Ideal Landing Spots for the Stars of the NFL Scouting Combine

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMarch 6, 2018

Ideal Landing Spots for the Stars of the NFL Scouting Combine

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    Draft season has kicked into high gear. 

    The 2018 NFL Scouting Combine has come and gone in Indianapolis. College football's best and brightest have been measured, interviewed and put through the paces by coaches and scouts from around the NFL.

    Some youngsters, like Oklahoma offensive tackle Orlando Brown, wish they could get a do-over.

    But others shined, posting blazing 40-yard dash times and/or opening eyes in position drills.

    Some, like Penn State tailback Saquon Barkley, were expected to light up Lucas Oil Stadium. Others, like UCLA tackle Kolton Miller, were a bit more surprising.

    Then there's what Central Florida linebacker Shaqem Griffin did, which was just amazing.

    Whether it was expected or not, every one of these young players shares one thing in common: They have an ideal landing spot. 

    And perhaps their Indy explosion will get them one step closer to that perfect new home.

Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

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    It's hardly a state secret that Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is the best prospect at his position in the 2018 NFL draft. As the Associated Press reported (via the Daily Courier), Barkley made his intentions clear ahead of Friday's tailback workouts in Indianapolis.

    "I’m just focused on coming out here and trying to dominate this combine," Barkley said.

    The 6'0", 233-pounder wasn't fooling around even a little.

    On Thursday, Barkley did 29 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press. That's one more than future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas posted back in 2007.

    Thomas is an offensive tackle.

    Barkley followed that up Friday with a 4.40-second 40-yard dash (better than Devin Hester) that included a 1.54-second 10-yard split (faster than DeSean Jackson) and a 41-inch vertical (better than Julio Jones), as the NFL Research Twitter account noted. 

    Per Pro Football Weekly, Barkley also aced his interviews with teams on Thursday, because of course he did.

    It was a dazzling display of athleticism and a virtually perfect combine. If there was any doubt that Barkley was a top-five pick, it's settled, and buzz is likely to grow regarding Barkley's potential to be the first overall pick in 2018.

    First overall might be a stretch given the Cleveland Browns' gaping hole at quarterback. But the team picking after Cleveland has a starting quarterback—at least in the short term.

    What the New York Giants do not have is a bell cow tailback. The Giants were 26th in the NFL in rushing last year and 29th the season before.

    Imagine, if you will, a Giants offense that includes Odell Beckham Jr. at wide receiver, Evan Engram at tight end and Barkley in the backfield.

    After watching Barkley work out in Indy, it's a safe bet that new Giants general manager Dave Gettleman is.

    Ideal Landing Spot: New York Giants

Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    There's no question that Barkley is the No. 1 tailback in the class of 2018. But the waters are a lot muddier at offensive tackle, where a handful of players are vying to be the first player at the position selected on April 26.

    UCLA's Kolton Miller did his best in Indianapolis to insert his name into the conversation.

    Miller's total of 24 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press wasn't especially impressive, but it's also not terrible for a lineman with arms over 34 inches long.

    Miller's results in the other drills were much more eye-opening.

    The 6'9", 310-pounder peeled off a 4.95-second 40-yard dash, good for the third-best time among offensive linemen. His 31.5-inch vertical was fourth at the position, and his 7.34-second time in the three-cone drill placed third.

    It was Miller's 10'1" broad jump that was the biggest story, though. That wasn't just the best number in that drill by an offensive lineman in 2018. It was the best broad jump by any offensive lineman in the history of the combine.

    Someone has some juice in those legs.

    Now, Miller's impressive performance probably wasn't enough to vault him ahead of Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey and Texas' Connor Williams as the No. 1 tackle in this year's draft. It did, however, help Miller's odds of being drafted at the back end of the first round—where there are a few teams that could use some help at the end of the line.

    Any of those teams would make for a nice home in which to start a career. There's an advantage to being drafted at the end of a round instead of the beginning.

    With Jason Peters 36 and coming off a major injury, depth at tackle in perhaps the biggest need for a team with not many in the Philadelphia Eagles, even after Halapoulivaati Vaitai played well down the stretch last year in Peters' stead.

    And there are worse ways to kick off life in the NFL than by becoming the first pick of the defending Super Bowl champions. 

    Ideal Landing Spot: Philadelphia Eagles

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Saquon Barkley may have been the combine's biggest star at the running back position, but he wasn't the only ball-carrier who shined.

    Georgia's Nick Chubb staked his claim to the title of the 2018 NFL draft's best running back in the non-Barkley division.

    The 5'11", 227-pound Chubb, who piled up 1,345 yards and 15 touchdowns for the Bulldogs in 2017, peeled off 29 reps on the bench press, which tied him with Barkley for the top spot among backs. Chubb's 38.5-inch vertical was fourth at the position. His 10'8" broad jump was an inch off the top mark at the position.

    Add in respectable times in the 40 (4.52), three-cone drill (7.09) and 20-yard shuttle (4.25), and it was a solid performance. So solid that, per Bleacher Report's Marcus Mosher, Chubb tested in the 98th percentile in the SPARQ performance metric.

    Is that good? It sounds good.

    Was it enough to vault Chubb to the second spot on teams' RB boards? Probably not. He doesn't have the long speed of LSU's Derrius Guice or the pass-catching chops of teammate Sony Michel. But teams looking for a banger between the tackles on Day 2 of the draft are going to be watching more tape of Chubb between now and April.

    And in that regard, Chubb would be an excellent fit in the same building as Barkley—albeit on a different team.

    According to ESPN.com's Rich Cimini, the New York Jets view Bilal Powell as more of a complementary back than a bellcow. The team hopes to pair Powell with an early-down bruiser.

    Chubb would fit into that role nicely, and while some might consider the 37th overall pick early for Chubb, he'd be a great value early in Round 3.

    Ideal Landing Spot: New York Jets

Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Nothing that happened over the weekend in Indianapolis changes the biggest concern regarding Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. His accuracy remains an issue, as Allen completed 56.2 percent of his passes in college.

    However, Allen's combine performance might have some NFL clubs rethinking the risk/reward ratio with the 6'5", 233-pounder. It's not a matter of Allen's 40 or three-cone time, although he did relatively well among the quarterbacks in the athletic drills.

    In the throwing drills, Allen did really well—easily the best of the youngsters jockeying for position as the top signal-caller (and potential No. 1 overall pick).

    As Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller wrote, Allen showed excellent zip and accuracy on his throws—largely because his footwork continues to get better.

    "Allen was sharp in drills," Miller said, "showing off not only a top-tier arm but also a clean, balanced, athletic base when throwing. Sure, he's passing in shorts against air, but for a prospect who so many criticized for poor foot mechanics, this matters."

    Will that improvement hold up in live game action? Who knows? But some QB-needy team in Round 1 is going to convince itself the answer to that query is "yes."

    The Denver Broncos are one of those teams. Sitting at pick No. 5, the Broncos are easily the best-case landing spot from Allen's perspective. The team has a top-10 defense and two veteran 1,000-yard receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

    A good situation early in his career could play a big part in whether Allen's improvements stick. If John Elway were to pair Allen with a "bridge" starter like Case Keenum or Sam Bradford (taking the early pressure off), that's about as good a situation as a top-five quarterback could reasonably ask for.

    Ideal Landing Spot: Denver Broncos

D.J. Chark, WR, LSU

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    In all honesty, the class of 2018 isn't stacked at the wide receiver position. That was evident at the scouting combine. This isn't to say there weren't strong performances, but, relative to some other years, there weren't a lot of jaw-dropping ones.

    However, there were pass-catchers who helped themselves—none more so than D.J. Chark of LSU.

    There's no question which combine drill generates the most headlines at the wide receiver spot—land on top of the 40 times among receivers and people are going to talk about you. As such, Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports was among those buzzing after Chark tore up the track.

    "The nearly 6'3" wideout blazed in the 40, running the fastest time [4.34] on the day," Trapasso wrote. "He had a 40-inch vertical too. And Chark weighed in at 199 pounds, so you're looking at a rather large, explosive speedster. Expect Chark to rise up boards, and he could be looking at a second-round selection."

    That 40 time wasn't just the best among wideouts. It was the second-fastest at any position.

    Chark wasn't especially productive in Baton Rouge (three touchdowns in 2017), and his route tree remains more of a sapling at this point. But the same wheels that helped Chark average over 21 yards a catch last year were on display at the combine.

    There are a handful of playoff contenders with established quarterback situations that need wideout help—but not so desperate that they are going to be looking at the position on Day 1. Rounds 2 and 3 are a different story, though.

    Any of those teams would be fine destinations for Chark. The New Orleans Saints would be almost too perfect. But the Saints don't have a pick in Round 2, and after Chark's workout in Indy, he may not make it to the third.

    He may have to settle for playing with a quarterback like Atlanta's Matt Ryan, who could use a young WR2 with the potential to take over for Mohamed Sanu opposite Julio Jones.

    Poor kid.

    Ideal Landing Spot: Atlanta Falcons

Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    As Mark Wogenrich reported for the Allentown Morning Call, Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki had a simple plan for what he wanted to accomplish in Indianapolis.  

    "If I can get one team out there to be like, 'Hey man, this guy is an unbelievable asset to our pass game and is going to improve each and every day to help us out in the run game,'" Gesicki said, "then that's the team I want to be a part of."

    Cue NFL teams nodding in agreement.

    Lots of them.

    The 6'5", 247-pound Gesicki didn't just have a good workout. Or a great one. Or the best workout of any tight end at the combine. Gesicki had one of the best all-around performances of any player in Indianapolis—the best if you measure it by where he finished relative to the other tight ends in drills.

    Gesicki's 40-yard dash (4.54 seconds), vertical jump (41.5"), broad jump (10'9"), 60-yard shuttle (11.33 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.1 seconds) and three-cone drill (6.76 seconds) were all the best or tied for best. He was second in the bench press, with 22 repetitions at 225 pounds.

    According to the NFL Network's Mike Mayock, Gesicki was the third-ranked tight end of the class of 2018. This workout doesn't eliminate concerns about his ability to block, but the raw athleticism Gesicki showed off is going to appeal to plenty of NFL teams looking for an athletic field-stretcher at tight end.

    The Jaguars have a veteran tight end that's a much more "old school" option in Marcedes Lewis (33), but he isn't getting any younger. Bringing in Gesicki as a passing-down option in the short term—and potential successor in the long term—on the second day of this year's draft has a nice ring to it.

    Ideal Landing Spot: Jacksonville Jaguars

Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF

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    You know a player is having either a really good combine or a really bad one when they are among the top-trending topics on Twitter.

    When a youngster is the top-trending topic, then something special is happening.

    That's the position Central Florida linebacker Shaquem Griffin found himself in after ripping off arguably the most impressive 40-yard dash of the combine—4.38 seconds at 227 pounds.

    Per ESPN, it was the fastest 40 by a linebacker in Indy since 2006. It was also the fastest time recorded for a linebacker at the combine since they started recording 40 times for linebackers at the combine.

    Griffin was already one of the most buzzed-about players in Indy after posting 20 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press—without a left hand.

    Yes, you read that right. Griffin's trying to become the first one-handed player in modern NFL history.

    After watching Griffin tear up Lucas Oil Stadium, Bleacher Report's Doug Farrar is more convinced than ever that Griffin's going to achieve that goal.

    "You can throw away the feel-good story," Farrar wrote, "just as you can junk the narrative that he's somehow less of a player than others at his position because he has one hand. The real story is of a remarkable young man who has transcended what could be a massive limitation for others and shown he's every bit the equal of anyone in his draft class."

    If there were any question as to whether Griffin would be drafted, it's been answered in the affirmative. Now the only questions are in what round and whether it will be by a team with the wisdom and flexibility of philosophy to accentuate Griffin's strengths.

    The New England Patriots have long been a team that just does just that—tweaking the scheme to best suit their personnel.

    The Patriots also place a premium on special teams, an area where Griffin has the look of a player who can make an immediate impact...

    On some poor punt returner who's just doing his job.

    Ideal Landing Spot: New England Patriots

Da'Ron Payne, DL, Alabama

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    There's no doubt over the No. 1 edge-rusher in the 2018 NFL draft. That title belongs to North Carolina State's Bradley Chubb, whose impressive combine workouts may have thrust him into consideration to be the No. 1 overall pick.

    Chubb and Myles Garrett on the same line in Cleveland would be terrifying.

    Alabama beefeater Da'Ron Payne isn't going to be drafted that high. But don't feel too bad for the 6'2", 311-pound nose man.

    He isn't going to be waiting all that long.

    We knew that Payne was big, because, you know, we have eyes. We knew that Payne was strong at the point of attack—which Payne reinforced by posting 27 reps in the bench press.

    However, Payne surprised (and then some), coming in under five seconds (4.95) at well over 300 pounds. As Bucky Brooks of NFL.com reported, Payne also showed excellent burst and agility for a man his size in the position drills.

    Oh, and Payne's 10-yard split time of 1.67 seconds, per Vinnie Iyer of the Sporting News, was one-hundredth of a second faster than Joey Bosa of the Los Angeles Chargers two years ago.

    Bosa does not weigh 311 pounds.

    The biggest concern about Payne heading into the combine was his ability to push up the field—his burst off the line.

    Payne ran right past those doubts.

    More than a few mock drafts (including Matt Miller's post-Super Bowl mock here at Bleacher Report) had slotted Payne at No. 13 to a Washington Redskins team that was dead last in the NFL in run defense last year.

    That reunion with Crimson Tide teammate Jonathan Allen remains an excellent fit for both player and team.

    But after blowing up the combine, it's entirely possible Payne won't fall even that far.

    Ideal Landing Spot: Washington Redskins

Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

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    Prior to the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, Mike Mayock of NFL Network, ranked Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds as the No. 1 overall linebacker prospect—ahead of Georgia's Roquan Smith.

    While Smith spent most of the combine watching workouts after tweaking his hamstring running the 40, Edmunds was able to participate fully.

    And by participate fully, I mean go bananas.

    At 6'5", 253 pounds, Edmunds showed off top-flight athleticism in the position drills and put up a 4.54-second 40-yard dash. He appears to have the speed and agility to play inside and the burst off the edge to get after the quarterback outside.

    In any scheme, Edmunds has the skill set to excel. Rather than figuring out what he can do, after watching Edmunds at the combine, NFL scouts are trying to figure out if there's anything Edmunds can't do.

    Oh. And he's all of 19 years old. Seriously.

    In locking up his status as one of the biggest "winners" of this year's combine among defenders, Edmunds greatly strengthened his case to be one of the first 10 players drafted.

    The 10th, to be more specific.

    The linebacker position has been a weak spot for the Oakland Raiders for years, and while the in-season acquisition of NaVorro Bowman last year helped, it didn't solve the problem—and Bowman may not re-sign with the team.

    If he does, the Raiders could slot Edmunds on the outside in the short term. As big as he is, he's also quick enough to play in space. If he doesn't sign, then the long-term fix in the middle gets implemented today instead of tomorrow.

    It wouldn't be a conventional pick by today's standards. But Edmunds is an unconventional talent—players that big and long don't move like that.

    And Edmunds and Khalil Mack would form the foundation for a stout front seven for years to come.

    Ideal Landing Spot: Oakland Raiders

Donte Jackson, CB, LSU

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    According to NFL Research, there have been five defensive backs in the last decade who have run the 40-yard dash at the combine in 4.32 seconds or less.

    Three of them came on the combine's final day on Monday—all at 4.32 on the nose.

    One of those was turned in by Ohio State's Denzel Ward, who appears to have all but sewn up the title of this year's top corner prospect.

    But another of the young speedsters may have run his way into the back end of the first round.

    At just 5'11", 175 pounds, LSU's Donte Jackson wasn't the biggest cornerback in Indianapolis. He wasn't the strongest, either—Jackson managed just seven reps on the bench press.

    But one drill above all others makes stars at the combine. And Jackson didn't just tie for the fastest 40-yard dash this year—according to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, Jackson did it while battling a calf cramp.

    You can't teach speed.

    Drafting a corner as slight of frame as Jackson on the first day is a risk, to be sure. But given his blazing speed and athletic ability, you can bet the rent that teams with a need at the position are going to consider it.

    Especially a team like the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota is OK on the boundary with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, but the Vikings need an upgrade at the No. 3 corner slot over 39-year-old free agent Terence Newman.

    Jackson could provide that upgrade from Day 1, and it's a legitimate early consideration for the team—doubly so if a run on offensive linemen leaves Minny on the outside looking in at the draft's top tackle prospects.

    Ideal Landing Spot: Minnesota Vikings

Derwin James, S, Florida State

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    It says something about the changing face of the NFL that a young safety prospect can run a 4.47-second 40 at the combine (faster than Earl Thomas) and elicit a collective, "Meh. I'm a little surprised he didn't run faster," from the draft community.

    Such is life when you're an athlete the caliber of Florida State's Derwin James.

    James wasn't just faster than Earl Thomas. He was also nearly as strong as Kam Chancellor, pressing 21 reps at 225 pounds (one short of Chancellor's total in 2010) despite weighing 15-plus pounds less.

    Thomas' speed and Chancellor's power. Just chew on that for a second.

    James also put up a 40-inch vertical and an 11-foot broad jump, because of course he did.

    It wasn't any sort of surprise. It's probably not enough to vault James past Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is similarly gifted and had a fine combine in his own right.

    But it hammered home the fact that James is a difference-maker—a versatile defensive back capable of doing everything from covering slot receivers to dropping the hammer on a tailback as a nickel linebacker.

    The number of ideal landing spots for a player like that in today's pass-wacky NFL numbers approximately 32 teams.

    James (and Fitzpatrick, for that matter) aren't just surefire Round 1 picks. Or even top-15 picks. They are among the safest plays in that group—there's little reason to think both won't play in multiple Pro Bowls.

    That said, the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers knows a thing or two about the importance of safety play. And even if John Lynch decides to bring back free agent Eric Reid, the Niners still need to find him a running mate.

    A Reid/James duo in gold and red at the back of the San Fran defense is a very appealing notion.

    Ideal Landing Spot: San Francisco 49ers