2020 NFL scouting combine preview: secondary

Yahoo Sports

The NFL scouting combine is essentially boiled down to four key phases: medical evaluation, interview, athletic testing and positional workouts.

This year, in previewing the 2020 combine, we decided to highlight one prospect at each position who needs to nail (at least) one phase of the combine.

We also wanted to highlight one smaller-program prospect at each position who could make a bigger name for himself with a strong performance in Indianapolis.

The NFL scouting combine workouts begin Thursday and run through March 1.

Previous combine previews: Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers | Tight ends | Defensive linemen | Linebackers

Secondary overview

It’s a fine year to be seeking help at cornerback, especially on Days 1 and 2 of the 2020 NFL draft. Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah is this year’s top corner, and according to multiple people we’ve spoken to, he might have been the top corner drafted had he declared for the 2019 NFL draft — even without registering an interception prior to the 2019 college season.

There might not be an abundance of taller, longer corners who are pro-ready, but it’s a highly athletic and skilled group overall, which could produce around a dozen selections in the top 100.

Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah likely will be the highest-drafted defensive back in the 2020 NFL draft. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah likely will be the highest-drafted defensive back in the 2020 NFL draft. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Safety is a leaner group overall. Depending on how you categorize Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons (we’re lumping him in with the linebackers), there might only be two true safeties who land in the first 40 or 50 picks. Alabama’s Xavier McKinney and LSU’s Grant Delpit might be 1-2, in either order, followed by something of a dropoff.

There are still starter-caliber players in this crop, and a few small-school prospects boost the group’s value, but overall it’s fair to call this year’s safety lot a bit below average.

Who needs to nail the medical evaluation

Minnesota S Antoine Winfield Jr.

Winfield has a lot of pros as an NFL prospect, but also a few cons that must be addressed. 

On the positive side, he has great bloodlines (son of the former Minnesota Vikings All-Pro corner of the same name). And Winfield displayed outstanding instincts this past season with seven interceptions, three sacks and two forced fumbles. He’s a high-energy, physical player who has shown positional versatility by manning the deep safety spot, playing up in the box as a pseudo-linebacker, walking out to cover the slot and factoring in heavily on special teams.

Among the negatives, Winfield is listed at 5-foot-10 and 207 pounds, but scouts wonder if he’ll weigh in lighter than that and perhaps measure closer to the 5-9 range. And given that Winfield was granted two medical redshirts — season-ending hamstring and foot injuries in 2016 and 2017, respectively — the questions about his durability and size, especially with his physical and aggressive nature, will persist.

Winfield projects to be a Day 2 selection at this point, but increased medical concerns and a smaller-than-typical frame could make his wait a bit longer.

Who needs to nail the interviews

Ohio State CB Damon Arnette

Arnette has been overshadowed this past season by his OSU teammate, Okudah, but there’s still a lot of intrigue in the 6-foot, 195-pound corner. Despite hauling in only one interception in 2019, Arnette was named second team All-Big Ten and helped improve his stock in the eyes of scouts.

Following the 2018 season, Arnette was set to enter the 2019 draft before Buckeyes legend Cris Carter talked him out of it. It looks like a good call now, as Arnette appeared to be more mature and dependable. But scouts still have some questions they want answered.

“Most people are trying to do the homework on him. As in, can they trust him? That’s the biggest part,” a Buckeyes source told us prior to the College Football Playoff. “He’s a very vocal guy. He loves football. That part intrigues people around the league. But he’s just had a few hiccups here and there with his maturity. That’s what’s holding teams back just a bit. 

“He’s played much better [in 2019] than he did [in 2018]. Not giving up as many catches, playing more reliably. That part has helped his cause.”

A strong combine performance and convincing interviews in Indy could have Arnette land somewhere in the top 50 or 60 picks, we believe.

Who needs to nail the athletic testing

LSU CB Kristian Fulton

In general, the 40-yard dash can be an overrated metric in some talent evaluators’ minds. But even for those folks, it’s hard to persuade teams to draft a sub-6-foot (or a shorter-armed) cornerback who doesn’t crack a 4.5-second time.

LSU CB Kristian Fulton has first-round traits, but his measurements and workouts at the combine are important. (Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
LSU CB Kristian Fulton has first-round traits, but his measurements and workouts at the combine are important. (Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Fulton is listed by LSU at 6-foot flat, but he might come in closer to the 5-11 range and might weigh less than the 200 pounds on the school’s roster. If Fulton runs well, all’s well. But a poor showing in the 40 (and other athletic tests) might cause him to slip just a bit.

Some people believe Fulton will end up a first-round pick no matter what, and his play on the field last season and in 2018 prior to a season-ending injury supports that. But with a few other checkmarks working against him — the injury history plus some very minor character questions — Fulton would do himself a big favor with a strong workout.

Who needs to nail the positional workouts

Louisiana Tech CB Amik Robertson

A fascinating prospect with terrific production, Robertson nonetheless will be a tricky evaluation for some. Scouts we’ve spoken to are all over the map on his grades, but he could back up his tremendous 14 interceptions and 37 pass breakups over the past three seasons with a strong showing in the cornerback drills.

At 5-foot-9 and 183 pounds, Robertson lacks ideal size. He also displays some technique issues on game tape, daring quarterbacks to throw the ball his way. That might work consistently against Conference USA quarterbacks and receivers, but it won’t cut it in the NFL.

Robertson is a true wildcard in this CB class, and there might be a handful of teams that are very much intrigued with him. But he must show he can drop in both man and zone coverage, tighten up his footwork in transition and display good eye discipline in coverage drills.

Small-school standout

Lenoir Rhyne S Kyle Dugger

Scouts started buzzing about Dugger in 2018 when the 6-foot-1, 217-pound safety picked off three passes, deflected 10 more, forced two fumbles and also ran back two punts for touchdowns that season. Despite a hand injury that caused him to miss seven games, he intercepted two more passes in 2019 (one run back for a TD) and ran back two more punts for scores, bringing his career college total in that department to a whopping six.

At the Senior Bowl, Dugger proved he belonged with the bigger-school prospects despite playing at the Division-II level and is now being hyped as a possible top-75 selection with a shot at cracking the top 50 if he keeps displaying his terrific athleticism and winning over evaluators.

Dugger’s combine numbers could be absurd. According to The Athletic, he’s been clocked in the low 4.4-second range in the 40-yard dash, has run a three-cone drill in the 6.7-second range and broad jumped 11 feet. Testing numbers in that range would put Dugger in the top 10th percentile in each category.

More from Yahoo Sports:

What to Read Next