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Ella on the Scene: Standout performers from Night 1 of on-field workouts

Georgia's Nolan Smith
Georgia's Nolan Smith

INDIANAPOLIS – Combine workouts finally began Thursday in Indianapolis. After a morning of media interviews with the defensive backs at the Indiana Convention Center, then it was off to Lucas Oil Stadium to see the defensive linemen and linebackers exhibit their skills in the afternoon. Join me as I recap Day 3 at the NFL Scouting Combine.

8:15 AM – Fran and I grabbed breakfast before heading to Radio Row. It was packed with a lot of familiar faces – everyone was fueling up before another exciting day.

9:30 AM – The media session for defensive backs began.

Four of Alabama's 13 Combine participants, the most of any school in the nation, come from the DB group. Safety Jordan Battle spoke at 10 AM. When Battle first arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2019, Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith was still on the roster. They would play two seasons together, one of those being Smith's Heisman Trophy-winning year.

I asked Battle how Smith made him better: "He took me in – him, (Jaylen) Waddle ... those are my guys when I first got there. They took me every day in practice. It was competitive whether I lined up against Waddle, (Jerry) Jeudy, Smitty, whoever was in front of me ... (John) Metchie at the time too. Whoever lined up in front of me, it was just competitive, brotherly love to get at it every day. That's one thing I love about Alabama, the ability to compete every day and that made me better."

Top safety prospect Brian Branch spent one season with Smith, referring to the experience of going up against him in practice as "tough," followed by a smile.

"It made us better, it made me better – a lot better, especially coming in my freshman year having to go against them – they're different," Branch reflected on Smith and the tough wide receiver group. "And they're showing it now in the NFL. And being able to have already gone against them, I feel like that sets me apart a little bit."

Both Battle and Branch said their experiences against elite wide receivers gave them confidence as they head to the next level.

Mississippi State cornerback Emmanuel Forbes said he grew up watching Eagles cornerback Darius Slay, a fellow Bulldog. "He's really good in his technique. He knows when to open up, when to press – he's really good."

Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. is in the special club of athletes with NFL pedigree. His father, Joey Porter, played 13 seasons in the NFL – the majority of his career spent with the Steelers and rounded out with two final seasons in Arizona.

Porter Jr. was humble at the podium, presenting genuine honesty about his journey. He admitted that he wanted to declare for the draft last year, but he had a tough conversation with his parents, who believed he wasn't quite ready yet.

He said that conversation specifically fueled his final collegiate season to prove why he is ready, "just to show that I could carry myself on and off the field, that I've matured and grown up from the previous years."

Being born to an NFL player comes with some memorable experiences. Porter talked about growing up with Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin's children and hanging around the players. Being around the game as a child is a gift and Porter knows it molded his love for football.

We've talked with players who have brothers in the NFL, and there are other players at the Combine who also come from an NFL bloodline. These are stories that are intriguing to follow throughout the draft process.

1:30 PM – Lunchtime! After the media sessions wrapped, Fran and I completed some work on Radio Row before grabbing a bite to eat. There is a long night ahead of us.

2:30 PM – We walked to Lucas Oil Stadium to settle in before drills and workouts began at 3 PM.

3 PM – Defensive tackles took the field first. Below are my choices for the top-three performers.

Bryan Bresee, Clemson

Bresee came out fast and with a hot motor. His 10-yard split time tied for second amongst the group at 1.71 seconds. He attacked each drill with elite focus and power. I was impressed by the maximum effort he exerted throughout his workout. He exemplified an aggressive attitude, athleticism, and explosiveness. Bresee had an incredible press conference on Wednesday and followed it up with a successful on-field workout.

Jalen Redmond, Oklahoma

Redmond crushed it. Plain and simple. He showed a nice change in direction, quick hands, and flexibility. He was an exciting player to watch.

Moro Ojomo, Texas

The Texas Longhorn shined in the "run the hoop" drill, an exercise that tests your balance, the ability to accelerate and maintain speed, your bend, and how you finish. He had great control and was fluid. You could see his length and athleticism come to light. He showed his strength and power in pass rush drills. It was a big day for Ojomo.

Next, the edge rushers took the field, and this group put on a show. Instead of ranking my top three performers, I simply put the players into two tiers. Here's how they stack up in alphabetical order:

Tier 1 – Nick Hampton (Appalachian State), Thomas Incoom (Central Michigan), Lukas Van Ness (Iowa), Colby Wooden (Auburn), Byron Young (Tennessee)

Incoom was my favorite in this group. He was speedy, had a good punch, and his workout continued to get better as each drill progressed. Incoom made a name for himself on Thursday night.

Tier 2 – Robert Beal Jr. (Georgia), Isaiah McGuire (Missouri), Jose Ramirez (Eastern Michigan), Keion White (Georgia Tech)

It's also important to note that Georgia edge rusher Nolan Smith didn't do the position drills, but he ran the 40. A historic 40 at that. His 4.39 official time was the second-fastest time for a defensive lineman since 2003. For context, that's faster than Giants Pro Bowl running back Saquon Barkley and Bills Pro Bowl wide receiver Stefon Diggs. His measurements (6-foot-2, 238 pounds) are garnering a lot of comparisons to Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick (6-1, 240).

Lastly, the linebackers took the field in a performance that was a lot less exciting, but it was strong. There wasn't any single player who stood out, more so a variety of solid performances across the board. Daiyan Henley (Washington State) and Charlie Thomas (Georgia Tech) surprised me the most with consistent performances, and Will Anderson (Alabama), Owen Pappoe (Auburn), Drew Sanders (Arkansas), and Trenton Simpson (Clemson) performed well too.

All in all, it was a great first night of workouts. Fran and I immediately returned to Radio Row following the conclusion of the evening's events to record an episode of the Journey to the Draft podcast, where we recapped everything we saw on the field and provided in-depth analysis. Be sure to tune in wherever you get your podcasts.

The lights at Lucas Oil Stadium will be back on Friday night as the defensive backs take the field.

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