What We Learned From The Combine

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We have had plenty of time to digest one of the best combines in recent memory.  This combine had everything, from record breakers to freak athletes (and that was just on the field).  NFL Network once again provided excellent coverage and each day there was something funny or great to listen to.  Rich Eisen and Mike Mayock each did their Charley Casserley impressions, which was hilarious.  Bill Belichick came into the booth and shared stories about his time and Indy and was smiling more than you ever see.  Let’s not forget about Jabrill Peppers, who analyzed his own film and workouts, something we will remember heading into the draft.  Let’s take a look at what we learned from the workouts over the four days of action.

The Quarterbacks Are Tough To Figure Out

The quarterbacks took to the field on the second day of the combine looking to improve their draft stock.  With a multitude of routes and receivers to throw to, it was a perfect time to find the quarterback that would rise above the rest.  That isn’t exactly what happened.  In the first group, Brad Kaaya, a name thrown out early in the college football season, showed his poise and his accuracy.  DeShone Kizer, who has been a top three quarterback all throughout the draft process, hurt his stock with an underwhelming performance.  His accuracy wasn’t as good as teams hoped, but he still has the arm to make the throws.  He just needs to refine his mechanics.  As far as the other top prospects, they came to compete.  DeShaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, and Davis Webb all brought their best in group two.  Watson showed the most poise of any quarterback, and the other three flashed the arm strength, especially on deep balls.  Most of what was heard from meetings indicated they loved meeting with Mahomes, the big arm quarterback from Texas Tech.  In the agility drills, it was Webb, not Watson, who had the best three cone time.  What has all of this told us?  Good luck figuring out who’s the best QB in this underwhelming class.

John Ross Is More Than A 4.22

If you go and look at who has recently posted times near that of Chris Johnson’s 4.24, here are the names that come up: Dri Archer (4.26), Marqise Goodwin (4.27), Jacoby Ford (4.28),   DeMarcus Van Dyke (4.28), JJ Nelson (4.28).  That isn’t exactly excellent company to be a part of.  None of these players have even become solid starters in the NFL.  When you look at it as a whole, track speed doesn’t correlate well with NFL success.

But, John Ross is a different player.  His speed doesn’t completely define him.  He runs routes very well, and has the short area burst with the ball in his hands.  Plus, his competitiveness will keep him around.  You know he has cemented himself as a first round pick with his time, but he won’t just stop his career right there.

Don’t Pay Too Much Attention To Wide Receiver 40s

So, yes, this almost renders everything I just said about Ross useless.  Except that it doesn’t.  I have told you that Ross is different than any other player who has run in the 4.2s.  That being said, I don’t value the speed in the 4.40 or lower range unless I believe you are a well rounded football player.  I wasn’t very high on Will Fuller last year, and his drop issues came back to haunt him in his rookie season.  So what am I looking at when the receivers take the field at the combine?  Well, for one, the gauntlet drill usually separates the natural receivers from the rest.  You can watch how easy it is for good receivers to catch passes.  Their hands just naturally move with the ball toward the catch point.  Who showed out in the gauntlet?  Keep an eye on guys like Cooper Kupp, Chris Godwin, and ArDarius Stewart.  Obviously, Mike Williams did well and Corey Davis would have done well had he participated.  But, look toward later round guys like the three above who can succeed in the NFL.

Pick Your Poison At Running Back

Running back is absolutely loaded this year.  If you didn’t watch the combine or haven’t followed much draft coverage, here you go.  Leonard Fournette ran 4.51 at 240 pounds.  Yeah, that’s right.  Two hundred and forty.  He is going to be a superstar provided he can stay healthy.  His vertical jump means nothing.  Daniel Jeremiah said it best, saying “I don’t care if he can jump over people.  He can just run through people”.  He is 100 percent right.  Fournette is a monster who should contribute immediately.  Dalvin Cook plays much faster than he ran in the 40, another reason why those don’t mean much.  He will be a big factor in the passing game as well.  Alvin Kamara looked extremely athletic in drills and should be a great all purpose back.  Want a big bruising runner who has strength and agility?  Look no further than Samaje Perine out of Oklahoma.  Kareem Hunt and Jamaal Williams are two nice options later in the draft.  Also, the speed of Tarik Cohen and TJ Logan won’t be overlooked.

Let’s also discuss Christian McCaffrey.  Many are going to compare him to guys like Toby Gerhart and other white running backs.  That’s just lazy scouting.  McCaffrey looked extremely good in drills.  He will make linebackers and safeties look like fools trying to cover him.  He is a matchup nightmare for teams in the passing game.  But don’t be fooled by thinking he’s a one dimensional back.  He can run between the tackles and get 18-20 carries per game.  He’s physical, quick, and you better believe he’s got a chip on his shoulder.  Watch out for McCaffrey.

I felt I also should include Joe Mixon considering how late I’m posting this.  Mixon wasn’t invited to the combine because an incident involving him punching a woman in a restaurant.  Obviously, he should be held accountable for his actions and should get vetted by teams.  But, everyone deserves a second chance.  If Joe Mixon owns up and moves forward with a different mindset, everyone will move forward.  At his pro day, he showed he has first round value and that he can be an every down back.  Obviously, his stock will still get hurt by the incident, but he will fall somewhere on day two.  And, if he rights the ship, he can have a really good career.

These Cornerbacks Are Good

I have continually told people I think there are around 10 corners I would consider drafting in the first round this year.  That speaks to the excellent depth this class provides.  Teams with big needs (Packers, Steelers, Colts, Eagles, Browns, Saints, Panthers) can find one or two guys after round one to help their team.

Who stood out the most?  There were plenty.  How about draft riser Fabian Moreau running a 4.35?  That, combined with tape that shows a serious competitor with great press skills, puts him in round one conversation.  Marshon Lattimore, dubbed the number one corner by most, ran a 4.36 40 and cemented himself as a probable top 10 pick in the draft.  Gareon Conley impressed in drills and ran a 4.44, which is enough to crack my top 20 prospects.  Big guys like Kevin King and Ahkello Witherspoon turned heads with their 40s.

Who still has work to do?  We might as well start with the corners coming out of Florida.  Quincy Wilson’s 40 was fine, but that lack of speed shows up on tape when he’s running with receivers deep.  He sometimes looks a little flat footed out there as well.  Teez Tabor didn’t help himself one bit.  His 4.62 40 is quite concerning considering today’s NFL, where you need speed on the outside to contain the talent at wide receiver.  He needs to work on that and show out at his pro day.

Who aren’t we talking about that we should?  Shaquill Griffin from Central Florida is an intriguing prospect, and he drew even more attention to himself with his 4.38 40 time.  He’s a guy I have to study more.  Him, along with both Colorado corners, Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon, deserve more buzz.

The Safeties Are Deep Too

I’m saving my talk of Obi Melifonwu for the next part, but there’s no doubt he turned heads with his speed and athleticism.  There are plenty more names we should discuss here.  How about Josh Jones from North Carolina State, who ran a 4.41 and has some real nice tape.  He can come up and play along the line, but that speed shows he can play centerfield on a defense.  Of course, Jamal Adams did plenty with his time and the drills to solidify himself as the top safety in the class.  Budda Baker was the conversation of the draft when it came to where he will fall.  He came in around 5’9″, which isn’t exactly great height for a safety, but the speed and ball skills on tape don’t lie.  Baker is extremely talented as a safety and as a slot corner.

Other interesting notes?  Montae Nicholson from Michigan State hasn’t been talked about a lot, but people will be drawn to his speed.  I advise you all to look at the tape before you decide on his stock.  Also, Lorenzo Jerome disappointed with a time of 4.70, but he still is an intriguing late round option as a player who always seems to find the ball (see: East West Shrine Game and The Senior Bowl).

A Freak Show

There were plenty of A+ athletes on the field all weekend long.  We could talk forever about John Ross actually breaking Chris Johnson’s 40 time record, and doing so with a torn shoulder.  But, let’s get to the elephant in the room.  Yes, I’m talking about yet another Connecticut defensive back who dominated the combine.  Obi Melifonwu was already impressive with his 6’4″, 220 pound frame.  Then, he went out and showed his athleticism by destroying every drill.  The biggest wow factor wasn’t his 44 inch vertical or his 11 foot, 9 inch broad jump.  It was the fact that a safety of his stature ran a 4.40 40.  What does that mean for him?  Well, you see his range on tape, and combined with his straightaway speed, he can (and might) be played at the cornerback position.  Think about that for a second.  Imagine Mike Evans against Obi Melifonwu on a fade route in the back of the end zone.  Imagine Melifonwu being physical enough and fast enough to hang with Julio Jones. That, right there, is his ceiling.  Obviously, you have to be careful with all of these numbers.  Byron Jones did this as well but he hasn’t become a superstar worthy of the first round pick Dallas spent on him.  But, nonetheless, it was darn impressive.

Let’s also not forget about Myles Garrett, who is a heck of an athlete as well.  Running a 4.64 40 with his size is crazy.  He also looked real quick in drills and posted a 41 inch vert and a 10’8″ broad.  Combine that with his tape, and he is the surefire number one overall pick.  Jabrill Peppers was another superstar athlete on the field.  His speed was expected, and he looked fluid with the linebackers and the defensive backs.  Then he backflipped on live TV.

Be Cautious When It Comes To Drill Results

I’m always tentative about the drills, especially when they don’t coincide with what the tape shows.  Melifonwu is a heck of an athlete, but his tape shows inconsistencies.  Jordan Willis and TJ Watt did way better in drills than expected, and yet both have their issues on the edge.  Some guys didn’t show out, but that might mean they play faster than they run or “shuttle”.  I see better from guys like Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor, but guys like Jalen Myrick don’t fool me.  Cooper Kupp and Isaiah Ford didn’t run well as receivers, but that shouldn’t mean much.  Why?  Shall we revisit the Michael Thomas debacle of last year?  I remember watching him play, but after his combine performance I was fed the “he’s too slow” narrative.  Don’t be fooled by that (I was, and I should’ve trusted my eyes).  The moral of the story?  Yes, the combine is a good time to evaluate athleticism, but look at some drills over others.  Also, don’t put all the stock in it.  Go watch some tape for yourself and form your own opinions.

It was a great combine, and it’s going to be a great draft weekend!

Jake Schyvinck covers the NFL and the NFL Draft for The Sports Guys.  Follow him on Twitter @JSchyvinck13 for tons of draft coverage during March and April.


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