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9 athletic freaks poised to blow up the NFL Combine

Once the Super Bowl ends, the next biggest event on the calendar is the annual NFL Combine, which gives college prospects a chance to introduce themselves to a much wider audience. While these players already have a full collection of games on their résumés, the Scouting Combine often helps otherworldly athletes become noticed by the massive number of analysts preparing for the 2023 NFL Draft.

It’s where a relatively unknown prospect can go from underrated to overrated, or in many other cases, help a player who’s incredibly athletically gifted become a bit of a football legend. Maybe it’s setting a new combine record as John Ross did in 2017 in the 40-yard dash.

Or maybe it’s one of the many other drills, such as the bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, 3-cone, or 20-yard shuttle. No matter what, the athletes today are much more advanced than the athletes of the past, which could lead to several impressive performances at this year’s NFL Combine.

This year’s NFL Draft Scouting Combine runs from Mar. 2-5. Previewing the event, here are nine athletic freaks poised to increase their draft stock in the pre-draft process.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft order: Picks by team, Rounds 1-7 and compensatory projections

Luke Musgrave blazes his way into hearts of many

NCAA Football: Boise State at Oregon State
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Many are calling Luke Musgrave the most athletic tight end prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft class. If true, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Oregon State product has a great chance to boost his stock during the combine.

He didn’t exactly shine in college, with his career highs in receiving yards being 304 yards, and never scoring more than one touchdown in a season, but NFL teams will find a way to utilize his speed. Jim Nagy, who is the executive director of the Senior Bowl and got an up-close look at Musgrave, has heard from sources who think the 22-year-old could even run a 40-yard dash in the 4.4-second range.

Being that there have only been five other tight ends to run a 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds or less if Musgrave joins the group, he will raise a lot of eyebrows.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft rumors: Latest news, buzz on top draft prospects

Michigan’s Mazi Smith threatens several NFL Combine records

NCAA Football: Michigan at Rutgers
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The next player on our list has a chance to make a name for himself in a variety of ways. Mazi Smith is already known to be a true physical specimen. The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman named him No. 1 on his annual College football Freaks List, noting Smith could do 22 reps on the bench press, but instead of doing so at the combine standard of 225 pounds, he did so with 325 pounds, showing he’s anything but ordinary.

But he’s not just some stocky athlete who’s known for his Hulk-like strength. Smith also reportedly had a 33-inch vertical leap. Smith’s quickness cannot be underestimated, as he is rumored to have clocked a 4.41 20-yard shuttle time, which outranks any defensive tackle weighing north of 310 pounds in the past decade. Topping it all off, Smith’s three-cone time could be the fastest among defensive tackles. As mentioned, he could impress in several categories during the combine.

Related: NFL teams view Texas running back Bijan Robinson as ‘top-5’ player in 2023 NFL Draft

Jalin Hyatt, Devon Achane, and others who could be among fastest at NFL Combine

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Texas A&M
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As incredible as today’s athletes are, we likely won’t have anyone who threatens John Ross’ 2017 40-yard dash combine record of 4.22 seconds. Yet, we have a number of players who could light up the track with numbers in the 4.3s.

While there are a few players who emerge every year that run a bit quicker than anticipated, players like Devon Achane, Jalin Hyatt, Zay Flowers, Sean Tucker, and DJ Turner could all be among the very fastest at their positions.

Devon Achane, RB, Texas A&M

One player who seems like a sure bet to crack a 4.3 40 time is Achane. He’s reportedly hit that mark several times while training for the combine, and he’s targeting a time in the “4.2s” this March at Lucas Oil Stadium.

One record he could be aiming for is the mark among running backs, which is held by Chris Johnson, at 4.24 seconds. This is a record that has stood since 2008, but Achane could come close.

Sean Tucker, RB, Syracuse

Another highly productive college rusher, Tucker led the ACC in rushing yards in 2021 and once again topped the 1,000-yard mark in 12 games in 2022. Anyone who has seen the former Syracuse star run can tell you he’s an electric ballcarrier who’s lightning-quick. This reportedly includes a 4.27-second 40 time back in high school.

  • Sean Tucker stats: 1,060 rushing yards, 11 TD in 2022, 1,496 rushing yards, 12 TD in 2021

Now measuring in at roughly 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, it’s hard to imagine he can still run so quickly with so much bulk on his frame, but even a time in the 4.3s would be impressive if he comes in anywhere near his listed size. Like Achane, he may not break a combine record, but he can become a fixture on many draft boards ahead of April with an impressive showing.

Related: NFL teams view Texas running back Bijan Robinson as ‘top-5’ player in 2023 NFL Draft

Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College

If Flowers wasn’t listed at 5-foot-10, he’d be a surefire first-round pick, but even then, his YAC ability causes many to overlook his less-than-ideal size. Expected to run in the 4.3s, all eyes will be on one of the best deep threats in this draft class during the combine.

Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee

Emerging as Hendon Hooker‘s favorite target, if Hyatt were judged solely on his 2022 production, he’d be a first-round pick. He also reportedly ran a 4.31 40-yard dash while in high school. As he prepares for the biggest interview of his life, we’d like to believe the Volunteer standout can match or even surpass his previous mark at the NFL Combine.

DJ Turner, CB, Michigan

The previous speedsters are well-known thanks to starring on the offensive side of the ball. Michigan’s DJ Turner doesn’t get to touch the ball every game since he plays cornerback. But some seem to believe he may be able to crack the 4.2s in the 40-yard dash.

Baylor’s Kalon Barnes was clocked at 4.23 seconds during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, but it’s hard to imagine Turner topping that mark as a fellow cornerback this year. Turner is rumored to have been clocked at 4.28 seconds in the past. Considering he’s viewed as a mid-round prospect, doing so in front of several NFL scouts could be just what Turner needs to solidify his standing.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft running back rankings: Bijan Robinson tops loaded class of RB prospects

Georgia’s Kelee Ringo gets his chance to shine

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Texas Christian at Georgia
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

One player whose draft position has been all over the place is Georgia’s Kelee Ringo. Athletically, Ringo is a cornerback who has the makings of a top-10 pick, and he was an integral part of some elite Bulldogs defenses each of the past two years. Yet, we no longer hear him mocked in the top half or even in the first round at all.

It’s a curious case, considering even The Athletic’s Dane Brugler calls him “arguably the freakiest athlete in the entire draft.” Physically, we expect the 6-foot-2, 210-pound corner to test off the charts. This is his time to shine. He was able to run a 4.35 40-yard dash in high school, and we expect even better now that he’s had more time to refine his skills while receiving NFL-level guidance in preparation for the draft.

Related: 5 NFL Draft trades we’d love to see in 2023

Anthony Richardson wows with his cannon arm

NCAA Football: Florida at Florida State
Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

We couldn’t have a list of combine freaks without mentioning Florida’s Anthony Richardson. It’s not because he’s going to make headlines with his 40-yard dash time like Michael Vick or several fast athletes. Instead, it’s because Richardson will absolutely shine when given a chance to let it rip in the indoor, controlled environment at Lucas Oil Stadium.

This is where Richardson can show off his otherworldly arm strength deep downfield, as well as his ability to rifle passes into tight windows.

If Richardson can display consistent accuracy to all levels of the field, he could see his already climbing draft stock continue to soar. After coming into the process largely viewed as a fringe-first round prospect, Richardson appears to be firmly in the mix in the top-half, but how high does his ceiling reach? The NFL Combine could help paint the picture.

Related: Major NFL Draft prospect described as ‘Cam Newton and Justin Fields combined’

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