I used to think the combine didn’t matter when I first started scouting. I was all about the tape and nothing else. But after these past two drafts, I realized that is athletic testing really does matter. For example, I liked Arden Key, Teez Tabor, and Charles Harris pre-draft. Guys who were pretty productive, had decent tape, but tested poorly at the combine. Well their transition to the NFL has been pretty rough. Why you may ask? They just don’t seem athletic enough to be impact players. Heck, Tabor and Harris don’t even seem roster-able, and I can’t write off Key after 1 year. But was super uninspiring last season.
With that being said, athletic testing isn’t the only thing that matters like some analyst make it seem. This may surprise you, but being good at football is actually important too. I tend to value their film evaluation more if anything. For example, if a prospect has really good tape, and tests average (Alvin Kamara, Darius Leonard, Kareem Hunt, etc.). I am going to be more willing to stand on the table for them, than prospects with terrible tape, but are freak athletes. But if I like someone on tape and they bomb testing, their grade (in my system) is going to take big hit.
So, I decided to look at some prospects (by position) in this class whose stock is heavily reliant on how they perform at the combine. Whether it’s because they don’t have much production, tape isn’t good enough, or just don’t look athletic on film. Regardless the reason, athletic testing will heavily affect these prospects’ draft stock.
Quarterback: No One
Okay you know how I just said that the Combine matters? Well….. not for Quarterbacks. The reason why the Combine tells us nothing about Quarterbacks is because nothing that they do in the testing routinely translates to what they do on the field. I mean do we really care how high Dwayne Haskins Jumps? No, we want to see how he throws the ball and reads defense and that’s on tape.
Running Back: Miles Sanders (Penn State) and Elijah Holyfield (Georgia)
Miles Sanders possesses a lot of the traits to be a 3 down back in the NFL. I love his lateral agility, elusiveness, receiving ability, and how he projects as a pass protector. I just don’t know if he is explosive enough to be overly dynamic. He doesn’t really threaten defenses with his long speed either. Fortunately, the 40 yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, and 10 yard split will tell us just how explosive/fast he really is. If he can time well in these athletic tests, he can really help his stock. And potentially be viewed as a 3 down work hoarse in the eyes of the NFL.
Elijah Holyfield is the definition of a down hill power back. Meaning he would rather run you over than make you miss. However, he does flash the ability to make some quick cuts in the open field to elude defenders. Also, his burst within 5 yards looks pretty good. Yet, he isn’t overly explosive, fast, or shifty. So based off of his film, it seems like he would be best in a committee, which doesn’t bold well (for him) in terms of when he is going to get drafted. If he can over achieve in his athletic testing, he would give teams more reasons to believe that he can lead their rushing attack. Ultimately helping his draft stock.
Honorable Mention(s): David Montgomery and Devin Singletary
Wide Receiver: N’Keal Harry (ASU) and Kelvin Harmon (NC State)
I don’t know if there is another prospect whose stock depends on the combine as much as it does for N’Keal Harry. Let me explain. Harry thrives in contested catches and YAC situations. The two parts of playing receiver that require the least amount of polish. When it comes to releases, route running, and separating (the parts that need nuance), he struggles. And unfortunately for him, that is what translates the most in today’s NFL. That said, he is going to have to develop these parts of his game.
What does any of this have to do with the Combine? Well, if teams know that Harry isn’t a finish product and will take some time to develop. Does he have the athletic traits worth investing the time and premium draft capital in? The world may never know…. Oh wait, yes we will! We can find out at the combine! If he does show them that he has elite traits (great 40 time: fast, 10 yard split/broad jump: explosive, agilities: potential to run crisp routes, and vertical jump) than that will compensate for the lack of separation skills that he currently has. If he doesn’t, than his draft stock could potentially plummet.
Kelvin Harmon fits a similar physical profile as N’Keal Harry. However, is way more polished as a route runner. So, I believe he will have a cleaner transition to the pros. I still have one big athletic question with Harmon that the 40 yard dash will answer. How fast is he?! He seems like he has “enough” speed on tape, but isn’t a blazer by any stretch. His 40 time isn’t the sole factor of how he projects, but definitely helps us get a clear picture of his evaluation.
Honorable Mention: AJ Brown and JJ Arcega-Whiteside
Tight End: Dawson Knox (Ole Miss) and Kaden Smith (Stanford)
Dawson Knox might have the weirdest set of circumstances in this entire class. This former Quarterback converted to Tight End had little to no production in Ole Miss’s Air Raid offense. I mean he never even caught a Touchdown in college. That has to be a major red flag right? Ole Miss throws the ball at least 70% of the time each game and he never even caught a Touchdown? How is that possible?
Maybe I am leaving out a little bit of context. He was competing for touches with D.K. Metcalf, AJ Brown, and Demarkus Lodge (likely all top 100 picks). And honestly his Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu was probably most responsible for his lack of production. There was so many times where he was wide open on tape and Ta’amu just failed to see him. With that said, Knox is still learning how to play the position as well. So he isn’t absolved of all blame.
The real question that we have to ask is how he can help himself at the combine? And my answer would be to test like the freak athlete he is being billed as. According to Chase Goodbread he is supposed to run in the high 4.5s and have a 37 inch vertical. He is also 6-foot-4, 250 lbs. So if he test anywhere close to those numbers, he could potentially put his name in the top 50 conversation without having high end production.
Stanford is known for producing good Tight Ends. So many assume that Kaden Smith will fall right in line when he gets to the pros. This could very well be the case because Smith does a lot of things well. But I just don’t know if he has the speed or short area quickness to be overly dynamic. If he can prove that he does possess more juice than he displays on tape. That will definitely alleviate most of my concerns.
Honorable Mentions: Josh Oliver and Dax Raymond
Offensive Lineman: No One
Just like Quarterback, very little of what Offensive Linemen do at the combine is indicative of what they do on the field. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at last year’s class. Kolton Miller took the Combine by storm and showed the NFL that he was a terrific athlete. However, his tape at UCLA was terrible. Orlando Brown Jr. had one of the worst performance’s in combine history but his college film was solid.
Welp, Kolton Miller was one of the worst Offense Tackles in the league last season, allowing 14 sacks and 59 total pressures. Orlando Brown on the other hand was solid, and a big reason why the Ravens were so successful in the run game. Moral of the story, don’t put a lot of your stock into the combine when it comes to Offensive Line. All you need to know is on tape.
Interior Defensive Linemen: Dexter Lawrence (Clemson) and (Gerald Willis)
If you have seen Dexter Lawrence play it easy to tell that he is athletic for a 340 lbs man. However, teams are looking for guys who are closer to Aaron Donald (pass rusher) than to Vince Wilfork (run stuffer) in today’s NFL. And if we are keeping it real, Lawrence is closer to Wilfork. Which is why I have a hard time buying into the top 50 hype that Lawrence has been getting. He just isn’t explosive enough and is honestly too big to be a factor as a pass rusher on a consistent basis. His sliver lining will be to show teams that he does have universal athleticism. Not just athletic for his size. I don’t really see it happening but I hope he proves me wrong.
Gerald Willis’s season opening performance against LSU was truly special, but also an anomaly. He was super inconsistent for the rest of the year and showed that he has a lot of technical flaws that he needs to iron out. With that being said, his peaks are still very enticing. If he can show teams that the flashes explosiveness and flexibility he displayed on tape weren’t a fluke by testing well. He could greatly help save his stock.
Honorable Mentions: Ed Oliver and Renell Wren
Edge Defenders: Rashan Gary (Michigan) and Montez Sweat (Miss State)
Rashan Gary has been billed as a freak athlete since he was in high school, and for good reason. There are very few men on this planet that are 280 lbs that possess the explosiveness that he does. So if we already have a good idea of how athletic he is, what questions could the combine answer. Well my first question is. How much is going to weigh in at? They are very few (basically none) Edge Defenders who play at 280 plus lbs in the NFL. His weight will give us a clearer picture of what position (edge or interior defender) he will play.
My next question is he is as stiff as he looks on tape? We all know that the best Edge Defenders can bend at high level. And in order to bend, you must be flexible in your lower half. Gary does not display that necessary flexibility to turn through tight corners and bend the edge. His 20 yard shuttle and 3 cone time will really determine if he is going to be best on the edge.
Lastly, I am just going to state the obvious here, Gary’s tape leaves a lot to be desired to be worth of a top 5 pick. He must test as well as everyone is predicting. Because if he doesn’t, the top 5 hype is as good as dead.
Montez Sweat has the frame and length that NFL teams covet in their edge rushers. He is also is a stout run defender and well versed with his hands. So what could be the million dollar question that the Combine could answer for us? Drum roll please…… How athletic is he?
Sweat looks repetitively explosive on tape but doesn’t seem to have elite burst. The 40 yard dash, jumps, and 10 yard split will be huge to see how explosive he really is. The bigger concern I have with Sweat is how stiff he looks on film. He never illustrated that ability to flatten out at the top of the arc to turn a tight corner. The 3 cone and 20 yard shuttle drills give him the opportunity to show that he offers more change of direction skills/flexibility that he shows on tape.
Honorable Mentions: Clelin Ferrell and Josh Allen
Linebacker: Devin Bush (Michigan) and Mack Wilson (Alabama)
I honestly don’t have any athletic questions about Devin Bush. He looks plenty fast and explosive on tape. But the reason I included him on list, was because he will have to confirm his athleticism through his testing to ensure teams that he is athletic enough to compensate for his size. NFL teams will be willing to draft 220 lbs, sub 6 ft. Linebackers if they are world class athletes. But the moment there is any doubt in their physical ability is when the luster starts to wear off. Which is why Bush can’t afford to underachieve in any athletic test.
Mack Wilson showed flashes in coverage where he looked like an elite athlete this season. But there were too many times on tape where it like he ran at a lulled/lackadaisical pace. Raising the question of does he have an effort issue, or is he just not that fast/explosive. If I had to guess I would say it’s more of effort thing. Playing Linebacker for Alabama can get kind of boring because not a lot things get past their front. But like Bush, I want Wilson to alleviate any concerns by testing well.
Honorable Mentions: Vosean Joseph and Te’von Coney
Safety: Deionte Thompson (Alabama) and Amani Hooker (Iowa)
Deionte Thompson was considered one of the best players coming into the year. And at the beginning of the season he proved that he was just that. However, as Alabama’s competition increased, Thompson looked over matched athletically. There were multiple instances where receivers ran right by him and he just wasn’t fast enough to keep up. He also lost his balance a lot trying to change directions. These poor performances that he displayed raised some serious athletic concerns.
Thompson fits the mold of a single high free safety, which requires speed and change of direction ability. If he doesn’t have both, he is most likely not going be valued highly by the NFL. Fortunately, the combine gives him the opportunity to show teams that he is athletic enough to be a ball hawking free safety. It will sink or swim time for Mr. Thompson.
Amani Hooker is starting to be talked about through out the draft community. I watched about 3 games of his and I was impressed. He displayed some legit instincts, ball skills, and man coverage ability. I know I sound like a broken record, but the biggest question his tape left me with was “how athletic is he?” Based on the eye test, he looked like a pretty average athlete. But in all fairness, he doesn’t necessarily need elite traits because he will spend most of his time in the box .
He just needs to be athletic enough to be able play 2 high coverage and have enough speed to run with Tight Ends and slot receivers in man. So even if he is just an above average to average athlete, he should be fine. But if he is anything less than that, he will probably be viewed as a situational player. Which will ultimately hurt his stock.
Honorable Mentions: Malik Gant and Evan Worthington
Cornerback: Deandre Baker (Georgia) and Julian Love (Notre Dame)
I would say that Deandre Baker has the most to prove out of the defensive prospects. Everything that he displays on tape or in other words “how he plays football” checks out. He has great instincts, ball skills, man, and zone coverage ability. He just doesn’t seem to have the short area quickness, change of direction ability, or long speed to turn and run with the NFL’s best receivers.
When it comes to evaluating Cornerbacks, you can basically throw out everything that I said about where I lie on the athlete vs. football player spectrum. Corners have to meet certain athletic thresholds to play in NFL. I mean their job is to run with some of the world’s best athletes, and if you can’t physically do that. It’s going to be hard for you to find a spot in the league. Some examples would be Teez Tabor and Tarvarus McFadden (pour one out for both).
I think Baker has better Film than both of those guys, but athletic test will really make or break him. So here are the 2 questions that the combine is going to answer. 1. Is Deandre Baker athletic enough to play the NFL? 2. (If he is athletic enough) Would a move to the slot be best? I pose that question because playing in the slot doesn’t require as much athleticism. Guys like Chirs Harris Jr. and Desmond King have carved out very nice roles in the slot without being elite athletes. So maybe that will be the path for Baker. Regardless, the combine will be arguably the most crucial part of his evaluation.
Julian Love is in some what of the same boat as Baker. Love’s tape is solid but not as good as Baker’s, yet my athletic concerns with Love aren’t on the same level as Baker. The biggest athletic question I have with Love is “how fast is he?” If he runs in the low 4.5s than I am all for trying him out at the boundary. If he runs in the high 4.5s/low 4.6s, a move to the slot might be beneficial. If he runs any time slower than 4.65 (which is pushing it) I am out.
Honorable Mentions: Lonnie Johnson Jr. and Trayvon Mullen
- Goodbread, Chase. “18 For ’18: College Football’s Most Freakish Athletes.” NFL.com History, National Football League, 29 June 2018, http://www.nfl.com/photoessays/0ap3000000938945/18-for-’18:-college-football’s-most-freakish-athletes.
- Mosher, Marcus. “Raiders LT Kolton Miller Leads the League in Sacks Allowed.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 18 Dec. 2018, raiderswire.usatoday.com/2018/12/17/raiders-lt-kolton-miller-leads-the-league-in-sacks-allowed/.