(Note: Profiles of players who participated in the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine are not meant to reflect the opinions or interest of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' actual player personnel evaluators.)
At the NFL Scouting Combine, draft prospects run through a variety of overlapping commitments with players at other positions. For instance, offensive linemen may be running 40-yard dashes on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf at the same time running backs are putting up bench press reps and linebackers are undergoing medical examinations.
For each position group, however, the sequence of events is the same, all leading up to the on-field workouts on the last of a four-day stay in Indianapolis. This particular set-up means that players conduct their interview sessions in the media workroom before they show off their speed and agility to the scouts. Reporters don't have the opportunity to question a player about a particularly good or disappointing 40 time, but they can ask them how they think they are going to do in such drills.
Some players will answer that type of inquiry with a specific prediction, others will just shrug it off. Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd, who came to Indianapolis hoping to solidify his stock as a first-round pick in the draft, gave about as honest answer as one could give to the question of how fast he would run the 40-yard dash.
"I don't know yet," said Floyd. "I'm hoping and praying that it will be a good number."
Floyd knew he had a lot riding on that number when he came to Indianapolis. At 220 pounds and somewhere between 6-2 and 6-3, the former Fighting Irish star has the size NFL teams covet, as long as it is paired with enough speed. Scouts say he has excellent hands, runs routes well, consistently beats press coverage at the line and can make adjustments in the air to snare difficult passes. All of that can define a possession receiver who has a nice NFL career ahead of him or a potential difference-maker who can transform an offense. The deciding factor between the two is speed.
On Sunday, Floyd made his move. In the middle of a workout that was roundly praised in all of its aspects, from the sureness of his hands to the fluidity of his cuts, Floyd ran his 40 in 4.47 seconds. Some were expecting a finish in the mid to high-4.5s, so this represented a very positive answer to the only real question about his game.
The effect on his stock, at least in terms of the media's collection of mock drafts, was immediate. He is now widely considered the likely second receiver off the board after Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, and some analysts are suggesting he could crack the top half of the first round. Actual NFL scouts and personnel evaluators are probably not swinging their judgments so drastically; one four-and-a-half period in February isn't going to overwhelm a full-picture scouting report developed over several years.
Still, it doesn't hurt Floyd to see his perceived value skyrocket; perhaps teams hoping to pounce on him in the second round will realize they have to move earlier. Floyd very likely improved the spot he'll be taken at in late April with his Combine performance, and that was his plan all along.
"[I want to show] how fast I am," he said before his official workout. "I am doing all the drills. I'm excited to be in this position and to have the opportunity to showcase my talent. I really like the big frame that I am. I'm comfortable at this height and weight and feel I can run very well."
Floyd said his favorite NFL receivers – and the type of player he aspires to be – are Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson. Obviously, those three are some of the most impactful pass-catchers in the game, all making the most of that coveted size-speed combination. Floyd has been compared by others to Anquan Boldin, and while that may not be his ultimate target, even that is high flattery. Boldin has 727 catches, 9,244 yards and 54 touchdowns during nine marvelous seasons with Arizona and Baltimore.
Like Boldin, Floyd enters the draft as a player who has already proved to be productive, rather than an elite athlete who is projected to be better at the NFL level. Boldin had 65 catches for 1,011 yards and 13 touchdowns in his senior season at Florida State. Floyd just finished a career-best campaign with 100 receptions for 1,147 yards and nine scores.
In addition, Floyd has had the benefit of learning two different offensive styles during his four years at Notre Dame, including Charlie Weis' pro-inspired attack for two years.
"It's a lot different from Coach [Brian] Kelly's, being in the spread," said Floyd of Weis' offense. "Coming from being in that position and now going into the NFL, I think Coach Weis is more like an NFL scheme. It's good that I learned both of them and I have a little bit of experience in both."
No one questions Floyd's pro-readiness or his wide-ranging skill set. He is even considered one of the best run-blocking receivers in this year's draft class. Last weekend, he was able to answer one of the remaining questions about his value as a prospect by nailing his 40-yard dash. The other big question, he had to address with his mouth, and he likely had to do so close to 30 different times.
The one blemish on Floyd's stay at Notre Dame were a trio of run-ins with the law, including a drunk driving arrest roughly a year ago. As Buccaneers.com mentioned in a story filed during the Combine, Floyd was one of several players who had to address problems in their past with teams who sat them down for 15-minute interviews during the evening.
Floyd told his potential suitors that he had grown from his mistakes and was moving forward. He said he participated in classes with other Notre Dame students regarding alcohol issues and actually enjoyed the experience. He was deeply appreciative of the help he received from Coach Kelly in overcoming his issues, and for the opportunity to play again in his senior season.
Now he simply needs to convince teams that he will not bring any baggage into the next stage of his career. He wouldn't want to see the improvement he made in his draft stock on the field in Indianapolis be countered by a bad impression in the interview room.
"All I can do is be honest and tell them exactly what happened in my past and go on from there," he said. "I think I've grown a lot. Coming to the NFL now, I think you do have to mature a great deal. Like they say, this is a professional sport and you've got to act like a professional."
Floyd won't be able to fully answer questions about his character and maturity until he gets to the NFL. So far, however, he's done a good job of answering those he can, including the big one about his speed. It was a good weekend in Indy for the big receiver from Notre Dame; that may translate to an even better weekend during the 2012 NFL Draft.