, and watched plenty of tape in addition. He has a long (6-foot-4, 196 pounds), flexible frame, and a loose gait when he opens up and runs. Hunter is also a savvy route-runner who knows how to avoid contact, set up defensive backs and separate from zone coverage, and he consistently shows the ability to go up and play the ball downfield.
All of that showed up in Indianapolis, where Hunter posted a 39.5-inch vertical jump, an 11-foot, 4-inch broad jump and a 4.44-second 40-yard dash. His film matches up, showing his ability to eat up a defender's cushion with his long strides, then use his long arms (32.75 inches) and that explosive leaping ability to make plays when working outside the hashes against defensive backs.
There are some concerns about Hunter's focus in traffic when going over the middle, and he had more than his share of drops this past fall, but his overall skill means he probably has a higher ceiling than speedy-but-raw teammate Cordarrelle Patterson. In the end, Hunter's stellar workout backed up what I saw on his tape and helped solidify his place in the first-round mix.
Syracuse S Shamarko Thomas: He appears on tape to be an explosive, quick-twitch athlete, and his low build and ability to come downhill to deliver big hits has earned comparisons to former Indianapolis Colts S Bob Sanders. A closer look at the combine numbers for each shows some eerie similarities.
But it's more than just that comparison that has Thomas making noise in scouting circles. He has the movement skills to cover slot receivers and even play some cornerback. He can learn to throttle down more in space, but Thomas shows an explosive closing burst to cover ground quickly and deliver violent shots at the point of attack. In addition, he is an instinctive and impact blitzer off the edge. Thomas diagnoses plays quickly and plays the game angry, and his combine showing certainly lived up to his film.
Finally, Thomas has overcome the adversity of losing both his parents during his college career, and he has taken a role in the care of his five younger siblings. He clearly has something to play for, and it's hard to bet against a prospect with that kind of motivation. Thomas is squarely in the Day 2 conversation and could be a good find there.
Harding OLB Ty Powell:
Questions about the level of competition he faced and some off-field baggage will likely hurt his final grade, but I went back to the film after Powell (6-2, 249) had an eye-popping combine workout and was thoroughly impressed with what I saw.
Powell put on 15 pounds and moved from safety to linebacker in 2012, so his movement skills, range and closing burst are not surprising. The instincts and hand use he showed in his first year playing on the line of scrimmage were a surprise, though. Powell (6-2, 249) has good take-on skills when setting the edge against the run, and his quick, heavy hands are an asset as both a run-defender and a pass-rusher.
All of that showed up at the combine, where he posted a 4.64 in the 40; a 37-inch vertical; 10-2 in the broad jump; 28 reps on the bench press; and a 6.98-second three-cone drill. His athleticism and talent look to be that of a third-rounder, and with his ability to cover Powell could become an above-average starter as a 3-4 outside linebacker or on the strong side in a 4-3.
Some character issues will be investigated -- Powell was kicked off his juco team at one point, and was once charged with a misdemeanor after an altercation with his girlfriend -- but reports are that he is well-liked by coaches and teammates, and is a hard worker. The feeling is that he's a good person who's made some bad decisions while overcoming a tough upbringing. Powell has a lot of traits on tape that transfer well to the NFL level and he could eventually bring good return on a fourth- or fifth-round pick and develop into a more than adequate starter within a year or two.
Not measuring up
Southern Miss OLB Jamie Collins: He absolutely nailed the combine. At 6-2.5 and 250 pounds, Collins ran a 4.64 in the 40, posted a 41.5-inch vertical and his 11-7 broad jump is the best of any combine participant since 2006. Add that to the 92 total tackles, 20 TFL and 10 sacks he piled up last season, and Collins has the numbers to match up with his workout.
However, after taking a hard look and digging into four coach-copy tapes, there are concerns about his game. Collins does not have natural instincts and football intelligence. He takes too long to locate the ball at times and is often hesitant as a result. He has the speed to recover, but he's inconsistent when chasing plays in pursuit and doesn't appear to have a physical, aggressive nature, particularly when forced to play in a phone booth.
Finally, Collins' motor runs hot and cold, he lacks polish as a pass-rusher and his pad level and hand use are also inconsistent. He flashes on tape and makes just enough big plays to keep you interested, but in the end Collins appears to be a better athlete than football player and remains on the fringe of Day 2 despite his impressive workout.
NC State CB David Amerson:
He entered the season with a high first-round grade after a junior season in which he intercepted 13 passes and 59 total tackles, but things went downhill quickly from there.
I was on hand to see him being beaten deep several times in the season opener against Tennessee, and it was more of the same in a disastrous game against Miami. Amerson is often late playing the ball on film, doesn't transition well in coverage and lacks recovery/closing speed on tape, and is often late when turning to locate and play the ball.
His combine performance would seem to suggest otherwise. Amerson (6-1, 205) went 4.44 in the 40, had a 35.5-inch vertical and posted a 10-5 broad jump. However, he doesn't translate those numbers to the field, and there are also questions about his mental toughness and ability to bounce back from mistakes.
The measurements and workout suggest a prototypical corner, but Amerson's overall evaluation shows a Day 3 prospect in my eyes.
Arkansas RB Knile Davis: He checked in at 5-11 and 227 pounds at the combine, and ran a ridiculous 4.37 in the 40. His jumps (33.5 vertical, 10-1 broad) and three-cone (6.96) were also impressive, but we did not see that kind of speed, burst, lateral quickness and explosiveness on film in 2012.
To be fair, Davis missed all of 2011 with a dislocated left ankle and could just now be getting fully healthy. Still, he appeared hesitant during the season and appeared to be trying to protect the ankle. The most glaring issue, though, is ball security. Davis fumbled eight times in only 123 touches in 2012, and continually putting the ball on the ground is the surest way for a running back to find himself on the bench and eventually on the street.
Davis might focus more on taking care of the ball as he begins to trust his ankle more, and a team could be enticed to take a flier on him earlier than expected because of his top-end speed, but at this point he is likely to come off the board on Day 3.