The NFL combine is one of the biggest events in football, and is possibly the most important week of the pre-draft process. Every year, hundreds of former college players come together in Indianapolis to showcase their skills and athleticism in front of representatives from all 32 teams. They go through measurements and medical testing, followed by interviews and on-field workouts. Each step plays an important role in determining how each player’s week goes. Some guys do well, so not so much. Some were made to perform well at these events, while others are simply not. The results of this process can make or break someone’s draft stock, although they do have two months to rebound if things do not go well. Here are my thoughts on how each group fared at the event, and the effects it will have on team’s draft boards and on draft day.
Quarterbacks – Better Defined Tiers
Entering the pre-draft process, the QB position did not have clearly defined tiers. Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, and Justin Herbert were the top guys, but then you had Jordan Love maybe up there. You had Jacob Eason and Jacob Fromm maybe top guys or maybe tier two and others like Jalen Hurts and Steven Montez in flux as well. Well, thanks to good performances in the combine and senior bowl, we can now say that Love is firmly in tier one with the other three. Eason, Fromm, Hurts, and Montez form a clearly defined tier two, a group that is likely gone by the end of day two. Everyone else brings some intrigue but ultimately fall into tier three. Overall the group did well in Indy, with Burrow’s hand size and Fromm’s 40 yard dash being the only negatives. There is potential for several franchise players to come out of this class.
Running Backs – Day Two/Three Value
In recent years, we have seen a spike in RB draft value. After several years of prospects not being valued highly, there was a string of top five picks used on guys like Ezekiel Elliot, Leonard Fournette, and Saquan Barkley. Last year ended this trend, and I fear this year will continue that. Now I am not saying that this is a bad group. There are plenty of talented players, and guys like Jon Taylor and Cam Akers had fantastic performances. It is just that it is unlikely for the first RB to be taken until late in first round, meaning most of the top options will be available on day two. Additionally, there are a handful of day three talents that could be major players in the NFL. AJ Dillon and Darrynton Evans headline the guys who had great combines and will lead those later rounds selections. Wide Receivers – No Doubts
Man, is this an exciting WR group or what? This was arguably the deepest position of this class entering the combine. Not only did the top guys affirm their high selection potential, but some lower rated players helped their causes tremendously. Chase Claypool came from nowhere to show an elite combination of size and athleticism. He was being worked out at tight end to start, but now he seems like a potential match-up nightmare. Denzel Mims had an amazing showing, as did Michael Pittman. Both of those guys are firmly in the day two conversation as well. We were already looking at five to seven first round picks, but now there may be a dozen or more day two picks in addition. It is a great year to need a receiver, which a lot of the league does.
Tight Ends – Just Okay
I discussed this position group on “Let’s Wine about Sports” this past week, so I will not go in to too much detail. Some guys, like Cole Kmet, Harrison Bryant, and Albert O, had excellent days, but overall the group just did okay. This is not an amazing class, and they are hurt further by how deep the position group is across the league. There is not a clear #1 TE, but there are several guys who can be 1A/1B types who compliment or are complimented by others. There are a handful more who can provide depth and special teams contributions for whoever drafts them. I only expect about 12-15 prospects drafted, but they will be quality additions to their teams.
Offensive Linemen – Good Lord
This statement does not have to do with the athleticism results (although some guys in this group are downright freakish) so much as the sheer size of these linemen. First off, not one player among the 53 in attendance weighed at less than 300 pounds. Normally there are a few, and while some may end up under 300 playing weight, it will not be more than one or two. Twelve of these prospects weighed in at 320 or more, which is a lot of beef. Overall not many guys made big strides to help their draft stock. Ezra Cleveland, Cesar Ruiz, and Matt Hennessy were some of the top names who improved, maybe by a couple rounds. The top ranked players remain the same, and if you are looking for a hog molly, this is the year to grab one, particularly at tackle.
Defensive Linemen – Uninspiring Week
There are many talented D-linemen in this draft class, and there is not much the combine can do to hurt that status. That being said, it was not a great week for this group. Several top prospects, such as Chase Young, Javon Kinlaw, and Yetur Gross-Matos, did not participate in most of the athleticism drills. Others, like Derrick Brown, produced just average results. Some prospects had excellent workouts. DT Justin Madubuike made some money by running a 4.83 40 yard dash and putting up 31 bench press reps. DTs Khalil and Carlos Davis, and DEs Jabari Zuniga and James Smith-Williams were the top late round prospects to gain momentum. Their status as a talented group remains untainted, but it was not the overall performance many scouts were hoping for.
Linebackers – Great Speed
This LB class has long been considered solid but not amazing with one elite talent and a few other late first to early second round options. Well, the combine did not change those opinions much, but it did showcase one thing; Speed! Of the 44 prospects to make an appearance in Indy, only six ran a 40 yard dash slower than 4.8 (and one of those was 280 lb Nick Coe who will be a down lineman in the pros anyways). To contrast, 10 guys ran faster than a 4.6, which is considered excellent speed at the position. This group does not have many bigger linebackers, and most of the guys who do have more size are like to play 3-4 edge roles. But if you have the need, the need for speed, this is your year to find it. I suspect that aspect alone will cause some of these day three prospects to rise.
Cornerbacks – Sneaky Good Group
Most analysts have not talked about the corners as much as other groups like WR or OL, but it could be the sneaky best defensive position in the draft. Jeff Okudah leads the pack, and maintained that position with a strong week in Indy (we will call him tier 1A). Kristian Fulton and CJ Henderson, who lead tier 1B, had excellent showings and should go in the first round. Troy Pride, AJ Terrell, and Jaylon Johnson affirmed themselves as some of the top day two options. Some did not participate in the athleticism drills but should still be top three round picks. What this class lacks in elite talent outside of Okudah, it makes up for with quality depth and several potential future starters. I suspect many day two selections will be dedicated to the secondary.
Safeties – Couple of Freaks, Mostly Just Okay By a couple of freaks, I mean two specific players. Jeremy Chinn measured at 6’3, 221 pounds, and proceeded to run a 4.45 40 with 20 bench press reps, a 41 inch vertical leap, and an 11.5 foot broad jump. Kyle Dugger measured at 6’1, 217 pounds, ran a 4.49 40, and put up 17 bench reps with a 42 inch vertical and 11 foot broad jump. Those are ridiculous combinations of size and athleticism, and should get these guys drafted on potential alone. The rest of the performances were just okay. Top prospect Xavier McKinney got injured running the 40, and number two prospect Grant Delpit did not test athleticism. There are some intriguing talents, but they are more upside than proven talent and that is what keeps this position group from being one of the better in this class.
Specialists – Why Not?
Look, nobody pays attention to kickers and punters at the combine. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. This year, there were two long-snappers, three kickers, and seven punters in attendance. Many of them just do the measurements, medical, and team interviews, but some work out and make some noise. P Michael Turk put up an impressive 25 bench press reps, which would have been near the top in most position groups. Several guys put up decent athleticism numbers as well, but ultimately that will not matter. Teams will look to the tape and work guys out personally to determine their grade on them. Only a few of these guys will be drafted, and the rest will be training camp hopefuls, but why not try to make a splash, right?Now the combine is not the be-all-end-all for players and their draft hopes. Their college film provides an equal if not bigger part of their grade, and can overcome a less than stellar performance in Indy. For the most part the top players do not get affected severely by this event, although guys have been known to drop quite a bit. I believe, it is more important for small school and mid-round prospects. It gives the small school guys an audience that may not have seen them play given their lack of exposure. For the mid-rounders, it is their chance to make a case for rising up, but can also cause them to fall off the board with a poor showing. Either way, it is an opportunity to make more money. Congratulations to all the guys who worked their butts off to get their, because that in itself is an accomplishment. Thank you for reading, and see you next time on the IE Sports Radio Blog; your direct blog for all that is sports. Have a great week.