- For some prospects, the NFL Combine is a formality, for others, it makes a huge difference in draft position. These are the latter.
- Quarterbacks with question marks, wide receivers who might have rocks in their pockets, and a linebacker with no tape: this draft has it all.
The NFL Combine stretches from February 27th to March 5th, and is one of the most bizarre television events of the year. Some players have everything to lose, and plenty to gain, so for them, the spandex Olympics will be all-important. Which players have the most on the line?k
1. Josh Allen (QB, Wyoming)
One of the canonical reasons to draft Josh Allen is that he looks great in shorts. Take that away, and the Wyoming prospect becomes a lot less attractive. That’s why the combine will be so important for Allen: for a long time his success there has been presumed, and even an average performance will be a huge disappointment.
There’s signs of weakening in the armor. There were some accuracy issues at the Senior Bowl, and it wasn’t altogether the performance anyone expected. While throwing at a pro day is a skill distinct from actually playing quarterback, that hasn’t stopped some from prematurely giving Allen tons of points for his brilliant performance to come.
I’m not sure that there’s anything that could stop a certain subset of NFL scouts from loving Josh Allen, expectations are already so high for his combine performance that it would be easy to disappoint.
O/U draft Position: 3.5
2. Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma)
The combine will be tough for Baker Mayfield. For one thing, it’ll be hard to ignore the height differences when he’s standing next to some of the other quarterbacks. If you haven’t heard, Josh Allen is very tall, Josh Rosen is surprisingly tall, and if Bill Polian thinks Lamar Jackson is too short, what’s he going to think of Mayfield, who is two inches shorter?
The other thing Mayfield will struggle with is interviews. NFL teams are risk averse, particularly when it comes to franchise quarterbacks, and Mayfield doesn’t exactly make life easy for himself. He had an arrest last summer, was slapped on the wrist for some exuberant behaviour against Kansas, and has a massive chip on his shoulder constantly. It doesn’t help at all that the Browns pick first, as they just got done taking a risk on an air-raid quarterback with spectacular play on the field and equally spectacular antics off it. A huge part of Mayfield’s final draft position will be convincing notoriously stodgy NFL personnel types that he’s not a liability.
O/U draft Position: 9.5
3. Calvin Ridley (WR, Alabama)
First-round wide receivers haven’t been the most productive picks in the last few years. They usually take a few years to develop, get used to quality press coverage, and hopefully remain healthy in that time. There’s a trend towards big guys with clean bills of health over absolute speed demons with a few niggles here and there, and that’s not a trend Calvin Ridley wants to see at all. Alabama list him at 190lbs, although reports have him considerably slighter than that. If his numbers come back any lower than 190, you can expect NFL teams to look somewhere else.
O/U draft Position: 15.5
O/U weight: 189.5
4. Ronald Jones (RB, USC)
If you’re a running back in this draft class, a few names weigh heavily on your mind: Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, and Kareem Hunt. Barkley has taken the crown as the consensus best runner in the class, and teams aren’t huge on taking running backs early on unless they’re at that elite level. The exception: backs who can catch balls out of the backfield and create matchup headaches were all the rage in 2018, with Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara coming out of the third round to light the world on fire. It’s safe to say that a fair number of teams are going to try and get in on that trend in this year’s draft, so for runners not named Saquon Barkley, getting in on that trend is all-important. Ronald Jones has recorded just 12 receptions at USC, but has shown potential, so performing well in drills could reassure scouts and do a lot for his draft stock. We all know he can run between the tackles, that much is obvious, but for a player on the first-round bubble proving he has a wider skillset than that could make the difference.
O/U draft Position: 32.5
5. Leighton Vander Esch (LB, Boise State)
One of the top linebackers in the class, and there isn’t a whole lot of film on him. Esch has just one year as a starter at Boise State, but in that time he showed the coveted ability to perform traditional linebacker duties while also comfortable dropping into coverage. His performance against Oregon stands out as one of the best linebacker tapes in the draft class, but with such limited tape scouts will rely on combine performance to make their evaluation. The 40 will be particularly important for Esch, who prides himself on being able to cover the field sideline-to-sideline.
O/U draft Position: 32.5
O/U 40-yard dash time: 4.6