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Danny O'Neil covers the Seahawks for The Seattle Times.

March 2, 2010 at 1:21 PM

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Combine engine: Taylor Mays and other fast risers

Posted by Danny O'Neil

Tuesday is the final day of physical drills at the league's annual NFL scouting combine, and Taylor Mays ran away from the competition in the 40-yard dash.
  • A-Mays-ing: USC safety runs 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds
    By Danny O'Neil, The Seattle Times | March 2, 2010

    That makes Mays just one of the players to help himself at the league's annual scouting combine.

    Help yourself

    LB Donald Butler, Washington

    In the eyes of some draftniks, he was a surprising inclusion in the Senior Bowl invitation lists and he went there and showed a degree of athleticism that caught the eye of some scouts. Then at the scouting combine, he went and bench-pressed 225 pounds for 34 repetitions, most by any linebacker and more than all but five offensive linemen.

    NFL executives and scouts will tell you than 90 percent of a player's evaluation is cemented in place once the season ends, but Butler shows how meaningful the post-season analysis can be because at Washington, a lot of his play was probably overlooked. The Huskies didn't win a game his junior season, didn't have anyone at the scouting combine. The spotlight wasn't on him.

    His performance first in the Senior Bowl and now at the combine is going to make teams go back and review the footage and reports they have on him. When the college football season ended, he was considered a possible late-round pick. Now, it would be a surprise if he's not drafted, and he could be more a mid-round selection.

    RB Jahvid Best, California

    He suffered two concussions this season, one a horrific accident in which his helmet came off and his left arm went rigid. Well, he went and ran the third-fastest 40-yard dash time at the NFL scouting combine. The race for the No. 2 running back is wide open, and while Best's size and durability are going to be a question, his speed is not. He put himself in consideration as a first-round pick.

    WR Golden Tate, Notre Dame

    He's not the most natural receiver, catching the ball closer to his body more than you'd like. He also dropped three balls in the gauntlet drill in which receivers are asking to catch a series of passes from different angles.

    But Tate's strength is his ability to run after the catch. Combine that with the success of someone like Minnesota's Percy Harvin and then the fact that Tate ran 40 yards in 4.42 seconds -- faster than expected -- and it's hard to imagine him slipping to the second round.

    In fact, with questions abounding about Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, Tate could be the first receiver chosen in the draft.

    RB Toby Gerhart, Stanford

    The increasing use of multiple backs by NFL teams has lent itself to more specialization in that teams will pair a bigger back with a smaller back to maximize their options. Running backs are increasingly divided into two flavors in the NFL, a quick-twitch speed back and a power pitcher. Gerhart is the latter, considered one of the top power runners available, a group that includes Anthony Dixon (233 pounds, Miss. State), LeGarrette Blount (241 pounds, Oregon) and Ryan Mathews (218 pounds, Fresno State).

    Well, Gerhart's 40-yard dash time was slower than the unofficial time of 4.53 seconds posted by the NFL Network, but he was fast enough to cement himself as one of the top one or two power backs available in the draft.

    LT Trent Williams, Oklahoma

    He's more stout than the new prototype at left tackle, and the fact he played right tackle before his senior season makes you wonder where he fits. But his athleticism isn't a question after he ran the second-fastest 40 time among all linemen and had his vertical leap measured at 34.5 inches.

    LT Bruce Campbell, Maryland

    He may have been the single most impressive performer in this year's edition of the Underwear Olympics. That will certainly help, but he probably doesn't have the game film to boost him past the other top tackle prospects.

    Who hurt themselves

    LT Anthony Davis, Rutgers

    Davis is the largest of the top-tier tackle prospects at 323 pounds. He is that prototypical big-bodied left tackle, but he wasn't quite as fast as some teams expected in the 40 and there are still a ton of questions about the consistency of his effort and work. Throw in the fact that Davis entered Rutgers weighing more than 350 pounds and at one point was demoted to second-string for a week because he came in heavier than coaches wanted, and taking him in the first half of the first round would be a real stretch.

    CB Joe Haden, Florida

    Considered the top corner available in the draft, he was slower than safeties Taylor Mays and Eric Berry. There hasn't been a cornerback chosen in the top 10 of the draft since 2005 when Adam "Pacman" Jones went No. 6. That doesn't figure to change this season.

    WR/RB Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss

    McCluster is fast. No one questions that, and his time of 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash ranked No. 10 among running backs. It's just that he expected to be faster and so did scouts. Now, he's got plenty of game tape showing just how explosive he can be on the field, but with so much speed in the second tier of running backs behind Clemson's C.J. Spiller, McCluster very well may be slip, sliding away.

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