2017 NFL Combine: 10 Biggest Scouting Takeaways
By no means do I condone a top prospect like ex-Alabama linebacker Rueben Foster getting booted from the NFL combine.
I happen to understand why it happened, though.
Booking several back-to-back meetings with NFL teams is tough enough on a 20- or 21-year-old. But before a player's future gets decided in seven-minute increments, he is shipped off for what’s called a "pre-exam"—the most rigorous and annoying physical a human being can possibly endure.
Break your wrist in high school? Better undergo X-rays. Miss a spring game with knee soreness? In the MRI machine you go. And it all takes place in a hospital. Those places are never stressful or tense.
Scouts have to understand the Fosters on their board—the guys who snapped under pressure or didn’t meet expectations—as well as guys who upped their games. So I put together some notes—my 10-point combine cheat sheet to help any team clear up questions about the 2017 draft class.
Game Over: Myles Garrett Is the Top Overall Pick
I openly wondered what kind of freak Myles Garrett was before the NFL combine.
And he answered—kind of. The freak out of Texas A&M occupies a space between Jadeveon Clowney and Jason Pierre-Paul. That’s a guy the Browns want to have rushing Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger next season.
Don’t overthink this, Cleveland. Don’t Browns this up. Garrett has 4.64 speed and a vertical jump higher than Odell Beckham Jr.'s. Just turn in your draft card now.
I Have No Idea Who Comes After Garrett, Though
Barring an Oscars-like mishap, we’ll hear Myles Garrett’s name before any other prospect’s next month.
What comes next is anyone’s guess. I’m so excited to sort through the film to see what the post-Garrett draft world looks like. Because, truth be told, about eight guys could come after him.
Let’s start with Solomon Thomas, who promises to bring the same tools to a 4-3 defense that Michael Bennett currently does. Derek Barnett out-sacked Reggie White at Tennessee. Taco Charlton and a handful of Alabama guys could also come off the board next.
Second place behind Garrett is no shame. Only game film can clear up who that belongs to; the NFL combine can’t.
Free Agent Running Backs Need Not Apply
If I’m overseeing an NFL roster, why the hell would I import an aging ballcarrier?
The options available later next month aren’t just cheaper. They’re more talented. There’s a vast variety to choose from, too; you know exactly what kind of player you’re getting in a Latavius Murray or graying Adrian Peterson.
Give me Leonard Fournette, even at 235 pounds. His 6.57 in the three-cone drill told me he can be much more than a battering ram at the next level. Later on, I’d rather have multipurpose backs like Christian McCaffrey (who looked like a first-round receiver, let alone a runner) and Alvin Kamara (I’m hearing he crushed his interviews) than a dusty old back.
Put simply: It’s a bad time to hit the running back market if you’re an NFL veteran.
We’ve Never Seen Tight Ends Like This
The future is now at the tight end position. And you need prescription sunglasses just to look at it.
Buy into the hype. The group of tight end athletes we just saw work out in Indianapolis is the single most athletic one we’ve ever seen. As a quarterback, I’d have loved just one of them at my disposal.
Consider: O.J. Howard ran a Fournette-esque time at 6'6" and 249 pounds. Evan Engram ran in the 4.4s and looks like the next Jordan Reed. Bucky Hodges' jumping numbers will make scouts drool.
So on and so forth—plus, we didn’t see Jake Butt or Jordan Leggett work out. Teams can start lining up to grab these guys now.
DeShone Kizer Isn’t Top-QB Material
He’s handsome, tall, and well-spoken in interviews. You can’t help but want a face of the franchise like DeShone Kizer's.
But the play doesn’t match the eye test. I eliminated the Notre Dame product as my top available quarterback after just a few errant NFL combine throws. He’s not a natural thrower of the football.
Here’s what I saw: Awesome arm, stupid footwork. It's no surprise that almost every ball he threw required an adjustment by his receiver. Quarterback-needy teams better have a system in place for correcting that before they consider this guy. He can't be asked to start right away.
This QB Class Is Sneaky Deep
First goes North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky. Then Deshaun Watson, Pat Mahomes II and DeShone Kizer.
I forced myself to look a little deeper into my quarterback rankings, though. What I discovered was a group that, in spite of not having an Andrew Luck-type headliner, is stronger than advertised.
The NFL combine just verified my early findings. Cal’s Davis Webb has as live an arm as anyone. Nathan Peterman out of Pittsburgh can be a Kirk Cousins-lite. Brad Kaaya (Miami) and Josh Hobbs (Tennessee) have mechanical flaws, but tons of potential.
I’m not saying there’s a Dak Prescott waiting to be had in this class. I’m just saying it’s worth a look.
The Need for Receiver Speed
I played with Chris Johnson. So I know it takes one fast son of a you-know-what to best him in a straight line race.
John Ross did it. Teams concerned about his injury history or availability should just shut up and take him. They won’t be disappointed.
Same goes for Curtis Samuel, the satellite receiver out of Ohio State who ran 4.31. Speed is king in today’s league; Kyle Shanahan built a Super Bowl offense around that philosophy and Tyreek Hill proved it can be harnessed right away.
Make a Samuel package. Hell, make two. This guy is lethal wherever you get the ball to him on the football field.
Jabrill Peppers’ Agent Should Get a Raise
What a stroke of genius by Jabrill Peppers’ representation.
Their client would’ve been the 13th-fastest defensive back on Monday. Instead, he looked like the freakiest athlete on a field packed with linebackers. Then, he came off as a team player by doing another day’s worth of DB drills.
Every smoke-and-mirror trick might be necessary here. Peppers is still a questionable prospect in my book. I saw him play high school ball in New Jersey (my sister married his coach) and even then, he didn’t hold down a position. He was just an athlete.
If that weren’t still a concern, maybe Peppers just works out as a defensive back last weekend.
Tim Williams Is Scary for Multiple Reasons
Some teams won’t consider Alabama’s top edge rusher for off-the-field reasons.
I’m far more concerned about his on-the-field presence, though. Tim Williams looked tall, lanky and scrawny at the NFL combine. That trio has rarely translated to NFL success.
Case in point: Former LSU standout Barkevious Mingo, who fizzled out with the Browns. He was just as bendy and explosive in college as Williams was, but not bulky enough to succeed at the next level. I'm also concerned about his ability to run defend with that body type.
Williams is a red flag in any evaluation. I’d proceed with extreme caution.
Bill Belichick Knows What He’s Doing
The best coach in league history predicted a draft class like this...in 2012.
I was a scout in his front office. And Bill Belichick worked day and night trying to sort out which players fit the league’s new wide-open passing trends. Go figure—he was ahead of his time.
The end result: New England selected Jamie Collins, the freakiest and most versatile linebacker available, in the 2013 NFL Draft. Belichick knew coverage skills would be at a premium in the new NFL. Collins could do that and about six other things at a Pro Bowl level.
Flash forward to last weekend. Scouts leaguewide are drooling over prospects like Temple’s Haason Reddick and Connecticut’s Obi Melifonwu, two Swiss Army Knife-esque players. Ol’ Bill saw it coming the whole time.