Every year we go to the combine with some big question marks – How correct are the measurements given out for prospects by their respective schools? How does a player’s athleticism correlate into real numbers? And how do they fare when put into actual football drills, that can expose weaknesses? While the medical reports and interviews going on behind the scene are obviously a big part of the evaluation as well, I want to focus on the things we saw from these NFL hopefuls during their testing and workouts. Even though it is natural that some prospects fall down boards because of what they do in Indianapolis, I wanted to stay positive and point out the who stood out the most with their combine showings. Here is the list:
Cole Kmet, TE, Notre Dame
One of the more under-the-radar standout performers from the weekend for me was this kid. Kmet ran a really solid 4.7 flat among a pretty slow tight-end group, weighing in at 262 pounds and was much more explosive than some his tape would suggest maybe, putting up the top vertical (37 inches) and second-best broad jump (10’3”) for the position. Moreover, he caught the ball very well and looked sharp coming out of his breaks. This is one of the murkiest classes in the draft when you look at those tight-ends and Kmet is certainly in the mix for being the first one selected. While I thought he was mostly an in-line guy with average athleticism, having the comparison between him and some of those prospects that were used more as big slot receivers, who were allowed to go vertical, will be something in the back of everybody’s mind when they put on the film next time.
Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Boy, this guy is having a pre-draft season. After shining during Senior Bowl week and wrapping up things with the game MVP, Herbert looked like the top ten pick I pretty much have locked him in as. The Oregon QB ran a blazing 4.68 in the 40 at 6’6”, 236 pounds and pretty good numbers across the board. More importantly, he was right on target on deep in-breaking routes, threw three beautiful corner routes in a row and showed off his big arm on the go-ball. The most impressive part about this process for Herbert, outside of the obvious physical traits, has been the way he has connected with all kinds of different receivers, after his ability to anticipate throws was one of the big question marks about his college tape. I think among a group that was without the top two signal-callers (Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa), Herbert clearly stood out and made an impression on all those scouts.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan
This 6’2”, 212-pound wideout put up some of the best numbers across the board. That includes the top marks of the entire combine for broad (11’7”) and vertical jumps (44.5 inches). He also broke the 4.5 barrier in the 40 and had a pretty good field workout. Peoples-Jones caught the ball easily during the gauntlet as well as on downfield routes. With just over 1300 receiving yards in 37 career games, the Michigan receiver was always more of a projection due to the circumstances he was in, which included an inconsistent passing offense led by the erratic Shea Patterson. And while I thought Peoples-Jones would put up an impressive athletic display, seeing him actually lead that entire group that is filled with talented pass-catchers, will make some NFL evaluators look past the lack of production and into how he could develop as part of their program.
Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
Nobody at the entire combine might have helped themselves more with their 40 time and certainly none of the receivers. Jefferson’s time at 4.43 was so much better than his projections around the high 4.5s that he could have easily improved his draft position from early second round to a selection in the mid-20s. The LSU star was mostly labelled a slot receiver with modest speed, but with a top-ten number for the position, his value for some teams will go to a different level. Outside of that great run, Jefferson also looked very fluid running routes and didn’t drop a single pass throughout the work, as far as I could tell. With 111 catches (tied for first in the FBS), 1540 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns last season, the former Tiger already had the production you want to see and now we know he is quick and fast.
Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame
This young man noise by weighing in already. The 6’4” receiver came in at 238 pounds at the combine, which was nine pounds more than he weighed in at the Senior Bowl. While most people took that as a sign that he would fully embrace the role of a move tight-end at the next level, Claypool said that it was mostly due to the amount of water he drank. The former Fighting Irish certainly looked like a receiver when he hit the Lucas Oil stadium, running an incredible 4.42 and blowing up the leaping events (40.5-inch vert and 10’6”). This put him as the only player in combine history with those types of measurements to run sub-4.5 not named Calvin Johnson. Claypool also looked very smooth during on-field drills for and caught the ball naturally. It will be interesting to see how teams value this kid and how they plan on utilizing him, but all I know is big guys who can run and catch usually don’t last very long.
Nick Harris, IOL, Washington
Maybe not the most freakish athletic numbers but one of the best all-around workouts for me came from Nick Harris. The former Washington center ran pretty well at 5.1 flat with a 1.8 ten-yard split in the 40, but it was what he did once those guys hit the field that separated from a lot of the other linemen. Harris was very fluid mover in the on-field drills, changing directions with ease and showing outstanding mobility in the hips to open up and pull right after snapping the ball. I already liked what I saw from this young man at the Senior Bowl, where he showcased active feet and good hand-placement as he mirrored spin-moves and also anchored down pretty well, barely allowing any quick in the one-on-one pass rush periods, which were mostly defense-orientated. Harris might not quite be in that top-tier for centers, but I really like him as a late day two option he is projected as.
Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
This guy was just absurd. Wirfs put up the best numbers in vertical jump (36 ½) and broad (10’1”) since the NFL started recording in 2003. He also ran a 4.85 in the 40 with an insane 1.69 ten-yard split, which led all offensive linemen this year. Moreover, he finished fifth in this year’s class with the three-cone drill and all of that at 6’5”, 320 pounds. Overall that simply was one of the freakiest performances we have ever seen from anybody at the combine, especially when you watch his tape and see a player that is mostly known for his power. Not only did Wirfs test out of this world, he also moved very well during on-field drills with his huge quads drawing everybody’s attention. There was some consideration of moving Wirfs inside to guard, but with that athleticism he is more than “tackle-worthy”. I seriously think he is now in consideration for the Giants at number four if they stay at spot, from what I had heard about them loving him before even going to Indy.
Jedrick Wills Jr., OT, Alabama
On this of the ridiculous performance that Tristan Wirfs had in Indianapolis is another one of the top tackles in this draft class. Wills had an excellent combine showing himself, running a 5.05 in the 40, and finishing second among all O-linemen with a 34.5-inch vertical. More impressively however, he showed outstanding lateral agility in the mirror drill and almost knocked one of the coaches out, who was holding the bag he was punching at. Wills exclusively played right tackle for the Crimson Tide, but that may be connected to Tua Tagovailoa being left-handed. With his mean, physical style of play, he would certainly fit as more of that traditional power tackle on the right side, but his athleticism is plenty good enough to start at either spot, as long as his future coach can teach him the proper footwork. Wills just checked another box at Lucas Oil stadium and will be in the mix with those three other tackles (Wirfs, Andrew Thomas and Mekhi Becton) for one of those spots in the top-half of the first round, with several teams needing help up front.
Cam Akers, RB, Florida State
Looked at by many draft analysts as a potential sleeper, Akers’ combine put his name back in everybody’s minds. Before even doing anything, I thought he looked good in that outfit with a well-distributed 217 pounds through his 5’10” body. His 40-time at 4.47 was more than solid and I just really liked the way he moved on the field. The former Seminole looked really dynamic transforming his speed from lateral to vertical movement in that upfield plant step, as well as showing excellent quickness during lateral movement. Akers looked so in sync with the drills and from what you saw when he reacted to bags and coaches giving him keys. Even on that Duce Staley drill that premiered this year, he seemed he had been doing it a hundred times before. To me, one of the most important things for any back is translating information from your head to your feet without having to stop them and Akers owned that. The former number one running back recruit in the nation could easily be one of the first three off the board.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
Nobody has dominated college football from the running back position over the last three years quite like Jonathan Taylor. The Wisconsin superstar basically went for over 2000 yards every single season and scored a combined 55(!) touchdowns over that stretch. So whenever you have someone who produced at such an incredible rate, you want to see if they can back it up athletically and Taylor certainly did. Mostly known as a power-back at 226 pounds, he ran a 4.39 in the 40, had a 10’3” broad jump and a 36-inch vert. Those numbers indicate that his homerun potential should translate to the next level. The former Badgers also caught the ball very well and showed some nice short-area quickness. D’Andre Swift has been my top back since I first thought about it almost a year ago, but if you are looking for a pro-ready runner who can give your offense an identity, some team will feel much more comfortable grabbing Taylor after his combine performance.
Khalil Davis, IDL, Nebraska
When I went back and watched the tape-ups from East-West Shrine practices and saw the D-line dominate all week, the one guy that really left an impression on me was Khalil Davis. Obviously the two kids that once were high recruits (McTelvin Agim and Raequan Williams) wrecked their opposition as well, but Davis was somebody I hadn’t been studying a ton yet. This last weekend in Indianapolis, the former Cornhusker led all interior defensive linemen with a 4.76 in the 40, including a bonkers 1.66 ten-yard split at 308 pounds. He also showed violent hands hitting those bags and finished one rep short of the best mark for the D-line in terms of bench press (32). As I continue watching this class of interior linemen, Davis is looking like a prospect I will value more highly than most analysts I have seen and that explosiveness he showed at the combine only confirms that.
Neville Gallimore, IDL, Oklahoma
That entire group of interior defensive linemen blew me away. Gallimore in particular has had a very strong pre-draft process with the way he flashed in Mobile during Senior Bowl week and now in Indianapolis. The former Sooner ran a 4.79 in the 40 with a ten-yard split of 1.79. He looked very fluid in his on-field movement, showed excellent, fluid footwork working his way through the step-over bags and some pop when he hit those initial clubs. Something I really noticed as well was the tremendous effort he showed throughout the entire workout, which has kind of been a question-mark for him. At 8.5 career sacks, Gallimore’s numbers are not blowing anybody away, but he was also asked to play a lot of in-between the guards and take on double-teams because Oklahoma had nobody else. With that explosiveness some teams will look to use him in more of an upfield, penetrating role at the next level.
Alex Highsmith, Edge, Charlotte
This edge class looked much more modest after watching those interior guys go to work and considering Chase Young did not work out. Highsmith is a guy who really stood out to me. He ran a 4.7 flat in the 40 and finished tied for second among the D-line with a 10’5” broad jump, as well as fourth at the position in the three-cone drill. The Charlotte star displayed very fluid movement through the bag and looked smooth going through all those different pass-rush moves, as he was making his way through those pop-up dummies. In addition to that, with the way he dropped into coverage and moved in space, Highsmith looked like he would fit well at outside linebacker in the pros. With 15 sacks in 2019, his biggest question mark is the level of competition he faced, but the athleticism is certainly there.
Willie Gay Jr., LB, Mississippi State
This young man is a highly explosive athlete. Gay had the fastest 40-yard dash among linebackers outside of the freakish hybrid Isaiah Simmons (4.46), the top broad jump at 11’4” and a great vert at 39.5 inches. He also moved equally well laterally as he did vertically when taking instructions during on-field workouts. All of that at 243 pounds with a frame that still doesn’t look maxed out. As impressive as Gay’s showing on the field was, the most important part of the combine for him might have been the opportunity to interview with teams due to some of those off-field question marks surrounding him. In his one full season as a starter with the Bulldogs, the dynamic LB just missed 50 tackles, recorded five sacks and two interceptions. Due to NCAA suspensions and altercations with the team’s quarterback, Gay appeared in just five games last season, but you felt his impact when he was out there.
Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
While Simmons didn’t participate in any on-field workouts, he is obviously one of the biggest freaks there is on this planet. He put up the top mark among the front-seven with a 4.39 in the 40, which came just a hundredth of a second shy of the number set by Shaquem Griffin a couple of years ago. Simmons also broad-jumped 11 feet and hit a 39-inch vert. Since 2003 Simmons has been the only linebacker to hit those kind of marks in all three categories and I’m not sure if we have ever really seen a player like him. At Clemson he spent 100+ snaps at each inside and outside linebacker, both safety spots and as a slot corner respectively in 2019. His range, flexibility as an athlete and absurd short-area burst for a guy his size was already apparent on tape, but having those types of numbers to back up what we have already seen from him only cements him as the first linebacker and/or safety off the board.
C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
For a pretty deep corner class that lacks some clarity after the top name, nobody had a better day than this kid. Henderson stood out with a 4.39 time in the 40 and he just moved around better than anybody out there when it comes to the on-field workouts. He seemed relaxed as he went through all the different drills, with an easy pedal and some explosiveness out of his breaks. His hips looked really smooth and he had no problems following the instructions he was given. A 37.5-inch vert and a 10’7” broad jump as well as 20 reps on the bench press don’t hurt either. There are some other guys I like in that 25-50 range, but I believe Henderson has pretty much secured the CB2 spot behind Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah – at least for me. I could see a team in the mid-teens grab the Florida corner, because there could be a run at the position until they pick next.
Jeremy Chinn, S, Southern Illinois
This group of safeties had several small-school guys make a name for themselves while the better-known ones really struggled. Nobody jumped out more than this young from the Southern Illinois Salukis. Chinn put up the second-best number among all DBs with a 41-inch vertical and the second-best number of all performers in the broad jump (11’6”). His 4.45 in the 40 is nothing to sneeze at either, when you consider he measured in at 6’3”, 221 pounds. For that size, he did not have any problems moving around the field, showcasing oily hips and pretty good ball-skills. While Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr. had a great combine showing as well and has kind of established himself as one of the big three (together with Alabama’s Xavier McKinney and LSU’s Grant Delpit), I could see a couple of those small-school safeties be selected on day two.
Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Minnesota
And since we were just talking about him, I had just to put this kid on the list. Winfield has been one of my favorite prospects throughout the pre-draft process and the stuff he did at the combine should finally erase some of those concerns people had about his athleticism. With a 4.45 in the 40 and top ten numbers at the safety position in both leaping events, the Jim Thorpe award finalist backed up what I saw on tape. However, it was the way move around once they did actual football drills that really showcased the player he can be. Winfield just looked so natural going through all the drills, getting in and out of his pedal, driving on the ball and playing it in the air with those great ball-skills. Those size concerns at 5’9”, 200 pounds will likely never go away, but I have seen enough from him to spend an early second round pick him on him. He has the tape and now we also know better athleticism than he is given credit for.
Others who helped themselves:
Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri
Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma
Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
Cesar Ruiz, IOL, Michigan
Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State
Joshua Kelley, RB, UCLA
A.J. Dillon, RB, Boston College
Justin Madubuike, IDL, Texas A&M
Malcolm Roach, IDL, Texas
Jabari Zuniga, Edge, Florida
Malik Harrison, LB, Ohio State
Kindle Vildor, CB, Georgia Southern
Darnay Holmes, CB, UCLA
Kyle Dugger, S, Lenoir Rhyne
Tanner Muse, S, Clemson