Originally written on Eagles Eye  |  Last updated 11/12/14
Who among us has not suffered a Shamarko Thomas moment in life? Taking a header at the end of a 40-yard dash in the NFL Combine (or tripping on one's gown on the way to the stage at the Oscars) is life's way of reminding us we are human---and ultimately fallible, But Thomas survives...and will prevail in the NFL Draft. As Frank Perdue of gamedayr.com reminds us, Shamarko Thomas can handle a little physical abuse. At 213 pounds, in fact, the former Syracuse star is poised to dole some out at the next level — and he proved that at the 2013 NFL Combine. Thomas put up 225 pounds a whopping 28 times, the most reps of any defensive back. He also posted an insanely impressive 40.5-inch vertical leap--- and officially clocked in his 40-yard dash at an explosive 4.42 seconds. However, it is what happened right after crossing the finish line that is going to make the blogosphere rounds, not Thomas’ spectacular overall Combine performance.The dude bit it hard, taking a tumble onto the artificial turf. But real football fans and pro scouts will dwell longer on Thomas' outstanding overall performance in the Combine drills and measurables.         That's more like it!--- a more typical Shamarko Thomas faceplant.... Thomas has great football instincts and ability. He doesn't have to worry that his talents went unnoticed. The NFL is a passing league and more than ever the need for very good defensive backs is essential. When you, as a team, have to go up against elite quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, Big Ben and others, you have to have — at a minimum — three good corners. The nickel cornerback, a rotation guy in the past, is now a starter in reaction to the proliferation of three- and four-wide formations. The evolution of the tight end as a receiver now mandates that safeties have also had to change from just playing in the box to playing man cover on the TE as well as moving out and into zone coverage. Even now, guys are asked to cover receivers one play and move in as an extra linebacker the next, a la Charles Woodson. All of that being said, defensive back is considered the "easiest" position to transition to from college to the pros. So why an NFL Combine battery of drills for them when everyone participating was a lock-down defensive back at the amateur level? Well, a slow 40-yard dash could show that a prospect would not be able to stay with the faster receivers in the NFL. Conversely, a player with a greater vertical jump could make more plays in the air against top receivers. Finally, the on-field drills allow scouts and coaches to see if a defensive back has quick enough feet to play in man coverage. On Tuesday, a few top college stars lived up to their expectations, while some lesser-known prospects turned some heads. Here are the top performances, reactions and results from the sixth day of the combine. If you ask NFL analysts who the best defensive back in the class is, almost down to a man the answer would be Dee Milliner. Although he will undergo surgery on a torn labrum in the next couple of weeks, he still impressed at the combine with a blazing time of 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Although the Alabama cornerback struggled catching balls in drills, cornerbacks are not generally asked to catch passes, but simply to make sure the receivers they cover don’t catch them either. While players at this position are not routinely selected early in the draft, Milliner should be taken in the top 10 in April. That is how good he is. One of the biggest question marks in the draft this year is former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, aka "Honey Badger"... After finishing the 2011 season as a Heisman finalist, he was kicked off the team after failing multiple drug tests. On Monday and Tuesday, he was looking to redeem himself in order to be selected at some point in the draft. He appeared apologetic for his mistakes during the interview process earlier in the week, but the player formally known as “Honey Badger” still had to prove himself out on the field. Mathieu did that on Tuesday with a solid 40-yard dash time of 4.50 seconds. The cornerback is small for the position at 5-foot-9, and only put up 225 pounds four times, a disappointing total. He makes up for his lack of size with his speed and the ball-hawking, play making ability that he showed at LSU. And he showed some dramatic ball skills on Tuesday in the on-field drills. All it takes is one team to fall in love with his potential and draft him early, although ultimately I think he could be a 4th or 5th round pick. In any case, he is certainly someone to watch over the next couple of months. While film shows how fast players are on the field, the 40-yard dash is the equalizer among all prospects. The Combine’s showcase event is completely independent of the level of competition players faced in college. When the official times were released, there were some surprising results at the top of the list. Johnthan Banks likely had the worst day, finishing with a 40-yard dash time of 4.61. While the physical cornerback should still be a high pick, this relatively slow time will certainly hurt his stock and may suggest a move to safety. He has a chance to redeem himself at his Pro Day. Banks was actually overshadowed on Tuesday by his Mississippi State teammate, Darius Slay. Slay is not as highly rated as Banks, but he had the best 40-yard dash time of the day at 4.36 seconds. Other notable cornerback times are Xavier Rhodes of Florida State with a solid 4.43, and Desmond Trufant of Washington, who had a great mark of 4.38. (Trufant is PPW's boy, as many of our readers here may know.) The top Safety prospects were nowhere near as fast, but both Kenny Vaccaro and the big-hitting Matt Elam posted acceptable times. Elam was better with a 4.53, while Vaccaro should be satisfied with a 4.63. This position requires less pure speed and more lateral quickness, which was on display in the drills. Safety T.J. McDonald looked very stiff, but for his size it’s not as big of a concern. After running a solid 4.53 in the 40-yard dash, he has cemented his standing as a 2nd round talent. Dwayne Gratz (UConn), Jamar Taylor (Boise State) and Leon McFadden (San Diego State) all showed they could hang with the big boys and are all making a good case for 3rd round spots. N.C. State CB David Amerson came into the season as an almost certain lock for a 1st round selection. Those aspirations went flying in the wind after a disastrous game against Tennesse and the Vols’ high flying offense. Amerson's ability has been questioned ever since. But running a 4.38 in the '40 has given analysts, scouts and even skeptical fans a reason to revisit the tape. Meanwhile Jordan Raanan of NJ.com tied a Philly bow on the Combine with an original perspective of the Eagles' involvement in all of the previous week's procedings:       "My first NFL Scouting Combine was a success. I talked to countless players, executives, scouts and agents. I heard lots of stories and information, some truths, some propaganda and some flat-out lies. It's my job to decipher what is true and relevant and pass it along to you. So, in regard to the Eagles, here goes. Here are four observations from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis: " Tom Gamble May Be the Eagles' Biggest and Best Acquisition this Offseason--- When talking to numerous NFL people about the Eagles, they provided unsolicited endorsements of Gamble, the team's new vice president of player personnel. He's universally respected around the league, both as a person and talent evaluator. According to one personnel executive, "Gamble was their best move this offseason." Remember, the Eagles also hired Chip Kelly as coach. The comment wasn't a knock on Kelly either. It was a compliment about Gamble's ability to find talent. This was a sentiment echoed by several others as well, including some people in the 49ers organization, where he just left apparently with no ill will. Nobody Seems to Know What to Expect from Chip Kelly's Offense--- Coaches, players and executives are just as curious to see what Kelly's offense looks like in its NFL version as Eagles fans. Nobody seems to know if it will be more like what it was at Oregon or what the Patriots run in New England. Or maybe it's a nice mix of both. The bottom line, the entire NFL will be keeping an eye on Eagles minicamp and OTAs. Expect the Eagles to Get Taller, Bigger, Tougher Under Kelly--- Kelly's laid out what he looks for in players at each position. General manager Howie Roseman's passed it along to his scouts and personnel people. The one thing we know at this point is that you can expect some bigger and longer players. "I'd say there is a little more of a stress going forward on that, on some height, weight and speed," Roseman said. The perception around the league (and likely the reality) is that the Eagles were a soft team. Kelly, Roseman and Gamble want that to change. It's the Wrong Year for Eagles to Have No. 4 Pick--- It's pretty much a unanimous opinion that this year is the wrong year to have a Top 5 pick. The 2013 NFL Draft lacks the premium players that usually sit at the top. It's a deep draft, but not top-heavy. The talent of the 14th pick is likely on par with that of the fourth pick. The players that will be drafted in the Top 10 likely would go 10-20 in a normal year. Take a look at the last five No. 4 overall picks: Matt Kalil, A.J Green, Trent Williams, Aaron Curry, Darren McFadden..... Kalil, Green, Williams and McFadden would all have been the top players at their position in this draft as well. But as GK Brizer would say---Prospice... Let's make the best of this opportunity. Trade-back potential abounds...  

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