The 2011 NFL Combine is entering its final two days of drills with the defensive linemen and linebackers working out today and defensive backs wrapping things up tomorrow. If you were wondering what was worth watching this week from a 49ers fan perspective, positional drills yesterday, today, and tomorrow are really where it is at. Quarterback, defensive line, linebacker, and defensive back all represent positions where the 49ers could use an upgrade or at least some serious depth help.
Today's positional drills feature the defensive line showing their pass rushing skills while the linebackers will be looking to show their ability to defend against the pass. You'll be able to watch the coverage on NFL Network or via a live cam at nfl.com. NFL.com will have a pair of cameras showing the 40-yard dash, positional skill drills, vertical leap, broad jump, three-cone drill and shuttle drill. The positional skill drills can be viewed at 10:00am, 11:30am, and 1:30pm
Although 3-4 defensive linemen are often used more for occupying offensive linemen than actually rushing the quarterback, Justin Smith showed how valuable a pass rushing defensive lineman can be in the 3-4. The defensive linemen are drilled in their rip and swim moves. Mike Mayock describes the rip/swim drill here. The players are tested going to their right and to their left. A bag will be set up approximately four yards away from the defensive lineman to simulate the offensive tackle. Additionally, a coach has a broom with a football attached it. The coach will move the broom and ball at which point the defensive lineman is meant to take off and complete the drill. The general idea is to see how he does with the moves, but also the speed off the line.
The linebackers drill is something Mayock calls the pass drop and hip rotation drill. In this drill a coach faces the linebacker while holding a football. The coach starts the player with a five-yard backpedal. The coach will send the player in one direction (using the ball to send them), then another direction. The drill wraps up with the coaching bringing the player home, at which point the player has to plant, pivot and run back to the coach as the coach throws him a football to catch and return.
We hear a lot about players with stiff and fluid hips and this drill is a way for scouts to assess this ability in action. This drill is of added importance for college defensive ends that will find themselves transitioning to outside linebacker at the next level. While their pass rushing skills are still incredibly important, they need to be able to drop back in coverage to show they can be an every-down linebacker.
Earlier this month Drew put together a look at linebackers and defensive linemen with the most to gain or lose. As we prepare for today's drills, there are a few guys to whom I will be paying close attention. Among the linebackers, guys like Robert Quinn and Von Miller will be interesting to watch in the pass coverage positional drill. Quinn has been off the field for a year so that in itself makes his Combine workout intriguing. Miller has worked as a linebacker and defensive end, so I'm curious to see how he drops back in coverage.
Among the defensive linemen there are a ton of big names. Marcell Dareus has cropped up in 49ers mock drafts, so I'll pay attention to him. Stephen Paea stunned folks with a record-breaking bench press yesterday so it will be interesting to see what he can bring to the table in drills that are at least a little more related to what he needs to do on the field.
However, I really want to see what Cameron Jordan can do today. He had a strong performance during Senior Bowl week and measured out incredibly well yesterday. Although the drills today don't measure everything he can do on the field (or really come close to it), if he can put together a strong performance he might be able to work his way into a top ten draft pick. He still has his Pro Day in ten days but given the relatively controlled nature of that environment I'd imagine it will only help his stock. Crazy things could happen, but I'm betting on a solid Pro Day performance.
At this point I think he's in a tweener position as far as where he'll end up in the draft. I think he won't be a guy the 49ers can spent a top ten pick on, but I also don't think a trade down would net enough for where I feel Jordan could be drafted. I could be wrong, but it's just my sense right now. Nonetheless I want to see what he can do in these drills today.