With the Senior Bowl in our rear view mirror the draft community turns their attention to who to watch at the NFL Combine which has turned from a small gathering for the NFL teams to the biggest event before the NFL Draft. Our NFL Combine Preview highlights what you need to look out for.
NFL Combine Preview
The seven-day event has taken on a life of itself over the past several years with day long coverage on the NFL Network and close to 1,000 media members credentialed to attend and player and coach press conferences can attract a packed room.
Drills like the 40-yard dash and the vertical leap will get the most attention from fans, but it’s the on field workouts, medical testing and player interviews of the over 300 prospects that makes this such an important week for scouts, general managers and coaches.
For the prospects there is a lot to gain by testing well in drills or wowing teams on the field or in the meeting rooms. Not only can they see their stock increase but that could translate to millions of dollars earned by a single event.
What to Watch
Even before Kyler Murray announced that he was going all in on football, he was the most talked about prospect in the entire draft. That will not change in Indianapolis as everybody will be watching to see how he weighs in. Listed at 5’10 and 190lbs there are some that believe he could come in at under 5’9 and 175lbs. His size is sure to have some detractors, but if can be 5’10 and 200lbs that should alleviate some teams concerns. Murray should also dazzle on the field both in the testing and the position drills. Lamar Jackson refused to run the 40 yard dash, but if Murray does and runs in the 4.3’s that could generate even more buzz in his favor. Expect Murray to put on a show.
There are plenty fans of Mississippi receiver DK Metcalf in the NFL Draft community and it’s not hard to understand why. At 6’4 225lbs Metcalf is an explosive athlete with plenty of highlight reel touchdown catches. Utilizing his size, strength and explosiveness is often can beat the cornerback at the line of scrimmage and then blow past him down the field. The Combine is big for Metcalf because he is coming off an neck injury that cut his season short. If Metcalf passes the medical testing and shows he has no longer term concerns that could make him a lock to be drafted in the first round. I’m also curious to see Metcalf on the field both in agility testing drills and running routes. At Ole Miss Metcalf ran only very basic routes. Metcalf is never going to be an elite route runner but if he’s able to show some ability to go in and out of breaks he could be considered the only elite receiver in this draft.
There is a group of receivers in this class that big bodied athletes who do most of their damage winning at the catch point. Whether it’s N’Keal Harry, Kelvin Harmon, Hakeem Butler or JJ Arcega-Whiteside they are all grouped together. That is what is great about the combine is we get to see some of these similar prospects take part in testing and drills back to back (sort of) and it could help create some separation. We saw in the 2018 NFL Draft that these big receivers who are stiff and can’t create separation did fall (Auden Tate and Allen Lazard), but this group looks to be better prospects. But that being said, they need to show that they can be more than just a big body that you can just throw the ball up to.
Top Tight Ends
This year the tight end class is one of the best we have seen in years. Not only does it have a handful of elite tight end prospects, but there seems to be a deep talent pool. That should lead to competitive drills that see the prospects trying to show off their ability. I’ll be anxious to see how Noah Fant, TJ Hockenson and Irv Smith (the top three tight end prospects) do as all three have a shot to be drafted in the first round. While all three are good athletes, it’s Fant that should put on a show during the athletic testing. Look for him to put up a good 40 time as we’ve seen him blow past linebackers and safeties while also shining in pass catching drills. Hockenson is big, strong, and explosive so it should be fun to see what type of numbers he’ll put up along with the power he’ll show in some of the blocking type drills. Smith Jr. shouldn’t be forgotten about as he is good athlete that likely will be finishing in the top 5 in about every category.
After an amazing freshman year that saw Ed Oliver get Heisman votes he was largely considered to be a front runner for the first overall pick. But an injury filled year and concerns about his size has cooled his hype. There are concerns that Oliver may measure in at 6’0 with reports that he played at 274lbs this season. Those numbers are concerning with no full time starter at defensive tackle coming in that small. Heck even Aaron Donald who is short, still weighed in close to 300lbs. The ideal scenario for Oliver is that he is 6’2 and 290lbs and is still his explosive self. As it pertains to the field expect Oliver to be the talk of the Combine. Whether it’s game tape or clips of him training we’ve seen Oliver move like a linebacker showing both explosiveness and change of direction ability. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Oliver put up a sub 7.0 3-Cone Drill which is elite for defensive ends.
With Nick Bosa missing most of the season with a knee injury, we haven’t had a chance to see him play throughout the season. Everybody wants to know how Bosa is progressing from the injury and if he is back to his pre-injury speed, agility and explosiveness. Nick is often compared to his brother Joey quite a bit, so it will be curious to see how the two Bosa brothers compare in their timed measurables.
There are not too many other 6’5 270lb defensive ends that move like Rashan Gary and that should be illustrated at the Combine were he is expected to go off. On tape Gary shows burst off the line, the ability to bend the edge and speed to track down the ball. We should see a lot of that translate to his timed measurements. Gary should also impress running around in shorts and a T-Shirt. A likely good showing will solidify Gary as a top 10 pick, but it won’t take away that he under performed in college failing to accumulate statistics.
Josh Allen and Montez Sweat
Both Josh Allen and Montez Sweat have shot up draft boards this past year with dominant performance on the field. Allen won SEC Defensive Player of the Year (over Quinnen Williams) with 17 sacks this season and being just unblockable throughout. Sweat was productive his two years at Mississippi State with 22.5 sacks and then went down to Mobile and was one of the best players during the Senior Bowl. While both players have good production the big concern that I have from them that prevents them from being considered elite pass rushers is they seem to lack the bend to win around the edge on a consistent basis. They both should test well, but I’m watching out for that 3-Cone Drill. Players that finish under 7.0 seconds have largely gone on to have success in the NFL. Allen is a bit more flexible than Sweat, but these change of direction testing numbers should tell us a lot.
Greedy Williams and Byron Murphy have separated themselves from the rest of the corner backs as the two best. However right behind them is a large cluster of guys that are late first, early second round prospects. Players like Julian Love, Rock Ya-Sin, Joejuan Williams, Trayvon Mullen and Amani Oruwariye. Not all of these guys are the same type of cornerback, but they are all fighting to be a first round pick and separate themselves from the pack. The Combine will allows to do that. We’ll get to compare their numbers to each other. We’ll get to see them all participate in the same drills. This should in theory break up the cluster and allow certain corners to really stand out.
Deandre Baker seems to be the lost cornerback in this class as he is behind Murphy and Greddy Williams but right in front of the cluster of cornerbacks that I just mentioned. A reason he seems to be left out is he just does his job and is so consistent at doing so. He’s patient in his movements and shows the burst and technique to come forward to break up passes. My biggest concern about him is his long speed. Can Baker run with receivers down the field. This is why the 40 yard dash is so important for cornerbacks. They have to be able to run with the receivers. If the receiver can run a 4.3 40, you need corners to do the same. I cannot wait to see Baker run his. If he can have a time in the 4.4’s then I think he is clearly the third best corner in this class. But if he puts up a time in the 4.5’s, you could see him fall into the group I mentioned above.