The Scouting Combine has come and gone. So what did we learn?
After watching the week unfold in Indianapolis, I think we can all agree there’s only one way to go with the No. 1 pick. That discussion begins and ends with Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett. The 21-year-old entered the week as the odds-on favorite to go first overall and only strengthened his case with a Combine for the ages.
Consider the matter settled: Myles Garrett will be a Cleveland Brown on April 27. It’s true that quarterbacks have gone first in six of the last eight drafts and the Browns do have a need at that position. But Cleveland would be crazy to pass on a ready-made superstar like Garrett, particularly given some of the lackluster options in this year’s quarterback class. Garrett’s jaw-dropping weekend included 33 reps on the bench press, an insane 41-inch vertical, a 10’8” broad jump and a 4.64 forty-yard dash. Garrett’s forty time is even more impressive when you consider his hulking 6’4,” 272-pound frame. Over the weekend, one NFL exec described Garrett as a “job saver.” It takes more than one player to turn around a franchise, but for the 1-15 Browns, a centerpiece like Garrett would be a great place to start.
Another position of intrigue at the Combine was running back. This year’s crop was headlined by two-time All-SEC selection Leonard Fournette. The 22-year-old came to the Combine with enormous expectations following a standout career at LSU but couldn’t quite match the hype. Before he even laced up his cleats, Fournette raised red flags by weighing in at 240 pounds. That was heavier than scouts were expecting, though it didn’t slow him down in the forty (4.51). Fournette also submitted a 28.5-inch vertical, which was one of the worst at his position. While Fournette’s weight gain and subpar Combine results aren’t deal breakers, a good Pro Day would go a long way toward cementing his status as a top-10 pick.
Dalvin Cook’s Combine experience was equally disappointing. The Florida State back was drawing first-round buzz before he came to Indy but now evaluators may be reconsidering. According to Zach Whitman of 3sigmaathlete.com, Cook tested as a ninth-percentile SPARQ athlete, faring poorly in the three-cone drill (7.27), 20-yard shuttle (4.53), broad jump (9’8”) and vertical (30.5”). His saving grace was a decent forty, which he ran in 4.49. Already dogged by off-field concerns, Cook’s rocky Combine could come back to haunt him.
Christian McCaffrey drew heavy criticism for skipping Stanford’s bowl game to prepare for the draft but now it looks like he made the right decision. McCaffrey cruised in the forty (4.48) while also excelling in the vertical (37.5”), 60-yard shuttle (11.03) and three-cone drill (6.57). McCaffrey’s diminutive frame (5’11”/202) may work against him but his stellar Combine should convince teams that he’s a first-round talent.
Going by his on-field performance, Evan Silva considers Joe Mixon the top running back in this year’s draft class. Mixon, however, was not invited to the Combine and will have to wait until Wednesday’s Oklahoma Pro Day to perform in front of scouts. Mixon was suspended for the entire 2014 season after punching a woman in the face and is still dealing with repercussions from the incident. Footage of the assault surfaced late last year, causing many teams to remove Mixon from their draft boards altogether.
Any team that drafts Mixon could be facing a PR nightmare. Just ask the Chiefs, who took heat for drafting Tyreek Hill after he was kicked out of Oklahoma State for choking his pregnant girlfriend. Despite the inevitable risk, all signs point to Mixon being drafted, perhaps as early as the second round. The Lions could be a team to watch for in the Mixon sweepstakes. GM Bob Quinn was disappointed he didn’t get to see Mixon at the Combine and said he remains on the team’s draft board.
Pour one out for Chris Johnson. His record is gone. Once upon a time, Johnson ran the fastest forty time ever recorded at the Combine. Johnson’s mark fell by two hundredths of a second Saturday when Washington wide receiver John Ross clocked in at a blistering 4.22.
That’s an astounding time but being fast as heck doesn’t guarantee that Ross will be a success at the next level. Kent State running back Dri Archer recorded one of the fastest forty times ever in 2014. He lasted just 20 games in the NFL after the Steelers drafted him as a third-round pick.
Archer was a one-trick pony and wasn’t big enough to be anything more than a gadget player. Ross is different. He finished third in FBS with 17 touchdowns last year while earning All-Pac-12 status. And while Ross isn’t a large man by any stretch (his Combine weight was 188), he’s no smaller than perennial Pro Bowlers Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton and DeSean Jackson. A fringe first-rounder, Ross is hoping to boost his stock with another strong performance at Saturday’s Pro Day. After he takes care of business on Saturday, Ross will undergo shoulder surgery for a torn labrum he suffered late last season.
Don’t sleep on this year’s tight end class. On paper, it’s one of the best ever. Alabama’s O.J. Howard is the best of this year’s batch and he proved it with a monster showing at the Combine. Among tight ends, he finished first in the three-cone drill (6.85), first in the 20-yard shuttle (4.16), first in the 60-yard shuttle (11.46), second in the forty (4.51) and third in bench press reps (22). Howard is aiming to be the first tight end drafted in the first round since Eric Ebron in 2014.
Evan Engram is another name you’ll want to remember. The Ole Miss tight end wowed with a 4.43 forty, a time eclipsed by only four wide receivers and two running backs. Engram is a tad undersized at 6’3”/234 but his combination of speed and soft hands (he led all FBS tight ends in receiving yards last season) should be enough to warrant second-round consideration. Other standouts included Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges (11’2” broad, 39-inch vertical, 4.57 forty), Iowa’s George Kittle (11’0” broad, 4.52 forty) and Miami’s David Njoku (11’1” broad, 37.5 vertical, 4.64 forty).
Nobody had a busier week at the Combine than Jabrill Peppers. The Michigan alum spent Sunday working out with linebackers before trying his hand at defensive back on Monday. At 213 pounds, Peppers would have to put on significant weight to play linebacker in the NFL. Some teams have even approached Peppers about playing running back or wide receiver. Peppers sees himself as a safety and that’s probably where he’ll fit best in the pros. While the uncertainty surrounding Peppers may cost him a shot at the first round, his versatility should ultimately serve him well at the next level.
It’s fun to get lost in the Combine but remember, the draft is still 51 days away. My advice to all you draft junkies out there: pace yourselves. There’s a long way to go.
Quick Hits: Trumaine Johnson signed his one-year, $16.7 million franchise tender on Monday. Before negotiating a long-term deal, the Rams would like to see if Johnson is a good fit under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips … Suitors are emerging for Terrelle Pryor. The free agent wideout is being pursued by the 49ers, Eagles, Giants and Titans. There have been conflicting reports about Pittsburgh’s level of interest. Either way, it looks like Pryor will be on a new team next season after leading the Browns with 1,007 receiving yards in 2016 … Julio Jones underwent surgery to remove a bunion from his foot on Monday. The operation calls for a 4-5 month recovery. As of now, there’s no concern about Jones’ status for Week 1 … After two underwhelming seasons, the Torrey Smith Era has ended in San Francisco. Smith signed a five-year contract with the Niners but never meshed with Colin Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert. His streak of 89 consecutive games played ended last season … According to Chad Dukes of 106.7 The Fan Washington, Pierre Garcon asked for a trade last season. Garcon hasn’t had any communication with Washington this offseason and seems likely to leave in free agency. The Redskins could have a tough time luring free agents given the upheaval in their front office. GM Scot McCloughan was absent from the Combine and is reportedly on his way out … Per Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the Redskins feel they can win with Colt McCoy at quarterback. The Redskins placed the franchise tag on Kirk Cousins last week but could be open to trading him. Many reports have linked Cousins to the 49ers, who are coached by former Redskins offensive coordinator and well-documented Cousins supporter Kyle Shanahan … DeSean Jackson is targeting a deal in the range of $10-12 million annually on the open market. So far the team linked most frequently to Jackson has been the Buccaneers. Jackson’s reps met with the Redskins at the Combine, though a reunion appears unlikely … After seeing their last plan hit the skids, the Raiders have found a new financer to back their proposed stadium in Las Vegas. With Bank of America on board, the Raiders should have enough funding to build a new stadium in the desert … William Gholston is headed back to Tampa Bay on a new five-year, $27.5 million contract. The 25-year-old can bump his earnings up to $37 million through incentives. That deal comes with $13 million guaranteed … The Bucs were able to hold on to Gholston but they won’t be bringing back Mike Glennon, who could command $14-15 million annually as a free agent. Quarterback-needy teams like the 49ers, Bears and Jets will have interest … The Bills did some spring cleaning on Monday, dumping kicker Dan Carpenter and appropriately-named nickel back Nickell Robey-Coleman. Carpenter converted just 19-of-25 field goal attempts for the Bills last season while Robey-Coleman was benched late in the year … The Titans are now thought of as the favorites to land Brandin Cooks. The Patriots offered the 32nd pick in the draft for Cooks but were promptly turned down by New Orleans … The Patriots re-signed James Develin to a two-year contract on Monday. Among fullbacks, Develin was PFF’s highest graded blocker last season … The Dolphins aren’t sure if Leonte Carroo can handle being the No. 3 receiver after playing 120 uneventful snaps as a rookie. With Carroo behind schedule in his development, the Dolphins might push harder to keep free agent Kenny Stills … Chad Greenway has decided to hang up his cleats. The linebacker spent his entire career in Minnesota, making two Pro Bowl appearances over 11 seasons … The Bears are expected to release Eddie Royal, who has played in just 18-of-32 games since joining the team in 2015. His release will save the Bears $5 million … The Bears are known to be interested in bringing back Brian Hoyer. They’re also putting plenty of eggs in the Mike Glennon basket, which means the Bears likely envision Hoyer as a backup. He may have a better chance to start in San Francisco, where he would be reunited with his old Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (seems like he’s been everyone’s offensive coordinator doesn’t it?) … The Jaguars have been discussed as a potential suitor for Tony Romo. While Jacksonville would actually be a decent fit for Romo, his most likely landing spots are still Denver and Houston … Julius Peppers is expected to return for his 17th season in 2017. The free agent edge rusher is currently fourth on the NFL’s all-time sack list … According to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports, the Eagles could be open to trading Jordan Matthews this offseason. Matthews is entering the last year of his rookie deal … Adrian Peterson would consider taking a discount to play for the Patriots. New England is looking to add an early-down bruiser with power back LeGarrette Blount headed for free agency … Josh Norris gave the Combine events a whirl. I’ll agree with his assessment that he’s more of a “whiteboard” guy.