Just like that, the 2023 NFL combine is over. It was a great event, as the combine always is—an event that helps us sort out the NFL draft class. All of my notes from conversations with scouts, as well as observations from four days of testing, are below.
A Year for Broken Records
While this isn’t a particularly impressive or athletic draft class relative to our yearly expectations, a few testers put their position groups on their backs and delivered record-setting performances. In this combine, we saw:
The highest vertical jump ever recorded by a quarterback, when Florida QB Anthony Richardson hit 40.5 inches …
Anthony Richardson just set a combine record for quarterbacks with a 40.5” vertical with this… pic.twitter.com/68muNURNwq— StaceyDales (@StaceyDales) March 4, 2023
… and the longest broad jump by a quarterback, when Richardson lept 10 feet, 9 inches.
Anthony Richardson broad jumps 10-9, a combine record for QBs. pic.twitter.com/TAEC5ijA2h— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) March 4, 2023
Richardson wasn’t the only one to break a jumping record, as BYU’s Blake Freeland now holds the offensive lineman record in the vertical jump, at 37 inches. It’s worth noting that Illinois safety Jartavius Martin came close but only tied the record for a safety’s vertical jump, at 44 inches.
6’7” 302 lbs with a 37” vertical?@BYUfootball’s @FreelandBlake just set a new Combine record for offensive linemen (since 2003)— NFL (@NFL) March 5, 2023
: #NFLCombine on @nflnetwork
: Stream on NFL+ pic.twitter.com/pyFOqc8Ydz
Now, let’s talk dashes. The new defensive tackle record belongs to Pitt DT Calijah Kancey, a 280-pounder who has drawn comparisons to another undersized defensive tackle from the University of Pittsburgh: Aaron Donald. Kancey broke Donald’s record for defensive tackles with a 4.67-second 40-yard dash.
Georgia pass rusher Nolan Smith officially ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash, which is somehow only the second-best time for an edge defender in combine history. But his 10-yard split, which is a good proxy for explosiveness at the snap, clocked in at 1.52 seconds, which is a combine record for pass rushers.
Still thinking about that 1.52s 10-yard split -- a record for edge rushers -- from Georgia's Nolan Smith. Wheeeew baby. https://t.co/qYLANtrPZX— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) March 6, 2023
I feel like there’s one more record I’m forgetting. Which one is it? Oh, yeah. The best possible one.
It feels like every year, more and more combine records are being broken, which is a product of a few things. For one, NFL players are getting smaller and lighter as the game modernizes to prioritize passing, speed, and explosiveness over running, power, and bulk. That’s why Smith set a record among pass rushers for his 10-yard split—not just because he’s a ludicrously gifted athlete, but because he’s 238 pounds and still able to play as a pass rusher. Ten or 15 years ago, a player under 240 could never consider playing on the line of scrimmage. The same logic is true for Kancey, who is so light that he might not ultimately play defensive tackle.
But guys are also just getting better and better at training for the event. Where there once was a focus on becoming faster, there is now time and money spent on the technique of the 40-yard dash. The breaking of records isn’t necessarily cheapened, but it should be contextualized.
With that said, when Smith gets drafted in the late first round, his 10-yard split will be a huge reason why—that metric matters for a pass rusher. The same is true for Richardson, who did not play his way into the top of the quarterback class—when the season ended, betting markets expected him to be the fourth quarterback off the board in April—but has tested his way into the thick of the QB1 race. As a uniquely explosive athlete, Richardson is more than just a running threat—he’s a potential touchdown every time he tucks the football.
But for Kancey, a record-setting 40 belies his NFL future at defensive tackle; the team that drafts him must find creative ways to deploy a defensive lineman that doesn’t have the functional mass to play a true defensive tackle position. For Freeland, while strong jumps are cool and his overall athleticism impressed, short shuttle times matter much more for offensive linemen, and in this metric, Freeland was an average tester.
One more record that deserves a mention: Georgia TE Darnell Washington has the largest wingspan of any tight end in combine history, at a whopping 83.75 inches. That wingspan was on full display during the receiving drills, when Washington extended for a one-handed snag.
Perhaps even more ludicrous than Washington’s pterodactyl-like wingspan is his time in the short shuttle. Agilities drills typically serve shorter players with quicker feet—something the 6-foot-6 tight end certainly isn’t. Yet Washington had the third-best short shuttle of all players in this year’s combine, at a blistering 4.08 seconds.
this is insane— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) March 6, 2023
fastest short shuttles of the ENTIRE combine
1. 196 lb, 6'1"
2. 198 lb, 6'3"
3. 264 lb, 6'7" <---
TE Darnell Washington is a freak
fastest short shuttle by a player weighing at least 260 lbs in 8 years pic.twitter.com/8AcZqIVp8C
Of all the unique athletes in this class—Richardson, Deuce Vaughn, Smith—Washington is the unique-est (don’t think about it too much) and the best tester. A player with this athletic profile could become the best tight end in the league, and not just in the Travis Kelce way, but in the Rob Gronkowski way: just as dominant as a blocker as he is as a receiver.
I don’t know just yet where I’d draft Washington; I think the league is still trying to figure that out too. But man, oh man, could he be special.
The quarterbacks probably get more vision on them in Indianapolis than is helpful. Their testing doesn’t tell us all that much relative to their film. But with that said, here’s where I stand on the four top quarterbacks exiting Indianapolis.
Florida QB Anthony Richardson: Richardson was a sight to see on the field, a sensation: enormous, well-built, and moving like a linebacker. His arm was impressive, and he was generally accurate, though he seemed to fade down the stretch of his throwing drill. Richardson was the main attraction at quarterback workouts, and he didn’t disappoint. There is no quarterback in this class with a ceiling close to the one Richardson affords.
Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud: If it were 2007, Stroud would be far and away the best quarterback prospect in this class. Accuracy and velocity come easier to Stroud than breathing. The ball flies off of his hand, never wobbles, and never misses. He’s got the same coolness, the same unflappability to him, that Jalen Hurts does. But he is the least mobile of the four top quarterbacks, and the NFL is increasingly prioritizing mobility.
Kentucky QB Will Levis: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with Levis’s work this weekend. Levis came in at a good size and tested well—he’s a legit handful when he scrambles—but for all of his bravado at the podium while talking about having a cannon and showing it off, Levis seemed extremely worried about inaccuracy and was throwing without velocity. And, because of his hesitance, he was the very thing he wanted to avoid: inaccurate. I think he would have been better served by just gripping it and ripping it.
Alabama QB Bryce Young: Well, what can you say? I was very skeptical that Young would weigh in above 200 pounds, but he did—kudos to him. Instead of being remarkably the smallest quarterback to become a first-round pick (presumably), he’s now just the smallest quarterback to become a first-round pick. I wrote about Young last week, and my concerns with his size and pro projection remain.
The Cornerback Class
It was a sleepy day of testing for the positions that often boast the most impressive athletes. The wide receiver class lacks athleticism; the pass rusher group lacks star power. Perhaps the most impressive group of testers this weekend was the same group that stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of overall talent: the cornerbacks.
I can say with confidence that, after the way he tested this week, Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez will be a top-10 pick. I would go so far as to say that Gonzalez should be lumped in with Georgia DT Jalen Carter and Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson Jr. as one of the “virtual locks” at the top of the draft. In other words, the 2023 NFL draft will start with some combination of Carter, Anderson, Gonzalez, and the four top quarterbacks—after that, it gets cloudy.
Gonzalez, who started at Colorado before transferring to Oregon, has quality film that already placed him atop a loaded CB class. In Indianapolis, he finished with the best composite athletic score of all cornerbacks, which is a hilarious thing to do when you already have arguably the best film of all cornerbacks. Gonzalez’s quality athleticism should come as no surprise—he has two sisters who were All-American track stars.
But just behind Gonzalez in all of the testing was Maryland CB Deonte Banks, who also posted a composite athletic score in the 99th percentile of cornerbacks.
Banks doesn’t have the same production that Gonzalez has, but other than that, they have similar films as explosive and rangy man-coverage defenders with feel and aggressiveness in zone coverage. Considered more of a fringe first-round prospect entering the week, Banks tested above expectations, and he has clearly cemented himself in the second tier of cornerback prospects.
If I had to estimate where the league stands on all of the cornerbacks now, I’d place Gonzalez in the top tier with Devon Witherspoon, the feisty Illinois cornerback who did not test this week. In the next tier are Banks, South Carolina’s Cam Smith, and Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. I expect all five to be first-round picks.
As much as it pains me to say, I think the biggest winner of the week may have been the Ohio State University. Beyond Stroud’s work throwing the football, the two Buckeyes offensive tackles—Paris Johnson Jr., who played on the left, and Dawand Jones, who played opposite—all but ensured their standings in the tackle class. Johnson and Jones are two of only 19 offensive tackles with 36-plus-inch arms since 2000.
Pretty crazy stat: Since 2000, only 19 offensive tackles have had arms measure longer than 36"— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) March 5, 2023
2 of them protected C.J. Stroud last year
Paris Johnson Jr.: 36 1/8"
Dawand Jones: 36 3/8"
Johnson and Jones, at their respective sizes (Johnson is a measly 6-foot-6 and 313 pounds, while Jones is 6-foot-8 and 374 pounds), would be acceptable early picks at tackle with their measurables alone, but with their years of experience and quality films, I expect both to exceed current expectations for their draft stocks. Johnson could be a top-10 pick and Jones a top-30 selection.
And perhaps the biggest Buckeyes winner was wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Smith-Njigba has had a fraught cycle going back to the beginning of the 2022 season, as a hamstring injury kept him on the sidelines for much of it. It was easy to forget, then, just how sudden and controlled of a mover he is. A 6.57 three cone and 3.93 short shuttle, both of which were far and away the best times among receivers this week, helped remind the league of his talent.
Smith-Njigba didn’t run a 40-yard dash, and long speed is his greatest concern. But guess what? Most of the receivers didn’t run very well, and in a generally smaller wide receiver class, Smith-Njigba’s 6-foot-1, 196-pound frame starts to look a little bigger. Smith-Njigba is, to me, the best wide receiver in the class.
Overrated and Underrated
Here are some players that I think the league likes more than the online draft community does. (I am using the consensus big board from the NFL Mock Draft Database for my estimation of the general consensus, so if it turns out you love all of these players, congratulations; you are ready to be an NFL scout.)
- Oklahoma OT Anton Harrison
- LSU edge rusher BJ Ojulari
- Iowa State edge rusher Will McDonald IV
- Michigan defensive lineman Mike Morris
By the same token, here are some players I think the online draft community is overrating relative to the league consensus.
- Notre Dame edge rusher Isaiah Foskey
- Kansas State CB Julius Brents
- Houston WR Nathaniel “Tank” Dell
- Mississippi State CB Emmanuel Forbes