Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Footballdiehards.com by Evan Tarracciano.
Now more than ever, the NFL’s calendar provides its fans with plenty of activity during the “Dark Age” of the sport, from the final snap in the Super Bowl until Roger Goodell’s chorus of boos erupt during the opening of the NFL Draft.
For Fantasy Football fanatics, the month of March marks the beginning of the preparation period for the following season, namely in the form of the NFL Combine. In years past this event was given little national spotlight and attention, viewed as an over-glorified weekend of college athletes running wind sprints in underwear (though to some extent that is still the case, as the 40-yard dash is the most critiqued event of the bunch).
Long prior to the event even starting, you can be sure that all 32 NFL teams have done their due diligence, creating scouting reports on all players that they feel would benefit their club come draft day. Generally speaking, each team has a decent idea of what players will be off the board within the first three rounds, and the real “dirty work” comes from trying to find athletes from smaller schools or those with a checkered history off off-field issues or specific skillsets (such as special teams mavens).
Strong or weak performances at the Combine present the opportunity for players to either rise or fall on draft boards. Opinions may not be dramatically shifted, but rising to the occasion for some will present a much bigger payday – the incentive is clearly there.
Although the Combine is only half over at this point, all Fantasy-relevant positions have already worked out (QB, RB, WR and TE), meaning that owners will need to wait until a player’s Pro Day or the Draft to evaluate them further. Similar to the scouts that were in attendance at the event, I was able to jot down several notes on players that caught my attention, many of which I had never watched prior to this in person. Below are my thoughts on each position, in order of their appearance.
The 2019 RB class is considered on paper to be much thinner than last year, and there is no sure-fire blue-chip prospects that are “slam dunk” round one selections, akin to Saquon Barkley. Currently I have Josh Jacobs(Alabama), Miles Sanders (Penn State) and David Montgomery (Iowa State) alone in my first-tier, with a significant drop off thereafter.
• Justice Hill (OSU) ran the fastest 40-yard dash of the class, at 4.40. He is insanely fast but is very lean, and I don’t think that his slight frame can take the pounding of a true first and second down back. Have to imagine that he’d be best suited as a kick returner. He also led the RB group with a 40 inch vertical and 130 inch long jump.
• Miles Sanders (PSU) will draw plenty of comparisons to Barkley given that they went to the same school, but he doesn’t possess the burst or quickness of Saquon. He ranked above-average in all of the drills, from the broad jump (124 inches), vertical jump (36 inches) and finished first in the cone drill (6.89 seconds). His shiftiness will make him a third-down back but I can’t envision a team drafting him as a feature player.
• Devin Singletary (Florida Atlantic) is a player that other analysts seem much higher on than myself. It was pointed out several times that he has one of the best jump-cuts in college football and is a very patient runner, but his showing in Indianapolis was forgettable for me. He’s more of a 4th or 5th round player in my estimation. Mike Mayock’s “quicker than fast” phrase was thrown about plenty.
• Dexter Williams (Notre Dame) was impressive whenever I saw him live. His 130-inch long jump tied Justice Hilland Travis Homer for the best of the RB grouping. For being a 5’11 210 lb. back he moves very well. Williams also had a 7 second flat cone drill, just behind the elusive Miles Sanders.
• Damien Harris (Alabama) draws constant comparisons to Mark Ingram on both the NFL Network broadcast and college experts on Twitter. I went back and watched some of his tape and don’t think that he runs with quite the same ferocity, but similar to Ingram he is a great blocker and capable receiver.
Similar to the running back position, this year’s crop of signal callers is considered a much shallower pool of talent, with only a few players expected to break into the first round. The name that everyone is discussing is Kyler Murray, who unfortunately didn’t do any of the drills at the Combine. After choosing to stick with football rather than pursuing a baseball career with the Oakland Athletics, Murray immediately vaulted to the top of tier one. Much has been discussed about his height, but I feel that it doesn’t put a black spot on his record like many others. Murray is smart about using his athleticism to his advantage, opting to run out of bounds or slide rather than force unnecessary contact. Think of him as a slightly smaller version of Russell Wilson. I’m excited to see what he can do at Oklahoma’s Pro Day.
• Trace McSorley (Penn State) entered the Combine with a definite chip on his shoulder. He was requested to participate in drills with defensive backs as well as quarterbacks, but he declined stating that this is the position he prefers. He is the most gifted running option of the bunch, leading the group with a 4.57 40 yard dash, and received top marks in the cone drill and jumps. I can’t forsee his skillset translating to an NFL roster though.
• Drew Lock (Missouri) benefitted strongly from the spotlight. He showed the scouts his incredibly strong arm, but occasionally missed a receiver with his throws. NFL analyst Lance Zierlein pointed out that he reminded him of Matthew Stafford – an elite talent with fantastic arm strength that struggles with touch at times.
• Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) didn’t have a great 40-yard dash time with over 5 seconds, but no team is drafting him for his legs. Haskins is a pocket quarterback through and through, in the traditional sense. During the passing drills the ball came out of his hand effortlessly, and he led his receivers well. His deep passes had plenty of air underneath them but also didn’t float, and had just the right amount of touch.
• Daniel Jones (Duke) entered the Combine with a decent amount of buzz behind him, as quarterbacks typically do. His passing attempts didn’t have the “wow” factor of either Lock or Haskins, and he seemed to need much more effort to reach the same distances. Jones was consistently throwing the ball high to his receivers, especially on the slant routes. This might be in part due to his size.
• Tyree Jackson (Buffalo) is one of those quarterbacks that catches my attention every year with the “what if” factor. A team willing to take the time and hone his skills and groom him for a year or two would be well rewarded. He has a very strong arm and easy-going demeanor.
Of the offensive positions, tight end is by far the deepest this year, and there are a number of players who will be drafted as plug-and-play choices. Expectations around the league have teams selecting two or three from this group in the first round, namely T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant from Iowa and Irv Smith from Alabama.
• When comparing the two Iowa players, Hockenson is more of the “traditional” tight end, with Fant being more of a prototype “move” option that is becoming more commonplace within the league. Hockenson is an adept blocker, but Fant is the superior pass catcher. Hockenson may be drafted first of the two due to a more complete overall skillset, but for teams simply looking for a slot presence or someone to open up the seam, Fant would be the guy. Fant’s 40-time of 4.50 led the tight end group, and he was the talk of Indianapolis after Day 2. Fant and Hockenson also finished 1-2 in both jumping drills and the cone drill as well. Each player had a fantastic day.
• Irv Smith had a solid day, and I’ll agree with the comments made by Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network on him. Lazy analysis will compare him to O.J. Howard since they went to the same school, but Smith isn’t nearly the same size as Howard, nor does he possess the same ceiling. Smith does have strong hands and excelled in the drill when he as peppered with targets. Smith fell to the ground early on both deep targets thrown his way and failed to catch either reception.
• Drew Sample (Washington) was repeatedly named by Bucky Brooks as a sleeper candidate to keep an eye on. I didn’t recall much of anything in particular that he excelled at.
• With Rob Gronkowski’s future uncertain and the team recently releasing Dwayne Allen, it stands to reason that the New England Patriots would have interest here.
The 2019 crop of WR talent has plenty to offer across the board, from physical freak athletes, speed demons to slot receivers or pure route runners. I’d fully expect there to be at least two or three wideouts taken on Day 1.
• Ohio State officially rules the roost when it comes to speed demon wideouts. Three of the top eight 40 times were recorded by Buckeyes, including the top performing candidate in Parris Campbell (4.31). Campbell is regarded as a game-changing speedster and converted track star, but doesn’t run very polished routes, akin to a John Ross. Still, we’ve seen in the past that teams value speed much more than other attributes (the Al Davis Oakland Raiders come to mind).
• Apparently, a glitch occurred on Saturday morning with the electronic systems that measure the 40 – Andy Isabella(UMASS) was expected to have one of the fastest times in the entire class, but initial numbers tracked him at 4.56 and 4.41. In actuality it was a 4.31. Given his size and body type (5’9 and 188 lbs.) it wouldn’t be a stretch to peg him into a slot receiver role, but Isabella is fully capable of being a downfield threat as well, akin to Phillip Dorsett. Larger cornerbacks pressing at the line of scrimmage could be an issue for him to overcome.
• D.K. Metcalf from Mississippi is officially the talk of the Combine world after running an absurd 4.33 40 and putting up 27 reps on the bench press, at a size of 6’3 and 228 lbs. To further cement his claim as the top receiver in the draft, Metcalf finished third in the vertical jump (40.5 inches) and fifth in the long jump (134 inches). He doesn’t have a lengthy career to pull data from as his redshirt sophomore season was cut short by a severe neck injury, but any scout with functioning eyeballs will tell you that he fits into the “physical freak” category, akin to Calvin Johnson or Josh Gordon. There are definite holes to his game and areas to refine, but Metcalf has the highest ceiling of any receiver. His performance cemented him as a top-10 selection.
• Riley Ridley (Georgia) reminds me of a younger (and less physical) version of Anquon Boldin. He doesn’t have top-end breakaway speed, nor does he have the downfield blocking skills of Boldin, but he does have fantastic hands and above-average route running skills. He isn’t a true “X” option, but as a larger slot option or second receiver, the upside is certainly there.
• Hunter Renfrow (Clemson) has some of the best hands at the position and is tough as nails – yet I still can’t see him being drafted in the first five or six rounds. Renfrow doesn’t have breakaway speed or separation, and his smaller stature will present further limitations. I’m envisioning a career path more in line with Danny Amendola than Julian Edelman.
• For teams not willing to spend the draft capital on a Metcalf, they should strongly consider Miles Boykin (Notre Dame). He wasn’t nearly as touted, but his measurables are equally impressive. A 6’4, 220lb outside receiver, Boykin finished FIRST in the three-cone drill (6.77 seconds) at receiver, second in the long jump (an absurd 140 inches) and first in the vertical jump (43.5 inches). His college tape consistently showed him out-leaping smaller defenders and out-muscling them on back shoulder throws. Definitely a name to remember.
• A.J. Brown (Mississippi) was the Robin to Metcalf’s Batman during the drills, and I have to admit – I really enjoyed watching him catch the ball. Some smaller receivers allow the ball to reach them fully before cradling it next to them, referred to as “body catching”. Others snatch the ball out of the air with ease. Then there is Brown. In every session when the ball came his way there was an audible “pop” when it hit his hands, and didn’t move. An inch. Early reports say that Brown is being targeted by teams as a larger slot receiver. A bigger version of Jarvis Landry sounds good to me.