With the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine now in the rear-view mirror, draft season has officially started around the league.
Who performed the best among the prospects that took part in this annual dog-and-pony show in Indianapolis? Which prospects struggled standing out among a group of elite-level athletes?
Is the combine itself vastly overrated? What about the 40-yard dash?
In attempting to answer these questions below, here are your top-10 takeaways form the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine.
1. Jaylon Smith’s bad news
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) February 26, 2016
Considered by some to be the top overall prospect in the 2016 NFL draft during the latter stages of the 2015 campaign, this former Notre Dame standout suffered a brutal knee injury in his final game against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Smith tore both his ACL and MCL in that game, a horrible injury in and of itself.
Unfortunately for Smith, they weren’t simply structural-based injuries. Medical tests at the combine in Indianapolis on Friday revealed that the former Notre Dame All-American is experiencing nerve issues in his ankle and knee.
This has led some teams to take Smith completely off their draft boards.
Just asked a Defensive Coordinator about Jaylon Smith. "Can't take that risk". When? "At all. Poor kid."
— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) February 27, 2016
It’s also forced some into thinking Smith will be out for at least the entire 2016 season.
Despite all this bad news, Smith still believes he’s the top player in the entire draft class.
When on the field, there’s little doubt that Smith is a generational talent. The issue here is going to be health. Is any team going to exhaust a first-round pick on the injured star? If not, how far will he drop?
2. Derrick Henry makes an impression
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) February 26, 2016
There were some who had questions regarding Henry’s ability to show enough athleticism at the combine. Well, that can now be thrown completely out the window.
The reigning Heisman winner put up a ridiculous 4.52 40-yard dash for someone his frame (6-foot-3, 247 pounds). In fact, he drew comparisons to Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller’s combine performance. Let that sink in for a second.
It won’t be enough for him to overtake Ezekiel Elliott as the top running back in the class, but Henry surely cemented his status as a first-round pick in Indianapolis.
3. Some quarterbacks lack flavor, others showed their stuff
Jared Goff’s hand size “issue” aside, he was absolutely dominant in the passing drills on Saturday. My top quarterback (by far) in the draft, Goff displayed an ability to throw every pass in the route tree, putting zip on the ball on a consistent basis.
Equally as important for scouts, Goff’s mechanics were nearly flawless, as he displayed natural movement when dropping back to pass.
Anyone who has studied Goff’s game knows that his deep ball accuracy is among the best we’ve seen from a quarterback prospect in some time. He only added to this with flawless throw after flawless throw on Saturday.
North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz also cemented his status as a likely top-10 pick in Indianapolis.
More so than simply performing well during drills, Wentz impressed teams in individual interviews — something he also did during Senior Bowl week in Mobile. That’s absolutely huge for someone that’s going to make the jump from Division-2 football to the NFL.
In terms of his performance in drills, the 6-foot-5 signal caller displayed quick decision-making, a strong arm, accuracy on intermediate routes and great mechanics. It really did seem like he was in a comfort zone going through these position-specific drills. That will only help him as the draft process continues.
In terms of second-tier quarterbacks, both Connor Cook and Cardale Jones failed to impress.
Cook’s mechanics were a downright travesty throughout Saturday, consistently displaying an inability to engage in a quick release.
Equally as important, the Michigan State product was about as inaccurate as any quarterback taking to the turf in Indianapolis. He continually let the ball sail on him, couldn’t hit on timing-based routes and even struggled with the intermediate pass.
As it relates to Jones, he simply didn’t have the ability to take to the position-specific drills after pulling his hamstring running the 40-yard dash.
That’s not really going to help his draft stock months after being benched at Ohio State. With so much more to prove, Jones’ pro day performance is going to be important.
4. Wide receiver issues
Braxton Miller: 4.50 official
Michael Thomas: 4.57 official
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 27, 2016
Braxton Miller, Josh Doctson, Michael Thomas and Tyler Boyd all ran 40-yard dash times of 4.50-plus seconds.
All four had expectations of potentially going in the first round. All four now must prove that their lackluster times had more to do with what could have been a slow turf in Indianapolis. That will come when their former college programs conduct pro days leading up to the draft.
Still, it’s rather stunning to see so many high-profile pass catchers struggle in this area. After all, the combined average in terms of 40-yard dash times for wide receivers was the lowest since the 2011 NFL draft.
The interesting thing here is that the 2011 draft featured the likes of A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Randall Cobb. This makes one wonder whether 40 times are really that important when it comes to what teams are looking for in receivers.
Simply because there might not be many burners in this class, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be highly-productive receivers.
It now remains to be seen whether the lack of speed will have an impact when it comes to how teams evaluate wide receivers early in the draft.
5. Robert Nkemdiche’s strange media session
This former Mississippi standout performed darn well during field drills in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, that might be overshadowed by what was a strange Q&A with the media.
Nkemdiche threw fellow former Ole Miss star Laremy Tunsil under the bus in telling the media that he took the fall for an incident that led to the defensive tackle following out of a fourth-story window at a hotel back December.
If you remember correctly, Nkemdiche was arrested for possession of marijuana following the incident.
Here’s the defensive tackle’s entire Q&A with the media during the combine:
There has to be some concern over the prospect not really taking responsibility for his actions. Equally as important, he seemed to throw a former teammate under the bus.
In a sport that’s defined by brotherhood, this should be a red flag for teams heading into the draft.
6. Christian Hackenberg, an un-drafted free agent?
This Penn State product had an opportunity to prove skeptics wrong after a disastrous past two seasons at Happy Valley. He responded by putting up one of the worst performances for a quarterback at the combine.
Hackenberg missed on darn near half his throws, continually displaying a lack of accuracy, even on intermediate routes.
His mechanics were also disastrous, which has to be an indication that the lack of progression we saw at Penn State from his freshman year to this past season wasn’t simply due to offensive line play and bad coaching.
Short-arming throws, failing to extend his elbow and struggling with fluidity in terms of his throwing motion. These were three main takeaways from a performance that could drop Hackenberg completely out of the 2016 NFL draft.
7. Lack of offensive firepower
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) February 27, 2016
We already touched on just how much receivers struggled in the generic timing drills. Outside of both Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry, running backs didn’t do a whole bunch either.
Former Arkansas standout Jonathan Williams didn’t participate in drills after missing the entire 2015 season with a foot injury. That has to be of concern.
In a draft where there seems to be a major drop off from Elliott and Henry, no one else really did much to warrant an early Day 2 pick.
That was magnified by a lack of any sort of explosion from Alex Collins, who many had pegged as the third-best running back int he class. The former Arkansas star put up a pedestrian 4.59 40-yard dash and failed to even hit the 29-inch barrier in the vertical jump.
The struggles of second-tier running back prospects may increase the values of Keith Marshall and Daniel Lasco, both of them were impressive in Indy. Outside of that, there isn’t much to see here.
At quarterback, both Connor Cook and Christian Hackenberg were terrible. For Cook, that could mean a drop down to the second or third round. As mentioned above, Hackenberg himself should fall completely out of the draft but probably won’t, due to the league’s desperate need for quarterbacks.
Due to no fault of his own, former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones also has to be considered a loser here. He turned his ankle in the 40-yard dash and wasn’t able to participate in the position-specific drills.
That’s absolutely huge for a quarterback without much of a sample size from college.
8. Are 40 times really that important?
I honestly couldn’t care about how receivers performed in relation to the 40-yard dash. I also couldn’t care less that Laquon Treadwell decided not to run. These top-end receiver prospects are not going to be asked to take the top off defenses.
Instead, they are going to be tasked with being possession receivers at the next level. In this, it’s the physicality and strength they showed on tape that matters the most.
While Texas Christian receiver Josh Doctson put up a pedestrian 4.50 40-yard dash time, he did show plus-level athleticism in other drills. He also displayed strong hands, smooth technique in the route-running skills and an ability to provide his quarterback with a decent target on the outside.
In reality, that’s what scouts should concern themselves with more than generic straight-line speed.
Darron Lee may have been super impressive with his 40 time, but other middle linebackers that struggled in this category shouldn’t automatically be pushed down big board.
For example, Reggie Ragland is going to be a heck of a player.
Simply because he ran an uninspiring 4.72 40-yard dash, it doesn’t mean that the Alabama product isn’t going to be an elite linebacker at the next level.
There are positions in which the 40-yard dash does matter. I want to see speed from outside cover corners and safeties. I also want to see running backs show that they have that initial burst at the line.
This is where the 40 can come in handy, not when evaluating in-the-box linebackers or strong receivers on the outside.
9. Top defensive backs cement their status
.@TheJalenRamsey (@MikeMayock's #1 CB) from @FSU_Football got goin'!
— NFL (@NFL) February 29, 2016
Vernon Hargreaves, Jalen Ramsey and Mackensie Alexander all put on shows at the combine. Each in their own way.
For Ramsey, it was all about solid technique in the speed-turn drill and an ability to show scouts that he can play multiple positions in the defensive secondary.
As it relates to Hargreaves and Alexander, measuring in at a bit over 5-foot-10, both crossed the necessary height plateau to be considered outside cover corners at the next level.
In particular, Hargreaves was about as good it he could be in the position-specific drills. He showed fluid hips on the outside, displayed solid ball-tracking ability and proved he has the agility to be a true shutdown guy at the next level.
No matter what position Ramsey figures to play at the next level, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see all three of these defensive backs drafted in the top 10. The last time that happened was back in 2012.
10. A meat show that should be taken for what it’s worth
We have seen workout warriors jump up the draft boards in recent seasons. Ameer Abdullah last year and Tavon Austin in 2014 come to mind first.
We have also seen prospects struggle in Indy, leading to dramatic drops down the draft.
While the NFL Scouting Combine is still a very effective tool for teams to use during the pre-draft process, game tape and video should account for 90 percent of the analysis here.
Sure quarterbacks will prove they don’t have what it takes to succeed in the NFL. Heck, both Connor Cook and Christian Hackenberg might have proven that over the weekend.
The speed-turn drill is also incredibly important for defensive backs, as we saw Monday.
Questioning the importance of the combine is more about the generic drills. Do we really care if an offensive guard runs a slow 40 time? Does it matter if a defensive tackle doesn’t perform well in the three-cone drill?
These are questions you should be asking yourselves before putting too much stock into the combine itself.