Now that the combine has officially wrapped up, let’s take a look at who made the biggest gains and who lost the most ground over the course of the last week. We’ll take you through some of the bigger stories throughout the NFL Scouting Combine to explain how what happened on the field will shape the 2023 draft.
The tight end class
Despite the fact that Utah’s Dalton Kincaid was unable to participate in workouts due to a fractured back, the top end of the tight end class had plenty of standouts in Indianapolis. Georgia’s Darnell Washington (9.85 RAS), Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave (9.94 RAS), South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft (9.58 RAS) and Iowa’s Sam LaPorta (9.25 RAS) all tested out in the top ten percent of athletes at the position, historically. All four players, along with Kincaid and Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer, are projected to be top-100 selections based on the consensus draft board.
The late-round sleeper in the class is Zack Kuntz of Old Dominion, who is currently on pace to be the most athletic tight end ever (pending his 20-yard split.) At 6’7” and 255 pounds, Kuntz managed to record a 40” vertical, a 4.55-second 40-yard dash and scored in the top-five percent in both agility drills.
Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Make fun of the merits of a quarterback’s vertical jump all you want; I won’t stop you. It’s a ridiculous thought to believe that measurables at the combine would correlate to on-field success at a position that throws a ball. You can’t deny, though, that Anthony Richardson put on a show in Indianapolis.
Both of Richardson’s results in the jumps set combine records for the quarterback position and his 4.44-second 40-yard dash and 1.53-second 10-yard split at 6’4” and 244 pounds would make many Pro Bowl pass-rushers jealous. To put his performance into perspective, he scored in the top one percent of every on-field drill he participated in while also being weighed in within the top two percent of quarterbacks. It’s virtually impossible to have a better day than that.
Bryce Ford-Wheaton, WR, West Virginia
Bryce Ford-Wheaton never cracked more than 700 receiving yards in a single season with the West Virginia Mountaineers but drew the attention of college football fans with his 6’3”, 220-pound frame. It turned out that West Virginia actually shorted the receiver, though, as he measured in at just under 6’4” flat and 221 pounds at the combine.
West Virginia WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton has a similar size and athleticism profile to DK Metcalf.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) March 4, 2023
Ford-Wheaton and Metcalf are the only players at their position to weigh at least 220 lbs, jump more than 40" in the vertical, and run a sub-4.40 40 at the combine since 2003. pic.twitter.com/nk93gZQFqv
After running a 4.38-second 40-yard dash and posting a 41” vertical jump, both numbers which rank among the top five percent of receivers, Ford-Wheaton began to draw comparisons to Pro Bowler DK Metcalf this weekend. To put it simply: Guys that big and fast don’t last on draft boards for very long. Don’t be surprised if Ford-Wheaton is this year’s Christian Watson, a player who sneaks into the top-40 picks after a strong combine performance.
Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson
Clemson’s interior defensive lineman Bryan Bresee had somewhat of a disappointing year in 2022, which led to him falling out of the top-10 picks in mock drafts leading up to the combine. He seemingly rebounded by shedding some of his playing weight and running well at 6’5.5” and 298 pounds in Indianapolis, though.
Any time you hear of a defensive tackle who runs a 40-yard dash in less than five seconds, your ears should perk up a little bit. Bresee’s 4.86-second 40 might just be what cements him as being the second defensive tackle taken off of the board in the upcoming draft, behind just Georgia’s Jalen Carter.
Pass rushers Adetomiwa Adebawore, Lukas Van Ness and Nolan Smith
A trio of edge rushers made themselves some money in Indianapolis. The first is Northwestern’s Adeomiwa Adebawore, who ran an insane 4.49-second 40-yard dash at 282 pounds. According to Next Gen Stats, his 40-yard dash, broad jump and vertical jump all ranked in the top-three performances for a player over 275 pounds since 2003. “Freak athlete” is probably a term that is overused, but it fits Adebawore’s week perfectly.
The next pass-rusher who made himself some cash was Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness, a hybrid interior and edge player who has been projected as a mid- to late-first-round selection. After running a 4.58-second 40-yard dash and a 7.02-second three-cone, though, his stock is trending up. Oh, by the way, he’s also 6’5” and 272 pounds.
Despite coming off of an injury and only weighing 238 pounds, Georgia’s Nolan Smith was still able to impress those in attendance to watch him work out. He ran an official 4.39-second 40-yard dash time and posted a vertical of 41.5”, numbers that better correlate to a first-round receiver than a first-round edge rusher. Thought of as a borderline first-round pick going into the combine, Smith has likely locked himself into being a first-round pick. Congrats on that sweet, sweet fifth-year option, Nolan!
The safety class
Only 1 of the top 13 safeties on the consensus draft board ran a 40-yard dash time in the 4.4s, even though Alabama’s Brian Branch and LSU’s Jay Ward worked with the cornerback group at the event. Branch, considered the consensus top safety in the class, ran a 4.58-second 40 while Georgia’s Chris Smith — maybe the most polished safety in the 2023 draft — recorded just a 4.62.
The only expected top-150 pick to run particularly well was Illinois’ Sydney Brown, a dropdown safety who measured under 5’10”, which will make him an odd fit in a lot of defenses at the next level. The good news, if anything, for fans looking to draft a safety this year is that your team probably won’t have to reach for one, as this class gives you few reasons to want to trade up.
Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer didn’t have the worst combine, but it was poor within the context of what was expected. With the Fighting Irish, Mayer was listed as a 265-pounder and looked the part of that on film. For whatever reason — likely in an attempt to run a better 40-yard dash time — Mayer weighed in at only 249 pounds in Indianapolis while also managing to only run a 4.7-second 40-yard dash.
A 4.7 would have been perfectly fine at 265 pounds, but the fact that he ran that at 15 pounds under his playing weight should raise some red flags. After all, plenty of tight ends in this class jumped out of the gym at the combine and Mayer is supposed to be the only first-round lock out of the group.
The small receivers
Houston wide receiver Nathaniel Dell was always expected to come in on the smaller side of the spectrum. At 5’8” and 165 pounds, though, the projected top-100 selection surprised with his 4.5-second 40-yard dash time. At some point, you have to question how small is too small within the context of average top-end speed.
If you are a sub-175-pound WR in the NFL with short arms and a small catch radius, you better walk on water with your speed/explosiveness.— Tommy Jaggi (@TommyJaggi) March 6, 2023
Jordan Addison does not win with elite twitch/speed. He's a smooth player and a good route runner. He's a second-round player. #NFLCombine pic.twitter.com/wdGaCF9lBG
Another player with a similar issue is Jordan Addison of USC via Pittsburgh. Addison weighed in at 171 pounds and recorded a 4.49-second 40, very close to Dell’s numbers. Addison, whose size is going to make him a tough fit in any play-action-heavy offense already, was assumed to be a mid-first-round pick entering the combine.
If you thought size was a problem at receiver, think about it at cornerback. At least at receiver, you can scheme up touches to maximize a player’s skillset. At cornerback, you don’t get to choose when you get ran at or not. That could very well be a problem for Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes, a projected borderline first-round pick who weighed in at just 166 pounds this weekend. Sure, he ran a 4.35, but his weight is going to be an ongoing concern during the pre-draft process.
The other cornerback who measured in smaller than assumed was Utah’s Clark Phillips III, who some believed could actually make the transition to the safety position. Phillips came in at 5’9” and 184 pounds and ran just a 4.51-second 40. Like Forbes, Phillip was assumed to be a late-first- or early-second-round selection going into the combine.
It didn’t help this pair of cornerbacks that Deonte Banks of Maryland, who ran a 4.35 40 at 6’0” and 197 pounds, had a standout performance in Indianapolis. There’s a good chance that the former Terrapin, who posted a 42” vertical jump and an 11”4” broad jump, leaped over Forbes and Phillips on multiple boards.
Siaki Ika, DL, Baylor
There’s plenty of uncertainty at the interior defensive line position going into this draft. Georgia’s Jalen Carter and Michigan’s Mazi Smith are currently dealing with legal situations. Bresee, as we have mentioned already, had a less-than-stellar 2022 campaign. Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey, at sub 290 pounds, is very much a tweener at the position. USC’s Tuli Tuipulotu has dropped a significant amount of weight as he apparently has transitioned to the edge position full-time.
The climate was ripe for a rise from Baylor’s nose tackle Siaki Ika, depending on his on-field performance at the combine. Unfortunately, he had a poor showing at the event.
At 6’3” and 335 pounds, no one expected Ika to jump out of the gym, but his 5.39-second 40-yard dash time ended up ranking in the bottom 13 percent at the position, historically. He also took nearly five seconds to run the 20-yard shuttle, which ranked in the bottom 11 percent.
Even with his size in context, he had a poor day. With all of the uncertainty at the defensive tackle position this year, it was even worse.