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Winners, losers from Day 1 of the 2023 NFL Combine: Nolan Smith, Calijah Kancey among standouts

The 2023 NFL Combine is underway with defensive linemen and linebackers taking the field at Lucas Oil Stadium to showcase their skills. With all 32 NFL teams in attendance, we saw some college football stars and a few unheralded prospects put on a show Thursday night.

With general managers, executives and coaches for every NFL franchise gathered around in Indianapolis, 2023 NFL Draft prospects had an opportunity to prove themselves. Some rose to the occasion, delivering stunning performances of athleticism that will elevate their draft stock and that means hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars more in their upcoming careers.

Related: 2023 NFL Combine Guide

Unfortunately, not everyone leaves Indianapolis having left the strongest impression. Whether it’s through poor on-field performance or skipping drills altogether, only to see their peers shine, some notable prospects likely hurt their draft stock on Thursday night.

Let’s dive into our winners and losers from the first day of the 2023 NFL Combine.

Winners from NFL Combine Day 1

Nolan Smith, edge rusher, Georgia Bulldogs

NFL: Combine
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Bulldogs edge rusher Nolan Smith came to Indianapolis with a lot to prove. He feasted on opponents early this season, racking up 17 defensive pressures, 10 quarterback hurries and seven tackles for loss in just eight games (Pro Football Focus). He was a projected top-15 pick, that was until he suffered a torn pec on Oct. 29.

Related: 7 top prospects with most to prove at 2023 NFL Combine

The season-ending injury plummeted his draft stock out of Round 1. Facing the risk of losing millions of dollars in potential earnings through his rookie contract, the 6-foot-2 pass rusher showed up to Lucas Oil Stadium and put on a show.

  • Nolan Smith 40 time: 4.39 seconds

Weighing in at 238 pounds, Smith ran a blistering 40-yard dash that will go down as one of the fastest times ever by a defensive lineman. He also showed off his explosiveness in the vertical jump, recording a 41.5-inch jump. As put into perspective by NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah, Smith’s numbers were on par with DK Metcalf’s memorable combine performance.

It’s safe to say Smith improved his draft stock at the NFL Combine. Not only will be locked into Round 1 of every NFL mock draft from now until Roger Goodell takes the podium, but Smith will likely be taken within the first 15 picks and he might even push for a top-10 selection.

Calijah Kancey, defensive tackle, Pittsburgh Panthers

NFL: Combine
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While many college football fans knew about Smith before Thursday night, Pittsburgh Panthers’ defensive tackle was largely off the radar for many football fans. That’s not to say he wasn’t already a high-end prospect, landing at No. 14 on Pro Football Focus’ big board. After what he showcased inside Lucas Oil Stadium, Kancey is going to be shooting up a lot of draft boards.

  • Calijah Kancey stats (career): 34.5 tackles for loss, 16 sacks in three seasons

Related: 6 prospects who could boost their stock the most at NFL Combine

Measured at 6-foot-1 and 281 pounds, Kancey made fellow Pitt alum Aaron Donald proud on Thursday night. He clocked in with an official 4.67-second 40 time, faster than Aidan Hutchinson (4.74), Kenny Pickett (4.73) and just a tick behind Rhamondre Stevenson (4.64). While defensive linemen will rarely run 40 yards in their careers, the 1.84-second 10-yard split is off the charts for someone of that size.

This isn’t to suggest that Thursday went perfectly for Kancey. As pointed out by The Ringer’s Benjamin Solak, only four defensive tackles in NFL Combine history – Carlo Kemp, Elijah Qualls, Tenny Palepoi and Colby Whitlock – had shorter arms than Kancey (30 5/8). Kancey’s athleticism score (94) still led all defensive tackles and his draft stock is climbing, but those short arms will give teams pause because arm length impacts controlling offensive linemen and creating leverage in a game where every second being blocked is a negative.

Adetomiwa Adebawore, defensive end, Northwestern Wildcats

NFL: Combine
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It feels like a certainty that few prospects in the entire 2023 NFL Draft class will come away with a better performance than Adetomiwa Adebawore. The 6-foot-2 edge rusher didn’t generate a ton of buzz playing for a 1-11 Northwestern Wildcats football program. Fortunately, the scouting combine allowed him to show he was one of the few bright spots on the field in the entire state.

We’ll first start with the numbers. Hitting the scale at 282 pounds, Adebawore moved more like a linebacker or tight end. He recorded a blistering 4.49-second 40-yard dash, with NFL Network highlighting that surpassed 2022 No. 1 pick Travon Walker (4.51 seconds) and Green Bay Packers star edge rusher Rashan Gary (4.58).

Adebawore posted the second-highest broad jump by a defensive tackle in NFL Combine history (10’5″) with the third-best vertical jump (37.5″). It culminated in an absurd 97 athletic score from Next Gen Stats and a 9.84 unofficial Relative Athletic Score.

Not even viewed as a consensus top-50 prospect entering the week, Adebawore just made every draft analyst and scout go back to watch his film tonight. Based on the improvements he showed as a pass rusher throughout his college career and this historic athleticism, we could be looking at a top-35 pick in April.

Bryan Bresee, defensive tackle, Clemson Tigers

NFL: Combine
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We highlighted Clemson Tigers defensive tackle Bryan Bresee as one of the top prospects with the most to prove at the NFL Combine. The 247 Sports’ No. 1 overall recruit in 2020 didn’t meet expectations in college, largely due to injuries and the loss of his 15-year-old sister Ella Bresee this year. Showing up to the combine, Bresee’s future was on the line.

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Taking the field at 6-foot-5 and 298 pounds, Bresee proved he still has plenty of his old explosiveness now more than 16 months removed from an ACL tear. He posted a 4.86-second time in the 40-yard dash with a 1.71 10-yard split. On top of the unofficial 9.58 unofficial Relative Athletic Score, Bresee also showed impressive movement and fluidity in drills.

After entering the pre-draft process with questions surrounding his athleticism and lack of production, Bresee might’ve just proven to NFL teams that his best years are ahead of him. It should be more than enough to secure his name being called by Goodell in Round 1.

Jack Campbell, linebacker, Iowa Hawkeyes

NFL: Combine
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Some will look at the 4.65 40-yard dash from Jack Campbell and see a big problem. Instead of focusing on that number, we’ll point to the 10-yard split (1.59 seconds) and the broad jump (10’8″). Campbell’s 10-yard split is close to Clemson linebacker Trenton Simpson (1.55) who ran a 4.43 40-yard dash and right behind Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley (1.55). As for the broad jump, it tied for 23rd among linebackers since 2009 at the NFL Combine, per Josh Norris.

All of this was achieved by a 6-foot-5 linebacker who weighs 249 pounds. Scouts already loved Campbell’s size, instincts, mentality and football IQ. Combined with his standout ability in coverage, he projected as a reliable middle linebacker at the next level. Now that teams know he is even more athletic than expected, he could be a top-50 pick.

Losers from NFL Combine Day 1

Mike Morris, edge rusher, Michigan Wolverines

NFL: Combine
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While NFL teams didn’t expect Michigan Wolverines defensive lineman Mike Morris to set the world on fire with his athleticism, Thursday’s performance still felt like a disappointment. With so many of his peers posting eye-popping athleticism scores, Morris fell well short.

Related: Freak athletes poised to blow up at the NFL Combine

“If you’re looking for a base end, somebody who can really just sit there, stack blocks and hold the point of attack, Mike Morris is going to be able to do that all-day.”

NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah on Michigan edge rusher Mike Morris

The 1.72-second 10-yard split is solid, but Morris did not move very well in on-field drills. For a player who arrived as a fringe top-75 prospect, with others improving their draft stock considerably, it’s fair to wonder if Morris’ athletic limitations and issues staying on his feet push him down by at least a full round in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Myles Murphy, edge rusher, Clemson Tigers

NFL: Combine
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

After entering February as a projected top-10 pick, Clemson edge rusher Myles Murphy might be losing out on a few million dollars thanks to the pre-draft process. Upon stepping inside Lucas Oil Stadium, measurements revealed that Murphy has some of the smallest hands (8.5 inches) among all defensive ends in the history of the NFL Combine.

Murphy then sat out all on-field drills and didn’t participate in the 40-yard dash. While he will do everything at the Clemson Pro Day, there’s no doubt this was a missed opportunity for Murphy. Smith likely jumps him as the third-best edge rusher in the 2023 NFL Draft class and even Lukas Van Ness might be pushed over him now.

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