Dee Milliner likely cemented his status as a top 10 pick on Tuesday at the NFL Combine. In fact, his Combine performance may have even improved his draft stock, with several well known analysts projecting him to fall no further than the Detroit Lions 5th overall pick.
Milliner set the Twitters aflame Tuesday morning, as news of his 40 yard dash times began to percolate. His first attempt, clocked unofficially as a 4.29, made NFL scouts drool. His 40 time was that much more amazing when one considers Milliner is a solid 200 pounds to boot. With his 6'1" frame, pro scouts have seen nothing to discourage NFL teams from giving Milliner a look in the first round.
Ultimately, Milliner's official time reflected a 4.37 in the 40, with only Darius Slay of Mississippi State clocking a better time by one-hundredth of a second amongst defensive backs (Insert ESS-EEE-SEE Speed claim here). Milliner also illustrated that he is more than just fast, showing better than middle of the pack in the other physical drills on the day. Milliner's specs break down as follows:
40 yard- 4.37
Bench press- N/A (due to shoulder injury)
Broad jump- 122.0"
Cone drill- 6.95
20 yd shuttle- 4.32
60 yd shuttle-
While Dee was already considered the top defensive back in this year's draft, his performance at the Combine provided scouts with more concrete evidence of his potential. Given his physical measurables, he has the body to compete for many years as an NFL defensive back. Enter into the equation the fact that he has innate ball skills, a natural aggressiveness and the fact that he cut his teeth under the premier defensive backs tutor in the college game, and Milliner now looks more like a "can't miss" prospect than ever.
Unfortunately for his cohort in the defensive backfield, Robert Lester's Combine performance only cast an even more critical light on his potential as an NFL safety.
While Lester was a stalwart on a Bama defense that won three championships during his career, he has struggled to make an impression on pro scouts at both the Senior Bowl and at the Combine. His results have not been poor, but neither have they distinguished him from his fellow safety prospects.
For example, Lester's best time in the 40 was a rather pedestrian (by NFL standards) 4.68. This is not a terrible time...if you are a defensive lineman (or play defense for Notre Dame). Most of the safeties in this year's draft have run in the 4.5 range-- some a little faster, others a little slower.
Lester's other results provided further evidence that he will have a tough sell in convincing NFL scouts to take a chance on him. His numbers were as follows:
40 yard- 4.68
Bench press- N/A
Broad jump- 117.0"
Cone drill- N/A
20 yd shuttle- N/A
60 yd shuttle- N/A
Scouts have made remarks that Lester is a good enough player, but that he does not possess the skill set that would guarantee his success at the next level. In other words, he's a solid college level player, but has done nothing to convince outsiders that he will be a solid NFL player. His Combine results were middle-of-the road at best, and at times, Lester's results fell into the bottom segment of those invited to participate in this year's event.
Lester will likely get a look as a special teams player, and there's a strong possibility he could go undrafted. Lester may have an opportunity to join on with a team as a free agent, however, as teams with a need at safety may be willing to give him a chance. That being said, it's not outside the realm of possibility for Lester to go in the first seven rounds, and he could work himself into the rotation of some team's defensive backfield. After all, many of the same criticisms were levied at former Bama safety Rashad Johnson prior to the 2009 NFL Draft, and he has acquitted himself well in his time with the Arizona Cardinals. The Combine gives players a chance to show potential. Unfortunately for Lester, he was not able to leverage his Senior Bowl and Combine experiences to improve his stock.