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Payton and Duarte Take the Stage at the Combine for UCLA

One the day for the wide receivers, tight ends, and quaqrertabcks, Bruins Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte take center stage at the NFL Combine.

Can Jordan Payton create the kind of separation needed to impress the NFL scouts?
Can Jordan Payton create the kind of separation needed to impress the NFL scouts?
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

It's Day 2 of the on field tests at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and the quarterbacks, receivers, and tight ends have the stage today. That means we'll see the ball in the air as the QBs show off their arms from the pocket and on the run, and receivers show off their route running abilities and hands.

Day one saw the Bruin offensive linemen Jake Brendel, Caleb Benenoch, and Alex Redmond impress with their quickness and strength performances. Running back Paul Perkins ran a solid 40 but tweaked a muscle and bowed out of the subsequent tests. Fortunately, there was little concern about his shakes and Perkins' stock should remain strong come draft time.

Two more Bruins will be in action today. Wide receiver Jordan Payton and tight end Thomas Duarte will go through the standard physical tests for all Combine participants (bench press, vertical jump and broad jump, 3 cone drill, shuttle run, and the 40 yard dash) and the receiver specific drills as they try to separate themselves from the crowd and improve their prospects for the upcoming NFL draft.

Along with the other Combine participants, Payton and Duarte will have a letter/number combination to identify them and their position followed by a preliminary scouting grade. The grading system is structured like this:

4.50-4.74: Chance to be in an NFL training camp

4.75-4.99: Should be in an NFL training camp

5.00: 50/50 chance to make a team

5.01-5.19: Better-than average chance to make an NFL roster

5.20-5.49: NFL Backup or special teams player

5.50-5.99: Chance to be an NFL starter

6.00-6.49: Should be an NFL starter

6.50-6.99: Chance to be Pro Bowl caliber

7.00-7.49: Pro Bowl caliber

7.50-7.99: Future All-Pro

8/00-8.99: Perennial All-Pro

9.00-10.0: Once in a lifetime player


Jordan Payton W031 5.08 6-1 216

Jordan Payton is merely U.C.L.A.'s all time leader in pass receptions. Not bad. Despite that, he's still seen as a solid but not flashy possession type receiver and doesn't stand out greatly from the crowded WR field at the Combine. Payton's strengths lie in his size, physical play, reliability, and the most unheralded aspect of a WR, run blocking. Those are all nice ways of saying a receiver isn't a burner or big play threat.

Here are comments from Payton's scouting report on his official Combine bio

Pros: Thickly built for a wideout with broad shoulders. Productive target over last two seasons with 145 catches. Works back to the throw. Bodies up smaller corners and keeps them away form the throw. Has strength in his hands to brush away pass coverage or latch onto cornerbacks and sustain blocks as a run blocker.

Cons; Painfully slow in his release and attempt to maneuver around press coverage. Struggles to avoid direct blows inside of his routes and takes time to gear back up. Needs a long time to buildup his vertical speed. Doesn't have getaway speed to maintain any separation he creates.

Bottom line: Payton is a broad shouldered "catch what I'm supposed to" type of receiver who has a plus ability to help running games with his blocking, but a lack of speed and athleticism to beat coverage. His size might be too much to pass up on.

I think that's pretty fair. A surpassing time in the 40 or shuttle run might move him upward, but Payton is really the kind of player who gets the most out of his relatively modest physical attributes, and he will have to rely on his outstanding work ethic and dedication to doing the dirty jobs like run blocking and catching the short and over the middle routes to stick with a team. He is this year's Shaq Evans. Payton isn't a prototype #1 receiver, but he definitely has a role in the League. Jim Mora has compared him to Anquan Boldin who has had a very good 13 year NFL career so far. That's a good outlook.


Thomas Duarte TE04 5.65 6-3 225

Duarte's decision to leave U.C.L.A. as a junior and go pro was a real shocker to me. He had a good 2015 but it wasn't special, and I thought a year in a system that featured a more traditional tight end role would really help his development for the next level. Oh well. While Duarte's route running and pass catching skills are excellent, his ability to put his hand in the dirt and ward off NFL caliber defensive ends and outside linebackers in the run game will be a significant new challenge for him and his relatively slender frame.

But maybe Duarte saw something we can't. His comments in the OC Register as written by Rich Hammond raise some concerns about the future of tight end development in the new Bruin offense:

"I saw the mental growth I could achieve in the league," Duarte said. "I saw the player I wanted to be, and I knew making this next step was the right decision. Physically, I know I'm going to get bigger and faster and stronger, just with hard work and dedication in the weight room, and nutrition."

Somewhere, Rick Neuheisel is nodding in agreement.

Here are some comments from Duarte's scouting report from his official Combine bio:

Pros: Glider. Able to create early defender leans with his route work. Has hips to swerve into change of direction creating separation inside red area and can sink into breaks and make razor­-sharp cuts inside his routes. Has burst out of break points to uncover against safeties and slot corners. Able and willing to work the middle.

Cons: 'Tweener size. Scouts worry he can't get big enough to become matchup/move tight end. Routes can be disrupted by contact in space. Production bolstered by unguarded looks and catches on air. Didn't have to face dedicated coverage he'll see in pros. Disinterested as blocker.

Bottom line: Duarte is an interesting study as his draft value and overall grade could be tied directly to whether or not a team believes they can make him work as move tight end. Duarte has the athleticism, size and play speed to make a roster as a wide receiver, but his draft value may not be as high if teams see him as a receiver only. Matchup tight ends are all the rage and Duarte can play with more weight and a little more willingness as a run blocker, he's got a shot to become a productive NFL player.

I've compared Duarte to a young Shannon Sharpe who entered the NFL as an athletic but undersized and gangly tight end from tiny Savannah State before he put on about 25 pounds of pure muscle and chose to be a solid run blocker. Duarte's did just 12 reps on the bench press test yesterday, so he may need to follow a similar path as Sharpe if he wants to be an every down player in the league as his grade predicts he can be.


Those are our two Bruins in action today. Tomorrow is the first day for the defense and Kenny Clark and Myles Jack will be on tap for the Bruins as the D line and linebackers take the field, though Jack's participation will be limited if he participates at all. You can follow the action on the NFL Network or watch a live stream on Feel free to share thoughts for observations in the comments below.

Good Luck to Jordan and Thomas!