For better or for worse, the NFL Combine will make or break the draft prospects for many future NFL players. Despite dozens of games on tape, hundreds of plays, and a shelf full of awards, many of the prospects in Indianapolis this week will be judged almost solely on how they perform in drills that are, at best, somewhat indicative of their football abilities. Many more will go on to be labeled “disappointments” in their NFL careers for failing to live up to their Combine performances.
But even if the Combine isn’t always that accurate, it sure can be fun to watch! Here’s who we’ll be keeping an eye on this week.
Evan “Tex” Western - Jachai Polite (EDGE, Florida) and Andy Isabella (WR, Massachusetts)
I might have said Marquise Brown (WR, Oklahoma) until last week, when we learned that he had foot surgery and will not be working out. Instead, I’m going to start with Polite. The Clay Matthews comparisons are already underway, thanks in part to his size, but I’m looking forward to seeing how he tests to see if his agility and straight-line speed are as good as his bend looks on tape. A workout like Clay’s, with a sub-4.65 40 and sub-7 cone, could really push him into top-15 territory.
Since Brown is a no-go, the other guy I want to see run from the receiver position is Isabella, who could end up posting the fastest 40 in Indy. Reports have him running in the low 4.3s, and I’ll be looking to see if he can even go sub-4.3. His change-of-direction skills are worth watching as well, so keep an eye out for a great time in the cone and shuttle drills. Currently seen as a late-round value, a great workout could push him into the early part of day three or maybe even a late-day two selection.
Mike Vieth - Deebo Samuel (WR, South Carolina) and the athleticism of the offensive linemen
I’ve got a nice connection to Deebo Samuel, as we both attended the University of South Carolina. I’ve seen every game that he’s played in the last four years and I know what he’s capable of. He might not have the most potential as some of the other receivers but he is probably the most pro-ready receiver in the draft. His big plus for me is that he is a special teams star as well. He does it all. He returns kicks for touchdowns, he blocks punts, he returns blocked punts for touchdowns and that was just his senior year. I’ve pretty much seen him do it all.
I’m really interested to see how high his testing will take him. Samuel had a great Senior Bowl week and that almost guaranteed a second or early third round selection for him. If his speed and other measurables are in good order, he might even make a jump into the late first round.
If the Packers don’t resign Randall Cobb, Samuel would fit perfectly in Cobb’s old spot. I’d love to see the Brian Gutekunst pull the trigger on Deebo but I know that is unlikely. The Packers have other more pressing needs at the top of the draft but he’d be luxury in Matt LaFleur’s new offense.
I’m also really interested in seeing how the offensive linemen pan out. The Packers have a huge hole at right guard and they might even be looking to replace Lane Taylor and Bryan Bulaga in the near future. The big thing to watch is the athleticism of the players.
The zone scheme the Matt LaFleur is bringing in doesn’t need the road-grading blockers like Lane Taylor. Zone blocking utilizes the athleticism of the players to get to their blocking assignments and the player then just needs to wall off the defender, more than anything, to create seams that the running back can read and cut upfield. I mean it’s nice to have that combination of being able to manhandle the defensive line and have speed but it’s not necessary.
Some of the names to really watch that might intrigue the Packers is Dalton Risner out of Kansas State, Andre Dillard out of Washington State and Jonah Williams from Alabama.
Paul Noonan - Kelvin Harmon (WR, N.C. State)
I don’t really get excited about players before the combine as a rule as I don’t watch a ton of college football outside of Wisconsin, but I’m interested to see how Harmon tests because, in my very limited exposure to his play, his soft skills are great. Harmon is a big-bodied prospect with very good hands and the sort of advanced body control that you usually only find among the elite guys. If he does well in agility drills and puts up a respectable 40, he looks to me like a star in the making. If he happens to struggle a bit, especially on straight line speed, he may end up being a heck of a bargain for someone.
Jon Meerdink - Parris Campbell (WR, Ohio State)
I think it’s fair to criticize the Combine as being of questionable value for overall evaluation. I understand that people will be drafted (or passed over) based on their performance this week, but that performance should really only confirm what you already know about a given player. That’s why I want to watch Parris Campbell of Ohio State this week.
I have Campbell’s name here, but it could really be anyone from this list for a couple of simple reasons. First, watching guys run fast is fun! Just watch the fastest times from last year! Look at them! Imagine being that fast. (Shout out to future Packers Jaire Alexander, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Tony Brown.)
Second, I think there’s an intuitive understanding that the 40-yard dash, while cool, has little value as an actual measure of football capabilities. For that reason, it’s easy to enjoy it and avoid getting too worked up about it. Plus, when you find someone who agonizes over the literal less than a blink of an eye difference between 4.50 and 4.47, you can safely ignore that person’s future football opinions! Just watch the guys run fast and enjoy it!
Peter Bukowski - The top EDGE group
I’m cheating, I know but they all matter. Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, Clelin Ferrell, Montez Sweat, Brian Burns and Jachai Polite could all be in play for the Packers depending on scenarios they want to explore. If Bosa or Allen fall, the Packers have the ammunition to get up and snag them. Ferrell, Polite, Burns and Sweat could all be sitting there at 12, and more than likely at least two be on the board.
Considering the cluster (at least for me) of Ferrell, Sweat, and Polite right near the range where Green Bay drafts, the combine will go a long way to differentiating them. Ferrell needs to show his athleticism. Sweat needs to prove he can change directions. Burns need to show he can be a stud athlete with added weight. Polite needs to test like the athlete we see on tape to remove questions about his size. This is the most important position for the Packers to address this offseason and one where testing numbers really can be telling.