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7 top prospects with the most to prove at NFL Combine

Players arrive at the NFL Combine hoping to impress all 32 teams with their talent, putting their skills on display inside Lucas Oil Stadium and leaving a strong impression with interviews. There is always something at stake for prospects when they arrive in Indianapolis.

The four-day scouting combine can be a career-altering experience for young athletes. A strong performance versus a poor showing can be the difference between millions of dollars. Some of the top NFL Draft prospects also must answer questions and address concerns in front of teams.

Related: 2023 NFL Combine guide

While the decision to move the NFL Scouting Combine into the primetime slot will hurt participation rates for some of the top prospects, others have a lot on the line. From showcasing skills to erasing red flags with size, there is a lot at stake.

Let’s examine the top prospects with the most to prove at the 2023 NFL Combine.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, wide receiver, Ohio State Buckeyes

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Ohio State
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Jaxon Smith-Njigba looked like one of the best players in college football after the 2021 season. He decimated Utah in the Rose Bowl, exploding for 347 receiving yards and three touchdowns. It put him in a conversation for a top-5 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, assuming he shined this past season.

  • Jaxon Smith-Njigba stats (2021): 95 receptions, 1,606 receiving yards and nine touchdowns

Instead, injuries made him an afterthought. He only played in three games, finishing with 43 receiving yards on five targets. In his absence, Marvin Harrison Jr. became the focal point of the Ohio State Buckeyes passing game and Emeka Egbuka proved he could also become an NFL starter.

It puts significant pressure on Smith-Njigba heading into the 2023 NFL Combine. First, he must face the interview and medical process. Coaches will inquire into his decision to skip the College Football Playoff and doctors will want to run extensive tests to assess his health risk.

If he checks off those boxes, Smith-Njigba still needs to put on a strong performance in drills. He isn’t one of the fastest wide receivers in the 2023 draft class, with a distinct possibility his 40 time hovers around 4.6. However, displaying crisp route running in drills, can prove his worth. A fringe top-25 talent as of now, Smith-Njigba could enter the top-15 range with a strong showing.

Related: 2023 NFL power rankings

Bryce Young, quarterback, Alabama Crimson Tide

Syndication: The Enquirer
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If size didn’t matter, Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young is viewed as the unquestioned No. 1 pick and he doesn’t need to participate in the NFL Combine. Athleticism, arm strength, intelligence, leadership and poise are all just a bundle of the traits Young brings to the table. Unfortunately for him, size is a legitimate concern for teams.

Comparisons can’t truly be made to Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray. During the pre-draft process, Wilson measured at 5-foot-11 and 204 pounds with elite arm strength. Murray, a rare athlete for quarterbacks, weighed in at 207 pounds with a 5-foot-10 measurement. Finally, Brees was 6-foot and 213 pounds.

Young certainly spent the last few months putting on weight to bulk up his frame, but it’s not unreasonable to think he comes in under 195 pounds. For a quarterback who thrives outside the pocket, but lacks Murray’s elite athleticism to escape defenders, that doesn’t bode well. Longevity at his size is the concern with Young and it’s why the measurements will be watched closely.

Related: Bryce Young receives stunning NFL comparison

Jalin Hyatt, wide receiver, Tennessee Volunteers

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel
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Jalin Hyatt was a relative unknown before Oct. 15. At Neyland Stadium against the Alabama Crimson Tide, the 6-foot wideout put himself on the national map with a historic five-touchdown, 207-yard performance. He turned that into a dominant second half of the season, finishing as a unanimous All-American and the Fred Biletnikoff Award recipient.

Hyatt has a chance to be one of the fastest players at the NFL Combine. A former track star, there are few football players better at accelerating in a straight line and blowing past cornerbacks. The 40-yard dash was made for Hyatt. Even things like the over the shoulder catch and deep routes against air are perfect for Hyatt.

While he’s a flawed prospect, ticketed to be a vertical threat at the next level, the NFL Combine practically exists for players with these skills to shine. If he dominates, Hyatt will leave the NFL Combine viewed as a first-round lock.

Related: Fastest 40 yard dash ever

Anthony Richardson, quarterback, Florida Gators

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star

Arguably no 2023 draft prospect has more to gain at the NFL Combine than Anthony Richardson. NFL teams are looking for the next Josh Allen, a moldable quarterback with the physical tools to become an MVP candidate. When it comes to Richardson, the sky is the limit.

Related: Anthony Richardson generating significant buzz

Standing at 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, the Florida Gators starts checks off all the boxes for prototype quarterback size. In terms of his athleticism, he is the most athletic quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft with an outstanding 91 (out of 100) athleticism score from NFL.com.

If you’re looking for elite arm strength, Richardson checks off that box. He also knows how to fight through some chaos in the pocket, with the strength and size to slip out of tackles and then make plays on the run with his arm or legs.

None of this is to suggest he is flawless. Richardson’s production in college was extremely underwhelming, accuracy is an issue, touch and velocity on his throws fluctuates and his mechanics need work. The thing is, though, none of those things can really be exposed at the NFL Combine. Fans who watch Richardson at Lucas Oil Stadium will come away believing he is the best quarterback in the draft and his performance might even start a conversation about the No. 1 pick.

Andre Carter, edge rusher, Army Black Knights

NCAA Football: Navy at Army
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Andre Carter could be one of the highest-drafted players from a military academy in modern history. The 6-foot-7 edge rusher overwhelmed his competition in 2021, racking up 17 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks in 2021. The following year, opponents learned they could just double and triple-team him against a mediocre Army football program.

Standing at 6-foot-7, Carter packs some excellent athleticism into his frame and he made Bruce Feldman’s freaks list before the 2022 season. Thanks to the 40-yard dash and the three-cone drill at the NFL Combine, Carter can showcase those physical gifts in front of general managers.

However, Carter struggled at the Senior Bowl in February with a lack of muscle mass proving to be an issue. The hope comes with the month-plus of preparation, which ideally would help him add more muscle to his frame without losing that athleticism. If he checks off both boxes, Carter will be a top-50 pick in April.

Related: NFL salary cap tracker

Darnell Washington, tight end, Georgia Bulldogs

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Ohio State at Georgia
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer could essentially skip the 2023 NFL Combine and still be a top-20 pick on April 27. The same can’t be said for Georgia Bulldogs tight end Darnell Washington, even if he has a lot of fans in the NFL.

Related: 2023 college football rankings

Standing at 6-foot-7 and weighing 270 pounds, Washington might be the biggest skill player in the 2023 draft class. The size and power are evident with some stylistic comparisons to Marcedes Lewis, who has played an important role in the NFL since being drafted 28th overall in 2006.

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Washington will be loved by coaches because he is an in-line player who blocks like some of the best tight ends of all time. He’s going to be a red-zone weapon thanks to his frame and upper-body strength, making him a mismatch in the end zone. The NFL Combine is important for Washington because if he tests better athletically than scouts expect and he looks good in receiving drills, it could make him a Round 1 lock with the ceiling of hearing his name called within the top-25 picks.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft rumors

Bryan Bresee, defensive tackle, Clemson Tigers

Syndication: USA TODAY

Bryan Bresee, the 247 Sports’ No. 1 overall recruit in 2020, went through more in his collegiate career than anyone should have to experience. He suffered a torn ACL in September 2021, derailing a sophomore season before he could settle in. Finally healthy in 2020, his 15-year-old sister Ella Bresee passed away after a courageous battle with brain cancer. Less than a month later, he missed two games with a kidney infection

Related: NFL mock draft

Bresee never got to have the college experience he hoped for and the devastating loss of his sister likely weighed on him this past season. Through all of the challenges, though, the 6-foot-5 defensive tackle is still viewed as a likely Round 1 selection.

Positional versatility, size and athleticism are just some of the strengths Bresee offers. However, the athleticism didn’t often show up on tape and it became even less apparent in his first season back from a torn ACL. The NFL Combine allows Bresee to show teams that he is still an above-average athlete for his size.

Sit-down interviews with him can also show general managers and coaches his personality, with insight on how his personal hurdles might be the reason his college production fell short of expectations.

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