Just a few months ago, senior running back Tyler Gaffney was pummeling his way to earning hard-earned yards against some of the most physical defensive fronts in the Pac-12, earning a reputation as a hard-nosed, sturdy back. At the 2014 NFL Combine over the weekend, however, the two-sport star turned quite a few heads around the country when he showed an ability to be fast and mobile in addition to his established skillset as a power back.
Granted, Gaffney’s speed and mobility shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise — he was a star outfielder for the Cardinal baseball team and manned the outfield in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system in his year off from football, after all. Even so, it came as a shock to many around the nation when the San Diego native outpaced Oregon speedster De’Anthony Thomas in the 40-yard dash with his time of 4.49 — which tied him with Washington’s Bishop Sankey for the fastest mark amongst Pac-12 running backs at the combine.
In addition to showing off his speed, Gaffney highlighted his mobility and agility with fantastic showings in both the three-cone drill and the 60-yard shuttle. In the three-cone drill, which primarily tests change-of-direction ability coupled with speed, Gaffney’s time of 6.78 was second among all running backs that attended the combine, while his 11.36 in the 60-yard shuttle — testing lateral mobility — was the best among all of the running backs by a wide margin.
Although the Pittsburgh Pirates had extended an invitation to Gaffney when he left the team to return to their organization after he finished with football, Gaffney’s strong showing at the combine likely did nothing but improve his stock in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft. It likely could help him realize a career in professional football that will provide him with multiple options moving forward.
Gaffney’s counterpart in the backfield, fullback Ryan Hewitt, attended the combine as a running back and showcased his strong movement skills with a top-10 showing in the three-cone drill and a top-20 showing in the 20-yard shuttle. As a fullback that was predominantly a blocker instead of a runner during his senior year, his agility that was emphasized in a field of standout running backs will likely work in his favor, as his size and strength coupled with his mobility constitute a strong skillset for a fullback at the next level.
Offensive tackle Cameron Fleming and unanimous All-American offensive guard David Yankey also made the trip to Indianapolis, and while they did not stand out amongst the offensive linemen in the bench press — partly due to strength and conditioning coach Shannon Turley’s lack of emphasis on pure strength — or the 40-yard dash, they still figure to be strong options for teams come the draft. In particular, Yankey has developed a reputation as one of the best pulling guards in the nation during his time at Stanford.
On the defensive side of the ball, Stanford sent free safety Ed Reynolds, defensive end Josh Mauro and linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. Although Murphy did not stand out in the 40-yard dash or the bench presses, he excelled at the 3-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle, again displaying the agility and mobility that he developed through Turley’s system. Those numbers, coupled with his exceptional ability as a pass rusher, likely make him an attractive early-round option for teams, along with Skov, whose intelligent and physical play has made him a cornerstone of Stanford’s powerful defense over the last several years.
Reynolds also had a strong combine, finishing in the top 10 in both the 40-yard dash (4.57) and the bench press (15) and in the top 15 in both the broad and vertical jumps. Although he figures to be a later pick in the draft, the strong fundamentals that he displayed at the combine will likely work in his favor nonetheless.
The 2014 NFL Draft is scheduled to begin on May 8, with the eight players that attended the combine and defensive end Ben Gardner looking to be included among the draftees.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.