The moment the final seconds tick off the clock at the Super Bowl, the football world turns its attention to the NFL Combine. And it’s finally here! We can have our fill of football players doing all kinds of exciting, visually interesting non-football things.
Okay, so maybe it’s not that exciting. But there are future Packers players out there, and we’re hoping to spot a few of them. Here’s who we’re watching at the NFL Combine and why.
Tex Western – Zack Baun, Justin Jefferson, and Mekhi Becton
Speaking specifically about on-field workouts, I have a few odd ones here that arise for different reasons. For Baun, I’m expecting to see him run and test well with the linebackers. His high school track background (shoutout to my younger brother who ran against him a few times) should see to that. What I’m most curious to see is how fluid he looks in off-ball drills. He is built like an off-ball linebacker instead of the edge rusher role that he played in Madison, and if he looks smooth in coverage drills I think there’s a real chance that he ends up as a first-rounder.
Jefferson is mostly about the testing. He’s smart and has made a living attacking zone coverages and using his connection with Joe Burrow to his advantage. Will he run and jump well enough to back up the first-round buzz surrounding him?
Finally, Becton is a guy I’m starting to learn more and more about, but most notable about him is his sheer size. It’s simply going to be fun to watch a man who measures 6-foot-7 and 364 pounds hauling that frame 40 yards down the field in around 5.5 seconds.
Peter Bukowski – Jalen Reagor, Akeem Davis-Gaither
Jalen Reagor was my draft crush before I started studying and he could run 4.2. He’s added weight, will blow away the testing and if he puts together a good gauntlet drill, answer some questions about his drops in college. There may not be a player in the draft whose skillset would more fundamentally alter the Packers than Reagor (even if I think there are better WR prospects overall).
ADG comes in as my sleeper pick. Davis-Gaither languished at App State as a relative unknown despite dominating against South Carolina last season. He leapt onto the radar in Mobile at the Senior Bowl.
He’s the defensive version of Reagor for me in this class. There might not be a better fit for Mike Pettine’s defense than Davis-Gaither with his ability to rush, cover, and play anywhere in the defense. Weighing in at 224 today was the first step. If he runs 4.5 with good agilities, put him on your radar for the Packers at 62. He’s really good.
Jon Meerdink – First round WRs and LBs
I’m going broad here, but hear me out. I’m going to pay close attention to all the wide receivers projected to go in the first round because I hope they all do really well, and I’m going to do the same for first round linebackers because I want them to do poorly.
For months we’ve heard how loaded this wide receiver class is. If that’s true, I want the Packers to have the best possible chance at the best prospects. I figure short of trading up, the easiest way for the Packers to get a good shot at a great young receiver is to muddy the waters. If a whole bunch of receivers test well, it puts more pressure on other scouting departments to sort through the noise. The Packers are included in that process, obviously, but it certainly can’t hurt their chances to make everyone work a little harder.
The opposite is true for linebackers. There’s a much smaller crew of potential first round linebackers this year, and if one of them, say Oklahoma’s Kennethy Murray, blows up at the Combine, the chances he’s available at 30 will diminish from slim to none. If his testing numbers aren’t quite what people thought, maybe there’s a chance a good one slips.
Is this galaxy brain thinking? Definitely. But I think it can’t hurt to make things as difficult as possible for everyone else.
Paul Noonan – Jalen Reagor and Tee Higgins
There’s two stories here that I’m very interested in. Higgins is, by my metrics (QBOPS) as good as any receiver in this draft. He dominated outstanding competition, catching an amazingly high percentage of targets for big gains. He also appears, by all accounts, to be an extremely athletic player, and while Jeudy and Lamb tend to rank ahead of him on draft boards, I would wager on him being the best of the bunch. Well, he or Lamb.
QBOPS is not as big a fan of Reagor, but that’s not necessarily a knock on him. He played with a very poor quarterback in his final year and that’s something I haven’t figured out how to work into the stat yet. Scouting loves the guy, and he’s very likely to be there when Green Bay picks. He has statistical red flags and he is a different type of receiver than Higgins, but he can answer a lot of questions when he’s put through drills.
I’m interested in the combine as a test for these players, but also a test for what I’m putting together, and these two offer interesting contrasting cases.