INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL scouting combine wrapped up on Monday with the defensive back drills, and several players helped themselves by answering key questions over the past week.
Others, not so much.
Shutdown Corner spoke to NFL scouts, coaches and decision makers over the past several days about what transpired at the combine and we compiled our list of those who improved their draft status and those who hurt themselves.
Here’s our list of winners and losers from the event:
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson — The feeling coming into combine week was that there probably wasn’t much Watson could do for himself that 3.5 years of starting, two national title games, one championship title and being a Heisman finalist weren’t going to do already. But Watson tested and interviewed with teams very well, perhaps even better than expected. When teams asked other players about the best or toughest player they ever faced, Watson was a frequent response. The feeling coming out of the week was that Watson’s floor as a player is even higher than it might have been. He’s almost certainly a first-round pick, and now the question comes with which team liked him the most.
Stanford RB-WR Christian McCaffrey — His 10 bench reps (second lowest among RBs, bottom 15 percent among receivers) and good but not great 40-yard dash time (4.48, after he hoped to run closer to 4.4) were sticking points for a few people. But his exceptional numbers in the vertical jump (37.5 inches, tied for fifth among all RBs and WRs), three-cone drill (6.57, tied for first at those positions) and 60-yard shuttle (11.03, second in that group) were more than enough to make up for it. He interviewed very well, as expected, and gave teams comfort about projecting him to any or all of three positions — receiver, running back and returner. A good weekend for him.
“Knew he was smart,” a college scout said, “but he had an edge to him. A good edge. I’m a believer.”
Ohio State WR-RB Curtis Samuel — Another multi-position player, Samuel’s blazing 40 (4.31) was a pleasant surprise for a player who didn’t make a ton of long plays in college but showed consistent playmaking ability. His other numbers were solid to very good for the most part.
One team said of Samuel’s interview: “He’s bright, confident, borderline cocky. I liked that.”
Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon — Not being invited to the combine didn’t hurt Mixon. If anything, teams we spoke to believe he’ll be a top-75 pick, perhaps as high as the early second round.
His pro day this week could shed further light on how teams view him. But right now, Mixon has enough teams that like him that he should be in good shape despite major character concerns, barring any poor interviews from here on out.
Washington WR John Ross — Uh, did you watch his supersonic 40? His medical evaluations still offer some worries, and he did come up a bit lame at the end of his record-breaking sprint, leaving a few scouts to wonder if Ross will be susceptible to typical track-related injuries (hamstring, calf, etc.) in his career. But still … in a weekend when the supposed WR1 and WR2 (Western Michigan’s Corey Davis and Clemson’s Mike Williams, in whatever order) did not run, Ross made himself some money and now feels locked into Round 1.
Penn State WR Chris Godwin — From the Rose Bowl until now, Godwin has been on a steady rise. He burned USC cornerback Adorée Jackson for two touchdowns in his final game, and Godwin put up some impressive numbers for NFL teams to chew on: 19 bench-press reps, a 4.42 40-yard dash, a 4.00 short shuttle and a 126-inch broad jump. At 6-foot-1 and 201 pounds, Godwin matched size, strength, quickness and speed and also tracked and caught the ball well during receiver drills.
Alabama OL Cam Robinson — While some of his teammates might have stumbled in Indy, Robinson — who had character issues coming in — put his best foot forward with at least one team. “I don’t even know if we asked him a football question [in the 15-minute interview],” a director said. “It was guns and marijuana questions. Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, you know? And I really liked the way he talked about it. I felt better about it.”
His testing numbers were underwhelming, and Robinson didn’t bench. But his on-field work was strong, looking great in the pass-set and run-blocking drills, and the interview process appears to have quelled some big concerns. He’s a first-rounder for sure, and likely the first tackle off the board.
Alabama TE O.J. Howard — Exceptional testing following a knockout Senior Bowl week, Howard killed it and appears to have locked up a spot in the top half of the first round. Unlike some others in this position group, Howard has plus blocking potential and scouts feel he still has some unlocked upside that can come out in the NFL. His stock continues to rise.
Iowa TE George Kittle — It’s a freakishly athletic TE group, one with a lot of pass-catching talent. So he needed a big workout to stand tall after a 20-catch season that was marred by injuries, and the 6-4, 247-pound Kittle delivered. Among tight ends, he turned in the third-fastest 40 time (4.52), the third-best broad jump (132 inches) and the sixth-best vertical (35 inches). Even with a sub-par bench-press reps (18), that’s a phenomenal workout. It doesn’t hurt that Iowa has been something of a tight end factory in recent years under Kirk Ferentz and that Kittle loves to block.
Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett — The assumed top pick did nothing to change his position in the draft. If anything, he solidified it and forced the Cleveland Browns to explore all other angles to land a quarterback than with the No. 1 selection. This pick has to be locked in, and the Browns now need to make sure Garrett wants to be on their team.
Kansas State DE Jordan Willis — “The question on him coming in was [moving] side to side,” a Midwest scout said, “and he helped there.” That would be in reference to Willis’ stunning 6.85 three-cone time, which would have placed him 18th among wide receivers. That’s an insane number for a defensive end — better than Joey Bosa a year ago and good for eighth-best among all d-linemen since 2006. His 40 time (4.53) was sixth-best over that period, tied for the mark Jadeveon Clowney turned in, and Willis’ 10-yard split time of 1.54 was ridiculous.
Willis hustled between drills and was focused and ready for the coaches’ and scouts’ instructions, matching his strong reputation from Manhattan. Between this week and earning Most Outstanding Player for the South Team at the Senior Bowl, Willis is on fire.
Temple LB Haason Reddick — Another Senior Bowl riser who kept the foot on the gas. Reddick profiles more to linebacker than defensive end because of his sawed-off frame. But who cares? He can and should rush the passer and likely will appeal heavily to 3-4 teams, effortlessly moving through bag drills and position work. Reddick also nailed the 40 and broad and vertical jumps and showed some pop in the pass-rush drills and solid power with 24 bench reps. We entered the week thinking he had a chance to solidify a first-round selection, and the question now might be if he can crack the top 20-25 picks.
Florida LBs Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone — Health was a big worry for both, and Davis was unable to work out as he continues to recover from an ankle injury. But he impressed in one team’s interviews. “He came across as smart, serious and mature,” a scout said. “We liked him.”
Anzalone helped continue his momentum from a good Senior Bowl performance with strong athletic testing. Both helped themselves as much as they could have.
Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore — He entered the week as the top corner and will leave the combine in that spot, a strong possibility to land in the top 10. With 40 times of 4.36 and 4.37, he has top-end speed and good size. He shouldn’t run another 40 for the rest of his life. Ohio State has been a DB factory in recent years, and Lattimore will be the latest in that esteemed line.
LSU S Jamal Adams — “He was awesome,” one scouting director said of his team’s interview with Adams. “Came across as mature, serious … all the positives you can imagine. The boxes were checked off.” Add that to great tape and a special teams, blue-collar mentality, and Adams is in great shape. His 40 time of 4.56 was not scalding, but he plays to that time and he looked smooth in combine position drills. An extremely safe prospect who has the chance to be a tone setter in a locker room from Day 1.
Ohio State S Malik Hooker — The same evaluator who liked Adams also said Hooker looked “outstanding” in the weigh-in and was “terrific” in interviews, which was about all teams could gather from him in Indianapolis a little more than a month removed from surgery to repair a torn hip labrum and a hernia. But teams are not worried about his health, feeling he should be ready by rookie minicamps. Hooker’s lack of experience — a few years of high school football, one year starting for the Buckeyes — also can be seen as a positive. “It’s not like quarterback, where I need to see it for more than a year,” one said. “He’s a safety making all these plays out there, and it leads your imagination to the possibilities. We loved his football knowledge and felt like he gets it. He could be really special in a few years.”
Connecticut S Obi Melifonwu — Expected to test well, Melifonwu didn’t disappoint. In fact, he was insanely good. He measured in as the biggest safety in Indy (6-4, 224 pounds), repped out 17 on the bench (with 32.5-inch arms) and turned in a brilliant broad jump of 141 inches, the second-highest mark in combine history. Teams are fascinated by his upside, and a few have kicked around the idea of using him at cornerback. Turning in 40 times of 4.40 and 4.46 won’t change that and might even have teams going back to the tape to watch him in press coverage, which he did in college sporadically.
Round 1 is a possibility following a strong Senior Bowl as well. Several teams came away impressed, but no team has spent more time looking at him than the Seattle Seahawks — who pick at No. 26 — over the past few months. Melifonwu is basically a blueprint for the long, strong, freakishly athletic DB they look for.
Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer — He came into the week with a lot of teams intrigued, but the momentum stalled with some so-so workouts, sloppy footwork during the on-field throwing portion and some interviews that failed to impress.
Worth noting: Nothing Kizer did in Indy in theory hurt his stock, per se. But with the other quarterbacks at the top (Watson, UNC’s Mitchell Trubisky and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes) mostly acquitting themselves well, it might be considered a missed opportunity.
Kizer now has until March 23 to clean up his footwork for his pro day and try to wrest back some buzz.
Florida State RB Dalvin Cook — Here’s where good scouts are separated from the herd. Cook was an exceptional college player whose tape makes him RB1 on some teams’ boards. However, with a fairly confusing and monotone workout, Cook at least failed to overtake LSU’s Leonard Fournette as this year’s top back in some eyes. The teams that place a greater emphasis on the workout portion likely came away underwhelmed. Those that rely more heavily on the tape might not have been too concerned, and Cook did a strong 22 bench reps. There also are some lingering health and character questions that complicate the evaluation.
Bottom line: Cook’s landing spot is very much in flux right now, but he’s still a first-round pick. It just might not be the top-15 spot many believed at one point.
Alabama DL Jonathan Allen — Mediocre testing and some worrisome medical news (he has an arthritic shoulder) should have people forgetting about Allen being a top-three pick, as was commonly mocked recently. Allen could slide out of the top 10, although there’s very little chance he’s not a top-20 selection. Still, it appears he’s losing a bit of money. His combine SPARQ (Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness) scores were in the bottom third of his position group, which is surprising.
Virginia Tech WR Isaiah Ford — For a supposed speed receiver, Ford’s 4.61 40 time was disappointing. “Skinny legs,” one evaluator said from the weigh-in.
USC OT Zach Banner — Poor lateral agility in OL drills, with athletic testing numbers to match. Banner also came across a bit disingenuous in one team’s interview, although “it wasn’t awful, he just felt a bit too phony to me,” one OL coach said. “He’s not a [character red flag] at all. He just didn’t win me over.”
Michigan TE Jake Butt — Bad luck, but Butt had to sit and watch the position blow the roof off the dome athletically while he continues to recover from ACL surgery, his second torn ligament. This is more about what others did than what Butt didn’t do at the combine. He has some work ahead in order to convince teams he should be a Day 2 pick.
Alabama LB Reuben Foster — No matter how he spins it, Foster hurt himself by being sent home from the event following a run-in with a medical employee. Is it going to send him barreling down the draft? No. He is still a first-round pick, but how far might he drop?
Scouts who wondered about anger issues are now digging deeper on those. Foster also missed a chance to interview in Indy, and though sending a letter to all 32 teams is a good start to help repairing his image, it’s still a setback. Coming off shoulder surgery Foster won’t be able to work out at his pro day this week, either, so teams already wondering if he’s athletic enough to be a three-down impact player now also have a character concern to ponder. The damage control has begun.
Michigan State DL Malik McDowell — Allow us to explain how a 6-foot-6, 295-pound prime athlete with long arms and big hands who runs a 4.85 40 is on the “losers” list. Said one team: “Worst interview we did.” Added another: “Awful interview. Awful.” What concerns scouts most is that for all his tremendous upside — watch him destroy Michigan, for instance — McDowell’s production and tape don’t always match up. Scouts feel like he takes plays off too often. And when they asked him about that, he got defensive. They also asked him about his attitude and work ethic, which were concerns. Many of those questions remain unanswered.
“The cautionary tale is Clowney,” one team explained. “You see him now, he’s dominant; we had those same questions [for McDowell] when he came out. Does he love football? Is he going to work?
“With [McDowell], I can’t figure out what makes this kid tick. He might be the type who, maybe he falls [in the draft] and it lights a fire under him. I don’t know. But I need that light on more often, and he didn’t like it when we asked him about that.”
McDowell might never fully show his full skill, but passing on him also means you’re missing out on a potentially rare talent.
Florida DT Caleb Brantley — Came off as “full of [expletive]” when teams asked about his work ethic and taking plays off, which they saw on tape. “On the surface he sounds good, but you felt the whole time like it was a big sales job,” a scouting director said. “I felt like he was spending the whole [interview] trying to convince us [that the work ethic wasn’t an issue], and it felt a little fake to me.” His workouts were below average almost across the board, too. Round 1 feels like a stretch at this point, so Brantley has some work to do.
Florida CB Teez Tabor — Some alarming workout numbers (a 4.63 40 and nine nine reps on the bench) add to the list of concerns, which include some character worries following multiple suspensions for positive drug tests and a fight with a Gators teammate. Although he’s a playmaker and a two-time all-SEC selection with confidence, he has holes in his game, such as a willingness to tackle. Landing in the first two rounds might not happen now.
Luckily, one team felt a little better about his character after meeting with him at the combine. “I kinda like the kid,” a college scouting director said. “He’s not a locker room killer, I don’t think. He’s not a bad kid. He’s a city kid, and he has some street smarts. I think he knows what he’s doing when he is talking [on social media] and all that. He is more savvy than people give him credit for.
“He’s Josh Norman [personality-wise] to me. What happens if he has some success? It could be good, or it could go the other way. You just have to know how to handle him, but I don’t think he’s a bad kid. I think he can be respectful [to leadership] in a team setting.”
Nebraska S Nate Gerry — Stiff on-field drills, a slow 40 time and some so-so interviews knocked him down a peg after a decent Senior Bowl week. Gerry denied he ever tested positive for a drug test during his time in Lincoln, but teams are still digging on his background.
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