The scouting combine wrapped up today, and coaches and evaluators are heading back to their offices in preparation for free agency, which begins at 9 p.m. Thursday. But before we officially shift into free agency mode, let's answer the 10 questions we had heading into the combine ...
1.) Receiver Michael Crabtree's camp already has said he will not run the 40. But two other receivers, Jeremy Maclin and Percy Harvin, have plenty to gain with a blazing time. Maclin right now is on the bubble as far as being a top 10 pick; Harvin could slide into the first half of the draft with a great combine.
Answer: Crabtree turned out to be two inches shorter than advertised and doctors discovered a stress fracture in his foot. He's now debating whether to run at his pro day next month or have the fracture surgically repaired so he'll be ready for minicamps. Maclin, meanwhile, hyperextended his knee during a pass drill. And while he ran in the 4.43- to 4.45-range, it was not as fast as he had hoped. The best 40 time of the trio was turned in by Harvin, but it wasn't a stunning time, either.
2.) Which 3-4 will linebacker prospect will emerge as the top player on the draft board? The battle among Brian Orakpo, Everette Brown and Aaron Maybin will be one of the highlights of the combine. Which guy will show in drills that he is athletic and smooth enough to drop back into coverage effectively? Keep an eye on how many times Orakpo hoists 225 pounds.
Answer: This one is in the eye of the beholder, but the order probably goes like this: Orakpo, Brown, Maybin. Orkapo is a senior who has been consistently good at Texas, he has an NFL-ready body and he handled all the combine tests well. There is less projection - and thus a smaller leap of faith - with Orakpo. However, he missed time at Texas with injuries and came up gimpy (hamstring) after running the 40 in Indy.
3.) Brown and Maybin's first test will be with the scale. Both were considered undersized last year in college, especially late in the season. Both need to be around 250 pounds to help their draft chances.
Answer: Both hit the mark when it came to weight, but like Crabtree, Brown was shorter than expected at 6-1 7/8. There's nothing wrong with a 6-1 or shorter pass rusher (See: Freeney, Dwight; Dumerville, Elvis), but it might give a team with a top 10 pick pause. I was impressed by Brown's 26 reps of 225 pounds. He's got very long arms and didn't cheat (use the ultra-wide Brian Cushing grip) when pumping them out. Orakpo, who has the reputation as a weight-room monster, had 31. For Maybin, the issue is bulk. He played at 230 pounds at Penn State and weighed in at 249 in Indy. He ran the slowest 40 time of the three and a team that drafts him high likely will have to wait while he adds real muscle. As Manny Lawson has shown, that can take a while.
4.) Tennessee defensive end Robert "Don't call me William" Ayers was one of the most impressive players at last month's Senior Bowl. The question is whether he has the speed and agility to be a 3-4 linebacker. Keep an eye on Ayers' 40 and shuttle times.
Answer: Ayers certainly didn't alter his steady climb up the charts. He ran a solid 4.76 in the 40. Teams will have to individually assess whether Ayers has the agilty to be a linebacker. The 49ers feel he can.
5.) Which of the second-tier will linebackers will emerge as the best prospect? A host of players should have fun fighting for first-round consideration, with Michael Johnson, Clint Sintim, Larry English, Paul Kruger, Connor Barwin and Ayers all looking to capture the scouts' eyes. One or two of these guys should still be on the board when the 49ers pick in the second round.
Answer: The two guys who jumped out in Indy were Barwin and Johnson. Barwin finished first among defensive linemen in four of the sixth drills and came in second in the 40 with a time of 4.66. Johnson usually was right behind him in each drill. Both, however, come with big question marks. Barwin mostly played tight end in college before being moved to defensive end his senior year. Teams such as the 49ers are looking at him as a linebacker. Johnson, meanwhile, showed flashes of unparalleled athleticism at Georgia Tech, but was extremely inconsistent.
6.) Who will emerge as the top left tackle in the draft? The Big Three: Andre Smith, Eugene Monroe and Jason Smith could all end up the top pick in the draft as Jake Long was last year. Michael Oher is in the next tier down and needs to ace the interview portion. A strong Wonderlic score would help him as well.
Answer: With Andre Smith's disappearing act, Monroe and Jason Smith now seem to be duking it out for the distinction of top tackle and perhaps top pick in the draft. If Andre Smith drops to the 49ers at No. 10, do they let him go by? There will be lots of handwringing in coming weeks, but I have to think the answer is, no. Smith is a massive talent, he fills a huge need and if there's anyone who can screw a young guy's head on tight, it's Mike Singletary.
7.) Will Malcolm Jenkins run in the mid-4.4's or lower in the 40? This could determine if he plays corner or safety in the NFL, and also moves him between the 4th-10th slot.
Answer: Yikes. Jenkins ran in the mid 4.5 range today. Two questions now emerge: Would he better at free safety, and if so, would he solve the 49ers' need at that position?
8.) Can safety William Moore stop his catastrophic draft free fall? Moore entered the season as a first-round prospect, but after a poor Senior Bowl he is probably a borderline 2-3 round player. He could fall completely outside the top 75 or even 100 picks if he looks stiff in drills and runs poorly. Moore has to stop the bleeding.
Answer: Moore probably didn't reverse course, but he at least stopped his free fall by running a couple of 4.53s (unofficially) today. Some lucky team will draft him in the second round and come away with a bargain.
9.) Who will emerge as the top middle linebacker after the combine? Rey Maualuga may pass on the positional drills, and that could hurt his status on draft day. Meanwhile, James Laurinaitis seems like he has a gigantic chip on his shoulders. In a news broadcast this week in Columbus, Laurinaitis said he wants to shock scouts and coaches with his athleticism. He feels some people label him a smart player with limited upside.
Answer: Maualuga injured his hamstring running the 40 and went down in a heap. Laurinaitis looked good in drills, but certainly didn't wow anybody. Their draft stock probably remained unchanged.
10.) Will Kansas State's Josh Freeman steal the show in the quarterback group this week and emerge as a high first round draft choice? He's got tremendous size and arm strength, and could emerge as the talk of the combine by the end of the week.
Answer: Freeman showed his athleticism in drills, but the quarterback who generated the most buzz was West Virginia's Pat White, who looked right at home among the other top-rated passers. Texas A&M's Stephen McGee, who ran a 4.66 40, also is intriguing.
-- Matt Barrows