The 2018 NFL Scouting Combine is the place to be for NFL coaches and front office folks, who are all keenly looking for game-changing players.
This year’s combine features 336 players looking to make their mark. Though, not all of them will exactly wow the folks watching at home. The annual dog-and-pony show has become quite a television event, however, due to the fact that some of the guys who come into the league every year do some incredible things. It also doesn’t hurt that, by late-February, NFL fans are already starving for their fix.
So, which guys will make the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine worth watching? We’ve got some ideas on that front.
Bradley Chubb, EDGE, North Carolina State
Widely considered the top edge rusher in the 2018 NFL Draft class, Chubb has a chance to cement himself as a top-three pick in the upcoming draft. The tape shows Chubb to be an elite talent in terms of quickness off the ball, and he has an uncanny ability to bend getting around the corner after beating offensive tackles off the snap.
Chubb’s 40 time and three-cone drill will be highlight attractions. Also, we’re very interested to see how he ranks in terms of raw explosion, which is measured in the vertical and broad jump. Considering Chubb is a 6-foot-4, 275-pound behemoth, his ability to wow in these disciplines will have many reaching to compare him to Myles Garrett, who blew the hinges off last year during his combine.
Saquon Barkley, running back, Penn State
There are some out there who think the Cleveland Browns could seriously take Barkley No. 1 overall. He’s just that good. Even better is the fact that he’s going to participate in every single drill he can at the combine, and we fully expect him to test through the roof.
It’s been rumored that Barkley is a 4.3-second 40 guy. If that’s true, then he’ll very much be in play at the top of the draft. He’s also extremely explosive and should test very well in the jumping drills (if his on-field abilities have anything to say about it), not to mention the three-cone and shuttles. Another area in which Barkley should shine is during the passing drills. He has excellent hands and change-of-direction abilities, which will help him stand out among a loaded running back class this year.
Tremaine Edmunds, linebacker, Virginia Tech
It’s going to be very interesting to see how Edmunds tests out. He’s a veritable monster in the middle who’s been compared to Brian Urlacher, recently voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We’re talking about a guy who is legitimately 6-foot-5 and at least 250 pounds. He’s a throwback in an era that features many undersized linebackers who rely more on quickness, speed and instincts than raw power.
So, it’s going to be fascinating to see what kind of numbers Edmunds puts up when compared to his peers like Georgia’s Roquan Smith and Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch. If Edmunds is anywhere close to those two in terms of speed, quickness and explosion, he’ll likely be the first linebacker taken in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Calvin Ridley, wide receiver, Alabama
Ridley is a very interesting prospect. He’s not your prototypical No. 1 receiver, coming in at just 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. He relies on his elite route-running abilities, excellent hands, quickness off the ball and deep speed to make big plays and is seen as potentially the best receiver in the draft by some.
With that in mind, Ridley’s 40 time is going to be a huge deal. As noted by Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports, all five of the wide receivers taken in the first round the past three years have run extremely fast at the combine, averaging 4.33 seconds per.
So, if Ridley is going to be seen as a small guy worth taking a risk on, he’ll need to make a big impression.
Derwin James, safety, Florida State
The term “lightning in a bottle” usually refers to smaller guys who have a spark. Well, James brings both the lighting and the thunder wherever he roams on the gridiron.
He’s a very intriguing safety prospect who combines insane size (for a safety), at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, with tremendous burst, decent instincts and the strong desire to remove ball from players on big hits.
Obviously, it’s going to be interesting to see how fast James runs. Given his size and elite performance in college, if he’s anywhere close to 4.45 seconds he’ll be a shoo-in as a top-15 player. He’ll also likely put up huge numbers in the vertical and broad jump, which never hurts defensive backs. Perhaps of more interest to those in the NFL will be dissecting how well James moves his feet and hips when it comes time to show off his skills on the field.
Ronald Jones II, running back, USC
There are some talent evaluators who believe Jones — not Barkley or Derrius Guice — will be the best running back to come out of this year’s draft class. I’m not among them, as I believe Barkley is in a class all by himself, but it’s not hard to see why they do. After all, this is a kid who racked up nearly 4,000 yards from scrimmage, along with 42 touchdowns, the past three years at USC.
The reason why Jones is going to be so much fun to watch at the combine is that, based on his tape, he’s incredibly fast. He has insanely quick feet, can hit top speed in a heartbeat, and he routinely left defenders in the dust during his days playing for the Trojans (like this).
So, if Jones runs one of the fastest 40 times, wows in the three-cone drill and showcases smooth routes and soft hands on the field, his stock could certainly get a boost.
Donte Jackson, cornerback, LSU
We’ve talked quite a bit about speed already. But perhaps nobody in the upcoming combine can match this cornerback out of LSU. Jackson has already thrown down the gauntlet by saying he’s hoping to run faster than John Ross did last year when he broke the combine record (4.22 seconds).
It’s worth noting that it took nearly a decade for Chris Johnson’s combine record to fall. Yet every year people declared they’d be the one to break it. It’s not an easy thing to do — running that fast with that much pressure on your shoulders.
Perhaps Jackson is the man to do it. If he does, then there’s a chance Jackson can vault up into the bottom half of Round 1 this April when the draft kicks off at AT&T Stadium. He’s small in stature but has very smooth hips, and obviously he has the kind of speed that can make up for mistakes deep. He’s already a highly-valued prospect, despite his size, so a 40 time that even comes close to the record will only help him.
Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Louisville
Everyone wants to see what Jackson looks like compared to the other top passers in the draft. The biggie here is going to be in Jackson’s measurables. How tall is he, and how much does he weigh? Apparently, at least according to one Hall of Fame former NFL executive, he’s a kid who is too short and slight to be an NFL quarterback.
Of course, the big attraction for the masses will be seeing how fast Jackson can run. Though, if I were the one calling the shots I’d tell him NOT to run to prove a point that he’s much more than a guy who can blaze up the track.
Obviously, it’s very hard to make a huge impression throwing the ball at the combine, because you’re throwing to a bunch of guys you’ve never even seen before. Timing is an issue, and teams don’t typically place too much value on the on-field portion of the combine for quarterbacks unless it’s extremely negative. Given the fact that Jackson has been a very effective passer over the course of his career, we don’t see that happening.
Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA
A huge draft riser, Davenport has been shooting up big boards ever since his remarkable Senior Bowl week. He was already considered to be a fringe first-rounder before that. But what he was able to consistently do against top-level competition that week really opened up some eyes nationally to his pro potential.
Davenport racked up 8.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss in Conference-USA last season, playing for Texas-San Antonio. He’s extremely long and agile, coming in at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, and combines speed with power.
It’s going to be fascinating to see how he measures up against the other top pass rushers in this year’s draft class. If he has a monster combine, nobody should be surprised if he moves from the bottom of the first round up into the top half.
Courtland Sutton, wide receiver, SMU
In terms of big-bodied receivers, Sutton is at the top of this year’s class. He’s a tremendous weapon, routinely winning 50-50 balls deep down the field, helped in large part by his 6-foot-4, 218-pound frame. But he also brings a natural knack for timing jumps and snagging balls at their highest point. That’s the kind of skill set that NFL teams covet.
The big issue for Sutton is that he doesn’t flash elite speed on tape. He needs to show off some quickness and run a fast 40 time to prove he’s more than a possession receiver. If he can wow on the track, then Sutton could find himself picked up in the middle of Round 1. If not, then he could fall into Round 2 as teams look for more impact in that first round.
Shaquem Griffin, outside linebacker, UCF
It’s really hard to believe that Griffin didn’t even get an invite to the combine initially. After all, we’re talking about a guy who racked up 18.5 sacks and 33.5 tackles for a loss the past two seasons, and who was one of the key players during UCF’s undefeated season this past year.
A tireless worker who gets stronger as the game gets longer, Griffin has overcome what would likely be considered a non-starter for many young men. Of course, we’re referring to the fact that he has only one hand (his left hand was amputated at age four). Yet, not only does Griffin not consider this to be a disability, he’s absolutely thrived as an elite pass rusher at a top college.
We cannot wait to see what this kid does at the combine. He’s fast, quick and athletic. A strong showing at Indy will cement him as an early Day 3 pick.
Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Oklahoma
One of the most competitive guys you’ll ever encounter, Mayfield has a chip on his shoulder the size of Mt. Everest. He’s made it clear he’s “going to do everything” at the combine, and if his history is any indication of what we should expect, he’ll thrive.
Mayfield won’t run extremely fast. He won’t jump very high compared to some of his peers. But we do expect him to throw darts on the field and be one of the most quotable guys at the combine. The rumors that are going to come out of Indy concerning this young man will be never-ending, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how teams react to him during interviews.
Josh Jackson, cornerback, Iowa
Jackson was one of the biggest breakout players in college football last year. He finished tied for the national lead in interceptions, with eight, and is a very intriguing pro prospect based on his size and length (6-foot-1 and nearly 200 pounds).
That said, there is some question about whether Jackson has the kind of elite speed that most teams require when considering a first-round pick on a cornerback. If he has a blazing 40 time at the combine, it will make it much easier for teams to rationalize using a top pick on a guy who may or may not be a one-year wonder.
Nyheim Hines, running back, North Carolina State
A legitimate track star at North Carolina State, Hines is a guy who could be a mid-round steal in the draft. Especially since teams are looking for the next Alvin Kamara. Though, it would be a mistake to compare him to last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, as Hines is much more about straight-line speed than lateral agility. Still, nobody can deny his raw speed will be enticing for teams looking to spark their special teams and running game.
Hines finished third last year in the 100m at the ACC Championships, so there’s no doubt he has game-changing speed. And given the fact he’s not exactly a minnow, coming in at 5-foot-9 and nearly 200 pounds, he will get a long, hard look from teams that value his skill set.