We can’t believe it, either, but “Nick Foles, Super Bowl MVP” is old news. The 2018 NFL combine is already here, and a rotating cast of Ringer staffers will provide you with a collection of five thoughts from each day in Indianapolis.
1. Josh Allen Did What He Needed to Do
Allen encapsulates the sometimes-overlooked but foundational concept of the draft: that teams must ultimately evaluate not what a player has done, but rather what he can do at the next level. The former Wyoming quarterback’s college numbers weren’t all that impressive, particularly those from the 2017 season, when he completed just 56.3 percent of his passes at 6.7 yards per attempt, connecting on 16 touchdowns to six interceptions in 11 games. But while Allen’s lack of accuracy at the college level remains a major concern, the advantage he has over his peers is almost limitless physical potential. He measured in at 6-foot-5, 237 pounds on Friday, with mammoth 10.13-inch hands and a quarterback-group-best 33.3-inch arms. That’s about as close to prototypical size, weight, arm length, and hand size as any team could hope for. On Saturday, he showed he’s a top-tier athlete, too. Allen clocked in at 4.75 seconds in the 40-yard dash, registered a 33.5-inch vertical jump, and leapt 9 feet, 11 inches in the broad jump—all outstanding numbers for a player his size.
As for the day’s on-field drills, Allen’s performance wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but he stood out among the rest of the signal-callers who threw. Allen tossed one deep ball about 70 yards—a pass that drew gasps from onlookers in the stadium—confirming what we’d all heard about the former Wyoming star coming into the week: He has a really strong arm.
More importantly, Allen looked calm and collected during the rest of the position-group drills, throwing accurately (for the most part) on a series of quick outs and post-corner routes. These drills don’t ask a whole lot of a quarterback—there’s no downfield defenders or pass rushers in his face—but for a guy whose biggest knock is a lack of accuracy, Allen looked, well, fine throwing the ball in front of scouts and general managers today. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but Allen’s overall combine week—where he displayed a scintillating combination of size, athleticism, and arm strength—likely boosted his stock heading into the pro day circuit.
2. Calvin Ridley Gave a Mixed Performance, Two D.J.s Put on a Show, and Mike Gesicki Lit It Up
Ridley came into the draft as the consensus top receiver in the class, and the 6-foot, 189-pound former Alabama star showed off his blazing speed on Saturday morning with a 4.43-second 40-yard dash. However, he struggled in two other tests, registering just 31 inches in the vertical jump and 9 feet, 2 inches in the broad jump. Compare those numbers to, say, former UCLA tackle Kolton Miller, who jumped 31.5 inches in the vertical and 10 feet, 1 inch in the broad jump … at 6-foot-9 and 309 pounds. Ridley’s game has never been built around power—he makes his hay with precision as a route runner and with his ability to separate underneath and pick up yards after the catch—but time will tell if those vertical and broad jump numbers will affect Ridley’s grade among NFL teams.
As for the rest of the receivers group, a pair of pass catchers named D.J. stood out the most. I flagged D.J. Chark as a player to watch in my combine preview, and on Saturday, the 6-foot-3, 199-pound former LSU receiver did not disappoint. Chark—who averaged 20.5 yards per reception over the past two years and caught a pair of deep passes in the Senior Bowl, one of which was a touchdown—paced all receivers with a sizzling 4.34-second 40-yard time. He showed plenty of leaping ability, too, jumping 40 inches in the vertical and 10 feet, 9 inches in the broad jump. Chark’s skill set gives him potential as a deep threat early in his career for the team that picks him, and he’s already drawing comparisons to New Orleans pass catcher Ted Ginn. There may not be another player whose stock has risen more over the past couple of months.
Maryland pass catcher D.J. Moore had a great day as well. The 6-foot, 210-pound receiver ran the 40 in 4.42 seconds, jumped 39.5 inches in the vertical, and hit 11 feet in the broad jump. Moore’s combination of size, speed, and explosiveness gives him the chance to sneak into the back half of the first round come April.
Finally, Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki had himself a day. The 6-foot-5, 247-pound former basketball and volleyball standout jumped out of the building with a 41.5-inch vertical, leapt 10 feet, 9 inches in the broad jump, and ran a 4.54-second 40-yard dash. For context of how impressive that performance was, consider this:
Penn State TE Mike Gesicki is having a very rare combine performance:— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) March 3, 2018
Among all combine TEs starting in 2000, only Virgil Green and Vernon Davis have had a 40"+ vertical and 10'8"+ broad jump.
3. Medical Checks Remain One of the Most Important Components of the Combine
There’s more to the combine than the on-field testing: Teams place a high level of importance on the medical checkups each prospect goes through this week. On Saturday, Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst—touted by many scouts as a potential first-round pick—was sent home after being diagnosed with a heart condition. Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Hurst will undergo further tests to determine the severity of the diagnosis. His long-term health is obviously the primary concern, but let’s hope Hurst’s condition isn’t career-ending.
4. Shaquem Griffin Is Awesome
The former UCF star is hoping to make history as the first NFL player with one hand, and the performance he put together on the bench press on Saturday didn’t hurt his chances.
Griffin lost his hand at age 4 to a prenatal condition called amniotic band syndrome, but that hasn’t slowed him down on the football field: The versatile linebacker collected 18.5 sacks and 33.5 tackles for a loss over the past two years. Apparently, he’s never let the loss of his hand slow him down in the weight room, either.
5. The NFL Combine Hot Stove Is Heating Up
In the NFL, trades used to be relatively rare. But that may be changing, in part due to the league’s incredible salary cap growth. The cap is expected to climb to as high as $179 million per team in 2018; that’d be an $11 million jump over last season’s number ($168 million) and would represent a full $59 million increase per team since 2011 (the cap that year was $120 million). With that rapidly rising cap, along with a rule that allows teams to roll over unused cap space into the next year, there’s a league-wide surplus in workable cap space right now: As of Saturday, 21 of the NFL’s 32 clubs have over $20 million in projected cap space for 2018. That excess cap space gives those teams the ability to go out and test the free-agency waters, but it also gives them the option of exploring the trade market, where big-money veteran contracts are no longer a major deterrent to blockbuster moves. Teams now have the ability to accommodate those players under their cap.
With general managers and coaches from all 32 teams, a throng of agents, and a mob of media members all in one place—both at Lucas Oil Stadium and in the surrounding restaurants and bars—the combine acts as a catalyst for action. And based on conversations I’ve had with several veteran reporters, there’s more trade buzz here in Indy this week than ever before. Speaking to the media on Friday, Seahawks GM John Schneider likened the combine to the Major Leagues’ hot-stove winter meetings, the most active time of year for baseball trades and big-money free-agent signings. The Rams just sent defensive end Robert Quinn to the Dolphins, and it feels like a few more deals could happen before it’s all said and done: Miami granted Jarvis Landry’s reps the right to seek a trade, perhaps with the Bears (or not), the Seahawks are reportedly open to trading Earl Thomas and are actively trying to deal Michael Bennett, and that’s likely just the tip of the iceberg. Right now, GMs and decision-makers appear more willing than ever to turn to the trade market to improve their teams.