By Matt Kelley (@Fantasy_Mansion)
Special to Yahoo Sports
The NFL Scouting Combine is a wrap, and opinions about the degree to which the results from Indianapolis should impact a draft prospect vary wildly across the sports media community.
For quarterbacks, athleticism is a bonus. The Wonderlic Test, the interviews, and the time spent with coaches on the whiteboard diagnosing schemes matters most. By all accounts, Baker Mayfield slayed on and off the turf. Julio Jones and Tyreek Hill win with exceptional athleticism, but counterintuitively, athletic testing is actually less predictive for wide receivers than many other positions. For running backs, speed and agility drills such as the 3-cone are the best indicators of future running back success. Of the four fantasy-relevant positions (QB, RB, WR, TE), tight end athleticism is the best predictor of professional football stardom. Across the NFL landscape, from Travis Kelce to Rob Gronkowski to Greg Olsen to Jimmy Graham, the most productive tight ends tend are also the best athletes.
After factoring in the predictive nature of the athleticism across position groups, which prospects helped their draft stock most at the combine?
Wide Receiver – D.J. Moore
Moore won the combine before he stepped foot on the turf. Listed at 5-foot-11, 215-pounds at Maryland, Moore looked like the next Ty Montgomery – a running back masquerading as college wide receiver. At Indianapolis, however, Moore stood 6-0, 210-pounds, which significantly changed the math on his wide receiver comps. Now, Moore looks strikingly similar to some of the most precocious wide receiver prospects in recent memory, from Amari Cooper to DeAndre Hopkins to Sammy Watkins.
Like Cooper and Hopkins before him, Moore was a college mega-producer at an early age, evidenced by a 53.3-percent College Dominator Rating (97th-percentile), which factors out quarterback play, and a 18.4 Breakout Age (98th-percentile). Despite dominating Maryland’s receiving yards and touchdowns, Moore’s raw production was perpetually throttled by lackluster college quarterback play throughout his college career. Consequently, similar to another fast-riser, D.J. Chark, Moore received few, if any, first round grades from mainstream NFL draft analysts prior to his combine arrival.
Full Disclosure: Moore has been No. 1 on PlayerProfiler’s Rookie Rankings all along.
How quickly elite athleticism changes perceptions. Moore’s 4.42 40-yard dash time equates to a 111.6 Speed Score (95th percentile), which add a premium for WR height and weight. Moore also demonstrated exceptional explosiveness, evidenced by a 133.2 Burst Score (94th-percentile). Factoring in his height, arm length, and a 39.5 vertical jump, Moore’s 10.23 Catch Radius (87th-percentile) was among the largest ever recorded by a 6-0 receiver. He now enters the draft featuring a prospect profile that checks all of the most important advanced metrics boxes:
- WR1 Size: Check!
- College Dominance: Check!!
- Elite Athleticism: Check!!!
Moore tops the 2018 wide receiver class.
Wide Receiver – Courtland Sutton
While Moore is suddenly inspiring the imagination of fantasy dynasty league enthusiasts, Sutton’s droning excellence is considered boring by comparison. The consensus No. 1 wide receiver prospect coming into the 2017 college football season, Sutton’s first-round draft grade was foregone conclusion… Then he was out-produced by Trey Quinn in his final year at SMU, and the whispers started:
“Was Sutton just a mid-major conference compiler?”
“Is he versatile enough to operate in a modern NFL passing scheme?”
“Is Sutton explosive enough to win outside in today’s NFL?”
“Did he emerge from a 1998 football time capsule?”
The combine provided the Answer Key: No, Yes, Yes, No.
With 3000-plus career receiving yards and 31 career touchdowns on his collegiate résumé, Sutton was a consensus top-3 WR prospect upon arrival in Indianapolis. Unlike fellow towering receivers, Auden Tate and Equanimeous St. Brown, Sutton impressed NFL scouts by competing in all drills from 3-cone to the bench press to the broad jump. He also exceeded the expectations of draft analysts who questioned his “wiggle” and “twitch” by posting a 4.54 40-yard dash time and a 118.0 SPARQ-x Score (84th-percentile), establishing Sutton as one of the top size-adjusted athletes in the draft.
Sutton’s speed and burst were excellent for a player his size, but his lateral quickness was astounding. His 10.68 Agility Score was 97th-percentile among NFL wide receivers. For context, Odell Beckham, Julian Edelman, Tyreek Hill, and Brandin Cooks are the current NFL receivers with sub-10.75 Agility Scores. They stand less than 6-feet tall and weigh under 200-pounds. Courtland Sutton is stands 6-4, 218-pounds. For this reason, his Agility Score was the most impressive result from this year’s combine. Heading into the draft, Sutton compares favorably to the NFL’s most agile big receivers: Alshon Jeffery and Michael Thomas.
That’s good company.
Running Back – Bo Scarbrough
Liz Loza outlined how top running back prospect Saquon Barkley silenced doubters and showed that his prospect profile is on-par with Barry Sanders and Ladainian Tomlinson, and late-riser Rashaad Penny sustained the positive momentum he generated on the field as the most prolific and efficient college runner last season. Meanwhile, Bo Scarbrough quietly helped his draft stock most with an excellent combine.
Prior to the event, Scarbrough was largely dismissed as a one-dimensional plodder by draft analysts after being usurped and out-touched by both Damien Harris and Najee Harris in the College Football National Championship Game. With his NFL career hanging in the balance, Scarbrough resuscitated his reputation by blazing a 4.52 in the 40-yard dash, which equates to a 109.2 Speed Score (89th-percentile among NFL running backs) on PlayerProfiler.com. He then showed excellent explosion by posting a 132.5 Burst Score, which unites the Vertical and Broad Jumps events in one metric, second only to Barkley.
After wrecking the combine, Scarbrough launched into the top-12 on PlayerProfiler’s Rookie Rankings. He went from late-round pick to a possible Day 2 selection to a team seeking a running game upgrade between the tackles. Look for Detroit, Denver, or Miami to strongly consider Scarbrough earlier than most mock drafters project.
Running Back – Chase Edmonds
Looking the part of an electric satellite back, Edmonds made the most money at the combine. He went from undrafted free agent/late round dart throw to an in-demand mid-round prospect after posting an impressive 117.1 SPARQ-x Score (67th-percentile), Nike’s signature composite athleticism metric, after participating in all RB drills.
Edmonds earned a combine invitation with prolific collegiate rushing production, including 1800-plus rushing yards and 23 touchdowns as a true freshman at Fordham University. Despite missing half his senior season due to injury, he finished his college career with 5800-plus rushing yards, 75 touchdowns, and 86 receptions.
Similar to Dion Lewis’ Pitt career, Edmonds was an undersized college workhorse who flashed excellent lateral quickness at the combine when he posted a 10.86 Agility Score, No. 1 among rookie running back prospects. Perhaps unsurprisingly with Lewis and Rex Burkhead impending free agents, the Patriots spent significant time with Edmonds in Indianapolis. From Shane Vereen to Danny Woodhead to LeGarrette Blount, New England usually restocks rather than re-sign its running backs, and Edmonds would fit in seamlessly next to Tom Brady.
Tight End – Mike Gesicki
With a stunning display of exceptional raw athleticism, Gesicki eclipsed Vernon Davis to become the most athletic tight end prospect of all time. Fortunately for Gesicki, athleticism matters most for tight end prospects. Among the top fantasy producers, plodders such as Heath Miller are outliers, and athletic specimens like Evan Engam are the norm. His Speed Score, Burst Score, and Agility Score reached or exceeded the 95th percentile, an unprecedented feat in the PlayerProfiler.com Database. Gesicki elevated his draft stock higher than any prospect at the combine, because as Liz Loza pointed out, Gesicki now looks the part of a match-up nightmare at the NFL level.
Time to go buy a suit. You’re headed for the first round, Mr. Gesicki.