Scouting Combine Notebook: Top DB Prospects of 2019 Fail to Inspire or ImpressMarch 4, 2019
Scouting Combine Notebook: Top DB Prospects of 2019 Fail to Inspire or Impress
The 2019 NFL Scouting Combine is officially a done deal.
The final day of the combine belongs to the secondary. It's a position group that has grown in importance as the NFL has become more pass-heavy. As goes the defensive backfield, so go most teams—for better or worse.
Unfortunately, teams looking to be blown away by this year's class in Monday's workouts were left largely disappointed—especially where the top-end prospects are concerned. The top two safeties on many draft boards weren't on the field because of injuries. The corners thought of by most as first-rounders either posted disappointing 40 times or struggled in positional drills.
It wasn't all doom and gloom. A couple of big-bodied corners surprised with impressive 40 times—including one who briefly held the title of the combine's fastest man. That corner then lost the title to a safety who left scouts agape by breaking the 4.3-second barrier.
Here's a look back at all the happenings from the final day of the 2019 combine—beginning with that trio of Round 1 corners who would just as soon receive a Monday mulligan.
Combine Overreaction: Deandre Baker Is Slow
Heading into this year's combine, Georgia's Deandre Baker was one of the young cornerbacks vying to be the first at his position off the board in April's draft after a season in which he put the clamps on many of the SEC's top wideouts.
However, there were concerns about Baker—mainly that he's neither especially long nor especially fast.
Baker alleviated the former concern by measuring at 5'11" with 32-inch arms in Indianapolis. Monday's 40-yard dash offered an opportunity to do the same about the latter.
That didn't happen. Baker's first attempt checked in unofficially at 4.53 seconds. The second was even worse—Baker got off to a bad start and finished at 4.63 seconds. His official time was 4.52.
Here's the thing: The sky isn't falling.
Yes, Baker's 40 times were a bit disappointing—especially in light of a report from Touchdown Wire's Doug Farrar stating that he'd heard Baker "wasn't quite as prepared for the 40 as he should be."
But Baker rebounded somewhat with a better showing in the positional drills, displaying the agility, ball skills and fluidity of motion that's every bit as important to success at cornerback as straight-line speed.
As Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski pointed out, whether it's Trumaine Johnson (4.50), Richard Sherman (4.56) or Marcus Peters (4.53), plenty of corners in the NFL didn't tear up the track at the combine and have done just fine in the NFL.
Baker may not have done himself any favors in Sunday's 40, but tape don't lie. There are hours of it where Baker played the cornerback position as well as anyone in this year's class.
Combine Overreaction: Greedy Williams Is the Top CB in 2019
There was a cornerback from LSU trying to establish himself as the top option at the position in this year's class, because there's always a cornerback from LSU trying to establish himself as the top option in a given year's class.
If measurables and athleticism are your thing, then Greedy Williams probably was your guy before the combine ever started.
Williams' measurables are a checklist of what NFL teams are looking for at corner. At 6'2", Williams has the length that so many pro teams covet on the outside. And Williams put to rest any worries about his ability to run at that height with a 4.37-second official 40 time.
There you go. Problem solved. Williams is the No. 1 cornerback in the class. Glad we got that settled.
At least it would be—if being tall and fast was all that mattered at cornerback. But it's not. And the rest of Williams' day was...ungood.
Before shutting it down for the day with cramps, Williams struggled mightily with his change of direction and transitions in positional drills. It did nothing to dispel the belief that Williams' technique is very much a work in progress.
Mind you, that doesn't mean Williams isn't the best corner prospect this year any more than being big and fast in a straight line means he is. Technique can be improved. Speed? Not so much.
What it means is that the waters at cornerback leaving Indy aren't much clearer than they were heading in.
Combine Overreaction: Byron Murphy Is the Anti-Greedy Williams
Neither Greedy Williams nor Deandre Baker was the No. 1 cornerback on the big board of Bleacher Report's Matt Miller heading into the combine. That honor belonged to Washington's Byron Murphy, who had 58 total stops, four interceptions and 13 passes defensed for the Huskies in 2018.
And just like the aforementioned Williams and Baker, Murphy's combine was a mixed bag.
When it came to the on-field drills, Murphy fared as well as any cornerback in Indianapolis. He was smooth and sudden in his breaks, didn't waste a lot of steps and demonstrated plus ball skills.
The problem was what came before it. Murphy measured out earlier at the combine at a hair under 5'11" and ran a disappointing 4.55 seconds in the 40-yard dash. At a position where length and speed are of great importance, neither of those numbers is going to sit well with NFL clubs.
His combine was an inverse Greedy.
Again, tape doesn't lie. Murphy wasn't the top cornerback on some draft boards because he's lanky or blazing fast. He plays with great technique and is very physical for his size. Murphy isn't even a little reluctant to get dirty. Quite the opposite.
But the worries about Murphy's length and straight-line speed were reinforced by his showing at the combine. It was a theme among the top corner prospects at the 2019 combine. No one separated himself.
That's going to ratchet up the pressure on each of those youngsters at their respective pro days.
Houston's Isaiah Johnson Had a Day
The top names at the cornerback position may have struggled at the combine, but at least one second-tier player did what those big names couldn't and had himself a day.
That player was Houston's Isiah Johnson, who posted one of the top Next Gen Stats combine scores among all the participants at the event.
At just a tad over 6'2" and 208 pounds, Johnson peeled off a 4.40 flat in the 40-yard dash—an eye-opening time for a long corner with 33-inch arms.
Cue NFL scouts nodding solemnly and scribbling furiously in notebooks.
Back in September, Dane Brugler wrote for The Athletic that the converted wide receiver was big on potential but short on refinement.
"In coverage, Johnson is understandably raw in areas, noticeably with his technique and footwork. He engages in excess contact downfield and needs to show better restraint when not in ideal position to disrupt the pass. Work ethic, toughness and smarts aren't question marks, so the coaches are excited about his potential, which could earn him top-100 draft grades."
After another year of playing the position, not much has changed. Johnson remains a tantalizing prospect from an athletic perspective who remains a work in progress and then some.
But cornerbacks who are over 6'2" and have 4.4 speed are only slightly more common than unicorns. It's the sort of project many NFL teams will gladly take on.
Johnson probably still isn't a first-round prospect—not in a class that's wicked deep on defense.
But if he can back that number up at Houston's pro day, he won't be waiting long on Day 2 to hear his name called.
Rock Ya-Sin: Top-5 Name, 1st-Round Talent
No player at the combine did more to boost his stock than Mississippi State edge-rusher Montez Sweat. Quite a few chins still sport Band-Aids after jaws hit the floor following Sweat's 4.41 40.
However, Temple cornerback Rock Ya-Sin has staked a claim to a spot among the draft season all-stars too. In doing so, he may have worked his way into the first round of April's draft.
It's not that Ya-Sin had an outstanding workout in Indianapolis. Frankly, very few corners did. There was no Denzel Ward blowing the roof off Lucas Oil Stadium in 2019...at least among the first-round prospects.
But on a day where most of the big names disappointed in at least one area, Ya-Sin's decent showing looks that much better.
His 4.51-second 40 time wasn't blistering. But at just a hair under six feet and 192 pounds with 32-inch arms, Ya-Sin wasn't expected to challenge to be the combine's fastest man.
It was a similar story in the on-field workouts. Ya-Sin wasn't the most fluid corner on the field when changing direction or the quickest in and out of his breaks. There wasn't necessarily a drill where he stood out. But he acquitted himself well in drill after drill, keeping the momentum he established as one of the stars of Senior Bowl week.
Plenty of teams that pick toward the back end of Round 1 could use a physical corner with a well-rounded skill set.
Meet the 2019 Combine's Fastest Man...for About an Hour
Heading into Monday's workouts, a pair of wide receivers were tied for the fastest 40-yard dash at this year's combine—UMass' Andy Isabella and Ohio State's Parris Campbell, each of whom peeled off a 4.31.
That's not going to break any records, but it's still pretty dang fast.
It's just not the fastest 40 in 2019 anymore. The title of fastest man at the 2019 event was claimed (for a little while) by Auburn corner Jamel Dean, who posted a 4.3 flat.
He also put up a 41-inch vertical and a 10'10" broad jump—numbers that combined to give Dean one of the highest NGS combine scores among cornerbacks
Dean took the scenic route to the combine. The 6'1", 206-pounder (oh yeah, he's that long, too) originally committed to play at Ohio State but was medically disqualified after a knee injury—one of three major ones he's suffered.
Dean landed at Auburn, where his numbers were far from jaw-dropping. Given that pedestrian production (including just two interceptions in two years) and that long injury history, Dean was something of a drafterthought—a Day 3 dart throw.
One sizzling 40-yard dash time doesn't necessarily change that. But with that kind of speed/length combination, the number of NFL teams willing to take that risk April 27 likely increased.
To, say, 32 or so.
Unfortunately for Dean, the day wasn't done.
Meet the 2019 Combine's Fastest Man...for Real
Once the cornerback finished their workouts, it was fair to assume that Jamel Dean's 4.30-second 40 time would hold up. After all, corners are usually faster than their secondary mates at the safety spot.
Someone forgot to tell Zedrick Woods of Ole Miss. On the next-to-last 40 of the entire combine, Woods raced down the track at Lucas Oil Stadium in 4.3 seconds flat unofficially.
When the official time came back one-hundredth of a second faster, the combine had a new fastest man—and Dean had possibly the shortest title reign in that regard.
Woods and Dean share something else, in that both weighed north of 200 pounds and ran a 4.3 or better.
The list of people who have done that is short.
To say this result was surprising is an understatement. After all, this is a player about whom the Draft Network said: "Below-average athlete. Closing speed is a mile-an-hour. Lateral agility and overall explosiveness is poor for a safety." Woods did manage 79 tackles and a pair of picks for the Rebels in 2018, but this was a player who was a late Day 3 prospect.
And that's if he was drafted at all.
Now? Part of this explosion can be attributed to Woods' training for the 40—apparently really, really hard.
But you can bet the rent that NFL teams will go back to the film room to try to figure out how a player that fast can sometimes look so slow on the field.
At Least One Safety Got Savage in Workouts
The 2018 season was a difficult one for the Maryland Terrapins after the tragic death of Jordan McNair. As Jonas Shaffer reported for the Baltimore Sun, Maryland safety Darnell Savage said that trying year was a hot topic among NFL teams in combine interviews:
"Definitely, it comes up. Being college athletes, that's not something you go through every day. That's a really difficult situation. For us to come together as a team and overcome that, a lot of people want to know how we did it. It's interesting how we really came together and played for each other. I think that's what made this year special."
With 52 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and four interceptions last year, Savage showed he could handle the pressure of that trying season.
Monday, the 5'11", 198-pounder showed that he could handle the pressure of working out in front of NFL scouts too.
On a day where top safety prospects like Delaware's Nasir Adderley and Alabama's Deionte Thompson didn't work out because of injuries, Savage was arguably the most impressive safety on the field in Indy.
Savage looks plenty fast on film, but not many expected him to rip off a pair of sub-4.4 40s—including an official time of 4.36. He also had a 10'6" broad jump and tied for seventh among defensive backs with a 39½-inch vertical.
There's a pack of Day 2 safety prospects this year—a group that includes players like Savage, Johnathan Abram and Juan Thornhill.
Of that group, Savage stood out the most in Monday's workouts.
Injury Bug Strikes Buckeyes in Indy...Again
Not every cornerback had a good day in Monday's workouts. In fact, at least one defensive back from a big-time school had a terrible day—and he wasn't even on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Ohio State cornerback Kendall Sheffield told NFL Network's Kimberly Jones that he suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle while participating in the bench press Sunday (h/t Chase Goodbread of NFL.com). It's the second straight year a Buckeyes standout has suffered that injury—offensive lineman Billy Price did the same thing in 2018.
If there's a silver lining, it's not believed the injury will require surgery.
It's an especially cruel twist for the 5'11", 193-pound Sheffield, who had 35 tackles, two interceptions and eight passes defensed for Ohio State in 2018. Monday was supposed to be the day that Sheffield showed off the wheels that broke track records in Columbus. The wheels that got him named the fastest player in college football last year by Goodbread.
Sheffield was one of the top contenders to be the combine's fastest man. Now he has to hope he's one of the combine's fastest healers.
Price wasn't negatively impacted by his injury last year. The Bengals took him in the first round, and he wound up playing in the season opener.
However, it would have been a lot easier for Sheffield to get an NFL team to gamble a Day 2 pick on his speed if he could have peeled off an eye-popping time in Indianapolis.