INDIANAPOLIS – As offenses continue to find mismatch players and hybrid talents at wide receiver, running back and tight end, defensive coordinators search for versatile defenders to match up with them. Enter the new breed of safeties and linebackers in the NFL, and this class has a handful of interesting prospects that fit that mold. Use this preview as a cheat sheet for today's action (2 PM on NFL Network) to understand which drills are most important throughout the workout at Lucas Oil Stadium. For a full explanation of each category, jump down to the bottom of the piece.
Top of the heap: Xavier McKinney, Alabama
Depending on who you ask, this is either McKinney or LSU's Grant Delpit. McKinney seems to be getting most of the buzz lately as the top safety off the board, and his versatile skill set in the box, against tight ends, and in zone coverage allow him to be one of the best Swiss-army knives in this class on the defensive side of the ball.
Workout warrior: Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne
A big, long, athletic safety with versatility to play near the line of scrimmage, Dugger was extremely productive at the D-II level, then went down the Senior Bowl and did not look out of place in the slightest. A strong performance in Indy will be another checked box for him during the pre-draft process as he builds his case to be one of the first defensive backs off the board, and I think he's going to do just that. Some of the numbers expected for Dugger (at just under 6-2, 220 pounds) are eye-popping.
Off the radar: Brian Cole II, Mississippi State
Texas' Brandon Jones was my initial choice for this category, but he will not test on Sunday. So instead I'm going with Cole. A former four-star high school recruit who began his career as a receiver up at Michigan, Cole left the Spartans and went down to Scooba, Mississippi to play for East Mississippi Community College, where he briefly starred in the second season of Last Chance U on Netflix. After his trip down the Junior College lane, he moved up to Starkville as a slot corner and never looked back. Cole is a cover safety with versatility as a nickel defender in subpackages.
Stopwatch shocker: Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois
The small-school safety has legitimate size at 6-3, 219 pounds, and because of that frame people think of him as more of a box player. Don't forget, however, that he was a part-time corner back in 2018, and down at the Senior Bowl he matched up in one-on-ones against receivers throughout the week and more than held his own in coverage. Chinn could surprise some people this week with the way he tests.
Will kill the drills: Geno Stone, Iowa
I initially was going to go with Grant Delpit here, but since he's not working out I went with the junior in Stone. A smart, competitive two-year starter who made plays on the ball over the last couple of seasons for the Hawkeyes, Stone is regarded as a future role player in an NFL secondary who can wear a number of hats for a defense while also playing special-teams. Look for him to put his ball skills on display in drills.
Trust the tape: Antoine Winfield, Minnesota
He's not the biggest or fastest, but Winfield is a hell of a football player, much like his former Pro Bowl cornerback of a father, another former undersized DB out of the Big Ten. Winfield may not test great this week, but he's got great instincts, strong ball skills, and impressive competitive toughness at the position that will help him last a long time in the NFL playing in the post or in the slot.
Most productive college player: Rodney Clemons, SMU
Only one safety in this Combine group (Dugger) surpassed Clemons' in the production department in terms of overall ball disruptions (interceptions and pass breakups combined), as the senior racked up 34 in his career (7 interceptions and 27 pass breakups). Clemons went down the Shrine Bowl in January and had a solid week down there, further building off a decorated college resume'. He's one of the most underrated players in the secondary in this class.
One-year wonder: Terrell Burgess, Utah
The Utes have players here from literally every level of their defense, and Burgess was a big part of that unit in his first, and only, season as a starter. A former wideout who made the transition to defense in 2017, Burgess is a high-floor player who will make it thanks to his intangibles and instincts on the back end.
Best pro comparison: K'Von Wallace, Clemson
We all rave about the versatility of Clemson safety (who many see as an NFL linebacker) Isaiah Simmons, but you can't have one safety be a swiss army knife unless the other guys back there also can wear multiple hats, and Wallace fits that to a T. The senior and four-year starter played in the box, in the slot, deep downfield, and out wide depending on the formation. His toughness, instincts and versatility help him stand out, and he's built very similarly to Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox, who moonlighted as a safety during his rookie year. Wallace played a ton in the slot and his competitiveness really showed up there as well.
Best story: Ashtyn Davis, Cal
Davis isn't going to work out (and if he was he would have been my Workout Warrior), but this kid has a phenomenal story. He didn't have any scholarship offers to play football out of high school, but he wanted to play on the gridiron. A great high school track athlete, he committed to run at Cal under the condition that he could still try out for the football team. After passing his tryout and making the team as a walk-on, Davis (a cornerback) at the time, made his way on special teams before becoming a starting safety and one of the linchpins of the top defense on the West Coast.
Small-school standout: L'Jarius Sneed (Louisiana Tech)
A two-year starter at La Tech, Sneed wore a lot of hats for that defense but did a really nice job as a press man defender against tight ends and big slot receivers. He's got to continue getting bigger and stronger, and his tackling has to improve, but there are tools there with his length and his movement skills to develop into a nice role player in an NFL secondary.
Philly connection: Josh Metellus, Michigan
A three-year starter for the Wolverines, Metellus was a steady force on the back end of the Michigan defense thanks to his instincts in zone coverage and his ability to come downhill and play the run. He has a skill set that translates well to the league, and he was tutored by a former Eagle with a similar skill set in safeties coach Mike Zordich.
Most to prove: Tanner Muse, Clemson
Muse is a player that a lot of people are anxious to see test. Does he move well enough to stick in the secondary in the NFL? Or will he have to move to linebacker? Regardless, he's a strong tackler and an instinctive player in zone coverage, and he brings a mindset that translates well to the league.
Position drill to watch
We're always trying to get a sense of a safety's range and ability to make a play on the ball, and the back pedal and transition drill is a good way to gauge that. The defensive back will start on the hash, back pedal and flip his hips when the coach gives the go-ahead. The prospect will then do a full on speed turn, track the ball in the air and attack the ball at the highest point before coming down with it (hopefully) downfield.
1. First, you want to see the fluidity from snap to finish. You don't want a safety who is laboring in every step of the process, from his pedal (look for quick feet and low pad level), his transition (no hitch when he flips his hips to turn and run), and then after the catch point where he turns into a runner and sprints through the finish. You want these guys to make it look easy!
2. Also, it'd be great to see these guys track the ball and finish for the interception. Obviously this is an uncontested ball, there's no receiver there to battle with, but they are forced to try and find the ball over their shoulder, adjust their bodies and find it at the catch point, which can be tougher for some guys than others. This is a good way to get an idea of how a player can find the ball downfield.
|938 (9 3/8")
|3158 (31 5/8")
|7618 (76 1/8")
|Unofficial 40-Time (Stopwatch)
|Official 40-Time (Laser)
The rest of the pack
Grayland Arnold (Baylor), Julian Blackmon (Utah), Antoine Brooks (Maryland), Shyheim Carter (Alabama), Kamren Curl (Arkansas), Grant Delpit (LSU), Jalen Elliott (Notre Dame), Jordan Fuller (Ohio State), Alohi Gillman (Notre Dame), Jaylinn Hawkins (Cal), Brandon Jones (Texas), Chris Miller (Baylor), J.R. Reed (Georgia), Daniel Thomas (Auburn)
Breakdown of the categories
Top of the heap: This is the player who, based on media projections, is at the top of the class and will likely hear his name called first at his position in April.
Workout warrior: This is the player who I expect to see perform best in the athletic testing portion of the workout.
Off the radar: This is the player who will come out of nowhere to post great numbers in the athletic testing portion of the workout.
Stopwatch shocker: This is the player who I expect to perform better in the athletic tests than most in the media predict.
Will kill the drills: This is the player who will look the best in the position-specific drills following the athletic portion of the workout.
Trust the tape: This is the player who I don't expect to test off the charts and is a better football player than he is an athlete. With that in mind, don't drop him down the board with a subpar workout!
Most productive college player: This is the player who produced at the highest level, either in his final year in college or over the course of his entire career.
One-year wonder: This is the player who performed at a high level in college, but only for a limited time on campus.
Best pro comparison: Comparing draft prospects to NFL players is tough, but here's a player with the easiest picture to paint when looking at his NFL future through my eyes.
Best story: All of these players have great stories to tell, but who has taken the most unbelievable journey to get to this point in his career? Here's the one that has caught my eyes (and ears) the most.
Small-school standout: This is the player who comes from a lower level of competition (outside of the Power 5 conferences) but still has a potentially bright future in the NFL.
Philly connection: This is the player with a special tie to the City of Brotherly Love or the Eagles who you should keep a close eye on.
Most to prove: This is the player who has the most to prove away from the field, whether it's during the interview process, medical examinations, or even the weigh-ins.
Mr. Average: We get to read all about the measurements for all these players over the next few weeks, but wouldn't it be nice to have some context? What is considered a "good" time in the 40-yard dash? What about arm length? The broad jump? Here's what the average player drafted at each position has looked like over the last decade (by my records).
The rest of the pack: A list of everyone else who will take part in the events in Indianapolis (in alphabetical order).
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominatedEagles Game Planshow which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts,Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as theJourney to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices, and opponents.