NFL combine testing is overrated. Except when it’s not.
For the majority of combine participants, the athletic trials and height-and-weight measurements are akin to pass/fail propositions in the eyes of evaluators. Tape is king, and if a prospect falls into an acceptable or expected range for size, speed, and agility, it’s unlikely their grade is going to change a whole lot going into April’s draft. The combine outliers, on the other hand—the players who blow the doors off Lucas Oil Stadium with astounding athletic feats or who fall flat on their faces—have a chance to dramatically change their NFL draft stock.
Every year, a handful of prospects post eye-popping numbers in the 40-yard dash, three-cone, short-shuttle, broad or vertical jumps (or all of the above) and come out of Indy with the type of hype that sends their stock surging. Last year, guys like Virginia Tech’s Terrell Edmunds, Maryland’s D.J. Moore, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and Mike Gesicki, UCLA’s Kolton Miller, LSU’s Donte Jackson and DJ Chark—plus a gaggle of others—made themselves money in Indy with extraordinary combine performances. Over the next week, the players in this year’s class will have the chance to do the same. Here are a few draft prospects with the most to gain at this week’s NFL combine.
QB Kyler Murray, Oklahoma and DE Brian Burns, Florida State
Before we get into raw speed and explosiveness, let’s focus on the simple height, weight, and hand-size measurements that kick off every prospect’s week. It’s unclear whether Murray will take part in all the athletic tests in Indy or whether he’ll throw the football. And ultimately, if he abstains from all those events, it probably won’t affect his stock all that much. Teams already know he’s fast and unbelievably agile—all you have to do is turn on the tape—and they know he’s got a strong, accurate arm too. The more pressing question is whether Murray will skip the introductory size-testing portion of the week too.
Murray’s diminutive size makes him a unique quarterback prospect; there’s a handful of “official” heights and weights floating around for him right now—the Sooners listed him at 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds last season—and plenty of unofficial guesses based on very scientific methods, like comparing him to the people he’s standing next to.
For a lot of NFL teams, Murray’s lack of height isn’t even the most worrisome element of the evaluation; it’s his lack of bulk that could be a bigger deal breaker. In the NFL, quarterbacks must be able to absorb the inevitable hits they take, and the worry is whether Murray could hold up and stay healthy at the pro level at 190 pounds or less. But per NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, Murray has bulked up to 203 pounds in preparation for the NFL, and NBC’s Peter King wrote Monday that he’s hearing Murray may be as heavy as 206 pounds. Weighing in at 205-ish pounds would be a massive win for the former Sooner and could assuage fears about his long-term viability at the position. Russell Wilson, whom Murray is frequently compared to, weighed in at 204 pounds at the 2012 combine.
In addition to his weight, Murray’s hand size could also be crucial. One sportsbook has put his over/under at 9 and ⅛ inches. Anything on the over side would be a boon for Murray. But if he hits the under, it could have a negative effect on his stock: Teams still worry about a quarterback’s ability to grip the ball in the rain and snow, and small hands can be an obvious detriment to that.
As for Burns, I’ll be watching his weigh-in closely. The former Florida State pass rusher has an explosive get off and knows how to use his hands, but he’s almost surely going to need to bulk up to become an edge force in the pros. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds at both ESPN and Sports-Reference.com (and just 227 pounds at NFL.com), Burns’s weight is a major red flag. There just isn’t much precedent for success in the NFL for pass rushers who fall into Burns’s listed pre-combine height/weight profile. Burns could boost his stock by weighing in at over 240 pounds, and if he came in at over 250 while still moving well in drills and speed testing, he could shoot up boards.
DT Ed Oliver, Houston
Oliver got plenty of “first-overall pick” hype prior to last season, but the excitement around the hyper-athletic defensive lineman has waned over the past few months. The former Houston star could reignite some of that hype this week with a dominant performance. He has rare explosiveness for an interior lineman and extraordinary agility to change direction on a dime.
Prayers going out to whichever DL used to have the 3-cone and short shuttle records before Ed Oliver went to the Combine. His numbers may end up rivaling the WILL LBs in the class. Crazy hips and change of direction. pic.twitter.com/2GsYoETaQ3— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) February 21, 2019
There’s already talk that some teams may view the college defensive tackle as a linebacker or edge player. Oliver has a chance this week to show that he’s got the athletic prowess to play everywhere on the line of scrimmage … and maybe even off of it. The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman listed Oliver as one of college football’s freakiest athletes last summer, noting that at 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds, he notched a 36-inch vertical and a 10-foot-1 broad jump during team testing. If Oliver weighs in anywhere around 290 pounds and posts athletic scores like that, he’s going to be the talk of Indy and could see his stock take a big jump.
DL Rashan Gary, Michigan
Gary’s draft position could be heavily influenced by how he tests this week in Indy. The former no. 1 national recruit never produced top-tier numbers at Michigan, but he’s still getting top-10 hype because of his incredible physical talent. As Jeremiah, who has Gary listed at no. 8 on his top-50 list, said this week, “He’s a rare, rare combination of size and speed, and he’s explosive.”
How explosive? Well, per Feldman, the 6-foot-5, 283-pound defensive lineman posted a 4.57 second 40-yard dash, a 6.79-second three-cone time, a 4.22-second short shuttle, and a 10-foot-4 broad jump last year during Wolverines’ offseason testing―all elite numbers for a player his size. If Gary can recreate those results this week, his underwhelming college production simply won’t matter. Some team is going to see that raw athleticism and believe they can turn him into a star at the next level.
WR Andy Isabella, UMass
Isabella’s a former high school all-state track star who, as Dane Brugler points out, notched the fastest 60-yard dash time in the nation (6.72 seconds) as a senior, ran the 100 meter in 10.51 seconds, and posted a 21.27-second time in the 200-meter regionals (narrowly edging now–Cleveland Brown Denzel Ward in that race). Isabella turned that speed into pass-catching production at UMass, totaling 229 receptions, 3,519 yards, and 30 touchdowns in his last three seasons there. In 2018, the speedy slot weapon tied for first in the nation with 11 receptions of 40-plus yards.
#UMASS WR Andy Isabella: he will get the white slot receiver cliches thrown his way but he's a legit deep threat. Watch the head/shoulder fake freeze the defender and then he has another gear to run by him. pic.twitter.com/0KSZMQGBkH— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 11, 2019
Now he’ll have a chance to challenge for the combine record in the 40-yard dash. Cincinnati’s John Ross holds the current mark at 4.22 seconds, a benchmark that’s realistically in reach of Isabella, who told media at the Senior Bowl that he’d run a 4.26 hand-timed 40-yard dash during training sessions in Florida. As Joe Connolly, Isabella’s former strength coach, told NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran in the 4.2s, but he will absolutely run in the 4.3s. I would put my house on that.”
WRs Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin; CB Kendall Sheffield, Ohio State
A trio of uber-explosive former Buckeyes will descend on Indianapolis this week. Let’s start with Campbell, another former high school track star who posted a 6.85-second 60-meter dash before standing out at The Opening in 2013. In that Nike SPARQ competition, the high school senior notched a 4.41 40-yard dash time and jumped 40.1 inches in the vertical. He’s apparently maintained that athleticism in his time at Ohio State, too: Per Goodbread, Campbell reportedly posted a broad jump of 11 feet, 3 inches last summer while clocking in at sub-4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Some players just make it happen. Parris Campbell is one of them. This WR screen shows his yards after the catch ability. pic.twitter.com/Q2ULl5pGFE— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) February 23, 2019
McLaurin, meanwhile, ran a 4.40 40-yard dash and jumped 42.3 inches in the vert at the 2013 SPARQ championships and told Goodbread that he expects to clock in with a 4.35 or better in the 40-yard dash this week. The Senior Bowl stand-out showed off his wheels in Mobile, registering a top speed of 22.2 miles per hour in one practice; he has a chance to boost his stock this week by posting more spectacular numbers.
Finally, there’s Sheffield, who NFL.com listed as the fastest player in America going into the 2018 season. He was a high school track star, winning the 4A state 110-meter high hurdles, the 300-meter intermediate hurdles, and the Gatorade Texas Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year award. The 6-foot, 193-pound corner went on to become a dual-sport athlete for the Buckeyes: In football, he posted 15 passes defensed over the past two years; in track, he set an Ohio State–record 6.663-second 60-meter dash in February 2018. He’s got a shot to clock in with the fastest 40 time of any player this week.
WR Emanuel Hall, Missouri
Hall missed five games in 2018 with a groin injury but has take-the-top-off-a-defense speed and incredible explosiveness for a 6-foot-3 pass catcher. The former high school state champion high jumper averaged 24.8 yards per catch in 2017 and 22.4 yards per catch last year, scoring 14 touchdowns in that two-season stretch. Hall missed the Senior Bowl due to his injury but has a chance to put his name on the map in Indy with a top-tier 40-yard dash time and an elite vertical. Oh, and I’m just going to leave this here…
Emanuel Hall jumping 11'6" broad in combine prep. pic.twitter.com/jCMOKmXoFm— Jared Stanger (@JaredStanger) January 31, 2019
WR Mecole Hardman, Georgia
As a high schooler, Hardman ran a 10.64 in the 100 meters and finished sixth on the SPARQ leaderboard at The Opening 2015 after posting a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, a 3.95 short shuttle, and jumping 38 inches in the vert. The 5-foot-11, 183-pound dynamo and former five-star recruit is a big-play threat with top-flight speed and was a dual-sport athlete at Georgia, playing receiver and returner in football and running the leadoff leg of the Bulldogs’ 4x100 meter relay team. He is very fast.
And he’ll have his sights set on Ross’s 40-yard dash record.
RB Jalin Moore, Appalachian State
Moore missed all but five games in 2018 because of a fracture and dislocation of his right ankle—an injury that kept him from participating in the Senior Bowl as well—but has the chance to build some pre-draft hype with an electric combine performance. Per Feldman, Moore ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash, posted a 38.5-inch vertical, and broad jumped 11 feet, 1 inch last offseason, the type of explosive athleticism that helped him run for 3,570 yards and 33 touchdowns during his illustrious career at Appalachian State.
RB Jordan Scarlett, Florida
Scarlett’s another under-the-radar running back prospect with the chance to make some money in Indianapolis. He played in a time-share with Lamical Perine at Florida this past season and showed off burst, balance, and short-area quickness.
If he tests like he did as a high school senior—when he ran a 4.30 40-yard dash and jumped 38.1 inches in the vert at The Opening 2014—Scarlett will generate plenty of buzz.
LB Devin White, LSU
White plays an aggressive brand of football, and while he’s already considered a near lock for the first round, the former Tiger could cement himself as a top-15 pick with a big week at the combine. White recently predicted that he would run in the 4.4- to 4.5-second range in the 40-yard dash, a number that would put him into rarified air at his position. Paired with a reported 34-inch vertical jump last offseason, White has the chance to show he’s got all the physical tools a modern linebacker needs.
CB Jamel Dean, Auburn
Dean’s history of knee injuries could give teams pause, but the former Auburn Tiger will likely generate some hype with both his size and speed in Indy. He’s big: Listed at 6-foot-2, 208 pounds and possessing long arms, he’ll appeal to teams that want to be physical on the outside. But he’s also supremely athletic: Per Feldman, Dean ran an electronically timed 4.3-second 40-yard dash, posted a 38-inch vert, and notched 10 feet, 8 inches in the broad jump last offseason.
this morning @afc2nfc told me check out Auburn CB Jamel Dean. watched a handful of games. if i'm evaluating the player & nothing else, that's what i want in the first. oozes athletcism, but knows how to play the position. physical, finishes. a lot to like.— KP (@KP_Show) February 12, 2019
here's 6 plays pic.twitter.com/8m1HA2HKFQ
WRs D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
Here’s my in-depth analysis: These guys appear to work out.