The NFL prospects of Luke Falk, Hercules Mata’afa, Cole Madison and Tavares Martin Jr. won’t solely hinge on how many times they can throw a 225-pound barbell into the air or how quickly they can scoot 40 yards, but the Washington State players had a prime opportunity to demonstrate their abilities over the course of the four-day showcase known as the NFL Scouting Combine.
The combine was a mixed bag for the Cougars, who were represented at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis by a quartet of players: Falk, the four-year starting quarterback who owns almost every Pac-12 passing record in the book; Mata’afa, the junior defensive lineman who was selected by Associated Press voters as the 2017 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year; Madison, the iron-man right tackle who started in 47 career games for WSU; and Martin Jr., the flashy wide receiver who caught a team-leading nine touchdown passes in 2017.
Here’s a breakdown of how those four fared Friday through Sunday at the 2018 Combine.
Luke Falk, 6-4, 215, quarterback
Falk will return to his hometown of Logan, Utah, to throw at Utah State’s Pro Day on March 28. That workout now seems paramount for Falk, who didn’t grade out particularly well – and that might be a nice way of putting it – during the on-field portion of the combine.
In four years at WSU, Falk demonstrated a proficiency completing short passes, dump-offs and check-downs – often the bread and butter of Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. But the intermediate routes that are more foreign to Leach’s playbook were the ones Falk struggled to hit consistently on Saturday.
Of the 19 quarterbacks in attendance, Falk and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson were the only ones not to clock a time in the 40-yard dash. Falk is still recovering from surgery on the left wrist he broke, and played through, for much of the 2017 season. The WSU QB wore a brace on the non-throwing hand, jokingly calling himself “Luke Skywalker” in interviews, but told reporters he plans to have it off in a few weeks.
In his media session, Falk inevitably was asked about the death of former teammate Tyler Hilinski and was graceful and eloquent in his responses. He told reporters “Tyler was someone who personally affected me a lot. I didn’t really associate with the other quarterbacks all that much until Tyler came in and he just had this infectious energy. I have no doubt he would’ve led the Cougs to a great season this year.”
Among the 19 QBs, Falk notched the 17th-best vertical jump (26.5 inches) and broad jump (103.0) in Indianapolis.
Cole Madison, 6-5, 308, offensive line
The four-year starting tackle was one of 48 offensive linemen who went through the combine gantlet over the weekend – and he was one of the steadiest.
Madison didn’t post eye-popping numbers in a single category, per se, but finished in the top half with his 40-yard dash (5.33 seconds), bench press (26 reps), vertical jump (28.5 inches) and three-cone drill (7.86 seconds).
The Burien, Washington, native will probably have to slide inside to guard – or possibly center – therefore it was crucial that Madison gave them a good show at the bench press station. His rep count tied for 16th among offensive linemen and ranks in the top 25 of all combine participants.
Madison, who entered his senior season at WSU weighing 315 pounds, was measured at 308 before the weekend showcase.
That showed up in the agility drills and Madison drew praise from the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, who tabbed the WSU OL as “a vertical set guy that pops out of his stance, and I think he’s going to be a starting guard.”
Tavares Martin Jr., 6-1, 177, wide receiver
Martin didn’t have a spot on the 2018 Washington State roster either way, but many questioned the wideout’s decision to opt out of a fourth collegiate season, rather than browse the transfer market and find a home in the FCS.
The controversial dismissal of the Belle Glade, Florida, receiver – Martin claimed he left the Cougars voluntarily, coach Mike Leach clarified he was “cut” – already raises a number of red flags for NFL teams, and those interested in Martin probably also know about the midseason suspension that kept him out of a home game vs. Colorado.
And now there’s another red flag: Martin’s foot speed.
The “X” receiver was never known as a top-end sprinter, but his 4.80 40-yard dash is, err, problematic. How does that time stack up with other combine receivers? Among the 37 who completed the drill, it’s the slowest – and by a long shot. Florida State’s Auden Tate clocked a 4.68, but no other WR finished slower than 4.7. Four quarterbacks clocked a quicker 40 and Martin Jr’s time is only a shade better than the fastest offensive lineman, Brian O’Neill, who ran a 4.82. A particular WSU defensive lineman at the same event came in with a better time (see below).
Martin didn’t exactly make up for it when he moved to the vertical jump platform. His leap of 31.5 inches was 33rd among 38 wideouts, but Martin avoided total disaster by performing adequately in the on-field portion of his Saturday workout.
Hercules Mata’afa, 6-1, 254, edge rusher
The combine classifies Mata’afa not as a defensive lineman or linebacker, but as an “edge” rusher – in other words, a tweener who may not be able to thrive strictly in a DL or LB role, but some hybrid of the two.
That’s why Mata’afa came into the combine – and will enter the NFL Draft – as one of the most intriguing prospects.
Mata’afa didn’t necessarily blow any minds Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, but he also didn’t give any extra ammunition to those who think his conversion to the NFL could be a tough one.
The former WSU defensive tackle lifted the 225-pound barbell 26 times, matching three other edge rushers for the morning’s third-best lift.
He didn’t run a blazing 40, but Mata’fa perhaps exceeded expectations there, too, turning in a middle-of-the-pack time (4.76 seconds). Nine players in Mata’afa’s group ran the 40 faster and nine did it slower. Mata’afa also performed in the vertical jump (31.5 inches), the broad jump (108 inches), the three-cone drill (7.24 seconds) and the 20-yard shuttle (4.37 seconds). He finished near the bottom in all four drills.
Mata’afa’s position at the next level will continue to be a point of conversation as the draft approaches, but NFL Network analyst and former pro running back Maurice Jones-Drew offered a few thoughts.
“What I would do is if he’d be in the rotation at defensive end, the second guy that comes in, and then on sub downs put him inside and let him go to work,” Jones-Drew said.
Offered another analyst: “I think the biggest thing with everybody is really having an understanding of, how many snaps can we get out of him to justify giving him a jersey on Sundays?”
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