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Biggest studs and duds from 2018 NFL Scouting Combine

Jesse Reed
Josh Sweat

Workout warriors don’t always make for the best football players, but showing up large in tights certainly doesn’t hurt NFL prospects. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at the players who hurt and helped themselves the most at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.

Some of the top performers from this year’s combine are bound to disappoint at the NFL level. Some of the guys who wish they had a mulligan will go on to have great careers. But that’s a discussion for a different day.

These are the biggest studs and duds from this year’s combine.

Stud: Kolton Miller, offensive tackle, UCLA

Whether he turns into a franchise bookend at the NFL is question we don’t have the answer to at this time. But from a physical standpoint, Kolton Miller has the tools to be that guy.

He’s a bit of a Nate Solder clone, coming in at nearly 6-foot-9 and 309 pounds. He also put up some terrific numbers in the drills. Miller set a new combine record for offensive tackles with a broad jump of 10-foot-1. He also jumped 31.5 inches in the vertical and posted the third-best 40 time of any offensive lineman (4.95 seconds).

Blessed with tremendous physical attributes, along with enough good tape at UCLA, Miller has a chance to be selected in the first round this April.

Dud: Orlando Brown, offensive tackle, Oklahoma

There’s nothing good we can say about Orlando Brown’s experience at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine. He showed up seemingly out of shape. He was awful in the drills and had NFL coaches yelling at him for loafing (more on all that here).

NFL Network’s Mike Mayock called it a “historically bad” combine.

Now, Brown has a ton of tape that shows he’s adept at swallowing up pass rushers and is still going to be in play for an early-round pick. But this is a guy who many thought was a shoo-in first-round pick. Now, he could certainly slide out of Round 1 altogether, as teams cannot feel great about what they saw from him in Indy.

Stud: Quenton Nelson, offensive guard, Notre Dame

Everything that stood out on tape about this devastating blocker showed up during the drills at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine. Nelson is a powerhouse. He’s an agile, punishing run blocker who puts opposing defenders into the turf with regularity.

Before the combine, Nelson was a top-10 lock. After watching him put up 35 reps on the bench, move with ease during the field drills and generally look like he’ll be a first-year All-Pro, he could be snatched up in the first five picks this April. It’s a case where an elite player did nothing to hurt his stock. If anything, it’s higher than ever before.

Dud: Ronald Jones, running back, USC

This might not be fair, as Ronald Jones suffered a tweaked hamstring on his first 40-yard dash and would not participate in any other drills. But his time in that first run wasn’t good (4.66 seconds) and the injury was a recurring one, as it was reported during the combine he’s been dealing with the issue for weeks.

We know from the tape that Jones can fly when he hits the open field. However, there are legitimate concerns about his size (5-foot-11 an 200 pounds), and his ability to be a three-down back at the NFL level. On a day that saw so many of his peers having very strong showings, and in a year where the field is so stacked at this position, it was a horrible time for Jones to find himself unable to compete.

Stud: Saquon Barkley, running back, Penn State

We’ve been saying since early last college football season that Saquon Barkley is the best player coming into the NFL this year. What he’s able to accomplish on the gridiron speaks for itself. He’s a legitimate three-down back who catches the ball better than some receivers and who has the home-run ability in the running game every team covets.

Then Barkley showed up to the combine, measuring in at 6-foot and 233 pounds and did things no human his size should be able to do. His performance in the Olympic style drills was nothing short of otherworldly (more on that here).

It’s not surprising that there’s plenty of chatter about Cleveland seriously considering Barkley at No. 1 overall, and you won’t believe what one coach said he’d do to land him. He’s a generational talent who managed to somehow boost his stock and make every other running back in this year’s class look ordinary.

Dud: Calvin Ridley, wide receiver, Alabama

Caption: Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Calvin Ridley (3) runs the ball during the second quarter against the Clemson Tigers in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Ridley is likely going to be fine as a pro. He has the ability to create separation by running precise routes and has good hands, to boot. But aside from running a solid 4.43 40 time for a guy his size (6-foot-1 and 189 pounds), Ridley didn’t do anything else to impress at the combine.

Ridley showed average explosion, going just 31 inches in his vertical and putting up a 9-foot-2 broad jump. He also was rough during his run through the gauntlet. Both of those are worrisome for a player who is supposed to win with sudden burst, and being that he’s small he has to prove he can make contested catches in traffic.

Stud: D.J. Chark, wide receiver, LSU

Coming out of LSU, D.J. Chark doesn’t have the stats some of the other top collegiate receivers do. But that’s hardly his fault, and this program has a history of pumping out freaks at the receiver position who went on to have tremendous NFL careers. Based on the way Chark performed at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, he could soon join Odell Beckam Jr. and Jarvis Landry among that group.

Chark is a tall, lanky kid at 6-foot-3 and 199 pounds. But he’s lighting in a bottle. He posted the fastest 40 time of any receiver, with an official time of 4.34 seconds. He also posted a 40-inch vertical and 129 inch broad jump. This outstanding burst, combined with his elite deep speed, makes him a very intriguing deep threat at the NFL level.

Dud: Luke Falk, quarterback, Washington State

Coming into the combine with more questions than answers about his pro potential, Luke Falk was awful.

The offense Mike Leach runs at Washington State is gimmicky, and Falk has to prove he’s capable of making pro throws. He doesn’t possess a strong arm, and that showed up during his field drills on Saturday. Not only did he struggle to push the ball down the field, but Falk sprayed his passes all over the place. Location was a big issue, and he generally looked like the worst pure passer on the field of play.

Stud: Josh Allen, quarterback, Wyoming

Josh Allen is one of the most intriguing players attending the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine

That Josh Allen was a combine stud is hardly surprising. He’s a physical freak who has an arm unlike any quarterback currently playing at the NFL level right now. Mike Mayock compared Allen’s arm strength to that of JaMarcus Russell, and he really showed it off during his throwing session at the combine.

Even better than the fact hat Allen threw the ball nearly 70 yards in the air (with ease) is the fact that, aside from a few location issues, he was fairly accurate. His ability to drive the ball to the sidelines with accuracy sets him apart from the other passers in this year’s class, and he clearly has the ability to make every throw in the book. Additionally, Allen showed himself to be very athletic, which only helps his stock.

Dud: Mark Andrews, tight end, Oklahoma

One of the guys we really wanted to see test well, Mark Andrews instead confirmed what our eyes told us on tape — he has lost a step since his sophomore campaign.

Andrews, at 6-foot-5 and nearly 260 pounds, wasn’t necessarily slow, running his 40 in 4.67 seconds. But he isn’t fast, either. On top of that, he had a 9-foot-5 broad jump (which is very average), and the second-slowest three-cone time among tight ends of 7.34 seconds. These numbers tell us that Andrews is an average athlete who feasted on the porous defenses of the Big 12 the past couple of years. He will likely find the NFL to be a much more difficult challenge.

Stud: Mike Gesicki, tight end, Penn State

One of the players who helped himself the most at the combine, Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki put up numbers that defy logic and reason.

Gesicki measured in at 6-foot-5 and nearly 250 pounds but put together a combine you’d expect to see from a much smaller man. He ran the 40 in 4.54 seconds, put up 22 reps on the bench, went 129 inches on the broad jump, 6.76 seconds in the three-cone drill, 4.10 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and 11.33 seconds in the 60-yard shuttle — top-five marks among tight ends in every one of those drills.

Factor in his solid production at Penn State and Gesicki has firmly placed himself in the conversation as a first-round pick in April.

Dud: Hercules Mata’afa, defensive end, Washington State

College production will help Hercules Mata’afa get drafted — he racked up 92 tackles, 36 for a loss and 15.5 sacks the past two years for the Cougars — but his combine showed his true athletic limitations.

Mata’afa isn’t a big guy, measuring in at 6-foot-2 and 254 pounds. So he’s too small to play inside at the NFL level. Which is why his testing numbers are so alarming. He ran a 4.76-second 40, which is not great. He also showed limited explosion going 31.5 inches in the vertical and just nine feet on the broad jump. Even worse, he finished his three-cone drill in 7.24 seconds, showing limited agility.

That’s a bad combination of numbers for a player who’s going to have to win on the edge at the next level.

Stud: Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA

All you need to know about Marcus Davenport’s combine is that he put up numbers comparable to Ziggy Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney, who went No. 1 overall a few years back.

Already red hot after smoking the competition at the Senior Bowl, Davenport showed up to the combine at 6-foot-6 and over 260 pounds. He ripped through the 40 in 4.58 seconds and put up a 1.63-second 10-yard split. Davenport also showed explosiveness with a 10-foot-4 broad jump and showed up extremely well on the field running drills.

At this point, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Davenport has vaulted from fringe first-round pick into the top half of Round 1.

Dud: Josey Jewell, linebacker, Iowa

Heading into the combine, Josey Jewell was one of the guys we highlighted as extremely intriguing because his college production was off the charts but he looked to be a below-average athlete. Unfortunately for him, Jewell’s performance at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine did nothing to dispel that notion. If anything, it only crystallized it.

Jewell has average size, at 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds. So, he needed to show he’s capable of doing extraordinary things athletically. Instead, he ran slow in the 40 (4.82 seconds) while showing average strength and explosion. Obviously, this doesn’t mean Jewell cannot defy the odds and have success at the NFL. Zach Thomas would have a word with anyone who says otherwise. But Jewell’s combine only hurt his already tenuous draft stock.

Stud: Shaquem Griffin, linebacker, UCF

Really, nobody won this year’s combine like Shaquem Griffin, who wasn’t even invited in the first place and had to petition to get in. If you don’t know the story, Griffin has just one hand, his left hand having been amputated as a young child due being born with amniotic band syndrome. So, everything he’s accomplished on the gridiron has been seized with pure willpower and desire.

Griffin wowed all of us when he put up 225 pounds 20 times on the bench press, using a prosthetic grip to assist him. Then the next day, he not only ran fast on the track but ran faster than any other linebacker dating all the way back to 2003. Griffin also had people wide-eyed with amazement when he caught passes during drills.

This young man has two years of tape to show he’s an elite playmaker, too. He absolutely vaulted his draft stock at the combine, and one NFL player will be very disappointed if Griffin isn’t drafted in the first few rounds — a sentiment likely shared by many.

Dud: Arden Key, EDGE, LSU

Troy running back Jordan Chunn helped the Trojans defeat LSU in stunning fashion during college football Week 5

NFL teams already had some big questions about whether Arden Key has the strong desire to play up to his athletic potential. The events that transpired this past year — Key leaving his team for a while due to reasons that have yet to be made public, along with his injuries — are definite red flags.

So it was extremely puzzling when Key refused to run a 40 at the combine. On top of that, the LSU product was not smooth during the field drills, in particular showing up poorly when it was time to bend on the bag drill. A guy who many feel has first-round potential, Key did nothing to help his draft stock over the weekend. If anything, teams will have more questions than answers about him going forward.

Stud: Leighton Vander Esch, linebacker, Boise State

Leighton Vander Esch came into the combine as a guy most pegged to be drafted late in the first round. After watching him put up freakish numbers, it’s more likely he’ll be scooped up somewhere in the middle of Round 1.

A player who compares favorably in size to Tremaine Edmunds, pegged as a potential top-10 pick, Vander Esch took full advantage of Edmunds’ decision to abstain from the bulk of the drills on Sunday. He ran the 40 in 4.65 seconds — freakishly fast for a guy who comes in at over 6-foot-4 and 256 pounds. He also had a 39.5-inch vertical, a 10-foot-4 broad jump, and a time of 6.88 in the three-cone drill, which is just ridiculous.

People who love to look at comparable charts are fawning over Vander Esch right now, and it’s not hard to see why. He really is in a class of his own in terms of size and athleticism.

Dud: Chris Worley, linebacker, Ohio State

Just like we saw with Jewell, Chris Worley showed he’s extremely limited as a pure athlete during the combine, and that will hurt him come draft day.

Coming in at 6-foot-1 and 238 pounds, this Ohio State linebacker ran his 40-yard dash in 4.86 seconds and had a vertical of 29.5 inches — so he’s slow and lacks explosion. Combined with his limited ability to make big-time plays during his tenure with the Buckeyes, it seems clear that Worley is going to be no more than a two-down run-stopping thumper (at best) who will likely make his money on special teams.

Stud: Josh Sweat, EDGE, Florida State

A lack of production at Florida State is a real issue that NFL teams are doing to need to wade through — Josh Sweat had just 14.5 sacks in three seasons with the Seminoles. But nobody can deny this young man has the type of physical abilities that teams covet, which is why he was a top-10 recruit out of high school.

Sweat is 6-foot-4 and 251 pounds. Yet he ran the 40 in 4.53 seconds and posted a 10-yard split of 1.53 seconds. That’s elite get-off and explosion, and he continued to wow with a vertical of 39.5 inches and a broad jump of 10-foot-4. He’s an athletic freak of the first order who will have teams sweating in the second round as they wait for their turn to pick.

Dud: Tarvarus McFadden, cornerback, Florida State

Tarvarus McFadden is a difficult player to gauge. He had an incredible freshman season in 2016 at Florida State, racking up eight interceptions and earning All-American honors. Then he had a decent season in 2017 but didn’t intercept a single pass playing through a torn labrum.

Unfortunately, he didn’t help himself at all on Monday at the combine. McFadden, who has length at 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds, ran his 40 in 4.67 seconds, which was one of the slowest times among defensive backs. He looked to be laboring through his second 40 as well, which was even slower. He also showed very stiff hips in the drills on the field. All in all, the combine was nothing short of a disaster for this young man, who now has serious pressure to fix some stuff ahead of his pro day.

Stud: Derwin James, safety, Florida State

Florida State safety Derwin James is one of the top college football stars returning from injury in 2017

Possessing a freakish combination of size, speed, strength and athleticism, Derwin James was already a hot commodity heading into the combine. He’s a guy who’s nearly 6-foot-2 and packs a serious punch at 215 pounds. Wherever the ball goes, he’s there in a flash and ready to deliver some punishment.

On Sunday, James put up 225 pounds 21 times, showing outstanding strength. On Monday, he put up some tremendous numbers at the combine. He ran his 40 in 4.48 seconds, put up a vertical of 40 inches and a broad jump of 11 feet. Those are some outrageous numbers for a safety, who’s drawing comparisons to none other than Eric Berry.

Dud: Jamarcus King, cornerback, South Carolina

The brutal pre-draft process for Jamarcus King continued at the combine. This South Carolina product really had a rough week in Mobile for the Senior Bowl in January, where he was burned in coverage on multiple occasions, including a huge play by none other than D.J. Chark.

Then he came out on Monday and ran the slowest time of any defensive back in Indianapolis, solidifying himself as a late-round pick, at best. A tall, lanky cornerback who likes to press, King doesn’t have the recovery speed to make up for his mistakes and doesn’t have the bulk to hold up against bigger receivers at the line of scrimmage.

Stud: Denzel Ward, cornerback, Ohio State

Already a player who was pegged as a first-round lock, Ward did what he had to do in Indianapolis to likely cement himself in the top half of Round 1.

A tremendously talented natural athlete, Ward surprised folks by putting up 225 pounds on the bench 16 times on Sunday. Then on Monday he came out and tied Donte Jackson for the fastest time in the 40 during this year’s combine, at 4.32 seconds. He also showed very fluid hips during drills and is drawing comparisons to some elite NFL players.

Don’t be surprised if Ward is the first cornerback taken in this year’s draft, and don’t be surprised if he’s a top-10 pick when it’s all said and done.