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In all, there were 337 NFL draft hopefuls in Indianapolis for the scouting combine’s pentathlon, challenging players’ mettle with medical evaluations, team interviews, athletic testing and on-field positional drills, along with media obligations.
Some fared better than expected. Other disappointed.
It’s one piece of the NFL draft puzzle, as league evaluators like to frequently remind us, but it’s one that cannot be dismissed or overinflated. So here are some of the players who helped themselves the most and those who hurt their draft stocks.
Alabama DT Quinnen Williams – Williams’ agent, Nicole Lynn, advised her 6-foot-3, 303-pound client not to run a second 40-yard dash after he scorched his first time of 4.87 seconds. He respectfully ignored her advice and bettered his time on the second try, running at a shocking 4.84 seconds. For comparison, Georgia RB Elijah Holyfield, who weighs 86 pounds less, was only 0.05 seconds faster. Williams’ tape during his breakout season with Bama in 2018 was exceptional, and his combine performance only solidified his chances of being a top-five pick. He also crushed the interview process. “About as good an interview as I’ve had in years,” one team told us. There’s little doubt Williams will end up as the highest-graded player on multiple teams’ boards.
Mississippi State DE Montez Sweat – It’s impossible to make a combine winners list and not include Sweat, who left a virtual vapor trail following his 4.41-second 40-yard dash – a nearly incomprehensible time for a 6-foot-6, 260-pound pass rusher with vines for arms (35 3/4 inches). His 10-yard split on the 40 of 1.50 seconds was faster than many corners and running backs, and Sweat turned in a good enough time on the 3-cone drills (7.00 seconds) to answer questions about his supposed lack of lateral agility. Combine all this with good tape and production in the SEC and a strong Senior Bowl showing, and it would be a shock if Sweat wasn’t one of the first defenders off the board.
Ole Miss wide receivers – Yes, that certainly includes D.K. Metcalf, who solidified his Josh Gordon comp with impossible numbers in the 40 (4.33 seconds) and bench press (27 reps of 225 pounds) for a player his size (6-3, 228 pounds), even if his shockingly low body-fat percentage has clubs worried about his ability to fight injuries and change directions, which also was reflected in his slow 3-cone and shuttle-drill times. But Metcalf and teammate A.J. Brown certainly were winners for their overall work. One evaluator said Brown was the most natural of all the receivers catching balls in drills.
San Francisco 49ers – With growing talk that QB Kyler Murray could go first overall, the 49ers, picking second in the draft, now could have their choice of elite defenders from which to choose. One of the worst-kept secrets is that they’re infatuated with Ohio State DE Nick Bosa, but the standout showings from Quinnen Williams and Kentucky’s Josh Allen also offer a unique opportunity to move down a few spots, if that presents itself, and still land an elite defender should a QB-needy team come calling for a trade. Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins did nothing to hurt his stock, so it only increased the value of the Niners’ No. 2 overall pick.
Michigan DL Rashan Gary – He might be a tricky evaluation because of inconsistent production last season, but Gary backed up his combine boast to nail the workouts. Great numbers in the 40 (4.58 seconds), vertical jump (38 inches) and broad jump (120 inches) was exactly what the 6-4, 277-pounder needed. It’s believed he’s still going to be drafted somewhere relatively high in the first round, even with the questions over his positional fit and lack of edge-rush bend.
Buffalo QB Tyree Jackson – “He genuinely seemed to enjoy the process,” is what one team told us of the intriguing 6-7, 249-pound passer who considered a grad-transfer year in college football elsewhere before declaring for the draft. Jackson won’t be for everyone, but his fascinating athletic traits (a 4.59 40!) and strong arm make him a project for a team that might need a starter in a few years. Refinement is needed, but evaluators left Indy wanting to dig deeper on the MAC standout.
Mississippi State S Johnathan Abram – After an injury knocked him out of the Senior Bowl in January, Abram was so bent on proving himself there any way he could he stuck around all week to interview with NFL teams and sit in on the South Team meetings with the 49ers. Healthy now, Abram impressed at the combine with some solid workout numbers – a 4.45-second 40 and 16 reps on the bench press, plus a good positional workout – and, as expected, he nailed his interviews. “He was really sharp,” one team said. “Almost like a coach in terms of intelligence and confidence.” Teams appear to view Abram as a coach-on-the-field type who could be a Day 1 starter with his smarts and hitting ability.
Iowa players (especially the tight ends) – Most teams felt that Hawkeyes TEs T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant were two of the best at their position, worthy of first-round consideration entering the combine. But Fant’s exceptional athletic testing (position-best numbers in the 40, the vertical jump and the broad jump) and Hockenson’s strong overall work solidify that. S Amani Hooker and DE Anthony Nelson also had impressive showings. It’s a reminder that year in and year out Iowa produces NFL talent that typically exceeds expectations.
Washington State OT Andre Dillard – One longtime evaluator believes Dillard has a chance to be the top left tackle drafted, so he appears to be a top-20 cinch at this point. A 4.96 40 and outstanding movement skills in positional drills absolutely helped his cause.
Massachusetts WR Andy Isabella – Throw away the pigment-based comps that have Isabella being called the next Wes Welker or what have you. He’s more like the next T.Y. Hilton or perhaps Brandin Cooks with rare track speed (4.3 40) and surprising strength (15 bench reps). That speed typically doesn’t get out of Day 2, and Isabella’s impressive performance against Georgia and a strong Senior Bowl week likely back up that landing spot.
Maryland S Darnell Savage – Not especially big or strong, Savage nonetheless comes away a big winner from Indy. He blazed a 4.36-second 40 and turned in very good numbers in the vertical jump (39 1/2 inches) and broad jump (126). But more than that, Savage impressed teams with his total package. “Very polished and personable,” one team told us. Landing on Day 2 is very likely now.
Texas A&M C Erik McCoy – Only average size at 6-3 7/8 and 303 pounds, and his arm length (33 inches) and hand size (9 5/8 inches) likely limit him to center. McCoy also turned in a poor 3-cone drill time of 8.38 seconds, which can be attributed to a slip and stumble during it. But McCoy aced the positional drills and impressed in his interviews (“He was awesome,” a scout said), building off some nice Senior Bowl momentum. He should be one of the top centers drafted.
Florida DE Jachai Polite – Billed as a top-tier athlete entering the combine, Polite turned in very disappointing numbers in the 40 (4.84 seconds) and vertical jump (32 inches) despite less than ideal height (6-foot-2 5/8) and weight (258 pounds). He also cut off the event with a hamstring injury – the severity of which multiple teams challenged him on – and didn’t impress teams with his behind-the-scenes work. Much was made of Polite’s time in front of the media, in which he complained about teams’ approaches to their interview tact – “it was all bad stuff,” he bemoaned – but it appears teams felt the same about his handling of them. “He interviewed poorly, no other way to say it,” one evaluator said without being prompted. When it was mentioned that Polite was roundly viewed as having had one of the worst media sessions of the week, the evaluator added: “I think that’s consistent.”
Ohio State CB Kendall Sheffield – A tough break, as the athletically gifted corner appears to have suffered a torn left pectoral early during the bench press, which likely will be a six-month recovery. “He really needed [a good combine workout],” one scouting director said of the Buckeyes junior. Sheffield declared early after a circuitous route, with stops at Alabama and Blinn Junior College (Texas). Sheffield is a gifted athlete who reportedly was running in the 4.3 range during his pre-combine training, but this will have a significant effect on his draft status.
Virginia S Juan Thornhill – Yes, his athletic testing was eye-popping: a 4.42 40-yard dash, a 44-inch vertical jump and a 141-inch broad jump. All of those placed him in the top 5-10 percentile for his position, and he also checked in with an impressive 22 reps on the bench press. But we had two separate teams express serious concerns about his football IQ when they met with the intriguing safety. Said one team, “He seemed very limited in terms of his football acumen for safety.” Added another, “His learning curve could be pretty steep.” Thornhill was a three-year starter, and his athletic testing was perhaps even better than expected. But the combine is a multi-tiered event; he aced one part and flunked another.
Alabama LB Mack Wilson – One of this year’s trickiest evaluations only added to the mystery this week. A sore hamstring can explain his middling-at-best workout numbers in the broad and vertical jumps – the only athletic testing he participated in – but he also failed to impress teams during the interview phase. “He’s a different bird,” a team said, and that sentiment was echoed by a second club we asked. “I didn’t talk to him personally, but two of our guys said their interactions with him were a bit bizarre,” a scout from the second team said. After an up-and-down 2018 season on the field, Wilson must quickly rebound to recover his stock after several other inside linebackers impressed in Indy.
Texas WR Lil'Jordan Humphrey – A player with modest intrigue entering the week, Humphrey’s glacial 40 time (4.75 seconds, which is bottom-five percentile for the position) and wholly underwhelming numbers in other testing made him a head-scratcher exiting the combine. With all the tremendous workouts at receiver, Humphrey looked relatively poor.
Ole Miss OT Greg Little – As one scouting director asked rhetorically, “Would you spend a first-rounder on him?” Little’s poor showings in the 40 (5.33) and vertical jump (25 inches) didn’t help answer that question, and his decision not to bench press was viewed as odd. The feeling is that he needs to nail his pro day to recover some of that first-round buzz again.
Georgia RB Elijah Holyfield – There were scouts who wanted to view Holyfield against his RB peers considering how little the seemingly talented Bulldogs running back was featured in a stacked backfield in Athens. But a frightening 40 time (4.78 seconds) and vertical jump (29 1/2 inches, which many offensive linemen easily surpassed) has the son of former heavyweight champion boxer Evander Holyfield on the ropes right now.
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