Rejoice! The Patriots’ sixth Super Bowl win is now officially ancient history—you don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s now time to look forward: The 2019 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. Kyler Murray thinks he’s really good, because he is.
Murray has been compared to many people. On Friday at the NFL combine, he was asked about comparisons to Russell Wilson (because of his height) and Lamar Jackson (because of his smaller stature, I guess?), and about advice he received from Tim Tebow. But the player Murray most resembled on the podium is former Oklahoma standout Baker Mayfield, who answered many of the same questions as Murray at the combine last year—about his height, his stature, his game—and did so with the same approach: total confidence. “I’m always the smallest guy on the field. I’ve said it multiple times: I feel like I’m the most impactful guy on the field,” Murray said. “I’m the best player on the field at all times. That’s just the confidence that I have in myself and that my teammates have in me. I’ve always had to play at this height.”
Murray also deftly handled questions about his decision to leave behind baseball and commit to football. Asked whether he will participate in NFL combine activities, Murray said, “I’m doing nothing.” He will not throw and he will not run. Instead, he’ll talk to teams and wait until his pro day at Oklahoma on March 13 to do a full workout. Murray is doing a handful of little things to bolster his case to be the first overall pick. He measured 5-foot-10⅛ inches on Thursday, which helped to alleviate most NFL teams’ concerns about his height. Now he’s spending time meeting with team personnel and the media to reaffirm his commitment to football.
NFL interviews with media and teams are increasingly meaningless. Prospects are so overcoached to handle questions that they can seem like they are reading off a script. Teams complain about this all the time. But Murray showed a lot of genuine confidence on Friday. When he was asked about Bryce Harper’s contract, a backdoor way for a reporter to ask about baseball pay vs. football pay, he shot back that some quarterbacks make more per year than Harper (which is technically correct). “It’s a final decision. I’m here. I’m ready to go. I was born a football player. I love this game. There was no turning back when I made this decision. I’m 100 percent in,” Murray said. When asked what he learned from baseball—the reporter was looking for athletic traits—he said that baseball is a game of failure and he learned how to fail and have patience. There probably won’t be as much failure in football.
The buzz still exists that Murray could go to Arizona with the first overall pick even though the Cardinals picked Josh Rosen last year. I spoke with NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah on Friday, and he explained that there could be two scenarios: either the Cardinals secretly told Rosen that they are drumming up interest in their pick and that he should have “earmuffs” for the next few weeks, or that they are seriously looking at Murray.
2. Dwayne Haskins: also good.
I had an interesting conversation with Jeremiah on Friday about what the Giants called the “Kansas City model.” In 2017, the Chiefs let their highly drafted quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, develop behind a solid veteran in Alex Smith. There are certainly flaws in trying that approach—not every team will have Andy Reid and Matt Nagy on its staff, or a quarterbacks coach like Mike Kafka, who was a personal coach for Mahomes that year.
I asked Jeremiah whether any teams might surprise us by taking a quarterback high in the draft, similar to the Chiefs’ selection of Mahomes with the 10th pick in 2017. He mentioned the Chargers and Steelers as sleepers. But the Giants, with Eli Manning at quarterback and the no. 6 pick, are by far the most likely team to try this strategy—general manager Dave Gettleman brought it up this week at the combine. Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins helped stir up the hype around this particular scenario by talking a lot about the Giants. He talked about how great a spot New York would be for him. He mentioned his friendship with running back Saquon Barkley and said he feels like his addition to the pieces the Giants already have would make the offense “very prolific.”
There is the small matter that the Giants should probably move on from Manning entirely and not follow the Kansas City model. But drafting Haskins and sitting him for a season would be the next best thing, and he seems content with that possibility. “I can point to Ohio State and how I didn’t play for a year and a half at Ohio State. I played a little bit as a backup. I’m comfortable enough to be able to learn from someone that’s been there in front of me. I know that I’m going to compete and be ready when my time is called,” he said.
I spoke with the NFL Network’s Charles Davis on Friday, and he said that if you polled decision-makers from every NFL team about who they think is the best quarterback in this draft class, they’d be split 50-50 between Murray and Haskins. Because Murray’s measurements have so far been the star of the combine, we’ve overlooked Haskins.
3. There are going to be a lot of athletic skill position players.
A recurring joke on The Ringer NFL Show is how much I enjoy athletic testing numbers. Two years ago, I was pounding the table for Alvin Kamara, despite having barely seen any of his tape, because of his 39-inch vertical jump and 131-inch broad jump. I think explosiveness like that suggests a baseline of talent that can thrive in the right situation. On Friday, three running backs showed that they have that sort of athleticism, and they were led by Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill.
#OKState RB Justice Hill— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) March 1, 2019
40: 4.42 (3rd)
Vert: 40” (1st)
Broad: 10’10” (1st)
That group also includes Miami’s Travis Homer and Penn State’s Miles Sanders.
Best Three #NFLCombine2019 Performances by RBs so far:— Travis May (@FF_TravisM) March 1, 2019
Forty: 4.4 91st%
Vert: 40” 94th%
Broad: 10’10” 97th%
Forty: 4.48 73rd%
Vert: 39.5” 93rd%
Broad: 10’10” 97th%
Forty: 4.49 70th%
Vert: 36” 69th%
Broad: 10’4” 85th%
Picking running backs in the first round has fallen out of favor with many franchises, making these kinds of players value picks. Hill might go in the second round, according to recent projections. Jeremiah has just one running back—Alabama’s Josh Jacobs—in his first-round projections. One of these players might use their athleticism as well as Kamara has: The Saints’ third-round pick in 2017 was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for another impressive athlete at a skill position, may I suggest this wide receiver:
D.K. Metcalf tied the record for WR bench press reps at the NFL Combine.— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) March 1, 2019
He has the seventh-longest WR arm length in the history of the NFL Combine.
Whole lotta woah.
4. There are some bigger athletes, too.
Rotoworld’s Josh Norris has done some nice work on how closely the shuttle run correlates with NFL success. Here are some results I found fascinating:
Since 2010, over 300 OL prospects completed a 20-yard shuttle at the NFL Combine.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) February 26, 2019
19 of the 22 top times were drafted. Those 19 OL went on to start 85% of their NFL games, on average.
The NFL Combine & athletic testing matters. Let me show you why... https://t.co/qVtRtgxKVv pic.twitter.com/IUJ9aft3xw
By this measurement, Washington State offensive tackle Andre Dillard is a new star and in the conversation to be my draft crush:
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN LET'S WELCOME....— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) March 1, 2019
WASHINGTON STATE T ANDRE DILLARD (4.40) TO THE CLUB!!!! https://t.co/CFN7NQSpsV
Andre Dillard's Combine workout among OL:— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) March 1, 2019
No. 1 short shuttle 4.40
No. 1 broad jump 9'10"
No. 2 3-cone 7.44
No. 4 forty 4.96
As is Washington offensive tackle Kaleb McGary:
Kaleb McGary currently 6th in the 40 and 2nd in the vert. Guys with better 40 weigh: 301, 315, 306, 308, 303 respectively. McGary weighed in at 317. Once you weight-adjust McGary and Dillard could be the SPARQ leaders.— Jared Stanger (@JaredStanger) March 1, 2019
5. Free agency might be pretty boring.
The NFL said on Friday that the salary cap will be $188.2 million in 2019, an increase of more than $10 million from 2018. The league’s rising salary cap is one of the stories of this era. How teams allocate their considerable resources to adjust to it is one of the most important things in team-building. There will be a lot of money to spend in this free agency period—the only question is which players teams will be able to spend it on. Philadelphia agreed to terms on a three-year extension with defensive end Brandon Graham on Friday, ruling him out of this year’s free agency class. This deal would not be particularly noteworthy, except that this free-agent class is very thin and will get even thinner after the deadline to use the franchise tag passes on Tuesday. Defensive linemen like Dallas’s DeMarcus Lawrence, Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney, Kansas City’s Dee Ford, and Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett would be top-tier free agents but are likely to be tagged by their teams.
Safety Earl Thomas and running back Le’Veon Bell will be available, but it’s a bad year to be looking for top-shelf talent if you’ve got money to spend. Part of the reason there are so few players reaching free agency is because there’s a lot of money to spend: Teams are simply using it to sign their players to lucrative extensions before they hit the open market. The 2014 draft class now approaching free agency included some absolute studs, but the Bears were happy to give Khalil Mack a $141 million extension last year rather than let him hit the open market. The Giants paid Odell Beckham $21 million this season in the first year of a lucrative extension instead of allowing him to hit free agency.
In theory, the rising salary cap should make free agency more exciting, but few players are forcing their way to it. There is a lot of cap space in the NFL—the Colts have over $100 million—but the question is whether teams will spend money in free agency, roll that cap space over, or use that financial flexibility to be more aggressive in trades.