In some ways, it’s impressive that anyone manages to stand out at the NFL Combine. After all, it is by definition a collection of some of the most impressive athletes in professional sports. How does anyone rise above a field like that?
And yet people do every year. Here are our favorite noteworthy performers from this year’s NFL Combine.
Paul Noonan – Henry Ruggs’ speed and explosiveness
Alabama is such a good program, even in their “down” years, that it can sometimes be tough to scout their players. Call it the “HaHa” problem, if you want. On offense, they had one of the NCAA’s best quarterbacks throwing to a crop of receivers universally regarded as outstanding, filled with pro prospects. While Jerry Jeudy is usually considered the best of the crew, Ruggs should now be solidly in the discussion, and perhaps ahead of him.
His 4.27 40-yard momentarily brought the rest of the combine to a standstill in quiet awe, but he was just as dominant in the explosion (jumping) drills, and for a smaller receiver, the dude has massive hands. I’m sure Jeudy will be a fine receiver, but Ruggs might be truly special. By WROPS he ranked 26th (of 284) in 2018 and 10th (of 329) in 2019. His Catch% has been outstanding and combined with his rare explosiveness, I am now completely sold.
Matub – Rich Eisen
Rich Eisen running the 40 yard dash has been a combine staple for many years now. Since 2005 a very average man has been running the same 40 yard dash as the real athletes competing in the “Underwear Olympics”. The now 50 year old Eisen once again broke the 6 second barrier.
“But Matub,” you say, “a sub 6 in the 40 isn’t impressive at all!” Well, you’re absolutely correct. I’m sure most of the folks reading this who consider themselves in “ok-to-good” shape could break 6 seconds with a little bit of training and coaching, HOWEVER; it must be noted that Rich does this in a suit and tie. He does wear cleats, but the restriction caused by his suit jacket and dress pants cannot be understated.
I’m very glad that this tradition continues and it doesn’t seem like Rich will be slowing down any time soon. Also, please note that this is always done for charity and St Jude Children’s Hospital could always use your help.
Jon Meerdink – Mekhi Becton’s 40-yard dash
Sticking in the vein of “people running faster than you’d expect,” how can you not be both surprised and delighted at Mekhi Bectons’ 40-yard dash?
Look, it’s a giant dude running extremely quickly. What else can I add? Take it away, big man.
Peter Bukowski – Justin Jefferson’s 40-yard dash
He’s my draft crush. This is not news. But the last line in my notes on him before the combine were “If he were a little more explosive, he’d be a top-15 player.” Then he ran 4.43, interviewed well, and carried himself like an alpha receiver in Indy.
Welcome to the top-15 Justin.
If he makes it past 20, I’m moving up for him if I’m Brian Gutekunst. I know it’s a deep draft, but after testing so well, it looks like his speed is something that could have been underutilized at LSU because of the talent around him. He already owns the middle of the field where the Packers could use an impact player.
Tex Western - Quintez Cephus and Denzel Mims
I’m going to include one player who surprised in a positive way, as well as one that disappointed me a bit relative to my expectations coming into last week’s workouts. Both of these big surprises come on opposite ends of the spectrum, but at the same position.
I was looking forward to watching Cephus, the Wisconsin wideout, run and test in Indy. As the Badgers’ lone down-field playmaker, Cephus showed good excellent route-running on tape, as well as good ball skills on contested catches. The question on him was his athleticism, and I thought that even if he ran in the low 4.6s he would keep himself firmly in the day-two conversation. Then he ran the slowest 40 time of any player at the receiver position with a 4.73 and finished in the bottom quartile in both agility drills. His 38.5-inch vertical helped, but the questions about his speed and wiggle will probably send him crashing into day three.
It appears that Cephus is a player who will win with his technique, hands, and competitiveness instead of raw physical ability. A comparable player in that vein, to me, is Jarvis Landry, who tested worse than Cephus in every drill except the 40, where he was also still in the bottom 25% of receivers. But Landry has made a tremendous career for himself, primarily as a possession receiver but also with some physical down-field catches as well. That looks like Cephus’ ceiling to me, but that should be worth a fourth-round pick.
On the positive side is Baylor’s Denzel Mims. I had not watched enough of Mims coming into Indianapolis, but I saw enough to think that he would probably test pretty well. I did not expect him to flat-out crush the combine the way that he did, with 90th-percentile numbers in the 40, broad jump, and 3-cone drill and an 84th-percentile vertical. The odd drill is the short shuttle, where he finished with a 10th-percentile time of 4.43 seconds — that makes me wonder if he slipped or if his technique in the drill was simply poor, because he clearly has excellent agility based on his time of 6.66 seconds in the 3-cone drill. Mims sent his stock flying from low-second/early-third to being firmly in the conversation for the Packers at 30, a jump I definitely did not see coming.