Defensive players were in the spotlight at the Combine, some players helped themselves (or at least verified what we knew) and a couple of players disappointed. The edge and defensive line group as a whole still looks to be a strength in the class yet the linebackers showed surprising agility and speed despite being viewed as a down group by many analysts. Below I will outline a few from each group who caught my eye. Their combine results can be found here.
Defensive Linemen and Edge Rushers
The biggest winner amongst the group was undeniably Montez Sweat, the edge rusher from Mississippi State. The former Bulldog torched the defensive lineman record for the 40-yard dash, stopping the clock at 4.41 seconds. At 6’5” and 260 pounds, it’s almost unfathomable, and he followed it up with a 7 second 3-cone as well to display agility with the speed. Sweat was projected to be a mid-round pick in April but may have punched his ticket into the top ten. On tape, he’s a player I really like but not without limitations. He has moments where he appears dominant; the area of concern for me is lack of flexibility and he doesn’t possess many consistent counters or combinations when he is tied up with blockers. Sweat will be drafted in the first ten picks and I believe he will fail to live up to the expectations with the lofty draft status.
Brian Burns may slip a little due to the performance of Sweat but has a better chance to succeed. The Florida State Seminole posted a 4.53 40-yard at 6’4” and 246 pounds. He also had a 7.01 second 3-cone and nearly identical vertical and broad jump scores as Sweat. Watching him, I fell in love with his change of direction and agility - few prospects in this class have the ability to bend the edge as Burns. He needs some work on counters and hand work but the upside is tantalizing and I like him more as a prospect to meet expectations and be a successful edge rusher.
A player that turned heads and climbed boards was the Michigan Wolverine product with the golden mane, Chase Winovich. A 4.59 40-yard dash and 4.11 20-yard shuttle displayed his quickness and a sub-7 3-cone at 6.94 showcased his agility. He never displayed great statistics in college but if you watch any game he played in, he really stood out on tape. Winovich has a relentless motor and attacks plays with reckless abandon and fire. The way he looks and plays reminds me of Clay Matthews III. I see a similar NFL trajectory as well, a better NFL player than an IDP asset but a fun player to watch and root for.
Another Wolverine verified his freakish athletic talent - Rashaan Gary showcased a versatile skill set and will be taken early in the NFL Draft. Gary checked in as 6’4” and 277 pounds, then ran an impressive 4.58 40-yard, as well as a 7.26 3-cone, and his 38” vertical and 10’0” broad jumps were amongst the top three at his position. Gary played out of position in Ann Arbor and will get a chance to shine in the NFL. He’s a versatile lineman with impressive ability to shed blockers and disrupt plays thanks to a lethal first step. He could be a great player at the next level.
An under the radar player who could be dominant in the NFL is Sutton Smith. It’s hard to say he’s going unheralded when a player sets the NCAA career sack record, but playing in Northern Illinois didn’t get him a lot of press or recognition. More of a stand-up outside linebacker edge prospect at 6’ tall and weighing in at 233 pounds, he posted the best 3-cone time amongst the group at 6.75 seconds as well as respectable numbers in all the other tests. Smith will be a day two pick and could develop into a great edge rusher by bulking up and technique refinement. He has a freakish motor and uses his smaller size to evade blockers with footwork and handwork, but if engaged, he doesn’t have the strength to overwhelm. Smith is a prospect I love but wouldn’t break the bank for in IDP drafts, as he has some work to do. I do love the athletic traits and the way he plays the game.
Jachai Polite followed up an underwhelming combine performance with grumblings about the process and questions about his maturity. No edge prospect hurt his stock more, but the Florida pro day on March 27 will give a chance at redemption. He weighed in at 258 pounds and 6’2” but then ran a 4.84 40-yard and only did the vertical jump and jumped 32”. Polite questioned teams - in particular, the Green Bay Packers - about their questions and off-the-field process and while displaying a lack of coachability which was already a concern. I think he falls to the second and maybe third round, as he’s immensely talented but will struggle to overcome the stigma of being immature and uncoachable.
Nick Bosa looked fast and strong, the first time we have seen him in a while and didn’t do anything to hurt his stock as a top-three pick. Quinnen Williams’ combine numbers at 300 pounds were impressive and he is going to have some fun in the NFL for many years. Ed Oliver tipped the scales at 287 pounds, answering questions about his size and solidifying draft stock. Maxx Crosby posted some crazy numbers and is a player I am going to scout more - look for in upcoming articles. Ben Banogu is another edge guy I like and had impressive times in Indy, who need to dive in on more and watch more closely.
The top linebacker in the draft posted the quickest 40-yard dash by a sliver, as Devin White ran a blazing 4.42 and his 39.5” vertical was one of the top three amongst linebackers. The rest of his testing was good but he showed during drills why he is the top linebacker - his agility and fluidity is off-the-charts. White cemented his spot at the top and will be a terror in the NFL.
Devin Bush closed the gap a little between White and him and the Devins are the top linebacker tier this draft. Bush ran a 4.43 40-yard, his broad jump measured 10’4” and 6.93 3-cone was within the top third of the position. The speed and agility are impressive from a guy built like a tank at 5’11” and 234 pounds. Bush plays with controlled recklessness and attacks plays by sliding through seams at each level. The agility and speed will help him transition to a three-down role in the NFL.
Gary Johnson is one of the more intriguing linebackers beyond the top two - he blazed through the 40-yard at 4.43, was solid in testing and looked strong during drills. He’s a linebacker with a great first step and quick reactions but has questions regarding his ability to shed blocks and diagnose plays. Johnson helped his stock; he should go on the second day of the draft and could develop into a strong starter.
Another prospect I really like is Ben Burr-Kirven but his agility and speed had been a question. Wildly productive at Washington, amongst the top five leading tacklers the past two seasons, he has been projected as a two-down tackling linebacker but a possible liability in coverage. Burr-Kirven ran a surprising 4.56 40-yard and had an impressive 6.85-second 3-cone drill, displaying agility and speed. This isn’t exactly a guarantee of success but shows he is more athletic and capable of more in the right situation. He will likely be drafted later, but I love his upside and he is a guy I am targeting in IDP drafts.
A sleeper I also like is Blake Cashman from Minnesota. The former Gopher posted a 4.50 second 40-yard, 6.95 3-cone, 37.5” vert, and a 10’4” broad jump. These are impressive scores from a guy whose tape showcases ability and instincts to be a starting linebacker at the next level. One of the big detractions are his short arms, the shortest amongst linebackers, and he was only a one-year starter. Cashman tallied 104 tackles in 2018 and is rawer than most in the class, yet the athletic profile and football intelligence is undeniable.
Ty Summers from TCU looked in impressive in workouts and tests, has great size, and is someone I need to dive into more to see if athleticism could lead to more than his college production indicated. Germaine Pratt is a name gaining traction leading into the draft, I love his college tape and he showed well at the combine, one of the linebackers in the draft who displayed coverage skills at the collegiate level. Mack Wilson is my LB3 and unfortunately was not able to test in Indianapolis, hopefully
he tests at the Alabama Pro Day.
The top cornerback spot is now locked in after Greedy Williams ran a blistering 4.37-second 40-yard dash. Possible lack of top-end speed was one of the few detractors in his game and he silenced this chatter in Indianapolis. Williams is 6’1” with long arms and has excelled in man coverage while covering top receivers in the SEC. He needs work in run support but will likely be the first cornerback taken in Nashville.
Cornerback Jamel Dean questionably left Auburn a year early to join the draft but looked extremely impressive at the combine. The top 40-yard dash time at cornerback belonged to Dean after a scorching 4.3, which he followed with a 41” vertical and 10’10” broad jump. The raw athletic numbers bought him a chance but it comes with a caveat - his length and speed wasn’t a question, his feet and ball skills were. Dean earned himself some money, and with some development has a shot to develop into being an NFL starting cornerback.
The top speed belonged to a safety from Mississippi State as Zedrick Woods ran a 4.29 40-yard dash. The rest of his numbers were solid as well; the 7-second 3-cone is a good number, 4.15 20-yard shuttle is strong, and 10’2” on the broad jump was right about average in the safety group. Woods is strong as a run supporting safety which could translate to IDP success. He has issues with pass coverage, mainly recognizing his assignments, but his speed and ability to close ground was one of the knocks on him - and he resoundingly answered in Indianapolis.
Taylor Rapp entered the combine as my top safety; despite not running the 40-yard dash, showed the quickness which has led him an enticing prospect. 6.82 seconds for the 3-cone was one of the top scores in all groups and shuttle times of 3.99 seconds for 20-yard and 11.33 for 60-yard were amongst the top scores in the entire combine as well. Rapp is a better box safety and will be an exciting NFL player which should translate to IDP success as well.
A name creeping up draft boards is Chauncey Gardner-Johnson from the University of Florida. He ran the 40-yard in 4.48 seconds and did well in other drills - 7.03 seconds in the 3-cone highlighted what I like about him. Gardner-Johnson is fluid and covers ground well, his movement and recognition are what will have playing on Sundays. He is listed at safety but can move around the defensive formation and cover man-to-man as well. Gardner-Johnson could go in the first round and his upside could make him an IDP asset in the secondary.
Rock Ya-Sin is a hot name rising up the boards and had a solid combine, a versatile player who didn’t help or hurt his stock in Indy. Ken Webster had a really good showing with a 4.43 40-yard, 6.85 3-cone, 43” vertical, and 11’1” broad jump - all numbers amongst the top ten overall. I will be watching tape on him this week. David Long from Michigan was equally as impressive: 4.45 seconds for the 40-yard and a boggling 6.45 second 3-cone showcased his impressive athleticism. One of the top safety prospects, Deionte Thompson of Alabama did not participate in the combine and his upcoming pro day will be important to draft stock. Juan Thornhill is a prospect I haven’t watched entirely but love what I see. He ran a 4.42 40-yard and jumped 44” on the vertical as well as 11’9” on the broad jump. Really looking forward to his tape!