Tennessee defensive lineman Malik Jackson and running back Tauren Poole were among the more than 300 participants in the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine that ran from Saturday to Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind.
Both went through the full gauntlet of tests that included interviews, the 40-yard dash, the bench press and the vertical leap among other tests. They hope the results bolster their status for the NFL Draft, which begins on April 26.
Jackson entered the combine looking to capitalize on being a bright spot for the Vols’ defense in 2011. The senior finished the season with 56 tackles, 2.5 sacks and garnered first-team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press.
He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.91 seconds, did 25 repetitions of the 225-pound bench press and recorded a vertical leap of 28 inches at the combine on Monday.
“He’s been a favorite of mine since he transferred from USC,” NFLDraftScout.com analyst Dane Brugler told Nooga.com.
The 6-foot-4, 284-pound Jackson left USC during the grace period given to Trojan upperclassmen after the NCAA sanctioned the school with a postseason ban for both the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Jackson showed up in Knoxville as a 250-pound defensive end, but he bulked up and became a full-time defensive tackle in 2011.
His experience at end and tackle could be viewed as a pro or a con by NFL scouts. Versatility can be a valuable asset, but uncertainty about how a player fits into a scheme can cause doubt as well.
“Some teams will see tweener and some will see versatile, depending on the scheme,” Brugler said. “I think he fits best as a traditional end in a four-man front who knows how to be effective if he needs to play a few snaps inside.”
Brugler was perhaps most impressed with the 284-pound weigh-in that Jackson had in Indianapolis. Jackson has now gained more than 70 pounds since he was first recruited by USC as a 210-pound defensive end.
“Where he ‘won’ was the weigh-in at a stout 284 pounds, and 33 and three-quarter-inch vines for arms,” Brugler said. “To me, Jackson is a fringe starter who can give me competitive snaps. I gave him a fourth-round grade because he’s a high-motor player who I can mold a little bit if I’m a coach.”
While Jackson was looking to move up higher in the draft, Poole used his time at the combine trying to earn his way into the later rounds.
A strong 40-yard dash time of 4.54 seconds ranked 12th among running backs, while his 24 repetitions at 225 pounds was good for fifth in his position group.
Poole is trying to erase the doubts of scouts who may be concerned with his 3.7 yards-per-carry average in 2011, a year after averaging 5.1 per carry in 2010.
“Tauren caught my eye as a junior, eclipsing 1,000 yards and having the only 100-yard game against Alabama in a 58-game span,” Brugler said. “However, he, like the entire Tennessee offense, struggled in 2011. He was the only senior starter, so a lot was on his shoulders and he underachieved.”
Poole hasn’t let his 693-yard senior campaign keep him from doing all he can in the offseason to get back to being a draftable prospect. Along with his impressive performance at the combine, Poole also stood out in practices leading up to the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 21.
“He has made the most out of the pre-draft process with a strong showing in the East/West Shrine Game,” Brugler said. “He looked like the most talented running back there, which I didn’t expect, and then good results at the NFL combine.”
Despite standing out at the Shrine Game and the combine, Brugler thinks Poole still faces hurdles to become a regular in the NFL.
“He doesn’t possess any explosive or distinguishing traits,” he said. “He is draftable late, but backs like him are a dime a dozen at the pro level. He will need to vastly improve in pass protection in order to find the field.”