INDIANAPOLIS - The 2018 NFL Combine closed out with a bang and possibly the best group of the entire week. Throughout Monday, the defensive backs who worked out exceeded expectations running much faster than anyone thought possible. Many left Indianapolis with improved draft grades. Here are the day's biggest winners.
DB Dane Cruikshank: Cruikshank was possibly the biggest winner from the defensive back class at the combine. His 40-yard dash time of 4.42 seconds was almost two-tenths faster than scouts anticipated. His 25 reps on the bench press tied for the best mark from the group. Cruikshank switched between cornerback and a hybrid safety/linebacker position during his time at Arizona then looked terrific as a pure cornerback during Shrine Game week. Measuring 6-1 and 205 pounds, he exits the combine with a grade at least two rounds better than the one he came to Indianapolis with.
CB Denzel Ward: Ward, rated as my No. 1 cornerback in the draft, did not participate in position drills after tweaking his ankle yet answered two major questions. First, he measured in just under 5-11, which quelled concerns about his height. Ward then scorched the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium, timing the forty in the low 4.3s. Pencil in Ward as the first cornerback selected in April's draft where he will be a top-12 pick.
CB Mike Hughes: The Central Florida junior was incredibly impressive during position drills. He displayed great body control, a smooth style, and showed receiver-like hands. His footwork and backpedal was also the stuff of a next-level cornerback. Hughes' 40 time of 4.52 seconds was good enough for scouts as he continues to ascend up draft boards.
CB Jaire Alexander: Alexander was one of just over a handful of corners who ran faster than 4.4 seconds in the 40 during his workout. After measuring just under 6-0, he timed as fast as 4.37 seconds then looked solid during positional drills. The junior has starting potential for the next level and heads toward the draft with a solid second-round grade in my opinion.
CB Carlton Davis: Davis was receiving first-round chatter entering the combine and it's only gotten louder after his workout. He measured a strong 6-1 and 203 pounds, completed 16 reps on the bench, then ran a solid 40 time of 4.53 seconds. Davis looked terrific in position drills displaying a quick backpedal and great footwork. Teams now believe Davis is the type of prospect who could start as a rookie in the NFL.
CB Parry Nickerson: Nickerson could well be the most underrated corner in this year's draft and he answered a lot of questions about his physical ability at the combine. He measured 6-0 and 180 pounds during weigh-ins which were taller and bigger than scouts expected. He clocked 4.32 seconds in the 40 which was .15 seconds better than expected and represented the fastest time of the day matched only by Donte Jackson of LSU. Nickerson's game film speaks for itself and scouts now believe he has starting potential in nickel packages.
CB Holton Hill: Hill, who sat on the sidelines late last season due to a suspension, intrigued scouts with the ball skills displayed when he was on the field. He dazzled with a terrific workout. Hill timed 4.49 seconds in the 40, a terrific mark for the corner who measures 6-2 and 200 pounds. Teams will thoroughly inspect Hill's background but if everything clears he will be selected in the draft much earlier than analysts think.
S Troy Apke: Apke blew up the combine and ran much faster than anyone could have imagined. Scouts estimated he would run a 4.6 in the 40 entering the season but on Monday he clocked in at 4.35 seconds. Apke is a tough, instinctive player and it's just a matter of coaching him to play to his speed.
- Tony Pauline
- It's tough for an "undersized" defensive back to post truly impressive numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine. Why? Because shorter corners tend to weigh less, and with that smaller frame they're more likely to run faster and quicker than corners with a little more meat on their bones. As Tony alluded to, however, Jaire Alexander's workout was very impressive. The junior corner came in at 196 pounds, an above-average weight for the position, and followed that up with a 4.38 40-yard dash, a very good time for that weight. Most impressive, however, was that 3.98-second short shuttle run. Only 18 cornerbacks drafted in the last 10 years have run a better time than that, and of those 18 only six weighed more than Alexander. It was a great workout for the talented cover corner, who I thought was flying a bit under the radar entering the weekend.
- The real question for Quenton Meeks from Stanford was his long speed, and he did not run the 40-yard dash on Monday. The rest of his numbers, however, were extremely impressive for a 6-1, 209-pound corner. His 6.72-second 3-cone drill is a very, very good time for a guy his size, and was the most impressive mark that he hit on Monday. Just how impressive was it? Forty-two corners drafted in the last decade have posted a better time in that specific drill, but only one of them weighed more than Meeks - Patrick Peterson. The rest of Meeks' numbers (128-inch broad jump, 39-inch vertical, and 4.23-second short shuttle) were strong in a similar manner, and the junior corner was also one of my personal favorites at the podium on Sunday, so my guess is he impressed teams in interviews over the weekend.
- One small-school corner who posted really impressive numbers was Georgia State's Chandon Sullivan, a future slot corner in the NFL based on my evaluation. His competitive nature really stood out to me on film, and I loved watching him play. He only hit 4.60 on the 40-yard dash (his long speed was a question mark for me), but his explosiveness showed up in his vertical and broad jumps. Only six corners drafted since 2007 posted a better number than his 134-inch broad jump and just 16 bested his vertical of 40.5 inches.
- A lot was written about the two bigger-name Penn State defensive backs, Marcus Allen and Christian Campbell, but it was two of the lesser-known prospects who stole the show. Safety Troy Apke is undersized at 6-1, 200 pounds, but he blazed 4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash and ranked in the 90th percentile or above in every single test on Monday. It was truly a phenomenal workout. Grant Haley, an undersized cornerback, posted outstanding shuttle times (6.51 seconds and 3.94 in the 3-cone and short shuttle, respectively).
- Meeks was impressive, but his former Stanford teammate Justin Reid may have eclipsed his performance. At 207 pounds, a respectable weight, the junior safety ran a 4.40 40-yard dash, a mark that only five safeties drafted in the last decade who weighed more than him have bested.
- Fran Duffy