Sunday Combine Notebook: It's Officially a 4-Man Race to Be the No. 1 Pick

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterMarch 4, 2019

Sunday Combine Notebook: It's Officially a 4-Man Race to Be the No. 1 Pick

0 of 10

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    First overall picks come in three sizes this season:

    Small: Kyler Murray, a 5'10" (and let's not forget that ⅛"!) bundle of electrifying potential and intrigue.

    Medium: Nick Bosa and Josh Allen, 260-plus-pound pass-rushers running neck-and-neck after Allen's remarkable (and Bosa's very good) workouts Sunday.      

    Large: Quinnen Williams, 303 pounds of athleticism, aggression and Alabama experience.

    This edition of the combine notebook breaks down the prospects at the top of the leaderboard and tries to figure out just who will be drafted first overall. Plus:

    • A draft crush worth doing backflips over

    • Analysis of the gossip coming out of the combine steakhouse and cigar bar scene

    • News and notes on Sunday's workout results

    • A breakdown of Adam Gase's press conference that's only mostly jokes and old TV references

    • A fullback...yes, a real, live fullback

    But we start by taking a look at the candidates for that coveted first overall pick to see how they helped themselves this week. Let the caucus begin!

First Overall Pick Candidate: Josh Allen, Edge-Rusher, Kentucky

1 of 10

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    What he accomplished this week: Allen built upon a dominating, 17-sack senior season with some exceptional workout results Sunday—a 4.63-second 40 at 6'5" and 262 pounds, a 118-inch broad jump and 28 bench press reps.

    Why he should be drafted first overall: Allen's workout numbers match his tape. He has the potential to be a pass-rusher in the Khalil Mack class.

    Why he shouldn't be drafted first overall: Nick Bosa has the potential to be a pass-rusher in the Von Miller class.

    Bottom line: Allen has done everything possible to gain ground since the moment Bosa's season ended with a core-muscle injury. It's just difficult to mentally leapfrog Allen over Bosa, even when some of Allen's workout results suggest we should.

    And it's not like Bosa did anything Sunday to merit getting leapfrogged. 

First Overall Pick Candidate: Nick Bosa, Edge-Rusher, Ohio State

2 of 10

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    What he accomplished this week: Bosa showed up and competed, posting credible workout numbers (a fine 7.10-second three-cone drill and 4.14-second 20-yard shuttle demonstrated his outstanding change-of-direction quickness) after missing much of last season with a core muscle injury.

    Why he should be drafted first overall: He was the best prospect in the nation before the injury.

    Why he shouldn't be drafted first overall: The separation between him and the other top prospects has narrowed since the injury. And if the team at the top needs (or wants) a quarterback, it doesn't matter how good a pass-rusher you are.

    Bottom line: Bosa mostly held serve Sunday. His workout results ranged from good to excellent, and teams were more interested in his medical results than his workouts anyway. The combine is about confirming health and scouts impressions, and Bosa did both. 

    In a normal draft, he would probably remain the odds-on favorite for the top pick, despite surges by Josh Allen and Quinnen Williams and tall-enough-for-the-roller-coaster results for Kyler Murray. But this draft is already shaping up to be rather abnormal.  

First Overall Pick Candidate: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

3 of 10

    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    What he accomplished this week: Murray checked off two very important boxes: 1) the "can see over the steering wheel and still reach both the accelerator and the brake" box, and 2) the "can talk about his commitment to football without having to look down at a script" box.

    Why he should be drafted first overall: He's a quarterback, and he has the potential to be an excellent one.

    Why he shouldn't be drafted first overall: He's an undersized, somewhat enigmatic prospect who could get everyone in the organization that selects him first overall fired. 

    Bottom line: Murray could have blown away the field this week by participating in a throwing session (he would have looked like a rock star compared to the lackluster performances of his peers), running a 40 or even by being a little less cryptic in his media session. He did plenty this week, but not enough to shake the perception, held by many analysts, that while he may be this year's best quarterback, he would only have ranked fourth to sixth among last year's quarterbacks.

    But the Cardinals were broadcasting their interest in Murray to anyone who was paying attention to the Indianapolis gossip wire, so maybe nothing Murray did or said really mattered anyway. 

First Overall Pick Candidate: Quinnen Williams, Defensive Tackle, Alabama

4 of 10

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    What he accomplished this week: Already a lock for a top-10 selection, Williams threw his hat into the ring for first overall consideration by running a 4.83-second 40 at 303 pounds. Forty times don't matter much for defensive tackles, but the result confirmed the rare mix of athleticism and size Williams has already displayed on Saturdays.

    Why he should be drafted first overall: Williams is the kind of player who upgrades everyone around him. 

    Why he shouldn't be drafted first overall: Drafting a defensive tackle isn't sexy, and the teams near the top of the draft board appear determined to be as sexy as possible.

    Bottom line: Bleacher Report's Matt Miller called Williams the "safest" top pick in this year's class. But the Cardinals are disinterested in going the safe route, and teams don't trade up for safe picks. It's also hard to justify drafting even a top-tier disruptive interior lineman over a pair of elite edge-rushers in today's NFL

    Scooping up a player like Williams third or fourth overall will be quite a prize. This should be a fun draft for teams at the top of the board with no interest in drafting a quarterback. Which makes it odd that the Cardinals and Raiders are going out of their way to express interest in drafting a quarterback.

Sunday's Numbers That Matter

5 of 10

    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    What stood out from the numbers posted by defensive linemen and edge-rushers Sunday:

    Montez Sweat, Mississippi State, 4.41-second 40-yard dash, at 260 pounds: Meet the D.K. Metcalf of edge-rushers. Sweat had some dominating moments during Senior Bowl week, but my scouting report of his college games is filled with remarks like "OK" and "pretty good" because he isn't very refined as a pass-rusher. Sweat's claim to a first-round grade was based as much on potential and upside as performance; popping an other-worldly 40 time (plus some formidable jump and shuttle results) should convince teams that he is worth a little extra investment.

    Devin White, LSU, 4.42-second 40, at 237 pounds: White looks blisteringly fast on game tape and proved just that on Sunday by running almost as fast as Sweat.

    Devin Bush, Michigan, 4.43-second 40, at 234 pounds: I remain the president of the Devin Bush Skeptics Society because he doesn't often play to his measurements. But you gotta love the measurements. 

    Rashan Gary, Michigan, 4.29-second 20-yard shuttle, at 277 pounds: Gary's overall workouts were excellent; his shuttle time is just the number that stands out. A super-athletic projected 3-tech defensive tackle, Gary should be a lock for the top half of the first round.

    Brian Burns, Florida, 4.53-second 40, at 249 pounds: Burns played at close to 230 pounds, and there was concern that he would lose quickness at his new weight (or that he bulked up with "show weight"). The fast 40 confirms Burns can bulk up to NFL size without losing the traits that make him special. 

    Dexter Lawrence, Clemson, 5.05-second 40, at 342 pounds: The 6'4" Lawrence also did 36 reps on the bench press. He later suffered a minor injury and did not complete his shuttle drills. He's an old Bill Parcells Planet Theory player: There are only so many humans on the planet who can do these things at Lawrence's size. Nose tackles don't play as big a role in NFL defenses as they once did, but if you can get a guy like Lawrence, you increase the role until he fits in it. 

    Terrill Hanks, New Mexico State: 4.98-second 40, at 242 pounds: Hanks pulled a hamstring while running, so this is actually a number that doesn't matter. Hanks looks great on film; his inability to do much at the combine is more of a missed opportunity than a disaster.

    And speaking of disasters... 

    Jachai Polite, Florida, 4.84-second 40, at 258 pounds: Polite also looked a little flabby, remarked that teams "bashed" him during interviews (making him sound a little sensitive to criticism, which may have been what teams were poking for) and begged out of later drills with an injury. Polite's tape is dazzling at times. He's a frenetic, high-motor player. He may be this year's Orlando Brown: the guy who gets roasted at the combine but ends up playing a high level in his rookie year.

Draft Crush Spotlight: Khalen Saunders, Defensive Tackle, Western Illinois

6 of 10

    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Who He Is

    Khalen Saunders isn't just our draft crush. He's everyone's draft crush!

    He is the defensive tackle doing backflips in that viral video. He's the guy whose fiancee had a baby while he was participating in Senior Bowl week.

    Saunders drew little recruiting attention because of his height and the fact that playing both defensive line and running back in high school kept him from dominating at either position. He became one of the most dominant defenders in the FCS Missouri Valley Conference and is now one of the fastest risers—and most beloved personalities—in this year's draft class.

                     

    The Numbers

    Saunders measured 6'0" and 324 pounds. He ran a 5.01-second 40, benched 27 reps and looked especially nimble in his position drills.

               

    What He Said

    • About the flips: "I did it when I was real young and a few hundred pounds ago. And when I kept growing, it stuck with me as one of those skills that I just know how to do, no matter how big I get."

    • About the baby: "I can't wait until she starts growing, crawling and walking—things like that. She just started holding her head up, and I'm already bragging about that like she just scored 30 in a WNBA game."

    • About when he started to realize he was an NFL prospect: "I had a lot of friends who were on the opposing teams. I would talk to them, just messing around, and ask, 'What are y'all talking about?' And they were like: 'We're planning for you, so be ready. We're gonna have [a double-team] on you almost every play. ... We joked about it, but that was about the time I realized that I had a very strong possibility of getting to the next level."

                 

    Bottom Line

    Saunders' height would be a concern if he were projected as a first-rounder. Aaron Donald can play at an MVP level at roughly that height, but there is only one Aaron Donald.

    But Saunders' combination of massive size, shocking athleticism and maturity does make him an excellent value as a Day 2 defender. He may turn out to be more of a role player than a star, but teammates will fall in love with him. And so will you. 

The Last Fullback on Earth

7 of 10

    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Wisconsin's Alec Ingold isn't just another fullback at this year's scouting combine. He's the only fullback at this year's scouting combine.

    "I think it's just the game is changing," Ingold said Thursday about his position's dying-breed status. "It's cyclical. Defenses are getting smaller; offenses are getting smaller. That's just who the coaching staffs want to see here today."

    Ingold was a high school quarterback who originally committed to Northern Illinois at the position. He decided to play for Paul Chryst's Badgers instead, and Chryst almost immediately moved him to a new position: linebacker.

    "I was at linebacker for the first fall camp into first week one or two. I played one week of scout team. I played an Alabama [linebacker], and then I was on offense.

    "I was really surprised because I won scout-team player of the week. What did I do wrong?"

    Ingold did nothing wrong; an injury to Corey Clement left the Badgers thin in the backfield. Ingold ended up playing fullback at Wisconsin for four seasons, amassing just 343 rushing yards but adding 21 total touchdowns as a goal-line threat.

    An excellent Senior Bowl week led to this week's combine opportunity, and Ingold seized it: His 4.89-second 40 won't make any headlines, but he posted results in cone, shuttle and jumping drills similar to many of the running backs in this class.

    Despite the somewhat mixed results, with literally no other fullbacks to compare Ingold to, teams aren't too worried about Ingold's workout numbers, anyway.  

    "Almost every team has told me they're going to watch the tape more so than what I'm going to do here. Mostly because all the drills are different. I really don't have a specific fullback workout that I can do."

    Being among the last of his kind may turn out to be an advantage for Ingold. The Patriots used fullback James Develin to great effect during their Super Bowl run. Other teams are rediscovering the benefits of adding a fullback to some offensive packages. The cycle may be cycling back, and Ingold has a corner on the market.

    "Just to play in cold weather, gritty football, that's what I'm trying to do," Ingold said.

    Ingold will get his chance. And he may just help bring fullbacks back from the brink of extinction.

Six Degrees of Sean McVay-Tion: Freddie Kitchens, Browns

8 of 10

    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    In this week's combine notebooks, we'll be profiling the NFL's new head coaches, gauging their ability to handle their teams' toughest issues, assessing their fashion sense and, most importantly, assigning them a Sean McVay Number, which is like a Kevin Bacon Number, except it can land you one of the 32 most coveted jobs in professional sports.

            

    Freddie Kitchens, Browns

    Sean McVay Number: 3

    Kitchens, like McVay, is an offensive innovator and purported quarterback whisperer who rose from obscurity in a hurry. That's about where the similarities end.

              

    Fashion Sense: Appropriately Below Average

    Gray Pro Football Hall of Fame sweatshirt. Team cap. Press credential lanyard proudly displayed (most coaches hand it off before speaking). Stubble. Kitchens looked like he was up until 4 a.m. grinding film and then pounded down two 20-ounce coffees and a stack of pancakes before taking the podium. 

    And that's the way coaches are supposed to look, darn it.

             

    How He Tackled His Team's Toughest Issues

    Kitchens was tasked with talking about the Kareem Hunt signing, and he did a phenomenal job staying on message: 

    "I think we have to have a support system in place, which we do. Kareem has to be willing, has to show remorse and be willing to make a change. And he's shown us that.

    "We never justify anything that's happened. But there's some good that can come out of this if he keeps evolving and keeps doing the things he's supposed to do to become a better person. And we'll worry about the football stuff later."

              

    Overall Impression

    Kitchens could be cast as the young Bruce Arians in a movie, and that's a good thing. It's easy to see why he rose through the ranks in Cleveland so quickly: He combines old-school-football cultural trappings with new ideas. 

    Unlike the other young coaches hired this offseason, Kitchens is in Year 1.5 or so of his program instead of Year 1. That buys him some benefit of the doubt: He has already had some success as an offensive coordinator in Cleveland. It also brings higher early expectations. Kitchens came across this week as a coach who is ready to meet them. 

Six Degrees of Sean McVay-Tion: Adam Gase

9 of 10

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    In this week's combine notebooks, we'll be profiling the NFL's new head coaches, gauging their ability to handle their teams' toughest issues, assessing their fashion sense and, most importantly, assigning them a Sean McVay Number, which is like a Kevin Bacon Number, except it can land you one of the 32 most coveted jobs in professional sports.

             

    Adam Gase, New York Jets

    Sean McVay Number: 3

    Gase has no McVay coaching connections but has McVay characteristics: He's just 40 years old and has a reputation as an offensive innovator and quarterback whisperer.

    That's right: Gase is only 40. It only feels like he has been coaching forever. Two seasons with Jay Cutler will do that to you.

               

    Fashion Sense: Average

    With his black windbreaker and cap pulled down over his eyes, Gase looked like Howling Mad Murdock from the A-Team trying to sneak into the bad guy's office disguised as a delivery man. But Gase's grade is curved up because the extreme bend in the bill of his cap. That cap has been in his back pocket at some point.

    (And yes, disguises were Templeton "Faceman" Peck's thing, not Murdock's, but Gase is a total Murdock. Never, ever try to "well, actually" me on A-Team references.) 

              

    How He Tackled His Team's Toughest Issues

    Gase on what went wrong during his Dolphins tenure: "We didn't win enough games."

    Informative as ever, Coach. 

    He later elaborated, slightly.

    "I think there was a lot of good stuff. We had some opportunities at the end of the season the last two years and we didn't win a game after we beat New England both those years. We didn't take advantage of the opportunities we had."

       

    Overall Impression

    Anyone expecting Gase to repeat his performance from his introductory press conference in January (where he made facial expressions like the kid in some afterschool special trying LSD for the first time) were disappointed. Gase gave some thoughtful, informative answers about the Jets roster and was candid about how much work is ahead of him and the Jets.

    I'm a Gase skeptic, but it's not his fault that the roster is at Stage 2 of a rebuilding cycle in Mike Maccagnan's fifth year as general manager. And Gase has never really worked with a young quarterback like Sam Darnold before; Ryan Tannehill had already endured 184 sacks and gone 29-35 as a starter by the time Gase arrived. Let's keep an open mind and see what happens.

Rumor Mill Good Idea/Bad Idea

10 of 10

    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    All sorts of news and rumors emanated from the steakhouses and cigar bars of downtown Indianapolis this week. Here's a rundown and analysis of some of the most noteworthy gossip.

        

    Redskins interested in trading for quarterback Josh Rosen, per Tony Pauline at DraftAnalyst.com.

    Bad idea. Rosen is a fine prospect who deserves a second chance…or even a first chance (Tom Brady would struggle with the system and offensive line Rosen dealt with last year). It's just that you know Washington will end up bidding against itself and give away two first-round picks or something.

       

    Raiders shopping quarterback Derek Carr, per Bleacher Report's Master Tesfatsion.

    Bad idea. No...make that good idea. Wait...maybe it's bad? Oh, this is actually a terrible idea. It will just be a good comedic idea if the Raiders trade Carr, then the Cardinals take Murray and then Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock and Mark Davis spend the season taking turns blaming one another for the fact that Jarrett Stidham is their starting quarterback. 

        

    Giants open to trading defensive end Olivier Vernon, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.

    Bad idea. The Giants' long-term plan must be to make their defense terrible so they can use that as an excuse for the team's poor performance when they bring Eli Manning back in 2020.

         

    Safety Earl Thomas may be out of the Cowboys' price range, per Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk.

    Good idea. The Cowboys should stick to their new personnel strategy and lure Charlie Waters out of retirement instead.

         

    Chiefs are entertaining trade talks for linebacker Justin Houston, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.

    Bad idea. C'mon guys. What's the point in having Patrick Mahomes locked into a super-cheap contract for two more years if you don't at least try to pay all your other top players?

        

    Panthers looking to move on from free-agent wide receiver Devin Funchess, per Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer

    Good idea. Funchess will make the perfect replacement for Kelvin Benjamin in Buffalo.

        

    Falcons expected to let running back Tevin Coleman leave as a free agent, per ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure.

    Bad idea. The Falcons are due to pay Devonta Freeman $20 million-plus over the next four years so Ito Smith can average 3.5 yards per carry.