NFL draft season is just around the corner, and this past weekend draft prospects got their first opportunity to showcase their abilities for teams and scouts in Indianapolis, at the NFL combine. Big names made headlines throughout the weekend with stars such as Heisman winner Kyler Murray, D.K. Metcalf, Quinnen Williams all raising their stock. Others such as West Virginia University wide receiver Gary Jennings and linebacker Drue Tranquill made names for themselves with standout performances, pushing them into the earlier rounds of the draft.
While it is still very much in the air how the first five to 10 picks will shake out, the defensive line unit has solidified themselves as the premier group of this draft class with former Buckeye Nick Bosa, consensus All-American Josh Allen of Kentucky, The University of Alabama’s Quinnen Williams, and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor product Rashan Gary all near the top of draft boards.
In this article, I’ll recap the biggest storylines from each of the three days of the combine.
Day 1 Recap
The combine kicked off Friday featuring running backs, offensive linemen, and special teamers. With top running-back-prospect Josh Jacobs of the University of Alabama and highly coveted University of Florida tackle, Jawaan Taylor, missing in action due to injury (Taylor absent from only some drills), it opened the door for other prospects to climb up the big boards.
Oklahoma State University’s Justice Hill did just that, dominating every drill, as he clocked a 4.40 in the 40, and leaped his way to a 40-inch vertical, and a 130 broad jump — all ranking first among halfbacks. Fellow running-back-prospect Miles Sanders also left scouts gushing. The former Nittany Lion backed up NFL Rookie of the Year Saquon Barkley last year but showed teams he can be special, too, by posting a 4.49 40-time, good for sixth in the positional group, and a 6.89 3-cone drill which led all halfbacks.
North Carolina State University center Garrett Bradbury stood out amongst the offensive lineman, and is now generating 1st round buzz after monster performances in the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, and bench press. Longtime Dallas Cowboys general manager and now NFL analyst, Gil Brandt, raved about his numbers and thinks he’ll be in the league for a decade or more.
Day 2 Recap
On Saturday in Lucas Oil Stadium, scouts got their first chance to evaluate the receiving class as receivers participated in the 40-yard dash and gauntlet. The quarterbacks also took the field Saturday and featured Heisman-finalist Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State University, University of Missouri’s Drew Lock, Duke University’s Daniel Jones among others.
Although the receivers stole the spotlight with blazing 40-yard dash times, the quarterback play was a bit underwhelming as a handful of quarterbacks struggled with accuracy and timing in their throws. Senior Bowl standout and University of Buffalo QB Tyree Jackson did, however, impress scouts in attendance, displaying his cannon of an arm and measuring in at 6 feet 7 inches. He has already drawn Cam Newton comparisons, and although he’ll most likely be drafted as a developmental quarterback on day 2 of the draft, he definitely helped his stock in Indy.
University of Mississippi wideout D.K. Metcalf took the internet by storm Saturday after dazzling performances in the 40, boasting a 4.33, and jumping drills, in addition to the report that his body fat was measured to be an insane 1.9 percent. His numbers put him in the same category as six-time Pro Bowler Julio Jones, yet what was even more impressive was that Metcalf posted these numbers at a heavier weight than Jones. His Ole Miss teammate A.J. Brown also showed out in drills (4.49 40-yard dash time), which in addition to his strong game tape, should result in a first round selection come April. Other names to keep an eye include University of Massachusetts Amherst slot receiver and former track star Andy Isabella, who bolted to a 4.31 40-time, and Iowa State University’s Hakeem Butler who demonstrated that despite his 6-foot-5-inch frame, he can still run with the best of defensive backs at the next level.
One of the two University of Iowa tight ends, Noah Fant, showed his freakish athleticism all day long, dominating the relatively shallow position class. His versatility to block inside, while also spread out wide, with his 4.50 40-yard dash speed at 250 pounds, will create nightmare matchups for NFL defense.
And although Kyler Murray did not participate in any drills, he still comes away from the combine as one of the biggest winners as he put to rest any size questions measuring in at 5 feet 10 inches and 207 pounds. Remember, every inch matters, and in this case, coming in at 5 feet 10 inches as opposed to 5 feet 8 inches, could be the difference between a couple million dollars.
Day 3 of the combine had arguably the best display of talent of all day in Indy, with defensive lineman and linebackers hitting the gridiron. Both Michigan’s Rashan Gary and Mississippi State University star Montez Sweat exhibited their raw athleticism proving their both freaks of nature, and their mind-boggling test numbers would make you think they were tight ends, not defensive linemen! Gary is an interesting prospect as he could land in the top five picks, but is more of a trait-based player where teams are betting on him reaching that untapped potential. Sweat, on the other hand, had solid production in his years at Miss State, a strong outing in the Senior Bowl, and pairing those with his excellent combine — fastest 40-time for a defensive lineman ever — should catapult him into top-10 territory.
Other notable prospects Nick Bosa, Devin White, and Quinnen Williams took the doubt out of the minds of any skeptics, with great showings, and are all virtually a lock to be the first players selected at their respective positions.
A later round pick who definitely increased his stock was University of Notre Dame linebacker Drue Tranquill. At least above average in all testing categories, as well as leading in bench press with 31 reps, Tranquill undoubtedly will move up draft boards and may be the answer for linebacker-needy teams in this top-heavy LB class.
Defensive backs took the turf Monday as the combine came to a close. Without a clear cut No. 1 cornerback in this class, prospects such as Greedy Williams, Byron Murphy, and Deandre Baker had the opportunity to seize this title while Johnathan
Abram and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson performed well enough to prove they belong in the top tier of safeties in the draft. Byron Murphy of the University of Washington particularly stood out in field drills, while Louisiana State University’s Williams turned heads flashing a sub 4.40 40-time both further separating themselves from the rest of the CB class.
Johnathan Abram’s story continues to grow after a solid outing Monday. Before making waves at Mississippi State, Abram transferred twice, which included a short stint in JUCO ball, yet he still finds himself at the top safety prospects in this draft. With a 5-foot-11-inch frame, sitting at 205 lbs, he has prototypical safety size and power, and many analysts have already likened him to Keanu Neal of the Atlanta Falcons.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, defensive back from Florida, is another DB prospect to keep an eye on. Playing primarily at slot corner in college, he demonstrated great open field tackling, and the ability to contribute in the pass rush as well. He projects as a nickel corner at the next level, and in this new pass heavy NFL, players with skill sets like CGJ are essential to stifling offensive gameplans.
The combine kicked off the off-season activities with a bang, as now GMs and scouts will begin to focus on potential draftees by reviewing film, conducting further interviews at pro-days, and more. Front offices are also known to lay down the groundwork for trades in Indianapolis on Draft Day, to move up and down in the draft, and is something to monitor going forward. It has already become somewhat of a general consensus that Kyler Murray will be the No. 1 overall, followed by Nick Bosa at No. 2 (pending trades), but the rest is in shambles. Is Josh Allen the successor to Khalil Mack? Will the Jets trade back from pick 3? Will the Giants see their QB of the future in Dwayne Haskins? Make sure to find out April 25 as the draft begins Thursday with live coverage from ESPN and NFL Network.