There are no fantasy points scored at the NFL Scouting Combine, but there are plenty of opportunities to get an up-close-and-personal look at the incoming rookies fantasy owners will be banking on when the football season kicks off this coming fall. Here’s a rundown of what transpired in Indianapolis when the “skill” position players took the field.
The marquee attractions of the 2015 Draft are Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston, and the duo did not disappoint in Indy. For starters, Mariota measured bigger than anticipated while Winston showed up lighter than expected—and they were both a shade under 6’4” and within nine pounds of each other. Mariota showed out in on-field testing, with elite marks in the 40 (4.52), vertical (36”), broad jump (10’1”) and short shuttle (4.11), and looked good in the throwing drills. Winston was on the opposite end of the spectrum as an athlete, with a 4.97 40 time and an 8’7” broad jump, but his NFL-caliber arm and leadership skills were both on display as he was the standout performer during on-field throwing drills. Winston also impressed on the white board, where NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci called him the “most astute” he’s dealt with in his years of breaking down quarterback prospects. Give the victory in the main event to Winston, but only by decision.
Dwarfed by the Mariota/Winston showdown, the rest of the Combine quarterbacks toiled in relative obscurity. Among the “next tier” of prospects, Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson didn’t participate due to injury while both UCLA’s Brett Hundley—elite marks in the vertical (36”), broad jump (10’) and short shuttle (3.98) and above average scores in all the other drills—and Baylor’s Bryce Petty—also explosive with a 10’1” broad jump, 34” vertical, 6.91 3-cone time and 4.13 short shuttle—delivered as anticipated. Both also threw well during on-field drills, perhaps a bigger advantage for Hundley given that, while his athleticism is acknowledged, his throwing might be the biggest question NFL scouts have about his game.
Further off the radar, South Alabama’s Brandon Bridge impressed with his arm; at 6’4”, 229 pounds he has the requisite NFL size, and he unquestionably put himself on several radars as a developmental quarterback prospect. Auburn’s Nick Marshall also threw with the quarterbacks, but his performance during on-field throwing drills underscored why he’s likely to make a position switch at the next level. On the bright side, his times and test marks indicate he possesses the athleticism to make the move to cornerback.
With Georgia’s Todd Gurley sitting out the Combine drills while recovering from a torn ACL, all eyes were on Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. His 4.52 40 didn’t wow anyone, but his explosiveness was on display with a 10’6” broad jump, 35” vertical, and 4.07 short shuttle. Gordon also caught the ball well during on-field drills and essentially secured his spot atop the RB draft board.
Among the next tier of backs, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah—his positional bests in the vertical (42.5”), broad jump (10’10”), 3-cone (6.79 seconds) and short shuttle (3.95 seconds) all rank among the top 10% of all running backs over the past decade—helped his stock the most. Abdullah also showed well in pass-catching drills and could push for a Day Two draft spot. Boise State’s Jay Ajayi wasn’t that far behind Abdullah in the vertical (39”), broad jump (10’1”) and short shuttle (4.10), but both he (4.57) and Abdullah (4.60) clocked slower-than-hoped-for 40 times, as did Miami’s Duke Johnson (4.54).
Two more backs expected to be in or near this tier were limited by injuries: Indiana’s Tevin Coleman participated in the bench press (22 reps at 225 pounds) but didn’t run due to a broken toe; Minnesota’s David Cobb posted an impressive 38.5” vertical but injured a quad muscle during his first 40-yard dash and sat out the rest of the session. In their absence, Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford opened eyes with a position-best 4.42 40 time, which will send teams back to the film for a closer look at the Spartans’ successor to current Steeler Le’Veon Bell. Northern Iowa’s David Johnson built on his Senior Bowl success, with impressive explosiveness (a 41.5” vertical and a position-best 10’7” broad jump), strength (25 reps at 225 on the bench press), and change of direction (6.82 seconds in the 3-cone drill) and a solid showing in receiving drills.
Buzz for the receivers started early, when Oklahoma’s Dorial Green-Beckham measured in at 6’5”, 237 pounds—just one pound off of Calvin Johnson’s exact size. DGB followed up with an impressive 4.49 40 time and a solid showing in on-field drills, but the performance wasn’t anywhere near as jaw-dropping as Megatron’s Combine. Moreover, the most important work Green-Beckham did in Indy came behind closed doors in the interview process, where he had to explain myriad off-field incidents.
The two top receivers without red flags both made cases for being the first receiver off the board this April. Alabama’s Amari Cooper ran a 4.42 but really made waves with a 3.98 second short shuttle; he looked smooth in ball-catching and route-running drills as well, supporting his impressive body of work from college. West Virginia’s Kevin White answered his one lingering question—speed—with a 4.35 40 time; couple that with an impressive 6’3”, 215-pound frame and the pillow-soft hands he displayed during on-field drills and White could push Cooper for a top-five draft spot. Louisville’s DeVante Parker, on the cusp of cracking the Cooper/White duo atop the WR draft board, posted a faster-than-expected 4.45 40 time and looked good in the pass-catching drills as well. Parker may still be third among his position, but he’s hardly a consolation prize.
Perhaps the most impressive overall showing in Indianapolis belonged to Georgia’s Chris Conley, who’ll send teams back to the film after blazing a 4.35 40 and jumping out of the stadium with a 45” vertical—best ever at the Combine by a wide receiver—and 11’7” broad jump, longest by an offensive player in Combine history. Pencil UAB’s J.J. Nelson in as a future Raider; he clocked the fastest 40 time with a 4.28, besting Miami’s Phillip Dorsett by five one-hundredths of a second. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Michigan’s Devin Funchess may have run himself into a conversion to tight end with a 4.70 40 time, slowest among all wide receivers.
The draft stock of Minnesota’s Maxx Williams has been on the rise ever since the redshirt sophomore declared early for the 2015 draft, and while his numbers were far from jaw-dropping his performance at the Combine did nothing to bump him off the top spot on the tight end board. Williams did not get off to an especially strong start, with just 17 reps on the bench, and his first 40—an unofficial 4.90—was sluggish. But Williams rebounded with a decent 4.78 official 40 time and above-average marks in the vertical (34.5”) and broad (9’9”) jumps, then in on-field drills flashed the soft hands and route-running skills that had him mentioned as a possible first-round selection. Williams’ lack of awesome athleticism likely lands him a second-round grade on most draft boards, but there are plenty of intriguing landing spots for him in the late first.
There isn’t much star power to this year’s crop of tight ends, and the talent pool was further diluted with Ohio State’s Jeff Heuerman injured and not participating in the on-field work. Further, Miami’s Clive Walford was nowhere near as explosive as advertised, failing to register even above-average marks in most drills save for a 10’ broad jump, and Florida State’s Nick O’Leary posted the group’s second-slowest 40 time at 4.93 before redeeming himself in the pass-catching drills. That opened the door for the likes of Southern Illinois’ MyCole Pruitt—with position bests in the vertical (38”) and 40 (4.58)—and Penn State’s Jesse James—explosive numbers in the vertical (37.5”) and broad (10’1”) jumps, impressive for a 6’7”, 261-pounder—to garner some attention.