The Patrick Peterson freight train churns towards No. 1 overall. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Unfortunately, I'll be without my bigger, stronger, better tag team partner, Andre the Giant....errr Billy Gomilla. As we noted pre-combine, a lot of LSU athletes came into the weekend with something to prove. Frankly, there weren't any real surprises as the combine wrapped up today, as most everyone performed right around the expectations at least I had heading into the event. That being said, let's take a further look into what went down this weekend.
Kneel Before Zod
As, we suspected, Zod once again rained terror upon his subjects. If you had the chance to watch it live, you probably weren't even aware there were actually a couple dozen other defensive back participants, because all they did was talk Peterson. Michael Lombardi said the only thing keeping him from being top pick is his position (only one defensive back has ever been taken number one over all, and even the best defensive backs year-to-year routinely fall to the back half of the top 10). The analysts further spent time attacking the notion that Peterson should be moved to safety, with Lombardi finally concluding that he was a safer pick than Eric Berry from last year (Lombardi is obviously enamored with him).
As for the measurements, Peterson checked in at a near even 6 foot and a stunning 219 pounds. I haven't checked the weights of every NFL corner, but I imagine that would put him near or at the top. What's most remarkable is that he's chiseled from stone. It wasn't an "oh look, Peterson got lazy" 219. It was a, "I am a golden god" 219. To further top, he blistered the 2nd fastest time at the combine, an outrageous 4.34 at 219. He also pumped out a 38-inch vertical and an outstanding 6.58 three-cone (4th best amongst DBs, which illustrates his short area explosiveness). But really, is anyone surprised? We all knew he was a freak athlete coming in. The sole question mark coming in would be how he fared in positional drills and Deion Sanders praised his fluidity. Safe to say, Peterson has sewn up a top 5 pick, potentially as high as number one overall.
Of the remaining participants, each had something to prove in Indianapolis whether it be their size (Nevis), speed (Sheppard, Ridley) or attitude/dedication (Barksdale) or hands (Toliver). The combine offered some opportunity to answer these questions, but for the most part, they are who we thought they were.
Sheppard made headlines early on being the guy we all know who he is. His leadership qualities can not be questioned. Measuring in at just under 6'2, right at 250 pounds, Sheppard is well put together. Numbers wise, nothing from Sheppard pops out at you either positively or negatively... 22 bench reps above average, 33.5 vertical is respectable, etc. His 20 yard shuttle stood tall, but his 3-cone drill could've been better. Finally, Sheppard DNP in the 40, likely a decision on his (and his agent's) part, to try to potentially slim down (or just keep improving) for the LSU pro day.
I didn't get a chance to catch Sheppard in the drills, so if one of our loyal readers did, please chime in. Unfortunately for Sheppard, I'm not sure how much more workouts will prove for him. If he blazes his 40 at the LSU pro day he can definitely bolster his draft status, but Sheppard can't prove without pads. However, I guarantee some (probably several) team fell in love with him and he could go much higher than his measurables might indicate based on intangibles. Sheppard has weaknesses, but he's just a football player.
An injury forced Nevis to drop out of the Senior Bowl, or at least that was the explanation given. I think it's far more likely that he was advised to spend some time adding weight before heading to Indianapolis, which would be one of his major question marks. Nevis doesn't possess outstanding size. He measured in at 6'0 and a half and 294 pounds, a respectable weight. The question remains, if he adds size, can he keep his natural quickness? The combine didn't exactly help his case. Nevis is short, but stout. I'm still not sure he's an every down defensive tackle, but that doesn't mean there isn't a role for him. However, the problem is, his role in the NFL isn't what's going to make him the most money on draft day. Right now he needs to prove he has size to play every down, whereas realistically he'll slim back down in the 285 range and be a pass rushing DT, and potentially even a starting caliber player for a team like the Indianapolis Colts.
Measuring in at just under 6'3 and a half and weighing 212 show that Toliver has true NFL size. His first unofficial 40 time was listed as a 4.54, but it seems it was officially marked as a 4.59. Respectable speed for a big, strong WR. Perhaps most shocking to me of his performance was the outstanding 6.48 3-cone drill, which was better than Zod himself. Typically taller athletes don't fair as well. It's a drill that exhibits change of direction ability, and most taller athletes can't do so fluidly enough to excel. In fact, Toliver excelled in all the quickness drills. In truth, this is excellent news for Toliver. As players such as Anquan Boldin and Hines Ward have exhibited, top end speed can be an overrated skill in WRs. Not that it hurts, but it's also not necessary to excel. However, both have quickness in and out of breaks... and these drills Toliver excelled out.
Catching the ball, he seems to have received mixed reviews. He's a body catcher, and he'll need to learn to aggressively attack the ball with his hands. Toliver is what I would call a developmental prospect for the NFL. He has the tools to some day be a no. 2 quality NFL WR, but will he dedicate himself to fine tuning his game? is he willing to work for it? Those are still the major question marks for Toliver.
Ridley seemed to do exactly as Billy the Giant and I expected in Indianapolis. We expected a fairly pedestrian 40 (4.66), but we also anticipated he'd flash that he's quicker than fast (6.78 in the three cone, 4th amongst RBs), and actually tested well in the vertical and broad jump (better than Mark Ingram in the vert, tied in the broad), which exhibit explosiveness. What does all this mean? It means Ridley is built like a running back. Long speed isn't a necessary trait for an NFL running back. Rookie LeGarrette Blount topped the 1,000 yard mark this season, despite running a 4.7+ 40 at last year's combine. Ridley is a thickly built runner with above average quicks, and good vision. Most expect him to fall way late in the draft, or perhaps even go undrafted. I disagree.
Hell, I'll go on a limb. Mark Ingram will be drafted much higher than Ridley due to his highly acclaimed collegiate career. But I fail to see how he's a better player. Call me a homer if you'd like, but physically they are similar (Ridley carries 225 well, whereas most said Ingram needs to slim back down), and Ridley tops Ingram in the explosiveness measurements. Both lack top end speed, both are decent pass catchers. It wouldn't shock me at all to see them both have similar careers.
Barksdale measured in at a strong 6'4 and a half and 325 pounds. Both are above average measurements for his future position in the NFL: guard. He posted a respectable 29 bench reps (WHAT???!!! I thought Moffitt didn't make them bench press?). However, the rest of his numbers were middle of the pack at best. He's not a sludge or anything, but he is merely an average athlete. This means a likely shift down to the inside at guard. However, that will all be predicated upon his toughness. Joe never played with a true mean streak at LSU, and playing on the interior requires that extra level of nastiness. Finesse linemen can have careers in the NFL, but it's typically the nasty maulers that make careers for themselves when they aren't superior athletes. Further, much like Toliver, Barksdale needs to prove his dedication to the game.
Levingston actually outperformed my expectations for him. I was a bit puzzled by his invite in the first place, but it's now obvious to me NFL personnel men were at least piqued by his athleticism. Pep measured at 6'3 and a half and 292 pounds, running a 4.99 40 (by comparison, Drake Nevis ran a 5.06). Not blown you away type of time or anything, but it does show that he's got more athletic ability than he maybe ever displayed on the field in Baton Rouge.
That being said, I still see Pep's chances in the NFL as slim. I doubt he'll be drafted, so he'll have to try his hand as an undrafted free agent.
Obviously, Peterson leaves this event the big winner. Reviews of his performance are gushing. Lombardi (in addition to his previous gushings) called him the "cleanest" prospect in the draft (meaning the lowest bust factor of all players). This is great news for Peterson (who I still think has a shot at the number 1 overall place) and for LSU (who gets to share the spotlight of having one of their premier players paraded around).
Despite the average 40, I think Ridley probably helped his draft stock. Previously I saw him as a 5th-7th round back, but now I could see him going as high as the 4th. I think teams will like his vision, explosiveness and relatively low carry count. I also think Toliver may have boosted his draft status a bit. He's still going to go 4th to 7th round (probably 5th or later), but exhibiting his size and quickness may cause a team to take a flyer on him as early as the 3rd.
As for Sheppard, I don't think the combine helped or hurt his status. He is what we thought. He has to make one team fall in love with him. I'm sure many did. The question will be how much. He could go as high as late 2nd round if a team falls in love with his smarts and intangibles or as low as the 5th if he runs a pedestrian 40 and questions linger about his ability to get off blocks.
Unfortunately, I also think Drake Nevis comes out of this combine as a loser. I think I can see what he was trying to accomplish, but I'm not sure it fared in his favor. Regardless, Drake was never going to be the type of player that crushed the eyeball and athleticism test. He's an NFL role player, but he has the ability to be a very good one at that. I'd also put Barksdale and Levingston in the category of NFL longshots, unless we see a complete shift in the players they were in college. Barksdale's good size and three-year starter resume does give him the opportunity to perhaps latch on somewhere, but I'm not sure I ever see him as an NFL starting caliber lineman... but hell, we probably wouldn't have said that about Rudy Niswanger either.
Please chime in with your thoughts and criticisms. Tell us how you think LSU's athletes fared.
Watch NFL Scouting Combine Feb 24 - Mar 1