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NFL Scouting Combine: Jaw-dropping performances from Thursday in Indy

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Tight ends, quarterbacks and wide receivers took the field Thursday to get the NFL Scouting Combine kicked off in grand style.

This event isn’t to be looked into too deeply when it comes to overall talent evaluation. The bigger deal is how prospects handle their interviews, and how medicals turn out. However, many players in the past have experienced big surges in draft stock due to electric performances during combine drills.

That’s what we’re diving into here as we look at prospects who impressed the most during Thursday’s action at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine.

Justin Jefferson, wide receiver, LSU

Nobody saw this coming. Justin Jefferson wasn’t expected to be that fast. But once he hit the field for his 40-yard dash Thursday, it was all over. Jefferson ran an official 4.43-second 40-yard dash and immediately boosted his already hot draft stock.

Jefferson also impressed on the field with soft hands during the gauntlet drill and ran crisp routes, as he did all last season for the Tigers. A guy who racked up 111 catches for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns, production wasn’t the issue. He’s a slot specialist who can do damage all over the field.

With his combine performance, Jefferson has vaulted himself into the first-round conversation — if he wasn’t there already.

Cole Kmet, tight end, Notre Dame

Many people who cover the NFL draft for a living believe that Cole Kmet is the best overall tight end prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft class. He never racked up the stats at Notre Dame, but this young man has the physique, natural pass-catching skills, and the athleticism to become a star at the next level.

On Thursday, Kmet put up top-five numbers in the 40 (4.7 seconds), vertical (led all tight ends with 37 inches), broad jump (second among tight ends at 10-foot-3), and had a respectable 7.44-second 3-cone drill.

This guy measures in at 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds. He’s a load, to be sure, but he can move.

Jalen Reagor, wide receiver, TCU

This year’s wide receiver class has a chance to go down as one of the best in modern NFL history. TCU product Jalen Reagor is a player who has the potential to be a significant part of that but who isn’t talked about in the same breath as CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs. On Thursday, his workout did the talking for him.

Reagor also ran his 40 in 4.47 seconds, which is very respectable. He is an explosive athlete who also showed up consistently on the field at TCU. The past three seasons, he caught 148 passes for 2,248 yards and 22 touchdowns. Don’t be surprised if Reagor ends up sneaking into the top-50 come draft day.

Jalen Hurts, quarterback, Oklahoma

Not surprisingly, Hurts was the fastest quarterback to run in the first group. Anyone who watched him play at Alabama and Oklahoma knows he’s nimble on his feet.

Still, it was impressive to see him flying on the track.

It wasn’t just Hurts’ speed that impressed. His abilities on the white board were just as jaw-dropping.

Hurts also shined during passing drills on the field Thursday and was just as impressive throwing the ball as Justin Herbert, who threw in the same group.

Though he’s not talked about in the same breath as the other top quarterbacks in the 2020 NFL Draft class, Hurts may end up being the biggest steal of them all when it’s all said and done.

Denzel Mims, wide receiver, Baylor

If you don’t know about Denzel Mims, you soon will. Starring for Baylor last season, he made some of the craziest catches we saw from anyone around the nation all year long. He was also extremely productive at the collegiate level, catching 182 passes for 2,901 yards and 28 touchdowns in his final three seasons at Baylor.

Then, on Thursday, he did this.

Mims also showed explosion with a broad jump of 11-foot-11 and a vertical of 38.5 inches. He has size, at 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds, and is extremely capable as a blocker. With that speed and his ability to make the impossible look easy, he’s going to make one NFL team extremely happy as a likely second-round pick.

Henry Ruggs III, wide receiver, Alabama

In no way was it a surprise that Henry Ruggs III threatened to break the all-time combine record 40-yard dash time. Everyone was talking about how he could be the guy to break John Ross’ record before the combine. Ultimately, he posted an official time of 4.27 seconds, which is 0.05 seconds slower than what Ross did.

Here’s the crazy part: Ruggs didn’t even look like he was trying. He also posted insane numbers in the jumping drills, showing off rare explosion.

This young man is a freak of nature. His rare speed was seen every single week during his tenure at Alabama, and you’d be hard pressed to find video evidence of anyone ever hunting him down from behind after the catch. He’s going to be taken very early in the 2020 NFL Draft, and if he lands with a team that has a keen offensive mind, Ruggs will quickly become one of the league’s most electric playmakers.

Albert Okwuegbunam, tight end, Missouri

Missouri product Albert Okwuegbunam is a very big guy. He measured in at 6-foot-5 and 258 pounds earlier this week.

Then he stunned everyone by running his 40 in 4.49 seconds. Here’s a couple of fascinating nuggets that highlight just how incredible this was.

He chose not to do any other drills, but his athleticism shows up on tape. Already a player many have been intrigued to see at the next level, Okwuegbunam is no longer a sleeper, folks. This young man should end up being a Day 2 pick after showcasing rare speed to go along with his huge frame.

Donovan Peoples-Jones, wide receiver, Michigan

Former Michigan receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones leaped out of the darn stadium on Thursday.

The 44.5-inch vertical was the seventh-best combine total in the history of the league. Peoples-Jones’ 11-foot-7 broad jump is tied for the third-best mark among all combine receivers since 2006. He’s clearly a rare athlete, and he has plenty of speed (4.48 seconds).

The big question teams will have to ask is whether Peoples-Jones’ college struggles were more a result of the system he played in (not to mention the quarterbacks), or if he’s just a phenomenal athlete who isn’t an elite receiver.

Chase Claypool, wide receiver, Notre Dame

A player who may end up being turned into a pass-catching tight end at the next level, former Fighting Irish star Chase Claypool blew the hinges off the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine.

This dude is over 6-foot-4 and weighed in at 238 pounds at the combine. Yet he ran an official 4.42-second 40 on Thursday.

Claypool also wowed with a 40.5-inch vertical and a broad jump of 10-foot-6, and he put up 19 reps on the bench earlier this week.

This young man put up 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns on just 66 catches last year for the Fighting Irish. He appears to be a player who has yet to tap into his full potential, and NFL teams have to be drooling over his bright future.

Not like that, Mitchell Wilcox

Each player is out there giving it their all as they attempt to make a good impression on their potential future employer. They all work their tails off to get to this point in the pre-draft proceedings. So with that in mind, what happened to former USF tight end Mitchell Wilcox Tuesday was as brutal as they come.

Wilcox was doing the gauntlet drill, which has receivers run horizontally across the field, turning from side to side as quarterbacks throw the ball in quick succession. As he turned around on one of those throws, the ball hit him.

Right. In. The. Face.

Biggest bummer: Tee Higgins, wide receiver, Clemson

One of the most stunning bits of news to come out of Thursday’s combine was that Tee Higgins opted not to participate in any of the field drills because he’s “resting,” as reported by Kim Jones of NFL Network.

The biggest reason this is a big disappointment is that many were hoping and expecting Higgins to answer questions about his quickness and speed. Especially after he boasted that his goal was to hit 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

A player with some very intriguing traits and some of the stickiest hands on tough catches we’ve seen in a while, Higgins is being mocked in the first round by many. However, this isn’t going to help his stock, to be sure.