INDIANAPOLIS -- Central Florida's Blake Bortles took advantage of the spotlight provided with the other high profile quarterbacks opting not to compete at the Scouting Combine, impressing with his poise, accuracy and arm strength during passing drills Sunday.
For a quarterback too often characterized as raw, Bortles was smooth in his set up and release, tossing darts down the field. His accuracy and footwork on his three-step drops was excellent, showing very good rhythm, timing and precision to rip it with very good target placement. He was a tick late with his seven-step drops and has room to improve his feet and balance in this area, but Bortles was still able to be accurate down the field, especially on deep bucket throws.
His stellar throwing session could help vault him into the No. 1 overall pick held by the Houston Texans.
Unfortunately, the workouts weren't as impressive for some other high profile players, including Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey, who was officially clocked at 4.70 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
The five biggest takeaways from Sunday:
5. Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins provided some quantitative evidence of his explosiveness, running the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds at 6-feet-1, 211 pounds. Watkins' burst is obvious on tape and therefore the impressive speed in Indianapolis confirms his top-10 status rather than pushing him into it.
Two other underclassmen whose impressive workouts Sunday could push them into the first round are Oregon State's Brandin Cooks and LSU's Odell Beckham.
The 5-10, 189-pound Cooks was the fastest receiver tested in Indianapolis, clocking in at a sizzling 4.33 seconds in the Combine's premier event. Beckham, 5-11, 199 pounds, wasn't quite as fast at 4.46 seconds but starred during the positional drills, demonstrating remarkable athleticism, body control and sticky hands.
Small-schoolers John Brown (Pittsburgh State) and Jeff Janis (Saginaw Valley State) proved their athleticism by clocking in 4.34 and 4.42 seconds, respectively.
4. The 40-yard dash generates the most buzz but it was the all-around explosiveness demonstrated by Baylor's Tevin Reese and Georgia State's Jerick McKinnon that resulted in the day's most impressive individual workouts.
Nicknamed "Sweet Feet," Reese lived up to his reputation, leading all wide receivers with a 41-inch vertical jump and an 11-foot broad jump after clocking in at 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
As the numbers suggest, Reese is a phenomenal athlete. Better yet, his athleticism translates onto the field, where 22 of Reese's 25 career touchdowns covered at least 40 yards. As one might expect given his rail-thin 5-10, 163-pound frame, however, Reese relies on his speed to beat defenses over the top, demonstrating little physicality or grit. He predominately ran vertical routes at Baylor and projects as strictly a big play threat in the NFL.
McKinnon, a 5-9, 209-pound former option quarterback who will be asked to play running back in the NFL, also showcased remarkable athleticism, matching Reese in the broad jump and posting a 401/2-inch vertical jump -- one inch lower than another Baylor Bear, Lache Seastrunk, who led all running backs. McKinnon led all backs with 34 repetitions in the bench press and was unofficially clocked at 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the third-best time among runners.
3. As I predicted Saturday, South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney was not as impressive in the bench press drills as he'll prove in the 40-yard dash and vertical jump Monday. The 6-5, 266 pounder lifted the bar "just" 21 times -- a number topped by seven running backs.
It is important recognize that the bench press measures strength and endurance -- not necessarily the explosiveness so obvious in Clowney's game. Further, the bench press isn't an apples-to-apples comparison as Clowney's extremely long arms (34 1/2 inches) make lifting the bar more difficult for him than most.
Finally, it is worth recalling how some of the NFL's elite defensive ends fared in the bench press during their respective Combine workouts. Julius Peppers (Chicago Bears), Jason Pierre-Paul (New York Giants) and Robert Quinn (St. Louis Rams) registered 24, 19 and 22 reps.
2. Jason Verrett entered the 2013 season as arguably the top senior cornerback prospect in the country, but a shoulder injury suffered in game three vs. Texas Tech spoiled his final season at TCU. Now with his collegiate career in the rearview mirror, Verrett can focus on draft preparations, but that shoulder issue still lingers.
"I had a torn labrum, the back of my labrum," Verrett said about his shoulder injury. "But I played the rest of the season."
Verrett is scheduled to have surgery after his on-campus pro day on March 21, following a similar path as New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner, who had labrum surgery after his pro day a year ago. There were some concerns about Milliner's shoulder issue, but that didn't stop the New York Jets from drafting him ninth overall.
When asked if he considered sitting out to heal the injury, Verrett said "not at all" and downplayed the injury, explaining that it's a physical game and sometimes you have to play through the pain.
"I feel like I showed toughness throughout my whole career," Verrett said. "Being the size that I am, I'm going to have to be a lot more physical than the bigger guys."
Size is the "biggest" concern with Verrett who likely will be relegated to nickel duties after measuring in at 5-9, 189 pounds in Indianapolis. He's a tenacious and instinctive player who could challenge for a late first round selection if teams are confident in his recovery from the surgery.
1. The 2013 draft was the first time in 50 years that a running back was not selected in the first round. History appears likely to repeat itself, especially given shockingly slow times from some of the highest regarded running backs, including Carey, NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated back, whose 4.70-second time ranked him 29th out of the 33 running backs tested Sunday.
The 5-9, 207-pound back's staggeringly slow time will certainly drop his draft stock, though he plays much faster than this workout indicates. He's an instinctive, determined runner with good quickness whose soft hands and grit as a pass blocker make him a weapon on all three downs.
Though not as slow as Carey, LSU's Jeremy Hill and Ohio State's Carlos Hyde didn't necessarily help their causes with each clocking in at 4.66 seconds in the event - although Hyde appeared to pull up at the end of his first run with a hamstring injury and did not attempt a second run. Even highly touted speedsters De'Anthony Thomas (4.50) and Seastrunk (4.51) came in slower than expected.