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.
From the Combine to now buddies & teammates, @NateSudfeld and I have come a long ways already! S/O to the QBs with their on-field workouts today! Best job interview in the World! pic.twitter.com/BaqxKScT5e
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…