The second day of on the field drills for the NFL Scouting Combine proved to be both interesting and somewhat disappointing in some aspects.
While the quarterback group flashed during the position drills and several highly regarded passers cemented their draft status, the receiver group proved to be the slowest group in years with only two sub-4.4 and another eight sub-4.5 40 yard dash times out of 37 total wide out participants (compared to 15 participants under 4.45 in 2015 and 15 participants under 4.47 in 2014).
The big story out of Indianapolis yesterday was the performance of North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz. After putting up above average numbers in the physical drills, Wentz flashed a very solid arm and both advanced route timing and accuracy throughout the position drills. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock also noted a further improvement on Wentz’s footwork on drop backs throughout the drills. Some teams may still be scared away from drafting a Division I FCS quarterback, but Wentz showed scouts he can at least hit the passes in practice and has a more than adequate arm for the NFL.
Among the other quarterbacks, Lousiana Tech’s Jeff Driskel turned in the fastest 40 yard time at a blazing 4.56 seconds, Memphis’ Paxton Lynch flashed the talent (albeit with some inconsistency) that has made some claim him to be a first round prospect and Bucky Brooks was so impressed with Dak Prescott’s day that he claimed Prescott may be the best passer outside of the trio of Wentz, Lynch and Jared Goff.
Notre Dame’s Will Fuller put in an impressive day of work, leading the receiver group with 4.32 second 40 yard dash and put some of the hands concerns to rest with a solid performance in team drills — although the comparisons to Ted Ginn Jr. will likely still stick. Fellow receiver Josh Doctson may have worked his way into a first round selection after managing a solid 4.50 40 yard dash and finishing among the best in both broad and vertical jumps. The TCU product then proceeded to flash quickness in and out of cuts while securing nearly every pass his way in position drills.
Todd McShay also came away impressed with the play of receivers Braxton Miller and Sterling Shepard after respectively putting up solid 4.50 and 4.48 40 yard dash times and flashing in the position drills.
Among the tight ends Ohio State’s Nick Vannett and Stanford’s Austin Hooper seemed to help themselves out quite a bit, as both displayed quick cuts in position drills and very capable hands for a receiving tight end — especially Vannett, who secured everything thrown his way with impeccable technique. Neither are considered the top TE in the draft (Arkansas’ Hunter Henry takes that claim) but both likely worked their way into an early to mid selection on Saturday.
The foremost prospect to secure his standing as a possible top five pick in the draft is undoubtedly California’s Jared Goff. A good as perfect performance on the field confirms why scouts consider Goff the most polished passer in the draft, even if he doesn’t have the arm of Wentz or Lynch — but the ease with which he flew through drills would impress the most stubborn of scouts. The big school versus small school matchup of Goff versus Wentz as to who is the top quarterback in the draft will continue to be a prime story until draft day.
Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell may not have run the 40 yard dash on Saturday, but his exceptional routes, adjustment to passes and lack of drops in the position drills left analysts and scouts impressed as to his chances of long term success at the professional level. Treadwell is entrenched as a first round pick in April, if not the top receiver off of the board.
Cardale Jones did himself no favors on Saturday. After running a mediocre 4.81 40 yard dash on his first attempt, Jones pulled up lame attempting the second run and was removed from drills. Scouts will have to wait until Ohio State’s pro day to see Jones in action once again, but in the meantime the likes of Prescott, Driskel and Stanford’s Kevin Hogan all got in solid reps in front of scouts.
Among the passers no player had a tougher day than Connor Cook, who struggled to hit receivers down the field in position drills and had lackluster accuracy on short to intermediate routes. The Michigan State quarterback has earned a reputation as an inconsistent and fairly inaccurate passer — and he did nothing to change scouts’ minds on Saturday.
Penn State product Christian Hackenberg also didn’t improve his draft chances with an erratic performance where he flashed some of the ability scouts see in his tape (for example a perfectly placed post corner route) only to follow it up with repeatedly off target passes in subsequent reps/drills.
Of the receivers and tight ends very few performed poorly enough to hurt their value, although TCU’s Trevone Boykin probably didn’t convince any scouts he can make the jump from quarterback to receiver after a 4.77 40 yard dash performance.
However, a major bombshell dropped in the form of reports stating standout Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith failed multiple medical exams with teams on Saturday with concerning reports about nerve damage in both his knee and ankle. Such a resounding failure of a combine physical based on the concerns of long term nerve damage stemming from a torn ACL and LCL last year could end up leaving Smith undrafted in April — and undoubtedly removes him from consideration as a first round (or even top ten) draft pick.
Saturday’s groups rounded out the offensive side of the ball. Today features the defensive line and linebackers, with many eyes on Ohio State pass rusher Joey Bosa in particular and a multitude of highly regarded defensive tackles.
While the NFL Combine may not be the most interesting experience for the average sports fan, the avid followers and NFL personnel key in on every player’s performance in every drill as the fan base tries to predict the team’s pick (and inevitably argue over who is the best pick) and scouts desperately accrue as much information as possible for their Super Bowl — the NFL Draft.
So who fared well in today’s performance of offensive linemen, running backs and special teams? It depends on who you ask and how seriously they take each individual drill.
Offensive tackle Jason Spriggs turned in an impressive day, leading the group with a 4.94 40 yard dash and wowing scouts across the board. The Hoosier left tackle has the athleticism to play anywhere on the offensive line, but scouts have doubted his ability to handle finesse rushers on the outside. While yesterday’s performance won’t allay suspicions as per his technique — that will have to wait for his pro day — a quality performance in every drill may be enough to boost Spriggs into the first round.
Standout Alabama running back Derrick Henry may have already been regarded as a top prospect, but after weighing in at nearly 250 lbs many questioned whether he would still be able to flash the athleticism scouts look for in a top draft pick. Henry didn’t just overcome the doubters — in fact he beat expectations across the board. A top performer in all but the 40 yard dash and 20 yard shuttle, Henry solidified his standing as one of the best running backs in the draft…and let’s not forget that his 40 yard dash was a very respectable 4.54 seconds, making him an impressive speed/size specimen to pair with his downhill running style.
Troubled running back Keith Marshall put up one of the more impressive performances of the day with a combine best 4.31 40 yard dash. Marshall’s durability has been in question after recurring ACL injuries at Georgia limited him during much of his tenure as a Bulldog, but after benching combine weight 25 times and running the fastest 40 time he’s well on his way to securing a selection in April.
ESPN Insiders Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl (subscription required) came away with improved opinions of Alabama OL Ryan Kelly, Arizona St. OL Chris Westerman, Cal RB Daniel Lasco and San Jose St. RB Tyler Ervin. NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks re-evaluated Alabama RB Kenyan Drake as an explosive change of pace back who may have worked his way into a day two selection.
ESPN’s Todd McShay still has some concerns about the top tackles after both Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley and Ole Miss’ Laremy Tunsil decided to forego the bench press drill, but the duo of possible top five picks performed well during position drills. McShay also complimented Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott after displaying fluidity in position drills and flashing 4.47 speed in the 40 yard dash, positing that Elliott may very well be a top ten pick come draft day.
Several analysts, including Brooks, McShay and NFL Network’s Mike Mayock spoke of Michigan State tackle Jack Conklin as having solidified his standing as the next highest tackle behind Stanley and Tunsil, with McShay even calling Conklin “Joe Thomas-esque” in his performance.
Perhaps the least impressive performance of the day came from Arkansas running back Alex Collins, who many pegged as closely behind Elliott and Henry as a possible first round selection. Now that is likely in question, as Collins showed poorly in position drills as a pass catcher after disappointing numbers in the 40 yard dash (4.59 seconds) and group worst 29.5″ vertical.
Kelvin Taylor entered Friday with an amount of hype that was the result of being the son of former Pro Bowl running back Fred Taylor but may have hurt his draft stock with a mediocre finish in the 40 yard dash (4.60 seconds) and struggling to secure passes in several of the position drills later in the day. Taylor may have to wait some time for his name to be called in such a deep draft for running backs.
Several offensive lineman also failed to impress, with the most notable name being Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair. Some scouts may be hesitant to make Whitehair a first round pick after only managing 16 bench reps, although he did do fairly well in the other drills on Friday. LSU’s Vadal Alexander appeared sluggish in many drills and put up the group’s second worst 40 yard dash time (5.57) — something that led Mayock to question whether Alexander has the athleticism to cut it at the professional level.
Among the lower projections, running back Shad Thornton (N.C. State) likely failed to impress scouts enough to overlook his numerous off the field issues with a slower 40 yard time –4.75 seconds — than several fullbacks and unimpressive performances in position drills. Oklahoma interior lineman Nila Kasitati is likely to go undrafted after posting a paltry 12 reps on the bench, tying Thornton’s performance and only besting running back Kenyon Drake’s 10 reps out of the OL and RB groups.
Today’s events include the quarterback, wide receiver and tight end groups. Who will stand out and who will fail to make a name for themselves?