Today's NFL Draft Grapevine focuses on the defensive side of the ball and comes with a touch of information on the special teams legs that you may be curious about. Several prospects solidified their standings, while others impressed by moving up and a few headed the other direction.
Chris Long, University of Virginia: Long, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long, solidified himself as a top-five draft choice in April's selection process. He posted a 4.75 40 time, which is impressive for someone of his size (6-foot-3, 272 pounds), and he reached 34 inches on the vertical jump. Long achieved 10-foot-4 in the broad jump drill. His biggest positives are his high motor, excellent use of his hands and his intensity. Look for him to be either the first pick in the draft or the second, because it is tough to see him falling any further than the St. Louis Rams at No. 2.
Vernon Gholston, Ohio State: Reminiscent of Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, Gholston has speed, hands and a first step on his side. An explosive player coming off the edge, the 6-foot-3, 266-pound former Buckeye posted a 4.67 40 time, which was the fourth-fastest of his position. He needs to do a better job at recognizing what he is reading in terms of the play development, according to many scouts, and his consistency has come into question. Still, Gholston is a top-20 talent in this year's draft class and should hear his name called in the first half of the first round.
Marcus Howard, University of Georgia: Impressive speed off the edge always opens the eyes of scouts, and Howard's insane 4.45 40 time was faster than four of the top 10 running back times (tied the University of Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall). The biggest question with Howard is his size (6-foot-1 3/8, 245 pounds) and where he will play in the NFL. KFFL views him as a weakside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment, simply because 245 pounds will get out-muscled far more often than not in the pros. His future team should let him pin his ears back and speed rush the passer to be at his best. Howard strained his quadriceps, so he didn't finish the rest of the drills. At any rate, Howard opened some eyes and should see an uptick in his draft stock as a result. He makes for a fine third- or fourth-round pick.
Shawn Crable, University of Michigan: Is he a defensive end in the 4-3 or an outside 'backer in the 3-4, that will be the question. Crable's speed (4.64 40-yard dash) was the third-best for defensive linemen, and he is probably best suited to play a standup rush linebacker for 3-4 teams. Unfortunately for Crable (6-foot-4, 245 pounds), that really limits the number of franchises interested in him, but he probably will find his name called somewhere in the neighborhood of the third or fourth round.
Quentin Groves, Auburn University: Groves was about where we felt he would be in terms of speed, running a 4.57-second 40-yard dash, which was good for the second-fastest time amongst his defensive line peers.
Erin Henderson, University of Maryland: Henderson (6-foot-2 7/8, 242 pounds), the younger brother of Minnesota Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson, is a pretty decent athlete but an even better football player. He posted a 4.74 40 time, which is solid enough for a linebacker on the pro level but not dazzling. Given his smallish size, although he is pretty muscular, most scouts would have preferred to see him run a little faster. A history of knee injuries could be Henderson's biggest knock, but he is an emotional leader and produces on the field (averaged more than 11 tackles per game last year). In what is a very weak year for the position, Henderson could be drafted as high as the top third of the second round.
Xavier Adibi, Virginia Tech: At just 6-foot-1 5/8, 220 pounds, Adibi is the quintessential weakside linebacker in a Cover 2 scheme. He didn't run nearly as fast as most scouts would have liked him to, posting the 10th-best time amongst linebackers at 4.69. A four-year special teams player for the Hokies, Adibi will probably find himself in a city like Indianapolis, Tampa, Fla. or Detroit. Adibi looked solid during his workouts, by all accounts, and he was quite productive while at Virginia Tech. He is probably a second-round pick, but with a lack of teams in the hunt for someone of his stature, it is possible that he slides to the third round and becomes a potential steal.
Keith Rivers, University of Southern California: Rivers (ankle) suffered a sprained ankle while working out before the combine and chose against participate in the drills. He is reportedly going to miss a sizeable portion of the school's April 2 Pro Day workouts. Nonetheless, we still feel Rivers is the best outside linebacker in the draft and remains a top-15 talent.
Dan Connor, Penn State: The all-time leading tackler from "Linebacker U" chose not to participate at the combine due to coming down with the flu. He is expected to take part at the school's March 18 Pro Day.
Gary Guyton, Georgia Tech: Guyton posted the best time amongst linebackers at the combine by running a 4.47 40-yard dash. The undersized Guyton may have improved his draft stock into the fifth round or so, but most teams aren't going to be overly caught up in his remarkable 40 time.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tennessee State: The small school darling of the defensive backs this year, Rodgers-Cromartie continued to wow scouts during his workout. He posted a cornerback-best 38 1/2-inch vertical jump. He officially ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds, which is good for the third-best at the position. Some questioned his tackling ability, but with one strong hit at the Senior Bowl he seemingly has reduced the talk to murmurs. He has excellent ball-hawking skills, tremendous footwork and soft, natural hands. His size is above adequate (6-foot-1 3/8, 184 pounds), so the only real concern is the level of competition that he faced at Tennessee State. Rodgers-Cromartie has essentially locked himself into a late first-round selection.
Antoine Cason, University of Arizona: Cason, 6-foot 1/4, 190 pounds, reportedly, was outstanding during his workout. Some speculation lends to the Detroit Lions being interested in him, but that is unconfirmed. Cason ran the 40 in times of 4.47 and 4.50, unofficially, and he completed 20 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press.
Brandon Flowers, Virginia Tech: The cornerback reportedly looked quite average throughout most of his workout. He, by some accounts, wasn't very fluid coming out of his breaks and had questionable feet. Flowers, considered by some as the best cornerback prospect, ran unofficial 40 times of 4.55 and 4.62.
Mike Jenkins, University of South Florida: Regarded by some as the top cornerback prospect, Jenkins comes with more than his fair share of criticism. Relying on his natural athleticism too much too often, Jenkins seems to play down to the level of his opponents. Some sources are souring on his lack of maturity and poor work ethic, as well. Still, he was very impressive during his workout, according to reports, and is likely to remain in the first-round grade. Jenkins ran an official 4.36-second 40 time.
Art Carmody, Louisville: A little on the small side, Carmody claims to have booted a 63-yard field goal in practice. He doesn't appear athletic in any shape of the word, but he is deadly accurate inside of 40 yards. Probably no better than a sixth-round pick, Carmody isn't your prototypical NFL kicker.
Durant Brooks, Georgia Tech: Easily the best of the punters this year, Brooks has everything that an NFL team looks for at his position. He has a strong leg, averaging 45.5 yards per punt in 2007. At 6-foot, 205 pounds, Brooks has room to add some meat to his already solid frame. Expect him to be drafted around the fourth or fifth round.
Be sure to check out KFFL's NFL Draft Central to keep you up-to-date throughout the draft season!
Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.
Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.