- For most players, the NFL Combine doesn’t really matter. For these players, it mattered a lot.
- Saquon Barkley put on a spectacle and is now a contender for the #1 pick.
- Oklahoma offensive lineman Orlando Brown did the opposite of that.
For the most part, the NFL Combine is an overblown offseason exercise that’s not as important as the NFL and Mike Mayock wants you to think. NFL teams have already done an immense amount of research into all the available player, and figured out who they like and who they don’t like. A demonstration of athletic ability in an environment almost totally divorced from football itself isn’t likely to change the fate of most players. It takes a spectacular performance, good or bad, to really make a difference. We’ve thus limited this list to players who did have that kind of performance, for better or worse.
Winner: Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State)
Saquon Barkley entered the NFL combine a near-certainty to go in the first five picks, having displayed unmatched versatility and dynamic athleticism during his time at Penn State. There was very little Barkley could do to improve his draft stock, as he was the consensus “safest” pick in the draft and the best player at any position.
That didn’t stop Barkley. Barkley ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4, one of the fastest times overall, despite weighing over 230 pounds. He leaped 41 inches in the vertical, probably a record among large running backs, and completed 29 reps on the bench press. A very popular tweet from NFL research showed that Barkley did better on the bench press than offensive lineman Joe Thomas, better in the 40-yard dash that Devin Hester, and better in the vertical jump than Julio Jones.
If we’d read the tea leaves, we probably could have seen this coming. Saquon Barkley has done some things on a football field that qualify as athletic anomalies, and holds Penn State’s record for the power clean, hitting a remarkably casual 405 last summer. Everything he’s done at Penn State points to a Bo Jackson-esque level of physical supremacy.
Why is it important? Saquon Barkley isn’t the most consistent running back in the draft, at least on a play-to-play basis, but he’s always reliably delivered spectacle. He’s hit-or-miss from down to down, but his hits are among the most impressive we’ve seen. He’s therefore akin to a three true outcomes hitter, and needs to prove that he can hit home runs like nobody else.
His performance at the combine reaffirms that in the strongest possible way, and further reaffirms that the best NFL comparison for Barkley is “pouring hot coffee down your own pants.”
Barkley is now a serious contender to go first overall. None of the big-name quarterbacks really separated themselves from the field, and all seemed competent and reliable as first-round picks, so if you’re picking first and fourth (as the Browns are currently set to) why not get Barkley and whoever’s left over? Better yet, why not get Barkley and Bradley Chubb, and find a quarterback in free agency? You don’t even have to punch yourself in the nuts!
As a side note, another big winner at this year’s combine is Penn State’s strength and conditioning program. Mike Gesicki led the tight ends in just about every measurable, and safety Troy Apke ran a 4.34 to lead his position group, which earned him a hug from Deion Sanders.
Odds Saquon Barkley is the #1 pick in the NFL Draft: 6/1
Loser: Orlando Brown (OL, Oklahoma)
Nobody expects the world from offensive linemen at the combine. Everyone can see that tight clothes and agility drills aren’t the natural environment of 300 pound men. The problem is that Orlando Brown appears to be particularly out of his element at the combine, where he’s posted some pretty poor results.
Brown ran 5.85 in the 40-yard dash, which is totally understandable for someone who weighs 345 pounds, but not great for someone who wants to be an offensive tackle in the NFL. The league average for that position is more than half a second faster, and the league average for the vertical and broad jumps (28.4″ and 8’6.5″, respectively) are also much better than Brown’s marks (19.5″ and 6’10”).
That’s okay, you might think, offensive line isn’t about breakneck speed, its’s about strength. That’s where we run into more problems: Orlando Brown’s performance on the bench press (completing just 14 reps) is one rep less than what Calvin Ridley was disappointed to complete. Calvin Ridley is 146 pounds lighter than Orlando Brown, and also a wide receiver.
To put it lightly, Orlando Brown didn’t have a great performance at the combine. In fact, he had the kind of performance that will have NFL personnel types going through all his tape with a fine-tooth comb. Fortunately, that tape is pretty good: Brown didn’t allow a single sack or bull-rush hurry in 2017, but dubious scouts are sure to find something they don’t like.
Odds Orlando Brown is selected in the first round of the NFL Draft: 4/1
Winner: Bradley Chubb (DE, NC State)
I’m scared of Bradley Chubb, you’re scared of Bradley Chubb, we’re all scared of Bradley Chubb. He didn’t have to do much at the combine to confirm his position as the top defensive end in the draft, but he did it all anyway. Weighing in at 269 pounds, Chubb managed an official 40-yard dash of 4.65. Only Ade Aruna, Harold Landry, and Josh Sweat were faster, and Chubb is either heavier or stronger (or both!) than all of them. A good position to be in.
With the Combine in the rear-view mirror, it’s unlikely that another defensive end will surpass Chubb as the consensus #1 at his position. There are scouts that really like Harold Landry, but it’s now a near-certainty that Bradley Chubb will be gone by the fifth pick in the draft. With everything to lose at the NFL Combine, Bradley Chubb managed to emerge a narrow winner.
Odds Bradley Chubb is the #1 pick in the NFL Draft: 20/1
Winner: Shaquem Griffin (LB, UCF)
Before the combine, you would have been forgiven for thinking that Shaquem Griffin’s late inclusion was more of a feel-good story than anything else. That was before the combine.
For background, Shaquem Griffin was born a minute after Seattle Seahawks corner Shaquill Griffin, and with amniotic band synrdome that cost him his left hand. Obviously, playing cornerback professionally isn’t really in the cards for someone with one hand, but Shaquem is more of a linebacker anyway. The 2016 AAC Defensive Player of the Year put on a show at the combine, running a 4.38 40-yard dash (the fastest by any linebacker since 2003) and putting up 20 reps on the 225-pound bench press. His performance in workouts and drills moved him up draft boards: where most scouts had him on the third day pick/UDFA bubble, he’ll now be confidently a third day pick.
Odds Shaquem Griffin is selected before the third day of the NFL Draft: 3/1
Loser: Calvin Ridley (WR, Alabama)
There were those who thought that Calvin Ridley was the best wide receiver available in this draft. They’ll have a hard time convincing others of that fact after the combine, where Ridley posted mostly disappointing numbers all around.
Alabama’s top receiver had some questions to answer heading into the combine. He was listed at 190 pounds, which seems slight, and scouts were hoping that he was actually a little heavier than that. When his measurements came in, they weren’t great, at 189 pounds, with a 4.43 40-yard dash and below-average vertical and broad jumps. Ridley didn’t stun anyone with 15 reps on the bench press, although nobody was drafting Ridley for strength in the first place.
These numbers aren’t likely to ruin Ridley’s draft stock, but there are NFL teams that like to draft wide receivers based on measurables. Fortunately, Ridley has lots of tape displaying his ability to get open at all times, which teams will like, but you can’t help but think that teams with Ridley on their mind are going to be a little dissappointed by his performance.
Odds Calvin Ridley is the #1 WR in the NFL Draft: 4/1
Winner: Derwin James (S, Florida State)
You knew Derwin James was going to be good at this. It’s a measurement of physical aptitudes, and Derwin James is the manifestation of physical aptitudes. If you can measure it, he’s great at it. A 40-yard dash in 4.48 (WAITING ON OFFICIAL) is great for a 215 pound defensive back, so is a 40-inch vertical leap.
What we maybe weren’t expecting was the Florida State product to be so polished in drills. James is not just a raw physical product, he’s got smooth hips and moves beautifully in positional drills. There’s not many NFL teams that will get excited about a DB who posts crazy dunk videos, but all of them like a polished and accomplished safety who can contribute early.
Usually with physical specimen like James you’re taking something of a risk and betting on their incredible upside. Not so here: James has the ceiling and the floor to justify a pick early in the first round, although maybe not as early as he predicts.
Odds Derwin James is picked in the top 10 of the NFL Draft: 2/1