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February 21, 2012

What we learned: Best of the Midwest

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MORE: Event preview | Smith feature | Top performers

INDIANAPOLIS - Monday's Best of the Midwest combine brought in top prospects not only from Indiana, but also from Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky and even Tennessee. It featured six Rivals250 prospects, as well as a number of under-the-radar prospects who made names for themselves with their performances.

Rivals.com's Josh Helmholdt reviews what was learned from the camp.

1. Smith taking game to next level

Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers linebacker Jaylon Smith jumped out to us at the NIKE Football Training Camp in Columbus last May as an obviously talented, at-the-time sophomore. His junior film furthered that strong impression and he made a high debut in the Rivals100 released earlier this month. Still, his performance on Saturday surpassed even our lofty expectations.

The one question with Smith was whether he would have the size to play a SAM linebacker role, which could highlight his abilities to rush the passer and play in space. Measuring in at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds at the beginning of his junior year, Smith is at least 6-3 now and his weight is close to 220 pounds. He has a narrow waist, but there is easily room on his frame to add 15-20 pounds of good weight.

With that question answered, then it was time to sit back and admire Smith's extraordinary athleticism. There's a natural feel for the game he demonstrates on the field, which comes through even during basketball season. Running two 4.4-second 40-yard dash times is nice, but it is the way he translates that to the field, with an explosive brand of power and speed. There's no question: Smith is an elite, national recruit.

2. Explosive Indiana defensive ends

Although they were not on the initial expected campers lists, both of the state of Indiana's Rivals250 defensive ends - Elijah Daniel of Avon and David Kenney of Indianapolis Pike - made it in for Monday's Best of the Midwest Combine. We had seen Daniel live last fall in a state playoff game, but this was our first time seeing Kenney outside of film.

Not having seen Kenney in person before, we were most interested to gauge his size. Listed at 6-2 and 250 pounds, we were pleased that the 6-2 height appeared to be accurate. That is not ideal, but is far from a major detraction. South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram is a likely first-round draft pick this year at 6-2 and Brandon Graham was a first-round pick in 2010 at just 6-1. Kenney said his weight is actually down to 240 pounds now from a high of 260, but that is a good thing because he looked cut up and carried little to no bad weight.

Daniel is taller and longer at 6-4 and 253 pounds, but the attribute both prospects share is an explosive first step. They are exceptionally quick out of the blocks and maintain that momentum through to the quarterback. Both will need to get stronger at the point of attack, but with a premium placed on speed off the edge in the college game, the two state of Indiana pass rushers will continue to rack up scholarship offers.

3. Big hitters

Just as there is a common theme between Kenney and Daniel, there is also an attribute common between Indianapolis Ben Davis safety Antonio Allen and Indianapolis Warren Central linebacker Tim Kimbrough - they are two of the most devastating hitters in the Midwest in 2013.

Both the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Allen and the 6-1, 216-pound Kimbrough are shorter, stockier players for their position, and a combine setting is not the best showcase for their skill sets, but we walked away more than pleased with what we saw out of both. Allen has a smooth backpedal and Kimbrough looked fluid turning to run with receivers and backs. They always will be known as hitters first, but both showed potential in pass coverage on Monday.

4. Indiana's receiver crop is legit

Although they have not generated the early hype or college attention that their in-state Rivals250 brethren have, Indiana's wide receiver corps is very deep in the junior class and could have as many as six or more who sign Division I letters of intent in 2013.

Brownsburg's Chase Dutra stood out as the most impressive of the bunch on Monday, but he was followed closely by Fort Wayne Homestead's Isaac Griffith, Avon's Jalen Edwards, South Bend Clay's Wesley Thomas, Indianapolis Cathedral's Sampson Levingston and Indianapolis Heritage Christian's Anthony Warrum.

Thomas has arguably generated the most attention so far, and at 6-foot and 185 pounds he is a good-looking athlete with nice top-end speed. Levingston is built similar to Thomas. He may not have the same speed, but had a knack for getting open in 7-on-7s.

Griffith just does everything with such precision. From his route running to his performance in the pro agility shuttle, the 6-foot, 180-pound prospect has no wasted motion and is very efficient in his movements. He was creating separation in one-on-ones simply because his routes were flawless. Warrum has a very similar game to that of Griffith, and is a technician at the position.

Several of these prospects are going to be borderline BCS/mid-major types, but all showed the ability to find a spot on Division I rosters.

5. Sleepers emerge

A combine like the one on Monday in Indianapolis always brings to light under-the-radar prospects, and the Best of the Midwest was no exception. We knew wide receivers such as Dutra, Griffith, Thomas and Warrum coming in, but Avon (Ind.) pass-catcher Jalen Edwards was a fairly new name and he earned MVP honors at the position. Edwards is explosively quick, but a little undersized at 5-10 and 160 pounds.

Fort Wayne (Ind.) Concordia's Michael Hicks is a linebacker to watch in the 2013 class. He runs pretty well for a 6-3, 237-pound kid. Indianapolis (Ind.) Decatur Central tight end Marcellus Edwards is also put together well at 6-4 and 220 pounds. He ran a very solid 4.79 40-yard dash and showed natural hands as a receiver.

Two prospects who emerged on the offensive line were Greenwood (Ind.) Center Grove tackle Skylar Lacy and Westerville (Ohio) South tackle/guard Zachary Murdock. Lacy is a huge kid who could be pushing 6-7 and showed decent mobility. Murdock is not as big, but more athletic and had good success in one-on-one's.

Also keep an eye on Murdock's teammate at Westville South, linebacker Jordan Rodriguez. Physically, the 6-3, 220-pound Rodriguez was one of the most impressive linebackers in attendance. He plays a little stiff, but is decently athletic and has above average strength.



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