Sadly, the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine has come to an end. On the bright side we are inching closer to the NFL Draft. This year’s combine had some dominant performances, like Saquon Barkley’s, and some draft stock killing performances, like Orlando Brown Jr.’s. All in all, it was a great week with a handful of surprise performances. Penn State essentially set the standard as they produced the three best SPARQ ratings. While UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin proved doubters wrong by running a 4.38 40-yard dash at 227-pounds. Tape always is the most important factor when grading NFL Draft prospects, but athletic testing plays a major role in it as well and can change rankings.
Best SPARQ scores from the #NFLCombine:
1. Troy Apke, PSU
2. Mike Gesicki, PSU
3. Saquon Barkley, PSU
4. Denzel Ward, OSU
5. Dylan Cantrell, Texas Tech
T6. D.J. Moore, Maryland
T6. Taven Bryan, Florida
8. Kolton Miller, UCLA
9. Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern
10. LVE, Boise St
— Rob (@RobPaul54) March 6, 2018
The combine produced many winners and losers, from a draft stock perspective. There were too many overall performances to go through each, so I’ve narrowed it down. This will be my five biggest winners/losers, five guys I need to watch more tape on based on their impressive performances, and five guys who have good enough tape to make up for poor testing. I’ve also recruited fellow co-host of the Armchair NFL podcast, Resting the Starters, and Armchair NFL Draft podcast, Seven Rounds in Heaven, AJ Marchese to give me his five biggest money makers from the combine. You can checkout my offensive and defensive NFL Combine guides from this past week to see how my thought stack up with what actually happened.
- Of course, the guy who was drawing some J.J. Watt comparisons not too long ago dominated the combine. Taven Bryan is this year’s bull in a china shop. He plays violently with a non-stop motor to the point he’s almost out of control. This has created questions about his ability to play from a technical standpoint, but he flashes Pro Bowl ability at times on tape. Bryan likely locked himself into being a first-round pick with his combine performance. The 6-4, 291-pound Bryan ran a 4.98 40-yard dash with a 1.68 10-yard split. More importantly he ran a 7.12 three-cone, by far the best among interior defenders. His explosiveness was off the charts logging the second best vertical, 35”, and the best broad, 9’9”, at his positon. Bryan is essentially as athletic as most NFL edge rushers, but with the ability to be a natural 3-tech or 5-tech. Bryan will now likely be a first-round pick.
- It seems as if Justin Reid has put himself in a good position to be the number two safety in this draft class, assuming Minkah Fitzpatrick is a nickel. After Derwin James there were at least five safeties vying to be the second best. In Indy, Reid stole the show. Many of the top safeties didn’t test meanwhile Reid tested better than expected. He has the size and physicality at 6-0, 207-pounds to be a box safety. But he tested like the natural mover he is on tape. Reid clocked a 4.40 40, vertical jumped 36.5”, broad jumped 10’6”, ran a 4.15 short shuttle, and a 6.65 three-cone. On tape he can play corner, nickel, single high, or in the box. Reid is a top 40 player and worth a first-round pick.
Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
- The insanity of this linebacker class can be explained just by saying Leighton Vander Esch might not even be top five at his position and at best he’s fourth. This is the most athletic linebacker group I’ve ever seen. Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, and Rashaan Evans sit above the rest, but LVE is coming for the first-round. On tape he plays with reckless abandon and sideline-to-sideline speed. Questions surrounding his instincts and ability to diagnose plays have quieted since his combine performance. LVE came in at 6-4, 256 pounds and ran a 4.65 40, 4.15 short shuttle, 6.88 three-cone, broad jumped 10’3” and vertical jumped 39.5”. He’s likely a top 40 pick now and will probably draw Brian Urlacher comparisons.
- Clearly, this draft class is full of starting caliber cornerbacks, but the order of them is beginning to become more clear. Denzel Ward is the top one, but after the combine Jaire Alexander looks like he has surpassed Iowa’s Josh Jackson. Alexander was banged up in 2017, but his 2016 tape is phenomenal. He’s feisty, has great footwork, and a knack for forcing turnovers. Alexander is Chris Harris 2.0. Lack of length was always going to hurt him, but then he tested as the second most athletic cornerback, after Ward. Out of nowhere Alexander ran a 4.38 40, 3.98 short shuttle, and 6.71 three-cone. Alexander not only tested like a first-round corner, but he was by far the best during position drills. He’s smooth and technically sound. Josh Jackson is a first-round talent, but Alexander is better.
FSU DE Josh Sweat, who is 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, said “I expect to run about a 4.4, 4.1 shuttle, 40-inch vert, 10-plus broad… I expect to blow it out of the water.” pic.twitter.com/hu21jmuc91
— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) March 3, 2018
- Somehow Josh Sweat didn’t test as well as he wanted too, despite being the most athletic edge rusher at the combine. Sweat has flashes on tape where he looks like a top 20 talent, but it’s inconsistent. He’s even drawn J.D. Clowney comparisons at times. Sweat has the perfect length and size, at 6-5, 251-pounds, to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash with an impressive 1.55 10-yard split. The explosiveness he shows on tape was there in Indy when he hit a 10’3” broad jump and 39.5” vertical. A team will bet on his athleticism and flashes early in the second-round. This was the ideal week for Sweat.
- Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
- Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
- Matthew Thomas, LB, Florida State
- Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
- Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
- Shaquem Griffin, LB/ED, UCF
- Brian O’Neill, OT, Pittsburgh
Orlando Brown Jr., OT, Oklahoma
- There’s a good chance that this pick doesn’t need any explanation. Orlando Brown Jr. had a historically bad NFL Combine performance. Brown Jr. is massive at nearly 6-8, 345-pounds, but was only able to put up 14 reps on the bench press. It’s alarming that a man known for playing with strength couldn’t do more. Factor in he ran a 5.85 40-yard dash, one of the slowest ever, vertical jumped 19.5”, and broad jumped just 6’8” and the first-round hype is dead. For me Orlando Brown Jr. was a second-round guard based on his tape. His movement skills and poor technique weren’t ever going to be good enough for a franchise tackle, but his size, strength, and mean streak fit the interior of the offensive line. Let me play devils advocate for Brown Jr. here. If you thought, he was a franchise left tackle on tape then this performance shouldn’t kill his stock. It was bad, but if you like the tape that much then he should still be a day two pick. Since I didn’t love the tape and thought he was suited for guard, he’ll likely end up with a fourth-round grade from me.
- Surprisingly, Tim Settle easily had the second worst combine performance among big names. Settle is a huge defensive tackle at 6-3, 330-pounds, but on tape he moves well and has a great motor. This week could have put him into the second-round, but instead it likely will cause him to fall to day three. Settle ran a 5.37, which isn’t too bad for his size, but his 1.9 10-yard split was the second worst from an ID. Unfortunately, Settle had the worst vertical jump at 23.5” and second worst broad at 8’0”. He seemed much more athletic on tape, but now the potential of him being a gap shooting 3-tech is gone. He’ll likely be a fourth or fifth-round pick as a nose tackle.
Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State
- The draft process is crazy. Just seven months ago, Tarvarus McFadden was a definite first-round pick and the top cornerback prospect in the draft. A poor year caused his name to fade and at this point he’s probably a day three pick. He needed a nice week to get his name buzzing once again, but instead he ran the second slowest 40-yard dash. His 4.67 40 will hurt even though he ended up jumping fairly well, 38.5” vertical and 10’1” broad. McFadden is long and lean, but not overly physical and doesn’t have the long speed desired at corner. Teams are going to be hesitant to draft a slow corner who had a bad year.
Jamarco Jones, OT, Ohio State
- Depending on who you ask, Jamarco Jones entered the week anywhere from a first-round pick to a fourth-round pick. As the draft inched closer the hype was building, and then the combine happened. Jones came in at just 6-4, 299-pounds, although he has 35” arms. On tape he flashed athleticism and left tackle ability, but other times he looked better suited to be a guard. He firmly sat as my tenth tackle before his performance in Indy, but now he’ll likely slide. Jones showed very little mobility with a 5.50 40-yard dash and an 8.32 three-cone, good for second and third worst. His best fit now looks like it could be as a guard, and he’ll probably last until day three.
- Out of nowhere Simmie Cobbs Jr. hurt whatever day two hype he had left. After an up and down year where he flashed top ten receiver potential, watch the Ohio State game, he might have fallen out of the top 20 in a deep class. Cobbs Jr. has nice size, 6-3, 220-pounds, but with inconsistent hands and route running he needed to prove he has the athleticism to separate in the NFL. His 4.64 40-yard dash wasn’t terrible, but a guy who will make his living on 50/50 balls needs to jump well. Unfortunately, Cobbs Jr.’s vertical was just 30” and his broad 9’4”. After his combine he’s probably going to fall somewhere between the fifth and seventh-round.
Guys to Watch
Troy Apke, S, Penn State
- Anybody who tells you they knew Troy Apke would have the best SPARQ rating at the NFL Combine is lying. Apke was expected to do well, but to be the best athlete there? Nobody could have guessed it. Honestly, Apke was probably the least well-known of the eight Penn State players at the combine. As just a 6-1, 200-pound strong safety, Apke was somewhat of an after thought to those outside of State College. After running a 4.34 40, 4.03 short shuttle, 6.56 three-cone, vertical jumping 41”, and broad jumping 10’9”, everybody knows him. I won’t lie, I was too excited and already did four more games of Apke. Penn State used him in the box frequently, but when asked to play deep zone or over the slot he was at his best. He’s definitely worth a day three pick as a nickel.
- Another guy who nobody expected to test the best at his position. In a deep wide receiver class, Dylan Cantrell won the combine with the highest SPARQ at his positon. Cantrell is a big bodied receiver coming out of the Texas Tech system. People were more interested in teammate and fellow receiver Keke Coutee at the combine, but Cantrell is the guy I want to see more tape on now. He’s 6-2, 226-pounds and although his 4.59 40 isn’t overly impressive, it’s everything else he did. His 4.03 short shuttle and 6.56 three-cone were the best by a receiver. Cantrell has great change of direction and burst out of his cuts. He also has hops to go along with it, his vertical was 38.5” and his broad 10’8”.
- Another freaky athletic linebacker in a class full of them. Oren Burks first caught my eye as a late add at the Senior Bowl. He showed nice instincts and ability to come up and make a difference vs the run. If I knew then what I do now, I would have watched a lot more tape on him before the combine. Burks tested as the third most athletic linebacker. He’s 6-3, 233-pounds, ran a 4.59 40, 4.15 short shuttle, 6.82 three-cone, vertical jumped 39.5”, and broad jumped 10’9”. Men that big aren’t made to be this athletic. With the size and athleticism Burks has the makings of an NFL weakside linebacker, with more tape his sixth-round grade could move up.
- Watching every player at the combine can be rough. A lot of guys are fine, but not stud NFL talents and then every once in awhile a guy flashes. For the interior defender group, James Looney was that guy. Somewhat of a tweener as an undersized interior guy, but his explosiveness was there on tape. In my wildest dreams I didn’t expect him to be this athletic. Looney clocked a 4.89 40 with a 1.67 10-yard split, 4.37 short shuttle, and 7.32 three-cone. He also did 28 reps on bench, vertical jumped 35.5”, and broad jumped 9’4”. Those are the numbers of a penetrating 3-tech. It’ll be interesting to see how consistently his athleticism shows up on tape.
Ade Aruna, ED, Tulane
- Some schools are gifted athletes and they just aren’t sure what to do with them. That was the case with Ade Aruna at Tulane. In the brief amount of tape, I saw on him pre-combine, they used him as a stand-up rusher as well as a 2-gap 5-tech. Those are vastly different ways to utilize Aruna. Yet, Aruna had a better SPARQ rating than every edge except for Sweat and Harold Landry. He’s also already built like an NFL edge rusher, he’s 6-4, 262-pounds. Aruna ran a 4.60 40, with a 1.6 10-yard split, while vertical jumping 38.5” and broad jumping 10’6”. NFL teams are always looking for long freaky athletes on the edge. Aruna might be a project, but his measurable are mouth-watering.
Trust the Tape, Not the Testing
- People are going to overthink this, but Calvin Ridley is the best receiver in this draft without a doubt. Obviously his combine performance was bad, but it needs context. Basically, his 9’1” broad jump is what killed him, it was the worst by a receiver. Yet, he still ran a 4.43 40-yard dash with a 6.88 three-cone. Broad jump has been shown to not translate much into receiver success, his poor broad is being overblown. His tape is significantly better than all the other receivers and his game isn’t built on winning 50/50 balls, if it were the 31” vertical would mean more. Ridley runs the cleanest routes, has the most consistent hands, and smooth movement skills. He’s a day one NFL starting slot receiver. He’s without a doubt worth a first-round pick.
- Last year it was Desmond King, this year it’s Rashaan Gaulden. Both of them are DBs who had impressive tape, but poor combine testing killed their stock. King slid to the fifth-round, but ended up one of the best rookies in the NFL. That’ll be Gaulden this year. He has day two tape, but running a 4.61 40 and a 7.16 three-cone with a 30” vertical and 9’9” at 6-0, 197-pounds is bad. But on tape Gaulden is a feisty nickel not afraid to play the run and has great instincts. Some team is going to be very happy they drafted him on day three when he ends up their starting nickel.
Hercules Mata’afa, ED, Washington State
- I’ve been pounding the table for Hercules Mata’afa since December. He’s one of my biggest “draft crushes” because he played on the interior of Washington State’s defensive line despite being 6-2, 254-pounds, and he reaped opponent’s souls while doing it. Mata’afa needed to show up big in Indy to lock himself into day two of the draft. He ended up running a 4.76 40-yard dash with a 1.64 10-yard split, a 7.24 three-cone and only broad jumped 9’0”. The numbers aren’t great, but they don’t reflect what he does well on tape. Mata’afa uses his hands to win, something many prospects aren’t good at. Mix that with his motor and you have a guy that can contribute. He’ll probably be there in round four now, but he’ll make an impact as a rookie.
Auden Tate, WR, Florida State
- Another receiver that was looking to separate himself from about 12 guys that are clumped together, but struggled at the combine. Auden Tate came in as the biggest receiver in Indy at 6-5, 228-pounds and didn’t run well, drawing comparisons to Kelvin Benjamin. His 4.68 40 was the second worst at receiver, but Tate isn’t Benjamin. Benjamin won purely with size and struggled with his hands. Tate is a terrific 50/50 ball receiver and high points the ball with strong hands. The questions will come about ability to separate, but Tate can be a great redzone threat and number two receiver.
Alex Cappa, OL, Humboldt State
- It was a tough week for Alex Cappa. His arm length measured in at 32”, NFL teams generally require a 33” minimum to play tackle. So, Cappa is now probably an NFL guard. His stock was hurt even more when he ran a 5.39 40, 4.84 short shuttle, and an 8.04 three-cone with an 8’0” broad. The numbers and arm length officially make him a guard, but that’s ok, he’ll be one hell of an NFL guard. Cappa was dominant and mean on tape. His ability showed up at the Senior Bowl too, where he was one of the best players of the week. Brian O’Neill and Kolton Miller may have tested better, but Cappa is far more technically sound. He’s a plug and play player, worth a day two pick.
AJ’s Money Makers
Rob may have his winners and losers, but this wasn’t a game, this wasn’t one-on-one’s, this was about one thing and one thing only, making money. These are five of the guys that improved their draft stock, jumped some other guys at their positions, and slid up that sweet, sweet rookie pay scale. They’ve been listed in the order in which they project to be drafted now.
Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
- The only knock on Kolton Miller’s week in Indianapolis may be that he’s too tall. He measured in at over 6-8, 309-pounds, ran a 4.95 40, second among offensive linemen, and had the longest broad jump ever for his position group at 10’1”. Miller’s performance — and Orlando Browns historically poor one — was good enough to potentially make him the third tackle drafted and may have gotten him into the first-round.
Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
- Mike Gesicki came into Indianapolis looking like a fairly athletic tight end who can’t be used as an in-line blocker. He looked like a third-round pick at best, his performance switched the adjective before the word “athletic” from “fairly” to “super.” Coming in at 6-5, 247-pounds, Gesicki posted a surprising 4.54 40-yard dash time considering he looked “quicker than fast.” The 4.54 40 tied him for the best time among tight ends with Jaylen Samuels who is 6” and 22-pounds smaller and not even really a tight end. He absolutely jumped out of the stadium posting a 41.5” and 10’9” broad, both good for best among the tight ends. Gesicki’s performance moved him to a second- round lock with the chance to be the first tight end taken and he could even go in the first-round.
- D.J. Chark is a classic LSU receiver, super athletic with lower than expected college production. His combine performance was good enough to already actually make him money as he has reached an endorsement deal with Nike.
- Chark was already a riser coming into the combine because of his impressive performance at the Senior Bowl. He answered questions about whether he’s just a deep ball threat, by displaying nice route running and short area quickness in practice, culminating in five catches for 160 yards and a touchdown in the game. In Indy, Chark separated himself from a crowded class of wide receivers in the third to fourth-round range coming in at close to 6-3, 200-pounds and topping all wide receivers in the 40-yard dash and vertical jump with a 4.34 and 40” respectively. Now Chark looks to be a blazing fast, athletic, instant deep threat with some serious upside putting him into the second-round.
- Most people reading this article already know Nick Chubb. He looked like a bowling ball, a tough runner, short and thick, a guy who isn’t overly athletic, but is going to get the job done. Most draftniks (Rob and I included) had his backfield partner Sony Michel confidently overtaking him in the draft process projecting Michel as a first to second-round player and Chubb in the third to fourth-round. Little did we know Nick Chubb would shake his proverbial money maker and prove that he is more athletic than expected. At 5-11, 227-pounds, Chubb showed off his strength doing 29 reps on the bench press and ran a 4.52 40. He also posted a 4.25 short shuttle, jumped 38.5” and 10’8” in the vertical and broad, thus showing he’s actually more athletically comparable to Saquon Barkley than AJ’s blast from the past of the week Montee Ball. After Chubb’s performance he should elevate his range a whole round from the third-fourth to second-third.
Shaquem Griffin, LB/ED, UCF
- I’d be remiss in my duties as a member of the media and a hype beast, if I didn’t include Shaquem Griffin on this list. Griffin wasn’t even invited to the combine until after the Senior Bowl, that’s barely a month ago. Inspirational story aside, Griffin’s stock seems to have been slowly growing. From UDFA to the sixth or seventh, and after running a 4.38 40-yard dash, fastest for a linebacker since they started keeping track in 2003 — don’t ask why they couldn’t keep track before — Griffin has put himself into the fourth-round.