Combine Snubs’ Pro Daze, Part I

This year, 335 college football players got invited to the NFL Combine. Many, many more did not. Those snubs hold our interest during pro days, when league scouts arrive on campuses across the country to see whom they may have missed.

Below, some athletes who excelled during their brief time in the spotlight, getting themselves some well-deserved (if belated) attention.

As always, kudos and thanks to Gil Brandt for his pro day blog, a must-see during this time of year.

The Purdue Purview: Defensive tackle Bruce Gaston (6-2, 308) of the Boilermakers had 34 reps in the bench press at Purdue’s pro day. That would have placed him third among defensive linemen at the combine. He also ran the 40-yard dash in a competitive 4.95 seconds and completed the short shuttle in 4.59 seconds. Teammate Kevin Pamphile (6-5, 310), an offensive tackle, ran an impressive 4.94-second 40, a time that would have ranked fourth best among OLs in Indianapolis. Add a 32-inch vertical to the mix (tied for second-best), and you’ve got to start wondering why he got overlooked.

Not At Liberty: College cornerback/NFL safety candidate Walt Aikens of Liberty University (6-1, 203) ran the 40 in 4.46 seconds, the short shuttle in 4.28 seconds, and the 3-cone drill in 7.09 seconds. His 40 time would have qualified for second-best among combine safeties, while his short shuttle (ninth) and 3-cone (10th) both would have made the top 10. Aikens tied for his team’s lead in tackles with 62 on the year, including one sack. He also nabbed three interceptions and broke up six passes.

Lawrence Of Air-abia: Northwestern receiver Rashad Lawrence (6-1, 196) leapt 39 inches at his pro day, which would have tied him for sixth among pass-catchers at the combine. His 10-foot, 7-inch broad jump would have tied him for third best receiver. He also would have qualified for top 15 among pass-catchers in the 20-yard shuttle (4.04 seconds) and the 3-cone drill (6.83). Lawrence had a respectable 4.50 40. The Wildcat co-captain started all 12 games, totaling 31 catches for 463 yards and a touchdown.

Left Out In The Colton: As a defensive end at Illinois State, Colton Underwood (6-3, 256) made an impression rushing the passer. In the NFL, he’ll probably switch to linebacker after proving he could do so at his pro day. Underwood had a 7.03-second 3-cone drill, good enough to rank 10th among combine linebackers. His best 40 (4.70 seconds) would have tied him for 11th. The rangy Redbird had 66 tackles in 2013, with 12 for loss (three sacks), nine QB hits and two forced fumbles.

They’re Going To Askew For Another Look: Considering a special teams project, perhaps? Nate Askew of Texas A&M (6-3, 242) torched his 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds, which would have placed him first among all linebackers at the combine (BC’s Kevin Pierre-Louis ran a 4.51). This fall, Askew, a former wide receiver who made the transition to linebacker in 2013, had 38 tackles (1.5 sacks) and three interceptions.

A Chip On His Shoulder: Central Michigan running back Zurlon Tipton (6-0, 223) ran the 40 in 4.70 seconds at the Chippewas’ pro day, but – more importantly, considering his size – he showed his quickness in the 3-cone drill in 6.89 seconds, which would have made him sixth among combine backs. Injuries limited Tipton this past fall, but in only five games he rushed for 398 yards (5.4 per carry) and scored eight touchdowns.

Taylor Made For Quarterback? Apparently not. Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez (6-0, 201) is looking to make it in the NFL, and he might have to do so somewhere besides the QB position. The Husker has some skills, shown in a 4.45-second 40, a 39-inch vertical, a 4.03 short shuttle and a 6.85 3-cone. According to Brandt, he worked out for scouts at quarterback, receiver and defensive back. A foot injury suffered in September limited Martinez for all but four games of 2013 (10 TDs, two INTs, 63 percent completion rate). As a junior in 2012, Martinez led the Big Ten in total offense with 278 yards per game.

You Don’t Bring Me Flowers: The combine folks missed an intriguing prospect in Marquis Flowers (6-3, 231), an outside linebacker out of Arizona. Flowers ran consecutive 4.50-second 40s, times that would have placed him first among linebackers in Indy. He also leapt 37 inches (eighth among LBs), and completed the 3-cone drill in 7.09 (11th, .01 behind Kahlil Mack of Buffalo). At Arizona, Flowers had 93 tackles (11 for loss), one interception and two fumble recoveries.

Love Shaq, Baby! Oh, a long-limbed defensive back? Yes, please. Arizona’s Shaquille Richardson (6-0, 194, with 32-inch arms) ran his best 40 in 4.43 seconds, top seven for combine defensive backs. A 38.5-inch vertical (tied for sixth), 4.17 20-yard shuttle (10th) and 6.85 3-cone (10th) would all have measured up to combine DB standards. For the Wildcats, Richardson had 55 total tackles, three interceptions and four pass break-ups.

Call Him “Lanky” For Short: Illinois running back Ryan Lankford (6-0, 163) ran his 40s in 4.39 and 4.40 seconds. The former would have tied for seventh-fastest overall at the combine. His 10-7 broad jump would have tied him for seventh among all offensive players in Indy, while his 6.83 3-cone would have tied him for third among running backs. Speed seems like his ticket to the pros, especially considering he weighs half as much as Vince Wilfork. Due to a shoulder injury suffered in October, Lankford only carried the ball seven times in 2013 for 39 yards (5.6-yard average) and caught 15 passes for 308 yards (20.5 average) and one TD. In 2012, he led the Illini in receiving yards (469) receiving TDs (five) and scoring (30 points).

Grin And Bearcat: Cincinnati had zero players invited to the combine, but on their pro day two in particular made scouts look a little silly. Tight end Blake Annen (6-4, 247) ran a 4.41 40, which would have been best among tight ends and tied him for 10th overall at the combine. His 7.19 3-cone drill (fifth among TEs), 4.30 short shuttle (tied for third) and 25 reps on the bench (tied for fifth) all would have made top five among combine TEs. Annen had 15 catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns in 2013. Teammate Sam Longo (6-5, 304), an offensive lineman, postponed drills due to an ankle injury, but he did manage to complete a whopping 47 bench press reps that would have been the most at the combine this year (UNC’s Russell Bodine had 42).

Not A Northern Light. Maybe A Northern Heavy? Lots of defensive tackles weigh around 291 pounds. Northern Arizona’s Tim Wilkinson happens to measure under 5-foot-10. The human wall safe ran a 5.09-second 40, had a 35-inch vertical and ran a 7.10-second 3-cone drill. His vertical would have tied him for ninth place among defensive linemen at the combine, while his 3-cone would have made him fourth – pretty impressive considering he’s competing with leaner defensive ends in that category. Wilkinson also had 27 bench reps. He totaled 28 tackles last year and led the Lumberjacks with 5.5 sacks.

Blow, Gabriel, Blow: New Englanders get exposed to a lot of wind, but it probably doesn’t effect their job applications. Abilene Christian receiver Taylor Gabriel (5-8, 167) ran two widely disparate 40-yard dashes at his pro day: 4.53 seconds against the wind, 4.28 with it. That 4.41 average would have tied Gabriel for 10th overall at the combine. Jumping 40 inches in the vertical and 10 feet, eight inches in the broad jump would have tied him for eighth overall and 10th overall, respectively, while his 6.84-second 3-cone would have tied him for 15th among combine receivers. The diminutive Gabriel led the Wildcats with 73 receptions for 1,060 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games. Gabriel returned punts for ACU, averaging 17.4 yards per return. He also ran the ball four times for 40 yards and threw one pass, a 50-yard TD.

May We Approach The Bench? Clemson guard Tyler Shatley (6-3, 300) had a pretty solid workout, running the 40 in 5.17 with a 30.5 inch vertical (tied for third among combine OLs). He really made his mark in the bench press, putting up 225 pounds 40 times, which would have placed Shatley second overall at the combine. In his senior year, Shatley served as co-captain for the Tigers and made the All-ACC Third Team from media and coaches.

Look for Part II of our Combine Snubs series next week.

You can email Chris Warner at [email protected] or tweet him at @cwarn89