Ideal Landing Spots for the Stars of the NFL Scouting Combine

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IMarch 5, 2019

Ideal Landing Spots for the Stars of the NFL Scouting Combine

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The NFL Scouting Combine is an athletic showcase of the league's next batch of potential stars, providing opportunities for the top prospects to prove game-changing athletic ability in front of all 32 teams. 

    Only a select few steal the show at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and become the event's biggest winners. 

    The stars of the combine are the players who best show the combination of size, speed, power and agility that often translates into immediate success at the next level. And because of that, you won't see a quarterback on the list this year. The signal-callers who took the field in Indianapolis are not primed to be immediate starters right now. 

    Below, we'll highlight the stars of this year's event and identify the top potential landing spots for each one. 

    Note: All measurements and times courtesy of NFL.com

         

OL Garrett Bradbury, NC State

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Arguably no offensive line prospect did more to improve his draft stock at the combine than the 6'3", 306-pound Garrett Bradbury, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.92 seconds and posted 34 reps on the bench press.

    The North Carolina State star was the only offensive lineman to both run the 40 in under five seconds and put up 30 or more reps on the bench, proving his athleticism and his power. He also flashed elite agility, finishing with the top time among offensive linemen in the three-cone drill (7.41 seconds) and in the top six in the short shuttle (4.53 seconds). 

    Dane Brugler of The Athletic believes Bradbury is the top interior offensive lineman in the class and a possible top-20 pick. 

    The winner of the 2018 Rimington Trophy, which is awarded to college football's top center, Bradbury looks like a plug-and-play interior offensive line prospect who could immediately help several NFL teams. His testing numbers suggest first-round draft status and a Pro Bowl ceiling. If teams view Bradbury as the next Travis Frederick, he'll likely be gone early in the second half of the first round.  

    Ideal landing spots: Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers, Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens

OT Andre Dillard, Washington State

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The NFL remains a pass-happy league, and throwing the football requires nimble, athletic offensive tackles capable of protecting the quarterback on the edges. That reality should elevate the ascending draft stock of Dillard, who dominated the agility drills and looked like the smoothest operator in space among the top offensive tackles at the combine. 

    Not only did Dillard (6'5", 315 lbs) post the top time among offensive linemen in the short shuttle (4.4 seconds) and the broad jump (9'10"), but he was also second in the three-cone drill (7.44 seconds) and fourth in the 40-yard dash (4.96). He also moved effortlessly in the positional drills, solidifying his status as the top pass-blocking offensive tackle in the class. 

    Rarely do NFL teams let athletic, nimble-footed and experienced offensive tackles last long in the first round. It's possible the four-year starter at Washington State guaranteed himself a spot in the first 20 picks, especially given how many teams have needs at offensive tackle. 

    Ideal landing spots: Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles

RB Justice Hill, Oklahoma State

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Although Justice Hill lacks ideal size at 5'10", 198 pounds and may never be a full-time NFL running back, he made himself some money in Indianapolis by producing elite testing numbers at his position. The Oklahoma State star posted the top time in the 40-yard dash (4.40 seconds) and the best vertical leap (40") and broad jump (10'10"). He even put up 21 reps on the bench press. 

    According to Bucky Brooks of NFL.com, Hill "left a positive impression on scouts as an explosive athlete," making him one of the clear winners on the first day of workouts. 

    Teams are always searching for big-play weapons on offense, so Hill has likely positioned himself to come off the board on Day 2 or early Day 3 in April's draft.

    Fit will be everything. Teams in need of a change-of-pace option could see Hill as the ideal complement behind a more sturdy starter. Getting him into the open field and allowing his athleticism to shine will help maximize his value.

    Ideal landing spots: Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs

WR D.K. Metcalf, Mississippi

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    D.K. Metcalf grabbed the full attention of the football world Saturday, posting out-of-this-world numbers in the 40-yard dash (4.33 seconds), vertical leap (40½"), broad jump (11'2") and bench press (27 reps). He fell short in the agility drills, particularly the three-cone (7.38 seconds), but what he accomplished at 6'3" and 228 pounds is still hard to believe. 

    The combine proved Metcalf to be one of the biggest, strongest and fastest receivers to ever enter the NFL draft. He looks like a create-a-player on Madden.

    "Every team room that I walk into, they're always like, 'Wow, you really are that big,'" Metcalf told Ryan Mink of the Ravens' official site.

    Finding a spot for Metcalf in the first round isn't difficult, even if he only caught 26 passes in seven games in 2018 before suffering a season-ending neck injury. A lot of teams need a big, fast receiver capable of creating big plays down the field, and it's not hard to envision a receiver-needy team deciding to pull the trigger on Metcalf after his incredible performance in Indianapolis.

    Ideal landing spots: New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Redskins

TE Noah Fant, Iowa

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Tight ends the size of Noah Fant (6'4", 249 lbs) aren't supposed to post the kind of numbers he did Saturday. 

    Fant blazed through the 40-yard dash at 4.5 seconds, hit 39½ inches in the vertical and 10'7" in the broad jump, and he finished the three-cone drill in 6.81 seconds and the 60-yard shuttle in 11.49 seconds. He led all tight ends in those five categories and looked impressive doing it. 

    Had it not been for D.K. Metcalf, Fant likely would have been the star of the show Saturday. The performance still locked in Fant as the most athletic tight end in the class. 

    Tony Pauline of the Eagles' official site wrote that Fant caught "everything thrown in his direction" and made a strong case to be the first tight end drafted. 

    NFL teams will be tempted. Fant combines undeniable athleticism with top production (18 touchdown catches in his final two seasons at Iowa) and legitimate field-stretching potential, putting him squarely in the mix to be a first-round pick April 25 in Nashville, Tennessee. He will be in high demand among teams wanting a potentially dominant receiving threat at tight end. 

    Ideal landing spots: Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos

DE Montez Sweat, Mississippi State

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Sweat put on his best Jadeveon Clowney impression and stole the show Sunday, racing to a 4.41-second 40-yard dash and exploding through agility drills at 6'6" and 260 pounds. Not since Clowney has a defensive prospect produced such ridiculous numbers at such an impressive size. 

    In fact, Sweat's time in the 40-yard dash set a new record for defensive linemen at the combine. After three days of testing, Sweat was tied for the ninth-fastest 40 time among all prospects, which included running backs, receivers, tight ends and linebackers. 

    According to Jeff Legwold of ESPN, Sweat ran faster than 21 of the 23 running backs. Again, Sweat is 260 pounds.  

    The NFL is likely to fall in love. Sweat produced big numbers in the SEC (22.5 sacks, 30.0 tackles for loss over the last two seasons), impressed at the Senior Bowl in January and nailed the combine. He checks all the boxes, giving him serious potential to come off the board in the first 10 or 15 picks. Teams don't let big, explosive and productive edge-rushers fall far in the first round.  

    Ideal landing spots: Oakland Raiders, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers

OLB Brian Burns, Florida State

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Most years, Brian Burns and his workout numbers would have been the star attraction of the edge-rushing group. Montez Sweat might have stolen his thunder Sunday, but Burns still put together the kind of workout that will have him shooting up draft boards. 

    The Florida State star moved around comfortably at 6'5" and 249 pounds, finishing the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds and the three-cone drill in 7.01 seconds. He looked fluid and explosive in positional drills and hit 36 inches in the vertical jump and 10'9" in the broad jump, proving the power in his lower body. 

    Some had concerns about Burns' weight, and others wondered how he'd handle the movement drills after adding weight for the combine. He calmed all those fears and likely cemented himself as a first-round pick.

    Burns would be best served in a hybrid defense capable of using his ability to both rush the passer from the edge and drop into coverage. He proved he can do both—and do both at a high level—during a standout performance at the combine. 

    Ideal landing spots: Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns

LB Devin Bush, Michigan

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The biggest winners at the combine are often the fringe first-round prospects who check the unchecked boxes and establish themselves as surefire top-32 picks. That's what Devin Bush did in Indianapolis. The Michigan product not only calmed fears about his size, but he also nailed the athletic testing portion and may now challenge LSU's Devin White as the top off-the-ball linebacker in the draft. 

    Bush measured in at 5'11" and 234 pounds, and he ran the 40-yard dash in a blistering 4.43 seconds, the second-best time among linebackers. He put up 21 reps on the bench press, hit 40½ inches on the vertical and finished the three-cone drill in 6.93 seconds, making him possibly the most explosive player at the position in the draft class. 

    Not all off-the-ball linebackers have lost value in the NFL. Defenders like Bush, who have elite instincts and can run, cover and play the run, are capable of becoming instant-impact players. Teams in the second half of the first round could jump at the opportunity to get a game-changer in the middle of the defense. 

    Ideal landing spots: Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers

CB David Long, Michigan

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    How does a smaller cornerback win big at the combine? By acing the athletic testing, a feat David Long accomplished Monday. 

    What Long (5'11", 196 lbs) lacks in size, he wins with athleticism. The Michigan product ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds, hit 39½ inches on the vertical leap and obliterated the agility testing, finishing the three-cone drill in 6.45 seconds and the short shuttle in 3.97 seconds. His time in the three-cone drill was a quarter-second better than any other cornerback at the combine. 

    Long also looked terrific in the positional drills, showing a smooth, polished backpedal and transition. 

    NFL teams likely wanted to see how Long would stack up in terms of vertical explosion and horizontal quickness, two key factors in making up for size issues. He made easy work out of the cornerback drills, and now teams have impressive athletic numbers to match Long's impressive tape. 

    He won't be perfect for everyone's scheme, but most defenses want tough, athletic cornerbacks like Long.

    Ideal landing spots: New York Giants, Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles

S Juan Thornhill, Virginia

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Safeties in today's NFL need to have explosive movement ability in all directions, with the size to play the run and the speed to cover the deep half of the field. Juan Thornhill, the star of the defensive back class Monday, checked all those boxes at the combine. 

    The Virginia product measured in at 6'0" and 205 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds. He put up 21 reps on the bench press and practically jumped out of the stadium, hitting 44 inches in the vertical—one inch from the combine record—and 11'9" in the broad jump. His combination of size, speed and explosive power in the lower body will have him shooting up draft boards. 

    Thornhill's experience at both safety and cornerback will add to his value, giving him appeal to teams in search of a safety capable of playing coverage deep and down in the slot. Expect squads in the second round to seriously consider grabbing one of the most athletic defensive backs in the draft class.  

    Ideal landing spots: San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams, Carolina Panthers

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