There was a great turnout at the Nike combine in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday, with more than 1,200 prospects on hand to participate in ideal weather and an ideal venue at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex. There were a handful of high-profile athletes who lived up to their national status with impressive SPARQ scores. The same can be said about a few under-the-radar prospects whom we think are on their way to breaking out with help from their strong performances.
As we have stated numerous times in the past, 40 times and combines in general do not measure the total football player in terms of college projection. But they are a good way to supplement our Scouts Inc. evaluations, which will be starting imminently.
Ed Christian, OT, Junior, Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes
What stood out: A combine venue is not usually an ideal setting for an offensive line prospect to showcase his talents, but Christian certainly passed the eyeball test and posted some excellent scores in a few events. The recent FSU commit looked all of 6-foot-4, and his body was a well-layered 285 pounds of bulk. He ran and moved well for his size. Most importantly, we feel he will be able to carry 300 pounds at the next level while retaining his current athleticism. He had an impressive power ball score (39) showing his good upper-body strength to run block. Christian told us he needs to improve his pass protection and overall footwork. That will be a must to play left offensive tackle -- the position the Georgia native said he is being recruited at -- for the Seminoles. He will certainly have some work to do, considering he is coming from a run-oriented offense at Lowndes.
Roy Finch, RB, Junior, Niceville, Fla.
What stood out: Finch came into the day as an ESPNU 150 Watch List prospect, and he flashed the speed in Orlando to back up the early hype. The short (5-foot-7) but well-put-together running back boasted a 4.6 laser-timed 40 on grass and also a respectable vertical jump, giving us a glimpse of his explosiveness. His low center of gravity, burst and straight-line speed have garnered him some impressive BCS offers, but it will be interesting to see on film how he projects as a quicker, outside zone runner in college; his pedestrian shuttle time of 4.8 hints of a more straight-line, downhill runner. Finch accumulated more than 2,000 yards of total offense last fall but is still looking to become more of a complete back. He told us he wants to concentrate on improving his blitz pickup in pass protection.
Benjamin McRoy, ATH, Junior, Lakeland, Fla.
What stood out: Speed. McRoy ripped off one of the faster 40 times of the day and early combine season with a blazing 4.37 -- on grass! The short but well-defined prospect from Florida power Lakeland High School played predominantly corner last fall as a junior, but he said that could change in the future; his coaching staff has talked about getting this burner reps at running back. McRoy weighed in at 159 pounds and admits he needs to add some size and strength to play press-man coverage at the next level. Although the offers have not rolled in yet, we are expecting his strong performance in Orlando to open some eyes. McRoy is receiving interest from schools such as Florida, Duke, Georgia Tech and LSU. It should be no surprise the Gators are at the top of his list; former Lakeland star and current Florida running back Chris Rainey has remained in contact. Since Florida is a program that is enamored with recruiting the fastest team in America, McRoy could start to garner more interest from the Gators.
Terrence Mitchell, CB, Junior, Tampa, Fla./Hillsborough
What stood out: Mitchell showed some good initial burst and explosion throughout the day and posted some respectable times. Considering Mitchell is a corner who boasts a handful of BCS offers entering spring evaluations -- including one from FSU -- we expected to see a faster 40 time than his 4.69, but Mitchell said his game is not all about speed. He prides himself on his coverage technique, but admits he needs to add size and get stronger (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) to match up against today's bigger college receivers.
Markis Merrill, WR, Junior, St. Augustine, Fla.
What stood out: Merrill posted one of the faster 40 times of the day (4.5), along with an impressive overall SPARQ score. The Florida native said he can do better and has been consistently clocked in the 4.45 range (for the 40). Merrill said coach Billy Gonzales is recruiting him for the Gators. As of right now, the athletic prospect, who doubles as a corner, only has one official offer and it's from the Arkansas Razorbacks. The 5-foot-11 speedster can certainly stretch the field vertically, but Merrill said he wants to improve his route-running skills and is hoping for a big senior season to open more eyes on the recruiting trail.
Desmond Cooper, Safety, Junior, Jacksonville, Fla./The Bolles School
FIU has done a great job identifying under-the-radar, in-state talent. The program may have found another talented sleeper in Cooper. The measurables are certainly there, at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds with 4.47 speed. He also looked flexible throughout the day during different events. Cooper said he backs up his size with a hitter's mentality on the field; we are looking forward to evaluating his film and tracking his recruiting development. Right now, the Golden Panthers represent his only offer, but Cooper said he is receiving interest from bigger BCS schools like Clemson and Florida.