Buffs Spotlight: Recapping the Buffs at the NFL Combine

Over the course of the last two weeks, the CUI’s Jack Stern explored potential landing spots for the four Colorado Buffaloes invited to the NFL Combine: Chidobe Awuzie, Sefo Liufau, Tedric Thompson and Ahkello Witherspoon. Now that it’s over, here’s a look at how each player’s performance affected their draft stock.

Chidobe Awuzie: If there were any questions as to why Awuzie was such a highly touted prospect, he silenced them on Monday. Despite being previously overlooked by many because of other secondary prospects in the Pac-12, “Cheetoh” made sure to leave a lasting impression. He finished the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.43 seconds. By comparison, this was a mere tick of a second slower than USC speed-burner and gadget extraordinaire Adoree Jackson, who finished it in 4.42 seconds. Both were faster than Washington cornerback Sidney Jones, who finished in 4.47 seconds.

Physicality is an important skill for NFL cornerbacks, as they need to be able to contend with bigger and stronger receivers, often in a jump-ball situation. One of the skills used to measure strength is the bench press, where Awuzie finished with 16 reps. This was significantly more than several higher-ranking prospects, including Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, Clemson’s Cordrea Tankersley and Florida’s Quincy Wilson.

Although that doesn’t mean he should be drafted higher than any of these players, it certainly shows his physical skill-set and overall strength. He can physically compete with this year’s top prospects, and has shown no justifiable reason why he can’t be Pro-Bowl cornerback at the next level. His performance at the combine served to reinforce belief that he is a athletic, sticky, cover corner who can contend with the NFL’s best. Projected as a second or third round pick, Awuzie could very well see his stock rise come draft day.

Sefo Liufau: Out of all of the quarterbacks in attendance at the combine, Liufau might’ve done the most to hurt his overall stock. The recently graduated Buff was unable to finish above 10th (out of 15 quarterback participants) for any of the events.

Liufau particularly struggled with the 40-yard dash and the vertical jump. Despite his attractive 6-foot-4 inch, 230-pound frame and known running ability, he finished the 40-yard dash in a pedestrian 5.08 seconds — dead last. Additionally, he finished in a two-way tie for second to last with a 27-inch vertical jump.

Two prospects of similar caliber, Cooper Rush of Central Michigan and Joshua Dobbs of Tennessee, performed substantially better on the 40-yard dash. Dobbs also finished well above Liufau with a 33-inch vertical jump, while Rush tied him with a 27-inch leap. While Rush tied on the vertical jump, he also performed substantially better on several other drills, including the three-cone and precision-passing drill.

Although Liufau did poorly on the technical drills, the area where Liufau likely hurt his stock the most was his performance on the precision passing drills. Coming off a career at Colorado where he struggled particularly with consistency, especially with passing, it was important to make a good impression on scouts and silence doubters. Unfortunately, Liufau did just the opposite. According to a source from milehighsports.com, Liufau “was perhaps the least accurate quarterback in Indianapolis.”

While Liufau has the prototypical body, work ethic and leadership skills to succeed at the next level, he definitely put his skill-set into question. Following his poor performance, it is becoming less likely that any team will want to take a chance on a lanky, inaccurate, relatively slow quarterback, particularly as a late-round pick.

Although Liufau is a fierce competitor, team leader and someone who left a Rocky-esque impression on Buffs fans (remember “the rise”), the greatest likelihood is he gets picked up as an undrafted free agent as some kind of project. Whether the project includes running the scout team, holding a clipboard, following the position-change trend in the NFL or something in between, the former Buff saw his stock plummet last weekend.

Tedric Thompson: Out of all the Buffs at the combine, Tedric had the most predictable, average performance. Unfortunately for him, some of the other safeties, who are also mid-round projections, performed much better, most notably Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu, who put on a absolute clinic. Melifonwu stole the show with an impressive 4.4-second 40 time, 44-inch vertical jump and a 141-inch broad jump that looked like some sort of stunt trick straight out of a Hollywood film.

Thompson finished in the lower-end for all three of these with a 4.6-second 40, 32.5-inch vertical and 117-inch broad jump. In addition to falling below Melifonwu, he also fell below several other notable players of a similar caliber including Utah’s Marcus Williams and Boston College’s John Johnson.

Barring an extreme performance on either side of the spectrum, good or bad, it is rare that the combine heavily influences a player’s draft stock. Thompson’s situation should not differ. Thompson has proven time after time that he is a smart, physical player with leadership potential. It’s no secret that he has the ability to be a difference-maker on the field. After all, he was part of the group that turned around a Colorado problem that was downright embarrassing for many years. Despite his below-average performance in Indianapolis, don’t be surprised if Thompson is picked up earlier rather than later come April.

Ahkello Witherspoon: Leaving a positive impression for Ahkello was equally as important as it was for his former teammate Chidobe Awuzie — fortunately, he did just that. The guy whose 6-foot-3-inch frame scouts have fallen in love with had a great workout, and seems to continue to climb up draft boards by the hour.

One of the most important tests for Ahkello was the vertical jump. Since he’s on the tall side, it was important for him to show off his ability to go up high, a skill that’s crucial when competing with receivers for a jump ball. Witherspoon finished with a 40.5-inch vertical jump, first among cornerbacks, and was the only corner to have a higher than 40-inch vertical.

Although there are many higher-ranking cornerbacks in this year’s draft, Ahkello showed what makes him special. He is part of the rare group who can go up as high as he needs to to get the ball. Many of the smaller guys in this year’s class are going to have trouble doing that, especially considering that many of them are in the sub-6-foot range.

When they’re competing for a jump ball with a receiver who is slightly taller than them, such as Dallas Cowboys’ 6-foot-2-inch wide receiver Dez Bryant, it’s going to be hard to high-point the ball since he’s a few inches taller.

As much as these prospects may have been able to do it at the college level, many of them will be in for a rude awakening upon entering the NFL. Especially when they’re competing with bigger, stronger, more athletic guys who commit the better part of many days to getting stronger, and timing their leap perfectly. Ahkello’s performance on the vertical jump reaffirmed scouts’ belief that he is one of the bigger cornerbacks in the draft who has the physical ability to compete with the NFL’s biggest. Look for him to continue to rise up boards.

Contact CU Independent sports writer Jack Stern at jack.stern@colorado.edu

Jack Stern

Jack Stern is a staff sports writer for the CU Independent. He is a know-it-all sports fan who soaks up anything sports related. His favorite sports are football, baseball, and basketball, but is always excited to learn about, and cover other sports. For story ideas, he can be contacted at jack.stern@colorado.edu or by phone at 718-938-5846.

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