Running backs, offensive linemen and special teams players hit the field Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium to get the on-field work at the 2017 NFL Combine kicked off.
For the most part, the excitement factor was minimal until the running backs got their turn to shine. But one offensive lineman you may not have heard of is really starting to make some noise.
Though the drills at the combine typically drum up more hype than substance, there were a handful of noteworthy developments to highlight.
Among them, Leonard Fournette opened eyes, both in a good and a bad way, though we don’t believe his negative stuff will linger. He leads things off for us as we run down the top stories from Friday at the 2017 NFL Combine.
1. Leonard Fournette is a runaway freight train
Fournette’s early impressions Friday weren’t great. After showing up to the combine a bit on the heavy side at 240 pounds (water weight, he says), Fournette showed some rather unimpressive burst in the vertical, logging just 28.5 inches.
As a point of reference here, Tom Brady’s vertical back in 2000, when he looked like this, was just four inches lower.
Yeah, it wasn’t pretty.
Then, all hell broke loose when he ran an official 4.51-second 40-yard dash. Jaws hit the floor. Pools of drool were seen collecting at the feet of scouts all over the building. Minds were blown.
Fournette has 94th percentile weight-adjusted speed. 2nd-best speed score for any RB weighing 235+ in last 10 years. https://t.co/ahH3YskSlQ
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) March 3, 2017
Former NFL player and current scout/analyst for NFL.com Bucky Brooks put this into some perspective.
Fournette running 4.51 @ 240 pounds will impress a lot of coaches. DBs aren't trying to hit a freight train in the open field..
— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) March 3, 2017
Suddenly, Fournette being compared to Bo Jackson and Eric Dickerson doesn’t seem so crazy after all.
Of course, anyone who’s watched Fournette the past couple of years at LSU knows what results from the speed/power combination he brings to the table. And anyone who hasn’t seen the devastation left in Fournette’s wake, be advised, it’s not pretty. But here you go anyway.
Fournette's college career summed in one clip pic.twitter.com/baJxM8c3v4
— Football Is Life (@FootbaIl_Tweets) February 11, 2017
We’re always told not to take too much stock into 40 times. It’s something that makes sense most of the time.
However, when you consider Fournette was already considered to be the preeminent talent at running back this year, showing this kind of raw speed on top of everything we’ve seen him do at the collegiate level on tape vaults him up that much higher. So much so that an NFL executive reportedly believes more teams will try to move up into the top five this April when the first round kicks off in Philadelphia (more on that here).
Fournette’s ankle appears to be more than healed up after he missed a chunk of the regular season and skipped out on LSU’s bowl game. He appears destined to be a very high draft pick.
2. Christian McCaffrey (rightfully) has massive chip on his shoulder
If Fournette is the top running back in the 2017 NFL Draft (he is), then the No. 2 spot should probably go to Christian McCaffrey. Yet constantly, other backs are mentioned before the Stanford product as players who could be selected high in the upcoming draft.
This is something that drives McCaffrey and likely will continue driving him at the next level. He told reporters he feels disrespected and explained his reasons why, even if he wants us to believe he doesn’t “really care too much.”
“Because I play with a chip on my shoulder always,” McCaffrey said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “So I feel like a lot of people don’t give me credit for my skills and talents and that’s just the way it is, but I also don’t really care too much.”
McCaffrey has another reason to perhaps feel slighted as well. He was given a jersey that featured a typo in his name (look here).
A totally different type of player than the bruising back out of LSU, McCaffrey could potentially be even better suited to the current NFL climate in the long run than Fournette. You won’t find a more skilled receiver in this draft class, and McCaffrey is tremendous in between the tackles, using his agility and vision to find creases where none appear to exist.
McCaffrey showed off his explosion Friday with a 37.5-inch vertical (No. 2 among running backs) and his speed with a top-five time of 4.48 seconds in the 40. Then showed why he’s such a natural catching the ball on the field while showing exceptional burst in and out of his breaks.
Christian McCaffrey going through position drills pic.twitter.com/MaQjYgKUVn
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) March 3, 2017
Just watch Bill Belichick bring McCaffrey aboard this upcoming season. He’d be a matchup nightmare for the New England Patriots, or any other team that has the smarts to select him this April.
3. Alvin Kamara gaining steam
Former Tennessee running back, Alvin Kamara, had heads turning his way during the vertical and broad jump portions of the workouts Friday. Posting position-highs in both measurables, Kamara lept out of the gym with a 39.5-inch vertical and took off 131 inches in the broad jump.
Additionally, the former Vols running back ran a respectable official 40 time of 4.56 seconds, causing NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock to call him a “bigger LeSean McCoy.” Now, unlike some draft experts on television, Mayock isn’t given to hyperbole, and he has said he thinks Kamara is a potential first-round talent in the past.
It’s interesting that a player who was never a featured back in college is gaining this type of momentum. In two seasons at Tennessee, Kamara carried the ball a total of 210 times, gaining 1,294 yards at a 6.2-yards-per-carry clip. He also proved a capable receiver, tallying 74 catches for 683 yards while totaling 23 touchdowns in his sophomore and junior campaigns.
It’s going to be fascinating to see if a player utilized so little on the ground at college ends up as a high draft pick in April.
4. Forrest Lamp fast becoming NFL Draft darling
In a draft that features so little offensive line talent, it’s not surprising a player most of us likely haven’t heard of is starting to garner first-round praise.
Forrest Lamp is that guy. A four-year starter for Western Kentucky, mostly at left tackle, he’s shifting inside to guard for the NFL and has scouts raving about his athleticism, functional strength and straight-up nasty.
Lamp got his combine kicked off with a bang by putting up 34 reps on the bench press, good for second-highest in this class. Then he posted a respectable five-second 40-yard dash and looked great on the field doing drills. He also posted the third-best score in the broad jump and generally looked like an NFL-caliber lineman on Friday.
As a result, nobody should be surprised if the Hilltoppers end up seeing one of their own called to the podium by Roger Goodell in April.
5. Jabrill Peppers is an intriguing, possibly perplexing prospect
Though Peppers didn’t do anything of a physical nature on Friday, he did make an announcement that shows just how unique of a player he is. The former Michigan star will be participating in workouts with the linebackers on Sunday, then he’ll head back onto the field Monday to participate with defensive backs (more on that here).
This just shows how much of a puzzle Peppers must be for NFL personnel experts. Likely, he wouldn’t have agreed to something like this unless he was being informed that NFL scouts and front-office people wanted to see him in front of both groups.
A player many view as a hybrid, much like Deone Bucannon is for the Arizona Cardinals, Peppers is almost certainly going to thrive as an in-the-box safety at the NFL level, if he thrives at all. During his career at Michigan, he showed the ability to stick to his man defensively but isn’t a ball hawk by any standard, bringing in just one interception, and that came on a tipped pass.
Making things a bit more complex still is the fact that Peppers showed up to the combine a bit smaller even than most anticipated. He measured in under 5-foot-11 and weighed just 213 pounds. Bucannon is 6-foot-1 and 216 pounds (listed) and has worked out tremendously for the Cardinals, but he’s also in a very unique situation where he’s being utilized perfectly for his talents.
Will the same thing happen for Peppers? We’ll be watching closely in the years to come to find an answer to that question.