It was Spandex Theater.
Alabama LB Dont'a Hightower and Memphis DT Dontari Poe both could have earned themselves a few million dollars more than they would have received before the NFL Scouting Combine with impressive performances, Poe in particular.
The nose tackle project showed very few on earth - if any - have as much athleticism to go with his 346-pound frame. He cranked out a 4.98 in the 40-yard dash, and an eye-popping 44 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
Does it make him the front-runner of SteelerNation for the 24th overall pick?
Not quite as physically impressive for his position, but unexpected, Hightower ran an unofficial 4.62 in the 40-yard dash, but his official time was posted at 4.68. If his unofficial time had counted, in my estimation, Hightower would have been the front-runner, but it's tough to draft an inside linebacker with 4.68 speed in the first round, regardless of his production on the field.
It's not impossible, though.
That extra six hundreths of a second means a great deal in the game of football, but the inside linebackers in Dick Lebeau's defense play zone and attack the line of scrimmage far more often than they cover in man, thus not making speed the first, last and only criterion for success. The ability to take blockers on and shed them while locating the ball carrier is critical in that position, and it's a strength of Hightower's.
First round picks, though, usually possess something elite, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin loves the athletic monsters. Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons ran an official 4.62 at the Combine, and while he weighs 28 pounds less (232) than Hightower (260), his explosiveness is what drew the Steelers to take him with the 15th overall pick in 2007. Do the Steelers believe Hightower could pair with the ultra athletic Timmons in the future?
That time is faster than Patriots LB Brandon Spikes, though, another linebacker whose draft stock fell to the second round due to concerns with his speed. Spikes was taken by New England in the second round of the 2010 draft, and has played well in his two seasons, but isn't an every-down player.
Poe wouldn't be an every down player, either, but with time and development, his physical gifts simply exceed those of anyone else, and could be trained into an absolute machine at nose tackle for the Steelers. It's not common that a nose tackle runs 40 yards in a straight line, but his 10-yard split (more indicative of a lineman's burst and first step explosion) was unofficially clocked at 1.70 - ridiculous for a guy his size.
For the sake of comparison, Baltimore's Terrence Cody ran a 5.71 at the Combine in 2010, and was 10 pounds heavier than Poe's 346.
To boil it down between these two, Hightower showed it on the field, leading the nation's best defense to a national championship, but won't be the best athlete available, should he be on the board when the Steelers pick at 24. Poe's production on the field doesn't match his freakish workout skills, and there are defensive tackles in this draft who played at a higher level and produced more. Some argue Poe had little help around him and constantly faced double if not triple teams. Nose tackles in 3-4 defenses who are not double-teamed on every play are simply not very good pro nose tackles, and the guys doubling him will be better than what Poe saw in Conference USA.
It's going to be a hot debate over the next two months leading into April's draft.