NFL Scouting Combine key storylines
My conversation with Daniel Jeremiah, and trip to the Combine, is my start of draft season. I know many of you are into the October Mock Draft scene. I’m not. So, many of you are waaaaay ahead of me entering the Combine. I hope some of my elementary stuff won’t bore you.
The Combine/early draft headlines:
It’s not a great draft for sure things. So it’s not a great draft at the top. “It doesn’t have maybe what we’ve had in years past, in terms of the elite, high-end players,” Jeremiah said. “I love Jalen Carter. I love Will Anderson. Those are my top two players. After that, I think there’s holes and questions on just about everybody.” The question is, will that make teams less desperate to move up? The answer has two months to develop, but I doubt it. Teams usually fall in love with players the closer we get to the draft.
The quarterbacks will take a lot of study. Jeremiah: “Five of them, I think, are gonna end up being starters. But they all have flaws. They all have holes. There’s not a Trevor Lawrence. There’s not a Joe Burrow. There’s not an Andrew Luck. But while there’s risk involved, I think these guys have really, really high upside across the board.” The four likely to go in round one:
Bryce Young, 21, 6-0, 195, Alabama. Jeremiah thinks he’ll probably measure under 6-feet, and he hears he weighs about 198 now. Granted no one is totally scared off by lightish 6-footers after the success of Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, but it is a negative. Young completed 66 percent of his passes with 80 TDs and 12 picks in 34 games at ‘Bama. “In terms of what do you like about him, it’s almost like, what do you not like about him?” Jeremiah said. “He’s got poise, he’s got excellent accuracy, he’s a really good decision-maker. Alabama coaches would have a scouting report on for the next week’s game on a Sunday. They said Bryce would show up Monday morning having already studied the entire opponent tape and would come in with corrections and ideas on the game plan saying, ‘I actually like this protection against this one better.’” How much will his size affect decision-makers, starting with Houston? Excellent question.
C.J. Stroud, 21, 6-4, 220, Ohio State. Absurd numbers, like Young: 69-percent passer, 81-12 TD-to-pick ratio in 28 games. Watching a YouTube video of him, what’s impressive is how he throws downfield and across the field; he’s not afraid to make any throw, and unlike some quarterbacks who can’t justify such quiet bravado, Stroud has, consistently. “He’s a pure thrower,” Jeremiah said. “He’s not real dynamic or urgent or explosive in terms of his movements. I wanted to see him play a little bit more off schedule. In other words, when he got moved off of his spot … I thought when you could move him and get him uncomfortable, I thought his play suffered. Then of course he goes into the playoff game against Georgia and it’s the best I’ve ever seen him play.” Stroud put up 41 points with four TDs and no interceptions against Georgia’s top-rated defense.
Will Levis, 23, 6-3, 232, Kentucky. Levis transferred from Penn State after two seasons mostly on the bench, then became the starter early in 2021 at Kentucky. He might be more famous for putting mayonnaise in his coffee than for playing football. (True factoid.) Battled through shoulder and toe injuries in 2022 at Kentucky and the team didn’t develop a weapon around him as dangerous as the departed Wan’Dale Robinson, so Levis wasn’t as good in 2022 as in ’21 in Lexington. A coach like Josh McDaniels, who is big in QB-development and drilling down on the little things, might be a good match for Levis, with the Raiders picking seventh. That’s where Jeremiah has him. “Will’s a tough evaluation,” Jeremiah said. “When I watched him over the summer, I liked a lot of things that I saw from him. But when you watch him, you still see every type of throw you can make. He can do it. He’s got a really strong arm. You know when he’s healthy he’s a good athlete. The two things that you gotta navigate around are the turnovers, the combination of fumbles and interceptions, and then taking a ton of sacks.”
Anthony Richardson, 21, 6-4, 232, Florida. Over the weekend, talking with one NFL evaluator for a team that likely will not take a quarterback in this draft, I asked which quarterback he liked the most. “Richardson,” he said. “Clearly the best upside, but you’re gonna have to be patient.” Richardson is a dual-threat player, and had TD runs of 80 and 81 yards at Florida. But he won just six football games in his short career, and may be a classic case of a player who might be the 15th pick this year but could be the top pick in 2024 with more experience. “If you’re on an alien spaceship and you land and you only watch Richardson’s Utah game, you think he’s the best football player on the planet,” Jeremiah said. He was 17-of-24 with 106 yards rushing and three rushing TDs in the upset of the Utes. “But the consistency is just not there. It’s a roller coaster ride that you go on. But there’s a ton of talent in there.”
Where are the coaches? So Sean McVay and Matt LaFleur won’t attend the combine, and Kyle Shanahan may not, and there could be others. That seems nutty, but I’ll tell you why it’s not. The Combine was designed originally to do exhaustive physicals on all the players—which none of the coaches attended. The Combine was designed to have workouts and physical tests on all the players—which the coaches could attend, but see the same thing on TV. The Combine was designed for teams to have 15-minute windows to meet with the players they were most interested in—and all of those meetings are videotaped by teams so that coaches can see them. Here’s what the Combine has become: four or five long days that end with drinking sessions with friends in the business, and networking, and coaches being hounded for jobs by unemployed coaches and personnel people in the hallways of the Indiana Convention Center and bars late at night. If I’m a new coach like Arizona’s Jonathan Gannon, who just got his job 13 days ago and just finished filling out his staff last week, my feeling is my time would be much better spent in long days of meetings in Tempe with coaches I’m just getting prepared to work with. If I were Gannon, I’d figure I have time to meet with prospects in person for 30, 60, 90 minutes in the next two months. I’d rather spend time now with my new staff figuring out how we’re going to coach our players, who we’re going to go after in free-agency, etc. Whatever he does, fine. Even in this microscopically short offseason, I do think meeting players at the Combine does help teams.
The “exceptions in scouting” Combine. There are coaches who, when speaking to scouts in their organizations, specify minimum heights and weights for each position. This year, that could be challenged. “This year, there are exceptions,” Jeremiah said. “In every position in this draft, you can find an undersized player who’s one of the highest-ranked players. For instance, my top corner is [Devon] Witherspoon of Illinois. He’s listed at 180 pounds—and he might be less than that. Obviously Bryce Young at quarterback. You go to the defensive tackles. One of the more fascinating players, Calijah Kancey from Pitt, same school as Aaron Donald – he’s listed at 6-foot, 280 pounds. He might come in at 5-11. But he’s a great player. It’s one position after another where you’ve gotta try and decide like, gosh, I don’t want a team of little guys but these guys are really, really good football players. Fascinating storyline.”
Good year for tight ends. “The best tight end group I’ve seen in the last 10 years,” Jeremiah said. He’ll release his second list of Top 50 players on NFL.com. Tight ends in Jeremiah’s top 25: three. Wide receivers in Jeremiah’s top 25: two. Jeremiah has Utah TE Dalton Kincaid the top-rated tight end or wideout on his board, at number 10. No wonder: In October, with defenders hanging off him, Kincaid caught 16 passes against USC for 234 yards.
The top two talents. Jalen Carter has been talked about for two years by scouts—even with all the talent at Georgia last year, there was a wait-till-Carter-comes-out vibe. Had three sacks and 31 QB hits this year, which is pedestrian. “But his change of direction, his strength, how he creates havoc, he’s just a complete disruptor,” Jeremiah said. Carter’s the top-rated player for Jeremiah, and Will Anderson is two. At Alabama, Anderson had 34.5 sacks and 58.5 tackles for loss in three seasons. At 6-4 and just 235 pounds, he’ll likely grow into a bigger NFL body. “He’s not a Von Miller-type athlete in terms of his ability to really bend and kind of wrap around,” Jeremiah said. “But he’s got so much twitch and so much power in such a short area, you know, that makes him a nightmare to deal with in the passing game. One of the stories I thought was interesting was if you watch these guys at training facilities, they’ll do a lot of drills where you’ve got a band wrapped around a player and you’ve got a coach that’s attached to him. So Anderson is running and the coach is resisting and his trainer’s been doing this for a very long time and he said [Anderson] had more horsepower than anybody I’ve ever done that with. When he takes off and goes, you can feel that jolt.”
Jeremiah loves Texas RB Bijan Robinson. He rated Robinson fourth overall in this draft class, even though he knows it’s highly unlikely a back will go that high these days. “The grade I gave him is the same grade I gave to Christian McCaffrey. It’s the same grade that I gave to Saquon Barkley.” The debate about how high to take backs will likely push Robinson down, but Jeremiah doesn’t apologize for ranking him fourth overall.
Texans fans, rejoice … maybe. Houston has the second and 12th picks as of this morning. In Jeremiah’s latest mock, done without trades (he’s sure, as I am, that there will be some high in the draft), he gave Houston the best QB in the draft, Young, at two, and the best wideout in the draft, USC’s Jordan Addison, at 12. Imagine that. “Even though the warts are where they are on the defensive side of the ball,” Jeremiah said, “I’m trying to give my young quarterback as much help as I can possibly give him.” Thus Addison at 12.
NFL Network will run more than 50 hours of Combine programming starting Tuesday at 10 a.m. and concluding Sunday night. I’ll have this column with Combine stuff next Monday. There will be more than 1,100 media people covering the event, so it’s likely you’ll get your fill over the next week, if you’re interested.
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column
NFL Scouting Combine key storylines originally appeared on NBCSports.com