The NFL scouting combine is a valuable resource for talent evaluators, but the most hyped and showcased events — namely the athletic testing portion — often are overblown.
Still, there’s merit to testing the athletes at each position, apples to apples, and “putting a number” to prospects’ speed, quickness, strength and explosion from those drills.
Evaluators will tell you the medical information and interview process weighs heavier, and they’re probably right. But every year, we see a combine bump or drop for players who meet or fall short of athletic thresholds.
Note: You won’t see every great or poor tester. For instance, Oregon QB Justin Herbert looked really good for much of Thursday’s throwing session but wasn’t listed below. Why? Well, he performed about as expected, an affirmation of what he has shown on tape.
Likewise, the poor athletic numbers turned in by Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown — a possible top-10 pick — likely won’t change his forecast that much, so we omitted him on the other end of the spectrum. As one college scouting director told Yahoo Sports, “I guarantee there are people who hoped he would test poorly so that he might slip a few spots [to their teams].”
So with that in mind, we focused on the players whose stocks might have been impacted most. Here are some of the winners and losers from the 2020 combine.
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa
Be wary of some of the glowing media reports of his health, as it’s often important to understand the source. Even still, a few of the teams we spoke with felt there was “nothing alarming” with his medical reports and that Tagovailoa was on schedule to work out in April for scouts.
More than anything, the buzz of Tua being drafted high wasn’t going away. That’s a win for him in our book.
Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts
After a so-so Senior Bowl showing, Hurts stepped up with the athletic profile he showed in college. He was the second-fastest QB in the 40-yard dash (4.59 seconds) and tied for first among QBs in the broad jump (10 feet, 5 inches).
More important, Hurts showed fluid mechanics in the passing drills. The balls came out of his hand cleanly and crisply. The questions about Hurts as a passer aren't going away, but he had a nice performance that will help his cause. On top of that, his charisma and confidence shined in team interviews.
Prediction: There will be a team on Day 2 of the draft who feels compelled to take him and see what Hurts can become as a developmental prospect.
Florida State RB Cam Akers
Many were buzzing about the tremendous athletic testing of Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor (as we were), but that’s the kind of athlete we thought he was. Sadly, Akers was not as frequently able to display his skills in an FSU offense that was marred by poor blocking, uneven QB play and shaky coaching once Jimbo Fisher left.
In Indianapolis, Akers stated his case as a great athlete and fascinating prospect. He turned in the fifth-best RB 40 (4.47), put up 20 bench-press reps (225 pounds) and had good results in the vertical and broad jumps.
Where Akers really shined was in the new “Duce Staley drill,” which measures balance, foot quickness, lateral agility, change of direction and vision. Akers smashed his performance in that drill and looked like a Day 1 star in a zone-running system.
He’s now firmly in the high Day 2 picture of the NFL draft.
Baylor WR Denzel Mims
There might not have been a player who helped himself more at the event than Mims, who tested as an elite athlete relative to his size and position. A 4.38 40 was the banner number, but Mims’ most shocking result was his 6.66 3-cone drill — a top-10 percentile result for a player who measured 6-foot-3 and 207 pounds.
Throw in strong results on the bench and in the jumping drills, and Mims killed it almost across the board. (His 20-yard shuttle time of 4.43 was the lone disappointment.)
Some of that was evident on his tape in college, but scouts as recently as December were giving him grades in the third- and fourth-round range. Now it’s hard to believe that he’ll fall out of the first 50 or 60 picks, and the right team might take him late in the first round.
Louisville OT Mekhi Becton
We raised eyebrows when we mocked Becton No. 10 overall a month ago. Now that appears too low. Teaser: Wait until you see how high we have him in our mock draft coming later this week.
There might be questions about his balance and bend, but goodness, Becton’s 5.10-second 40-yard dash — at 357 pounds on the day he ran — is the stuff of legend. And if you pooh-pooh the 40 for an offensive lineman, fine; his 10-yard splits of 1.80 and 1.77 seconds would have been considered good times for a player 40 or 50 pounds lighter.
It backs up his tape. Becton flashes freaky movement skills for his size and he absolutely buries people. As a pass blocker, Becton is a $5 Uber ride to get around with his massive frame, which is one of the biggest ever to appear at the combine.
What you hear time and time again regarding Becton: Players such as him are extremely rare.
Iowa OL Tristan Wirfs
Most people who follow college football or the draft know that Wirfs is a great athlete at 6-5 and 320 pounds with 34-inch arms. But even they had to be impressed with the Hawkeyes tackle setting a combine record in the vertical jump (36.5 inches) and tying the all-time mark in the broad jump (10-foot-1). Throw in a 4.85 40 (tops among all offensive linemen in 2020) and a 7.65-second 3-cone drill (fifth-best among offensive linemen), and Wirfs had a huge weekend.
His positional drills were also a showcase for his comically easy movement, and Wirfs now safely projects as a left tackle, right tackle or even as a guard, giving him mass league appeal as a prospect.
It’s a crowded OT class, with four who could go off the board in the top half of Round 1. Wirfs might have boosted his slot only by a few spots, but his floor might now be the Browns at No. 10.
Boise State OT Ezra Cleveland
With a 7.26-second 3-cone drill (best among offensive linemen), a 4.93-second 40 and 30 reps on the bench, the 6-6, 311-pound Cleveland was an Indy winner.
There have been questions about his lateral quickness, and some of that showed up in the OL drills, but the 3-cone time provided answers. He also has been dinged by scouts for his lack of power and ability to anchor, but Cleveland put on a “go back to the tape” performance that should raise his profile into the Day 2 range for a team seeking an athletic tackle.
Ball State OG Danny Pinter
A tight end turned tackle in college, Pinter is likely going to be an NFL guard. And he’s not getting enough shine so far. He has short arms and may struggle to keep his bulk at a high level.
But Pinter is a plus-athlete who showed off in the 40 (4.91, second only to Wirfs among OLs), a respectable 24 bench reps, and high-end results in the broad jump (110 inches), 3-cone drill (7.76) and 20-yard shuttle (4.62, third among OLs). Add that to impeccable character, and Pinter has a chance to be drafted late on Day 3 of the draft.
Nebraska DL Khalil Davis
A sawed-off frame with shorter arms might limit Davis’ appeal and scheme fit, Davis did everything he could to change that narrative with a strong workout in two areas. He had the best 40 of the tackles (4.75 seconds at 308 pounds) and 32 reps on the bench press, helping answer concerns about his power.
His hustle and athletic traits could make Davis a nice rotational player if he’s moved inside after playing more wide at Nebraska. He looks like a Day 3 pick, but he helped his cause.
Top three linebackers
Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons locked up his status as LB1, and Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray and LSU’s Patrick Queen — despite both suffering minor injuries after their 40s — will be the next two off the board in either order at the position. Yahoo Sports’ Terez Paylor explained how these defensive weapons are more important now than ever.
Simmons didn’t even need to participate in the on-field drills, running a 4.39-second 40-yard dash and adding eye-opening numbers in the vertical (39 inches) and broad jumps (11 feet). At 238 pounds, moving the way he did, Simmons is just an alien.
Murray turned in really good numbers in the 40 (4.52 seconds), the vertical jump (38 inches) and broad jump (129 inches) and also did work behind the scenes, too.
“GREAT interview,” one assistant general manager texted us, backing up what we heard from another team that had a formal interview with the Sooners’ playmaker and leader. He should have locked in a first-round selection.
That’s also the expectation for Queen, even though his size (6-foot, 229 pounds) is a bit lacking. He ran a 4.5 40 and turned in good jumping numbers, too.
Mississippi State LB Willie Gay Jr.
Not every team will sign off on Gay’s character concerns, but he did everything he could to lock in a better draft slot. We knew the 243-pound linebacker was gifted athletically, and his 4.46 40 (and 1.50 10-yard split), 39.5-inch vertical jump and 11-foot-4 broad jump displayed just that.
If Gay can win over evaluators with his accountability, he could be a mid-round 4 or 5 pick. His positional work was also strong, and he got better the more time he had on the field for the Bulldogs.
LSU LB Jacob Phillips
One of the few overlooked members of the national champs, Phillips ran and jumped well and showed to be more fluid and athletic among the other linebackers in his group during the positional workouts. The LB class keeps ascending, and Phillips looks like an early Day 3 pick.
Penn State CB John Reid
The knocks on Reid are with his lack of size and the fact that he likely will be limited to the slot. But with a better-than-expected 40 (4.49 seconds), a strong showing on the bench (20 reps) and very smooth and fluid movement in the backpedal drill, Reid showed out.
UCLA CB Darnay Holmes
Piggybacking off a strong Senior Bowl performance, Holmes also turned in a good 40 time of 4.48 and was probably the clear standout in the “Line” drill during the positional work. Holmes’ backpedalling, change of direction and hip flipping were all super clear. He also showed off his confidence and football IQ in interviews, we were told.
Florida CB C.J. Henderson
The first round appears to be a lock for Henderson, and the top 20 feels more likely now that he cranked out a 4.39 40 and nailed his positional work. There are questions about his tackling and whether he played not to get hurt last season, but Henderson is in the running for CB2 behind Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah for some teams. Everything Henderson did Sunday at the combine looked easy.
Southern Illinois S Jeremy Chinn
The FCS specimen has great bloodlines as the nephew of newly minted Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Atwater, and Chinn possesses some of those great athletic genes. At 6-foot-3 and 221 pounds, he has elite measurements for the position, and his arm length (32 1/8 inches) and hand size (9 5/8 inches) also checked out well.
And for Chinn to do what he did in testing in Indy was nothing short of tremendous. He put up 20 reps on the bench press, ran a scalding 4.45-second 40 and jumped 41 inches (vertical) and 11-foot-6 (broad), profiling as an elite athlete. Although he looked to guess — and not react — in some of the ball drills, Chinn helped his cause.
2 former Georgia QB teammates
Washington QB Jacob Eason once won the starting job over Jake Fromm at Georgia before Fromm stole it — and kept it — once Eason suffered a knee injury in 2017 with the national runner-up Bulldogs. Eason transferred, spent one season as the Huskies’ starter, and both he and Fromm declared early this year amid mixed reviews.
Those reviews remain complicated. They’re quite different specimens, with each carrying questions.
With Eason, his ceiling is higher with high-end arm talent that matches (or even surpasses) some of the NFL’s best passers. Fromm possesses all the intangibles teams want in the position, but his physical skills have a clear ceiling — and his consistency issues this past season were surprising.
Once Eason uncorked some deep balls in his throwing session Thursday, he looked more comfortable and showcased that big arm. The shorter timing throws proved to be more thorny, and his footwork is a bit wooden and clunky.
Fromm had perhaps the worst off-target pass of the group on a deep ball, and his athletic testing was poor. Both he and Eason finished closer to the bottom of nearly every athletic measurement.
Utah RB Zack Moss
Let the record show that we are huge fans of Moss, the player. But Moss’ health is causing some serious reservation.
The medical concerns raised on Moss in our RB combine preview are now compounded by a hamstring issue that reportedly cropped up while running his 4.65-second 40. That didn’t provide the boost Moss might need in a crowded RB class, and neither did his average-to-below-average numbers in other drills — a 33-inch vertical jump, 4.37-second short shuttle and 19 reps on the bench.
Moss has a chance to rebound at his pro day, and he could remain a Day 2 pick, but his talent is higher than his draft grades right now because of the durability worries.
Tennessee WR Jauan Jennings
The 6-3, 215-pound Jennings was never expected to test as a high-end athlete, as he wins with his physicality and tenacity. But measuring in with shorter arms (31 5/8 inches) and smaller hands (9 inches) didn’t help. And Jennings testing in the bottom 5 percent in the 40-yard dash (4.72 seconds, slower than some defensive ends) and vertical jump (29 inches, worse than some offensive guards) raises serious eyebrows.
Even with a middling broad jump (119 inches), it’s hard to see Jennings appealing to teams that put a lot of stock in SPARQ scores, especially in such a crowded WR field. Beyond that, his character has concerned a number of teams.
Vanderbilt TE Jared Pinkney
Pinkney is hard to figure out. He has a pro-ready build at 6-4 and 257 pounds, good arm length (32 7/8 inches), big hands (10 1/2 inches) and was competitive on the bench with 23 reps.
But his 4.96-second 40 was slowest among all tight ends, and poor positional work was another big worry. He let a few passes clang off his hands and looked stiff and unsure in his movement.
A strong 2018 season made him a popular prospect, but his production decline last season and this combine performance have his stock on the way down.
Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr.
Like Pinkney, Shenault opened eyes in a big way in 2018. It was hard not to appreciate his toughness and speed as a big-play receiver and runner. But injuries have taken their toll on Shenault, and they cropped up at the combine, too.
Shenault ran a slower-than-expected 4.58-second 40, and it was reported that he was fighting through a core muscle injury that will require surgery and likely keep him out of pro-day workouts.
It won’t be shocking to learn that some teams will knock him down to their sub-board for the litany of injury concerns to sort through.
Washington OT Trey Adams
We detailed Adams’ lengthy injury history — including back surgery and a torn ACL that wiped out a lot of his 2017 and 2018 seasons — in our OL combine preview. Despite playing a full season in 2019, he compounded those issues with some poor athletic testing and uneven positional work.
The 6-8, 319-pound Adams was never going to be a testing wonder. But his 5.60-second 40 was the slowest of all offensive linemen, and his 1.89-second 10-yard split was second-slowest. Throw in bottom-rung numbers in both the vertical jump (24 1/2 inches) and broad jump (92 inches), along with poor agility in OL drills, and Adams doesn’t project as someone who can handle quality rushers with elite traits and technique.
Miami EDGE Trevon Hill
Hill calmed some of the character concerns in his one season with the Hurricanes after being dismissed from Virginia Tech, but a so-so final season followed by some poor testing at the combine has his stock in limbo.
Despite weighing a below-average 248 pounds, Hill’s 4.89-second 40 and 28-inch vertical jump make him a tricky projection. Hill has some pass-rush traits worth investing in, but he won’t be the high pick some thought he would be a year or two ago. We suspect he’ll land on Day 3.
Mississippi State CB Cam Dantzler
There’s no way to say it kindly, but cornerbacks cannot run 4.64 40-yard dashes and be safely projected to have any kind of NFL success. We try not to be married to the numbers, but history tells us that corners with worse than 4.6 speed don’t really make it. (Seriously, try to find one.) Dantzler has nice size at 6-2, but he has shorter arms (30 5/8 inches) and also turned in a so-so vertical jump in his workouts.
Dantzler’s positional work was really strong, and that matters. It hurts to put him in the “Losers” category after watching him look fluid, confident and well-coached. This matched what we saw on tape of a player who was competitive and aggressive in battling the SEC’s best receivers.
Dantzler will have a chance to run a sub-4.6 40 and ease some of those concerns at his pro day. If not, it’s going to complicate his forecast. At some point, even with strong tape, the numbers matter.
Washington DB Miles Bryant
Bryant was already handicapped by the fact that he’s in the bottom-10th percentile for size at 5-8 and 183 pounds. But then he had a rough athletic testing session, turning in the worst broad (115 inches) and vertical (31.5) jumps among combine DBs. Bryant also ran a surprisingly slow 4.66-second 40.
The appeal for Bryant is his competitiveness and work ethic, both of which are off the charts. But with sub-standard size and athletic traits, he’ll almost certainly be limited to slot duty in the NFL — and these numbers will cause Bryant’s draft stock to fall.
It’s too bad because, Bryant is a fun player to watch.
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