With the 2020 NFL combine now in the rearview mirror, it’s a good time to take stock from the hectic, chaotic week and break down which prospects made themselves some money―and which ones didn’t. Taking on-field testing, media interviews, and reported medical checks into consideration, here are a handful of the biggest risers and fallers from the combine in Indianapolis.
QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Tagovailoa had no choice but to forgo on-field testing and drills last week as he continues rehabbing from the devastating hip injury he suffered back in November. But by all indications, the former Crimson Tide star came away from Indianapolis with his arrow pointed up. Tua told reporters in Indy that he expects his doctors to clear him for football activities on March 9―and reports corroborated his apparent progress. Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Tagovailoa “received overwhelmingly positive reports on his dislocated hip” from the teams who examined him, with scans indicating that the fracture is healed and there is no loss of blood flow. That’s a great sign and massive first step back toward the field for Tua, who some feared would be forced to retire following the injury.
Tagovailoa’s growing buzz should reach a crescendo as we approach his pro day this spring. If his recovery continues on course, it’s just about impossible to see Tua dropping out of the top five picks. In fact, teams hoping to land Tua will most likely have to trade up with Washington (at no. 2) or Detroit (no. 3).
QB Jordan Love, Utah State
Love was one of the early winners at the quarterback weigh-in, measuring in at just under 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds with big, 10 ½-inch mitts. He further boosted his stock with a rock-solid 4.74-second mark in the 40-yard dash and a 35.5-inch vert, showing off the type of athleticism that draws comparisons to Josh Allen (4.75-second 40, 33.5-inch vert) and Daniel Jones (4.81-second 40, 33.5-inch vert). Like both Allen and Jones before him, Love’s final-season stats leave much to be desired (he threw 20 picks and 17 interceptions in 2019), but he has the raw tools―the size, big arm, and mobility to keep plays alive―to make him a potential top-10 pick.
The former Utah State standout owned his rocky 2019 season in media interviews, replying to one question on whether he was getting sick of talking about it with as honest of an answer as you could ask for: “If I didn’t want to talk about 17 interceptions,” he said, “I shouldn’t have thrown them.” By all accounts, the hype around Love seemed to grow in the weeklong event and after coming into the combine as a potential mid- to late-first-rounder, it’s becoming more and more realistic that he could come off the board inside the top 10.
“The love affair [between Love and potential suitors] wasn’t something I anticipated,” said Rapoport on Friday, with ESPN’s Louis Riddick noting that Love “could go much higher than expected based on what I hear and see.” ESPN’s Todd McShay believes strongly that Love will be picked ahead of Justin Herbert (who also had a very strong combine), and he put his money where his mouth is, making a $5,000 bet on it with colleague Mel Kiper.
RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Going into the combine, the race for the title of top running back in this year’s class was a neck-and-neck battle between Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, and Wisconsin’s Taylor. Coming out of the week, Taylor has pulled away from the pack.
The big Wisconsin bell cow blew the doors off of Lucas Oil Stadium, posting a position-best 4.39-second 40-yard dash at 226 pounds, joining Saquon Barkley as the only two running backs since 2014 to run 4.40 or faster at 225-plus pounds. Taylor tacked on an impressive 36-inch vertical jump (which tied for 11th among running backs) and a 10-foot-3-inch broad jump (ninth) while notching a 7.01-second three-cone drill (fourth) and a 4.24-second short shuttle (sixth). Taken together with his prolific career at Wisconsin (in which he rushed for 6,174 yards and scored 55 total touchdowns), Taylor is the favorite to be the first running back off the board. He’ll certainly be moving up on my personal top-50 Big Board as well.
RB Cam Akers, Florida State
Florida State’s Cam Akers is another back with the chance to shoot up draft boards after a strong performance in Indianapolis. The former five-star recruit displayed top-end athleticism in on-field testing, running a 4.47-second 40-yard dash while jumping 35.5 inches in the vertical at 217 pounds. He also showed off scintillating quickness, short-area agility, and pass-catching chops in drills. Akers flew under the radar in college while playing behind a poor offensive line, but was a consistent tackle-breaking creator with toughness, physicality, and speed. He profiles similarly to Marshawn Lynch as an athlete, and reminds me a little bit of Aaron Jones in his slashing, elusive running style. Akers will be a big post-combine riser on my Big Board and likely cemented himself as an early- to mid-Day-2 pick in the draft.
WR Denzel Mims, Baylor
While Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III stole the show by running a 4.27-second 40-yard dash and jumping 42 inches in the vertical, it wasn’t all that surprising to see the former Crimson Tide touchdown-maker post those numbers; we already knew he was a speedster with spring-loaded athleticism. A handful of other receivers notched surprising and in some cases eye-popping numbers last week, though, and likely boosted their stock. Let’s start with Mims, who followed up a stellar Senior Bowl with an incredibly impressive performance in Indy.
Mims posted a 4.38-second 40 (tied for third among WRs), a 6.66-second three-cone (first by a country mile), a 38.5-inch vertical (tied for eighth), and a 10-foot-11-inch broad jump (fourth). He launched himself into an elite athletic echelon at the position―and by combining those numbers with his college production and size, Player Profiler offers an intriguing pro player comparison: 2019 breakout star Chris Godwin. Mims made a clear statement in Indianapolis that the Senior Bowl was no fluke. He’s not only given himself a shot at the top 50, but could now potentially sneak into the first round.
WR Justin Jefferson, LSU
Another receiver with a shot at the first round, Jefferson cemented his spot among this class’s top pass catchers with an impressive 4.43-second 40-yard dash, a 37.5-inch vert, and a 10-foot-6-inch broad jump. The 40 time in particular gives the former LSU star the chance to come off the board on Day 1; while Jefferson’s college production was unquestioned (he caught a college-football-best 111 passes and 18 touchdowns in 2019), scouts had some concerns about the his overall speed. A 4.6-second 40 or worse would likely have been enough to make Jefferson drop a little, but the 6-foot-1, 202-pound pass catcher put those concerns to rest.
WR Chase Claypool, Notre Dame
So, I’m just going to drop this here:
Notre Dame WR Chase Claypool ran a 4.42 40 at 6'4 1/4'' and 238 lbs.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 28, 2020
Since the start of 2006, the only WR weighing 230+ lbs to run the 40 that fast at the NFL Combine is Calvin Johnson (4.35 in 2007). pic.twitter.com/CgeASUrqdQ
Claypool, who also notched a 40.5-inch vert and 10-foot-6-inch broad jump, offers mismatch-creating upside for a creative play-caller, both on the outside or running routes out of the slot. The former Golden Domer impressed me with his route running and physicality at the Senior Bowl, and backed it up with elite athleticism in Indy. He’ll likely come off the board late on Day 2 based on physical potential alone.
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan
Another player who’s sure to rise is Michigan’s Donovan Peoples-Jones. The former five-star recruit posted a 4.48-second 40-yard dash, an 11-foot-7-inch broad jump (best among all WRs), and an absurd 44.5-inch vertical—also best in the group and second among all combine receivers since 2006. Peoples-Jones doesn’t have the production profile of a high-end pick—he caught just 34 passes for 438 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games last season—but it seems likely now that some team will take a chance on him on Day 2.
OT Mekhi Becton, Louisville
Even a cursory glance at Becton’s tape would reveal that he’s big and athletic, but I’m not sure anyone expected the massive Louisville product to move quite as fast as he did on Friday. After measuring out at 6-foot-7 and 364 pounds (with just 17 percent body fat), Becton notched an obscene 5.1-second 40-yard dash―the fastest ever for any player over 350 pounds. And yes, that time was faster even than what Tom Brady managed in 2000.
Becton will need to further refine some of his pass-protecting techniques, but he’s got the size and movement skills to be an impact starter from day one.
OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
Not to be outdone, Wirfs put on a display of impossible-looking athleticism: The former Iowa stalwart set a new combine record with a 36.5-inch vert, tied another with a 10-foot-1-inch broad jump, and posted a 4.85-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds―the fastest ever by a 320-plus-pound player. Wirfs has light feet to go with his broad, burly frame. I’d be surprised if he gets past the Browns at no. 10.
LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
We had to wait until Saturday to see whether Simmons could live up to the pre-combine hype, but the uber-athletic linebacker did not disappoint. The former Clemson playmaker posted an electric 4.39-second 40-yard dash, a 39-inch vertical jump, and an 11-foot broad jump at 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, a superlative performance that produced an intriguing athletic comparison to Seattle’s Bobby Wagner:
Bobby Wagner (241 lbs): 39.5" vert, 11'0" broad— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 29, 2020
Isaiah Simmons (238 lbs): 39" vert, 11'0" broad https://t.co/P3Oa2ucsMP
Simmons certainly has the size and instincts to play in the middle of the field like Wagner, but what makes him most intriguing is that he can also line up at safety, nickel corner, and even as a linebacker at times, too. If there was any doubt that he’d be a top-10 pick prior to the combine, that’s gone now.
LB Willie Gay Jr., Mississippi State
Simmons got most of the attention from the linebackers group on Saturday―and for good reason—but Gay put together an incredible athletic performance as well. The former Mississippi State standout notched a 4.46 40-yard dash (second only to Simmons), a 39.5-inch vert (second), and an 11-foot-4-inch broad jump (first) while adding a 7.08-second three-cone time (tied for 11th) and a 4.3-second short-shuttle (ninth).
CB CJ Henderson, Florida
It’s not easy to steal the limelight when you’re going up against a soon-to-be top-five pick and potential future superstar like Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah (whose smooth, incredibly quick-twitch backpedal blew up on Twitter). But that’s exactly what Henderson did on Saturday, notching a 4.39-second 40-yard dash (tied for second), a 37.5-inch vert (tied for fifth), and a 10-foot-7-inch broad jump (tied for ninth). Among some of the top athletes in the country, Henderson stood out for his electric feet and easy speed.
CJ Henderson moves better than everyone out here.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 1, 2020
The Florida product’s performance went a long way toward making him the best bet as the second cornerback to be taken this April.
S Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois
Chinn stood out in the weigh-in by measuring out at 6-foot-3 and 221 pounds with long, 32 1/8-inch arms and a 77 ⅝-inch wingspan, then dominated among safeties during the on-field testing segment on Sunday. The small-school standout notched a 4.45-second 40-yard dash (third at the position), a 41-inch vertical jump (tied for second), and an 11-foot-6-inch broad jump (first), and busted out 20 reps on the bench press (tied for fourth). After catching scouts’ eyes at the Senior Bowl, Chinn boosted his stock further in Indy.
WR Jauan Jennings, Tennessee
Jennings played well in the week of practices leading up to the Senior Bowl last month, at times overpowering smaller corners in one-on-one drills with his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame. He’s a physical brawler at the receiver position who excels after the catch. But after getting a little bit of day-two buzz coming into the combine, Jennings struggled in the athletic testing portion of the event, running a 4.72-second 40 (second worst at receiver) while notching a 29-inch vert (second worst) and a 9-foot-11-inch broad jump (eighth worst). Those numbers underscore Jennings’s lack of explosive traits and may point to his issues separating as a route runner. There’s still plenty to like on Jennings’s tape―and he’ll have a chance to improve on his numbers at his pro day―but in an absolutely stacked receiver class, his subpar testing could force him down teams’ boards.
TE Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt
Pinkney came into the combine as one of my favorite mid-round tight end prospects, but leaves with plenty of question marks. The Vanderbilt standout had a strong 2018 season, catching 50 passes for 770 yards and seven touchdowns, and was even counted among the top potential draft prospects for the 2019 class before deciding to return to school for his senior season. But after watching his production drop precipitously last season (20 catches, 233 yards, two touchdowns), Pinkney bombed in the 40-yard dash in Indy, running it in 4.96 seconds―dead last at the position ... and slower than a trio of offensive linemen.
While I never expected Pinkney to post an elite time in the 40, he never looked that slow running routes for Vandy. It should force scouts to go back to the tape to determine whether he has the functional speed to play in the pros. Teams are looking for mismatch creators and guys who can factor into the passing game at tight end, and it’s rare to find examples of true impact players at that position who run so poorly. The 6-foot-4 257-pounder will hope that he can improve his time and get into the 4.80s or 4.70s at his pro day.
OL Trey Adams, Washington
Adams came to the combine as a potential sleeper at the tackle position, but after posting a 5.6-second 40 (the slowest among all players), a 24.5-inch vert (also worst), and a 7-foot-8-inch broad jump (again, worst), plenty of teams will question whether he has the athleticism to play in the pros.
Of course, that happened when Ravens Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown bombed his combine drills―turns out, combine tests aren’t the be-all and end-all at the position―so it’s far too early to write Adams off. Oh, and for what it’s worth, the Washington product may have helped himself a little too by giving an incredibly honest answer in one team interview.
Edge A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
Epenesa’s game is predicated on power, physicality, and expert hand use, so he was never expected to post eye-popping numbers in speed-oriented combine tests. But his position-worst times in both the 40-yard dash (5.04 seconds) and short-shuttle drill (4.46 seconds) could have scouts second-guessing whether he has the baseline explosive traits or bend and agility to make an impact on the edge in the pros.
Epenesa’s best role may be as an hybrid defender who sets the edge against the run on early downs and rushes from the interior in nickel situations. His combine results bring players like Michael Bennett to mind: Bennett went undrafted after running a 5.13-second 40-yard dash back in 2009, but pure speed was never how he won his battles in the trenches—he instead relies on strong hands, a decisive first step, and the strength to fight through blocks. Epenesa will have to do the same.
CB Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State
Sometimes, like we saw with Michael Bennett, Orlando Brown, and a multitude of others through the years, combine tests can end up being misleading when it comes to a prospect’s ability to, well, play football. But, when it comes to the cornerback position, there’s one thing that’s generally regarded as non-negotiable―you gotta have speed.
Dantzler is a physical, press cornerback who looks to disrupt routes early on and out-tussle opponents at the catch point. And he was damn good at it in college, allowing just 41 receptions on 96 targets and 697 career coverage snaps, per PFF. But after running a 4.64-second 40-yard dash on Sunday, Dantzler could see his stock drop with some teams―and others might take him off their boards altogether.
Only one cornerback in recorded Combine history (https://t.co/7upObwAeU3) has run 4.64 or slower and been a good (by really any definition) CB in the NFL.— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) March 1, 2020
Josh Norman (4.66)
This second 40 gonna be big for Cameron Dantzler
The former Mississippi State star will have a chance to improve on his time at his pro day, but if he can’t, the team that drafts him will have to hope he’s an outlier at the position.