INDIANAPOLIS - The 2018 season unofficially kicks off this week as the entire NFL descends upon Indianapolis for the Scouting Combine. Free agency is just around the corner, but hundreds of draft prospects will be put under the microscope as decision-makers try to sort through who they will or won't pick in April's NFL Draft. On Saturday, the quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends take to the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium to prove themselves in athletic testing drills. Who should you be watching? Let's take a closer look.
This is the player at each position who I feel is at the top of the class coming into the event, and who should hear his name called first among the position in April.
Quarterback: Sam Darnold (USC)
With all of the big names in this class, there's plenty of debate to be had when it comes to who the top dog is at quarterback.
In my opinion, as we sit here today, it's Sam Darnold.
The redshirt sophomore had major issues with his accuracy and ball placement in 2017, mainly because of what I perceived as critical mechanical issues in his lower body, but to me, he still is the No. 1 guy because of his above-average physical tools and his excellent intangibles. Darnold is tough as nails (he took a ton of punishment this year and always got right back up), has orchestrated a number of come-from-behind victories throughout his two-year career (Penn State fans may remember the Rose Bowl from two winters ago), and is reportedly a smart kid who loves the game. Those qualities go a long way, and while I think it's very close, I think Darnold has the best combination of traits to present the total package for his future NFL team.
Wide Receiver: Calvin Ridley (Alabama)
There are varying opinions on Ridley, who will be a 23-year-old rookie despite leaving school as a junior, but he is the top receiver in this draft and has the ability to be a big part of an NFL passing game. Ridley isn't the biggest receiver in this class but he's the most pro-ready. He's a polished route runner with speed to attack vertically and quickness to separate with ease at the top of his stem. Some analysts view Ridley as a top-15 talent, others think he'll go off the board later in Round 1. Either way, I think it's unlikely he's available for the Eagles at 32.
Tight End: Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State)
While Ridley is almost certainly going to be off the board for the Eagles' selection, the team likely will have its choice of the tight ends in this year's class and Dallas Goedert is right there at the top of the list. While I think it's very close between the small-school senior and players like Mark Andrews from Oklahoma and Hayden Hurst from South Carolina, Goedert is the player who stands out most to me because of his ability to play in-line as a blocker while also being a viable receiving threat down the seam. Is he a great athlete? No, but I think he's good enough that he'll be able to be the No. 1 tight end for an NFL offense in the next couple of years.
This is the player at each position who I expect to see perform best in the athletic testing portion of the workout (40-yard dash, cone drills, jumps, and/or bench press).
Quarterback: Lamar Jackson (Louisville)
This is a no-brainer, as I believe Jackson is the closest thing to Michael Vick since he entered the league in 2001. Jackson is an electric athlete at the quarterback position with a sprinter's lower half and he should post eye-popping numbers in the athletic tests on Saturday. I'd be shocked if the likely first-round pick doesn't run sub-4.4 in the 40-yard dash.
Wide Receiver: Keke Coutee (Texas Tech)
I went back and forth here with a few options on the table. I expect Ridley to test well. LSU's DJ Chark should run a fast 40-yard dash, while Pitt's Quadree Henderson should do well across the board, but it's Koutee who I think will stand out above the rest. A dynamic slot receiver with the juice to attack vertically and create instant separation, Coutee has a ton of potential as a slot man at the next level. If he proves to have the deep speed to attack downfield, however, teams may view him as a threat on the outside.
Tight End: Jordan Akins (Central Florida)
Akins' draft slot will be affected by his age as he'll be a 26-year-old rookie after beginning his career in the Texas Rangers' farm system. He's still one of the most athletic tight ends in this class and should run the best of the group.
The redshirt junior definitely has the speed down the seam to attack the deep part of the field, as well as the frame to be a better blocker than he currently is. The former receiver figures to be a mid-round selection in April. Keep an eye on Mark Andrews from Oklahoma, Swiss army knife Jaylen Samuels (who was a running back at the Senior Bowl and a slot receiver for N.C. State last fall) to also test well at this position.
Trust The Tape
This is the player at each position 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!
Quarterback: Luke Falk (Washington State)
Luke Falk isn't the most athletic passer. He's not the biggest or the strongest. He comes from an offense where everyone figures "pass first" and doesn't have the arm strength that will make you jump out of your chair. He's still a solid prospect, however, who will stick in the NFL for a bunch of years, even if he's just a backup. He's reportedly a very smart kid who had the keys to the offense for head coach Mike Leach. He throws with better anticipation than I expected before turning the tape on, and I like the touch he displays to all parts of the field. His poise stands out as well on film. Falk likely won't be a star, but he's an NFL player.
Wide Receiver: DaeSean Hamilton (Penn State)
Hamilton is on the smaller side for a receiver. He's got pretty long arms but he's not going to be known as a jump-ball player at the next level. Where he does win, however, is as a route runner. He's incredibly impressive at setting up defenders to fail after the snap. Hamilton projects well either inside or outside at the next level. I don't expect him to post a bad workout, but my guess is that he won't be at the top of the list in any of the athletic testing drills. That being stated ... he's one of my favorite receivers in this draft.
Tight End: Ryan Izzo (Florida State)
A junior with pretty good size and strength, Ryan Izzo is arguably the best blocker in this year's draft at the tight end position. Many draft experts have pointed in his direction when asked who was one of the biggest reasons for Dalvin Cook's 2016 success with the Seminoles. The North Jersey native and former high school basketball star was fairly productive, but something tells me he'll be known more for his blocking prowess than his dynamic athleticism at the next level. If he doesn't test well, don't drop him too far on your list.
This is the player at each position who I expect to see test better than most in the media believe based off of current projections.
Quarterback: Josh Allen (Wyoming)
Fans know about Allen's size, his big arm, and long-term potential, but his athleticism shouldn't be forgotten either. Allen was a great scrambler during his career who made plays outside the pocket with his arm and his legs. I expect him to test very well when compared to quarterbacks in the position from a historical perspective.
Wide Receiver: Christian Kirk (Texas A&M)
Everyone looks at the way Kirk was used in Texas A&M's offense and how he averaged just 12.2 yards per catch during his career. Analysts think he is only a viable short- and intermediate-area threat in the passing game. Having watched him for the last three years, however, I believe he can be used down the field, and I think he'll test like a vertical option on Saturday. Kirk has the ability to be a dynamic offensive weapon similar to how Brandin Cooks was used in New Orleans and in New England this past year. I may eat some crow on this one, but I expect Kirk to be one of the best testers at the receiver position and cement himself as a top-40 selection.
Tight End: Mike Gesicki (Penn State)
If you watch Penn State football, you're aware of Gesicki and his abilities as a receiver. He's a great pass catcher who looks extremely natural and comfortable at the catch point, but he's not considered a "great" athlete in terms of his top-end speed or lateral agility. In those tests, I don't expect Gesicki to shine, but in the vertical and broad jumps, I expect the former volleyball player to explode out of the gym. Keep an eye on Gesicki in those particular tests.
Will Kill The Drills
This is the player at each position who may or may not be a great athlete, but he will look the best in the position-specific drills after the athletic portion of the workout.
Quarterback: Josh Rosen (UCLA)
Of all these quarterbacks, Rosen is the cleanest when it comes to actually playing the position. The junior has flaws, but his footwork is crisp, his release is compact, his arm is live, and he throws with some of the best accuracy in the class. Of all the quarterbacks, I expect him to look the best on Saturday morning.
Wide Receiver: James Washington (Oklahoma State)
Washington averaged an astounding 19.8 yards per catch with 226 grabs over his career, so many people assume that he's a deep threat transitioning to the NFL. Ironically, I don't think he'll be known for his deep speed at the next level. That being noted, Washington is excellent at the catch point, where he uses his length and extremely strong hands to consistently pluck the ball out of the air away from his body. The best drill to watch for receivers is the gauntlet drill, and I think Washington will be one of the best in that event from this group.
Tight End: Dalton Schultz (Stanford)
Schultz is one of the best blockers in the tight end class and so he will look the part when he's asked to drive the bags backward in blocking drills on Saturday but don't sleep on his hands either. The junior has really soft hands and should catch the ball confidently as well during position drills. He's an impressive player who I think is a bit underrated at this point in the process.
Most To Prove
This is the player at each position who has the most to prove away from the field, whether it's during the interview process, medical examinations, or even the weigh-ins.
Quarterback: Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)
No prospect in the entire draft has as much to prove this weekend as Mayfield. Teams getting a chance to meet with him for the first time will ask him about some of his decisions on the field before putting his football intelligence to the test at the whiteboard. His lack of height is still a factor for some evaluators, who struggle to see how a player of his stature could consistently hold up for 16 games year after year. If Mayfield can calm some people's concerns he will go in the top 15. If he doesn't, he could fall farther than anticipated.
Wide Receiver: Antonio Callaway (Florida)
In a bit of a thin receiver class, Antonio Callaway is a dynamic pass catcher who, if he were clean off the field, would be viewed as a viable second- or third-round choice. Both quick and fast, the junior has all of the physical tools to create separation. He displayed the ability to win at the top of his routes with technique as well as a sophomore in 2016. The Gator didn't play a down in 2017, however, and will have to answer for that in interviews this week.
Tight End: Chris Herndon (Miami)
Herndon doesn't have any red flags away from the field, but teams will want to test a knee that he hurt at the end of the regular season. How will it hold up during medical checks? If he worked out here in Indianapolis, Herndon would be one of the best athletes in attendance. He's got speed down the seam and plenty of experience as an in-line blocker over the last two years in Mark Richt's scheme. There's a high floor there as a potential secondary option at the position, but he has a ceiling of a three-down player in the NFL.
Most Productive College Player
This is the player at each position who produced at the highest level, either in his final year in college or over the course of his entire career.
Quarterback: Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State)
Mayfield posted silly numbers during his career at Oklahoma, but don't sleep on Mason Rudolph, who put up video game-type statistics in the same state in a similar offensive scheme. A tall pocket passer with a solid arm, accuracy, and intangibles, Rudolph is a three-year starter who has proven he has the tools to stick in the NFL, even if it's just as a backup. I'm a fan of his game.
Wide Receiver: Richie James (Middle Tennessee State)
No receiver at the Combine caught more career passes (243) than James, a three-year starter for Rick Stockstill in their shotgun spread scheme. A high school quarterback who quickly transitioned to his role as a slot receiver for the Mocs, James' skill set translates really well to the NFL. Similar to how Jamison Crowder has scorched NFL secondaries since stepping into the league from Duke a few years ago, James isn't a top-level athlete, but is very reliable at the catch point and is better than most receivers as a route runner coming out of college. He's one of my favorite receivers in this class and his production speaks for itself.
Tight End: Mark Andrews (Oklahoma)
The No. 1 target in the passing game for the most productive passer in this draft class, Mark Andrews was a constant threat in the Sooners' offense for the last three years, catching 22 touchdowns at 15.8 yards per catch. That number sits above the 90th percentile among all tight ends drafted in the last decade. Andrews will have to learn how to play as an in-line blocker as he was an oversized receiver who lined up almost exclusively in the slot. His abilities as a receiver will get him drafted relatively high. He's a very intriguing pass catcher and a potential mismatch for an NFL team in the slot.
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.
Quarterback: Chase Litton (Marshall)
Litton is a big-armed passer who displays pro-style traits. No one is talking about Chase Litton yet, but he does have the skill set that will intrigue analysts as they start to get to his tape. The junior declared for the draft a year early to enter a deep class, but I believe he has the physical tools to be drafted somewhere in the middle rounds. He has some of the same on-field strengths and weaknesses as Tom Savage did just four short years ago.
Wide Receiver: Jordan Lasley (UCLA)
Lasley has been suspended multiple times during his career with the Bruins, so he's got some things to answer for this week, but he's got NFL ability. I'd like to see him continue to refine his route running and clean up some of the bad drops on film, but with his combination of size, speed, and ball skills he reminded me in ways to a player who was very productive about a decade ago - former Pro Bowl receiver Joe Horn. Like Horn, Lasley is big, physical, has pretty good speed, and just finds ways to win at the catch point. He's an intriguing talent.
Tight End: Jaylen Samuels (N.C. State)
Samuels is working out with the tight ends this week after participating in the Senior Bowl as a running back and lining up at slot receiver with the Wolfpack this fall, which should help paint a picture of his versatility. A solid route runner from the slot and aggressive blocker when he was asked to do it, Samuels doesn't have the speed or quickness to be a full-time player in space and he's not big enough to play in-line. I think he's more of a chess piece fullback in the NFL, similar to how the Oakland Raiders utilized Marcel Reece for a long time. I think he can be that type of weapon for an NFL team.
This is the player at each position who comes from a lower level of competition but still has a very bright future in the NFL.
Quarterback: Mike White (Western Kentucky)
The best small-school quarterback in this class is Kyle Lauletta, but we'll hit on him shortly. Instead, let's look at a passer from outside the Power 5 in Western Kentucky's Mike White, who had to adjust to a new offense this year as a senior but still thrived. Considered a big-time sleeper by some analysts, White has NFL size, moves pretty well in the pocket, and has the type of skill set to turn into a serviceable backup at the next level in my eyes.
Wide Receiver: Jaleel Scott (New Mexico State)
Watching Scott, I couldn't help but think of former Pro Bowl receiver Plaxico Burress with his enormous 6-5, 216-pound frame. The senior's arms are extremely long, he's got strong hands, and the ability to go up and make outstanding, acrobatic grabs down the field. A junior college transfer who only spent two years with New Mexico State, Scott is a player who people were very high on entering the Senior Bowl, and while he didn't necessarily flash the way they hoped in Mobile, his ceiling is still very high.
Tight End: Tyler Conklin (Central Michigan)
Conklin snared 83 passes for his career with the Chippewas, lighting up Tuesday night "MACtion" games as a versatile pass catcher who lined up in a number of spots after transferring from a junior college in 2014. The senior began his college career as a basketball player at Northwood University. That athleticism stands out on film, where he displays very good body control and natural ball skills in the air to go along with the quickness to get in and out of breaks in a hurry. He's one of my favorite mid- to late-round options at the tight end position.
This is the player at each position with a special tie to the City of Brotherly Love or to the Eagles that you should keep a close eye on.
Quarterback: Kyle Lauletta (Richmond)
There's a lot of buzz surrounding Lauletta, an undersized passer from the FCS level who hails from Exton, Pennsylvania, just west of Philadelphia. The graduate of Downingtown East High School was the Offensive Player of the Year in the CAA this past season and earned a trip to the Senior Bowl, where he impressed many analysts in attendance. He doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, which may limit his overall upside, but Lauletta is one of the most consistently accurate passers in the class and throws with enough anticipation that he's able to almost overcome his lack of arm talent. He's a name to watch moving forward.
Wide Receiver: D.J. Moore (Maryland)
A Philadelphia native who went to Imhotep Charter, Moore is one of the best receivers in this class for my money. A prototypical Z-receiver because of his quickness, versatility, route running potential, reliable hands, and ability to create with the ball in his hands, Moore should test well in Indianapolis and will end up being in the top five of most receiver lists around the country leading up to April's draft.
Tight End: Ian Thomas (Indiana)
I'll admit, this one is a bit of a reach. I like Thomas because he has an NFL body, can work as a blocker, and uses his basketball background to win at the catch point. He's not the best athlete in the class, and I don't think he's going to be a true threat down the seam. However, he's a very reliable pass protector and is a natural hands catcher. What's Thomas' connection to the Eagles? Well, before he arrived at Indiana, Thomas prepped at Nassau Community College and was actually teammates with 2017 third-round pick Rasul Douglas.
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" 40-yard dash time for any given position? 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).
|Mr. Average - Quarterbacks|
|Hand Size||9 3/4 Inches|
|Arm Length||32 1/4 Inches|
|Wingspan||77 3/4 Inches|
|Unofficial 40-Yard Dash||4.81 Seconds|
|Official 40-Yard Dash||4.83 Seconds|
|10-Yard Split||1.68 Seconds|
|3-Cone Drill||7.08 Seconds|
|Short Shuttle||4.33 Seconds|
|Broad Jump||112 Inches|
|Vertical Jump||31 Inches|
|Mr. Average - Wide Receivers|
|Hand Size||9 3/8 Inches|
|Arm Length||32 Inches|
|Wingspan||76 5/8 Inches|
|Unofficial 40-Yard Dash||4.46 Seconds|
|Official 40-Yard Dash||4.5 Seconds|
|10-Yard Split||1.55 Seconds|
|3-Cone Drill||6.92 Seconds|
|Short Shuttle||4.22 Seconds|
|Broad Jump||122 Inches|
|Vertical Jump||36 Inches|
|Mr. Average - Tight Ends|
|Hand Size||10 Inches|
|Arm Length||33 1/8 Inches|
|Wingspan||80 1/8 Inches|
|Unofficial 40-Yard Dash||4.68 Seconds|
|Official 40-Yard Dash||4.78 Seconds|
|10-Yard Split||1.63 Seconds|
|3-Cone Drill||7.1 Seconds|
|Short Shuttle||4.38 Seconds|
|Broad Jump||117 Inches|
|Vertical Jump||33.5 Inches|