The combine is a fickle “thing” and by no means should be considered the chief component to evaluate prospects but there are a number of players that made themselves some money. Here is a player from each position group whose arrow is pointing up.
Deshaun Watson (Clemson) – With all the talk before the combine about Mitchell Trubisky possibly being the first quarterback taken, DeShone Kizer having the highest ceiling and Patrick Mahomes as the wildcard with the strongest arm; Deshaun Watson was an afterthought after going to back-to-back championship games. Well, he surely changed that narrative at the combine with what can be classified as a “Hey don’t forget about me” performance. Watson showcased his arm strength and often criticized accuracy with pin-point throws short, intermediate and deep down the field. He made it look particularly easy on the 40+ yard throws that hit his receiver in stride with perfect zip and accuracy. As we all know the combine has no defenders closing in on the quarterback and there are no pads on, but for that one day Watson was the best passer on the field and will now be considered a legitimate option as the first quarterback to come off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) – Before the on the field workouts, Christian McCaffrey told the media that he felt disrespected and plays with a huge chip on his shoulder to prove to his doubters that he is an NFL caliber running back. His doubters can’t argue too much about McCaffrey’s college production as he broke Barry Sanders’ single-season all-purpose yardage record in 2015 and in 2016 he rushed for 1,639 yards in a “down” season. McCaffrey just went out on the field and showed his athleticism and speed by running a 4.48 40-yard dash which was faster than the speedster Dalvin Cook and the beast Leonard Fournette. His 37.5-inch vertical and 6.57 second three-cone drill was by far the most impressive combination than all the backs present. The drills that made him the most money however were the on the field drills where he showcased his fluidity and pass catching abilities. McCaffrey looked smooth out there and placed himself in the first round conversation. On tape he is an excellent runner in between the tackles but I believe NFL teams will still question his size and if he can handle a large workload.
John Ross (Washington) – There is not much to say here as John Ross almost broke Twitter with his record breaking 4.22 40-yard dash. The craziest part of his dash heard all-around the world was that he seemed to pull up a little lame with around 10 yards remaining in the run. Ross did not perform in any other drills due to what was reported as a leg cramp but he really didn’t have much else to prove after his blazing time. The electrifying performance from Ross puts him in the first half of the first round conversation as speed receivers in the pass with far less talent, particularly Ted Ginn and Tavon Austin, were drafted in the Top 10. Honestly I would not be surprised if Ross gets his name called before projected number 1 and 2 receivers Mike Williams and Corey Davis, as it just takes one team in the Top 10 to fall in love with the rare speed Ross possess. It’s not all positive though for Ross as he will come with major injury concerns as he has dealt with a plethora of injuries at the collegiate level including 2 separate meniscus injuries, a torn ACL and will undergo surgery on his shoulder this month. A team will need to look past his injury concerns but he can be one of the most dynamic playmakers as soon as he steps foot on an NFL field.
Evan Engram (Ole Miss) – The tight end position in this year’s draft is pretty loaded compared to the prospects we have seen recently. If you are a fantasy football player it should be more apparent to you that the lack of talented tight ends entering the NFL has reared its ugly head making the position extremely top heavy. Don’t fear the 2017 class is here! The class is headlined by O.J. Howard who also killed the combine, but the biggest winner is the guy who is flying up draft boards, Evan Engram. If a 4.42 40-yard dash wasn’t enough (fastest time for all tight ends), Engram separated himself from a crowded tight end class by moving seamlessly through the on-field workouts while demonstrating excellent ball skills in the rapid fire drill. On tape Engram’s speed and production checks out but the biggest question mark he will face is his physicality and blocking ability. Engram will not hold up as an in-line tight end at the next level so it will be up to his offensive coordinator to put him in the right scheme to maximize his potential. Engram’s strong combine performance should make him a second round pick at the latest and more than likely the third tight end selected.
Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky) – After making national headlines with strong performances during the Senior Bowl practice sessions, Forrest Lamp injured his ankle forcing him to bow out of the actual game. This injury may have put his rise up draft boards on hold but Lamp proved that he belongs as a first round prospect by totally annihilating the NFL Combine. He started by bench pressing 34 reps (2nd highest), 111 inch broad jump (3rd highest), and then ran a 5.00 40-yard dash (4th highest). Lamp’s athleticism and strength was confirmed at the combine with his on-field drills and more importantly the tape he put together at Western Kentucky. Lamp played offensive tackle at the collegiate level but a move to guard is likely, due to his arm length of 32 and a quarter inches. I believe he can hold up at any position on the offensive line and will be a versatile piece for an NFL team. Football teams win up front and the lack of top end offensive line talent in this year’s draft plus his versatility will make Lamp one of the most coveted players to acquire.
Interior Defensive Line
Solomon Thomas (Stanford) – Yea, I know Solomon Thomas will play a substantial amount of plays on the edge but I believe he will make his money rushing from the interior. I never really understood the Thomas’ pre-combine naysayers but they’re surely quiet after Thomas showcased his tremendous strength, agility and fluidness throughout his combine workout. At 273 pounds, Thomas ran a very impressive 4.69 40-yard dash, completed 30 reps in the bench press, a 10’6″ broad jump, 35 inch vertical and what might be the most impressive number, a 6.95 timed 3-cone drill. There is nothing this man-child cannot do! At Stanford, Thomas played 5 technique often which put him right over the end but at the next level he will asked to do much more due to his versatility along the defensive line. Whether it is at edge rusher, a 3 technique or his customary 5 technique position, Thomas will most certainly wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks and running backs. I will be surprised if a team does not select him within the first 15 picks.
Jordan Willis (Kansas State) – Speaking of naysayers there weren’t many draft evaluators who came back from watching Jordan Willis’ tapes without having some concerns. I watched him dominate in the Senior Bowl recording 2 sacks and 2 force fumbles while winning South Team Outstanding Player. He was considered a mid round pick even after his strong Senior Bowl performance but he most certainly boost his stock after a 1.54 10-yard split, a 39 inch vertical, a 4.53 40-yard dash, and a 6.85 3-cone drill. The early questions on his fluidity and bend around the edge will now be double checked on tape as he looked more fluid at the combine than his tape showed. One thing on tape that jumps out immediately is his first step, so if Willis can continue to improve his bend around the edge and passing rushing moves, watch out. Willis is a student of the game who watches a massive amount of tape, therefore I strongly believe he will be a steal in the upcoming draft.
Haason Reddick (Temple) – The buzz on Haason Reddick started in the Senior Bowl as the collegiate defensive end at Temple made a name for himself at the linebacker position. In actuality Reddick started out as a defensive back which makes his rise up the draft boards even more astounding. Versatility was already a major plus for Reddick coming into the combine but his showcase of speed (running a 4.52 40-yard dash) explosiveness (133 inch broad jump) and quickness (7.01 3-cone drill) can possibly make him the first off-the-line linebacker selected in the draft. The curious case of Reuben Foster’s potential fall down the draft board plays a major role in that statement but Reddick holds his own as an instinctive playmaker who can come downhill and cover running backs or tight ends in the passing game. Reddick was the biggest riser over the last month of the draft process and will be a very good player at weakside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and will be right at home when he is asked to rush the quarterback from the edge.
Adoree’ Jackson (USC) – Here is a guy I wasn’t high on after watching his tape at USC. I thought Adoree’ Jackson was a much better athlete than he was a football player. At the combine he proved that he is and always will be a world class athlete. It is no surprise to me that Jackson killed the combine but I was a little surprised on how fluid his hips were in and out of his breaks. At USC Jackson wasn’t asked to play press man coverage much, which is the main reason why I couldn’t place him among my Top 5 cornerbacks in the class. I will go back and watch the tape again due to Jackson’s full arsenal of fluidity, speed and ball skills. I will be looking at how instinctive he is and can he get physical with opponents. That being said there is no denying that Jackson is a versatile playmaker that scored 6 offensive touchdowns, 8 on special teams and 1 on defense in his career.
Obi Melifonwu (UConn) – I fully expected Obi Melifonwu to absolutely slay the combine and boy he did just that. Melifonwu was the talk of the combine on Monday during the defensive back workouts with a blazing 4.46 40-yard dash, the second-longest broad jump in combine history at 11 feet 9 inches and a 44 inch vertical jump. All of this at 6’4″ 224 lbs. Oooooweeeee that’s a lot of dollars that was added to Obi’s bank account. Now the question I have as well as many other evaluators is, “What position best fits the 4-year safety at UConn?” On tape I question his instinctiveness as he seems a bit slow in diagnosing plays and moving through the traffic when playing safety. At the Senior Bowl, coaches lined him up at corner and he showcased great foot work with the ability to break quickly on passes. This is a easy decision for me. To maximize Melifonwu’s potential and earnings at the next level, a move to cornerback will bode well for him and the team that drafts him. If not a permanent move to corner, the best fit may very well be the situation his former teammate Byron Jones is in as a hybrid corner-safety role who often comes down in coverage to cover slot receivers or athletic tight ends.
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