Toughness. It's one of the first traits that NFL teams will state that they are looking for in draft prospects.
Will they be tough enough, both physically and mentally, to compete and stick in the NFL? That’s a question that is asked by scouts throughout the fall, and last week at the NFL Scouting Combine was another step in the process in trying to weed out who fits that criteria. I was on a mission to find out who the toughest players were, so I posed a question to dozens of the former college stars in Indianapolis – Who was the toughest player you faced in 2018? Here are the best answers regarding offensive players.
C Garrett Bradbury
Texas A&M linebacker Tyrel Dodson explained to me that Garrett Bradbury, the center from N.C. State, was the toughest guy he matched up with last fall. Bradbury’s athleticism and smarts stood out to Dodson, who said he moved like a tight end in the trenches. That should come as no surprise. Why? Bradbury arrived on campus as a tight end before making the move inside.
T Yodny Cajuste
When I talked with TCU defensive end L.J. Collier, he referenced West Virginia’s Yodny Cajuste as his toughest matchup of 2018. Collier said that it was very evident that Cajuste had gameplanned hard, as he did a great job throwing Collier off his game, baiting him to show his hands early and take him out of the play. Collier reflected on the game many times throughout the fall and was looking forward to seeing Cajuste again at the Senior Bowl to inflict some payback, but Cajuste didn’t make the trip due to an injury. Collier was the Senior Bowl Practice Player of the Week at defensive line.
WR Travis Fulgham
FAU wide receiver Jovon Durante took a bit of a different angle with answering my question, saying that he was most impressed watching another receiver on film with Travis Fulgham from Old Dominion. Durante told me that Fulgham stood out on film because of his big frame, glowing about how well he knew how to use his size and make the most of his catch radius. He continued praising him, telling me how impressed he was with how well he ran for a guy his size and with his abilities as a route runner. Fulgham barely cracked 4.60 seconds last week in the 40-yard dash, but jumped out of the gym and had a good week of practice at the Senior Bowl.
RB Myles Gaskin
When I spoke with Stanford linebacker Bobby Okereke, he told me that Washington running back Myles Gaskin was the toughest guy he faced. When I asked why, he said that he was extremely tough to tackle and that you knew you were taking on a veteran player. Okereke pointed to Gaskin’s quickness and physicality, despite his size, when glowing about the fellow senior star from the West Coast.
WR Kelvin Harmon
I spoke at length with Boston College safety Lukas Denis, and he told me that N.C. State Kelvin Harmon was the toughest guy he faced in 2018. Denis said that the timing between Harmon and quarterback Ryan Finley was "on point," and that with his size he was a very difficult matchup. Immediately after that, I spoke with Virginia safety Juan Thornhill, who echoed Denis’ sentiments, saying that Harmon was very tough to cover because of his sheer size and strength.
RB Elijah Holyfield
Former LSU safety John Battle told me that Georgia running back Elijah Holyfield, along with Holyfield's teammate and Philadelphia native D’Andre Swift, was the toughest task of 2018. Battle said that Holyfield was really tough to bring to the ground.
WR Diontae Johnson
Miami cornerback Michael Jackson was my favorite senior corner entering the 2018 campaign. He told me that the toughest guy he faced was another star from the MAC in Toledo’s Diontae Johnson. The first-team All-MAC wideout and punt returner ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds at the Combine, but Jackson said his game speed is much faster. Johnson was expected to run better than that entering the event by most analysts because he’s known for his speed. What stood out to Jackson was how well Johnson used the cornerback’s aggressiveness against him throughout their matchup. Jackson said that Johnson is a smart, tough player who shouldn’t be overlooked.
G Chris Lindstrom
Miami defensive end Joe Jackson told me that "there was no one better" than Chris Lindstrom, the Boston College offensive lineman who has improved his stock each step of the way in the pre-draft process. I asked Jackson who he thought the toughest player was on his schedule last year, and he went game-by-game in his head, thoroughly thinking about the answer, but when he got to Boston College the answer was simple. He was very impressed by the senior, who most people see as a guard in the NFL.
RB Bryce Love
Former Washington safety Taylor Rapp gave a tip of the cap to former Stanford running back Bryce Love, saying he was the toughest guy he faced last year. He said, even in a down year, Love was an incredible player, "super" tough, and extremely hard to bring down. Love tore his ACL in December, but was a Heisman Trophy finalist back in 2017.
WR D.K. Metcalf
LSU star cornerback Greedy Williams told me the toughest player he faced all season long was Ole Miss wideout D.K. Metcalf, who Williams tabbed as "the total package" at receiver. The All-SEC corner said Metcalf was extremely tough and physical and difficult to handle because of his speed.
QB Gardner Minshew
I talked with Love’s teammate, Stanford cornerback Alijah Holder, and he gave love to Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew, one of the best stories of the college football season. Holder said he was very impressed with the way Minshew performed in 2018, and said when you take the field with him that "he definitely had a spirit about him" as a competitor. Holder was not shocked to see how that team rallied around him and how he performed in just his first year on campus in Pullman.
WR Riley Ridley
Kentucky cornerback Derrick Baity went with Georgia wide receiver Riley Ridley as the toughest guy he faced in 2018. Baity said that Ridley’s a very deceptive mover, extremely physical, and a great route runner. Ridley's stock took a bit of a hit after his performance in the athletic testing at the Combine, which if you read my preview of the receivers, your expectations may have been a bit tempered. But Ridley is a technician who does a lot of the little things well. I was also very impressed with him on the podium during his media session. He definitely came off as a tough, intense player in that interview.
T Dalton Risner
Oklahoma State pass rusher Jordan Brailford told me that Kansas State right tackle Dalton Risner was a really tough blocker because of how strong he was. Brailford praised Risner’s hands and grip strength as a tackle when telling me how tough he was to get past off the edge.
T Max Scharping
Florida State pass rusher, and potential top-10 pick, Brian Burns faced a number of really talented offensive tackles this year, including potential top-10 pick Jawaan Taylor from Florida. But the first name he mentioned when I asked him who the toughest guy that he faced was Northern Illinois left tackle Max Scharping. An experienced, versatile blocker with plenty of reps at both tackle spots, Scharping’s strong inside punch is what stood out most to Burns from their midseason matchup. I thought that was high praise for the first-team All-MAC performer. For what it’s worth, Scharping mentioned Taylor next, saying his length and reach made him tough to beat off the right side.
RB Benny Snell
Florida linebacker Vosean Joseph mentioned some underclassmen running backs who went back to school as the toughest players he faced, but said that Kentucky’s Benny Snell was tough as well and he gave him a lot of trouble. Joseph said that Snell plays off blocks really well and forces defenders to make mistakes because of his eyes.
T Jonah Williams
Missouri defensive tackle Terry Beckner told me that Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams was the toughest guy he lined up across from in 2018, saying that he was not a pushover in the trenches and always kept coming. Beckner added that Williams had a presence about him that you could feel before the snap, something I thought was really interesting.
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show 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 the Journey 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.