NFL Prospects Who Will Blow Up the 2020 NFL Combine

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystFebruary 24, 2020

NFL Prospects Who Will Blow Up the 2020 NFL Combine

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    The NFL Scouting Combine can turn well-regarded draft prospects into superstars and previously unknown individuals into household names.

    While far too much emphasis is placed on the on-field events at Lucas Oil Stadium, they do matter. They don't matter as much as spectators tend to believe since the combine also holds critical medical evaluations and player interviews. But a player must achieve a baseline effort at his position, while a blowout workout will open eyes around the league.

    A year ago, momentum built for DK Metcalf as the top wide receiver. At 6'3" and 228 pounds, he looked like a Greek god and blazed a 40-yard dash (4.33 seconds) nearly as fast as Hermes himself. Yet the Ole Miss product struggled with the less-than-herculean tasks, specifically change-of-direction drills. Ultimately, he slipped to the Seattle Seahawks at No. 64 overall.

    Two years prior, John Ross III sizzled with a record-breaking 4.22-second 40-yard dash. Despite Ross' worrisome injury history and the overall concerns about his game, the Cincinnati Bengals selected him with the ninth pick.

    Yes, far more important aspects occur in Indianapolis, but combine workouts have an effect. 

    An outstanding workout can confirm a previous evaluation. Other players might surprise with their athleticism and draw far more interest. Either way, awesome athletic performances will headline the 2020 combine. Workouts run from Thursday to Sunday, and the following performers are expected to steal the show in prime time.

    Note: California defensive back Ashtyn Davis, who has received All-American honors in both football and track and field, was expected to impress but pulled out of running events Monday as he continues to recover from groin surgery, per Bruce Feldman of The Athletic. 

                  

    Looking for 2020 NFL Scouting Combine betting advice? The guys at Stick to Football give their Combine predictions in their latest episode here.      

QB Justin Herbert, Oregon

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    The combine is an ideal setting for Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert to shine because it will highlight his strengths while not exposing any of his perceived weaknesses.

    Everyone will see a prototypical quarterback who stands 6'6" and weighs 227 pounds. Herbert is also a good athlete. If he participates in the on-field events—which isn't a given for any quarterback prospect—he should further intrigue those looking for mobile signal-callers.

    Of course, arm talent goes a long way. Many become mesmerized by those who can sling the Duke in a controlled setting. Herbert's easy velocity and downfield capabilities will stand out, even if he is not that accurate. Scouts tend to excuse missed throws because of their unfamiliarity with the receivers (ask Cam Newton).

    Any concerns about his ability to process post-snap information and progressions won't factor into the evaluation. He won't have to handle pressure or worry about protecting the ball. Herbert can stand tall in the pocket and let it rip, and he'll certainly do so with gusto. If starts to miss throws and gets out of rhythm, built-in excuses exist.

    It's hard to imagine a scenario in which Herbert doesn't excel—even in interviews, which aren't privy to the public. He's the reigning William V. Campbell Trophy (aka the academic Heisman) winner. His intelligence should come across when teams ask him questions and put him on the whiteboard.

    As a result, Herbert should solidify his status as a top-three quarterback prospect alongside LSU's Joe Burrow and Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and as a potential top-five pick for April's draft in Las Vegas.

RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    When many envision Wisconsin running backs, they think of powerful downhill runners. Let's call it the Ron Dayne paradigm. The Badgers' style of play feeds into the perception.

    Wisconsin isn't particularly known for its explosive-play capabilities. Workhorse running backs are often responsible for creating chunk plays and are frequently more skilled than given credit for.

    Jonathan Taylor isn't a typical bell-cow back, even though he carried the ball 299 or more times in each of his three seasons. Yes, he's the sixth all-time leading rusher in the FBS with 6,174 yards. His effectiveness stemmed from his explosiveness. He isn't a 219-pound bowling ball, but he's a throwback.

    Once upon a time, every team placed its best athlete at running back and handed him the ball. Well, that's what Wisconsin did.

    Two years ago, Saquon Barkley posted a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and 41-inch vertical jump on his way to becoming the second overall pick. Taylor almost certainly won't be drafted as high, but he could eclipse both of those impressive numbers.

    According to The Athletic's Bruce Feldman, Taylor ran a 4.3-second 40-yard dash and managed a 37½-inch vertical last summer. If the two-time Doak Walker Award winner replicates those numbers and puts together and outstanding workout—which is expected—he could make his way into the first-round conversation and possibly become the No. 1 running back prospect.

WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama

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    There's speed, and then there's another gear only a few people on Earth achieve.

    Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III won't just go to the combine and try to be the fastest man in his class. He has a legitimate shot to break Ross' record in the 40-yard dash.

    "Speed is on center stage at the combine, and Ruggs is going to be one of the fastest guys there," Sports Betting head linesman Adam Burns told AL.com's Mark Heim. "We've got him with the lowest 40 time on the board and a slight favorite over fellow speedster Jalen Reagor."

    The number isn't unattainable. Every year, someone asks whether a player can legitimately break the record. Most of the time, it's just bluster.

    In this case, Ruggs' speed is already well-known throughout the NFL scouting community. According to AL.com's Matt Zenitz, he ran in the 4.25-second range during last spring's junior pro day.

    The record is well within reach if that's the case, and Ruggs believes it is.

    "I actually was kind of upset after I ran because I didn't feel like I had a good start, but after they told me the numbers I was like ... I still feel like I can do better," he said in March, per 247Sports' Charlie Potter.

    At least one teammate believes he'll cross over into the Bo Jackson 4.19-second range.

    All eyes will be on Ruggs during the combine's most recognizable event.

WR Jalen Reagor, TCU

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    Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

    Imagine if Ruggs isn't the fastest player at this year's combine. Well, that possibility exists because TCU's Jalen Reagor could outshine him.

    According to The Athletic's Bruce Feldman, the junior clocked a 4.29-second effort during last year's testing. His play speed backs up that number. The 5'11", 195-pound wide receiver showed a gear that no one in the NFL achieved in 2019 when he reached a max speed of 22.6 miles per hour during the Horned Frogs' meeting with the Stanford Cardinal in the Alamo Bowl in 2017.

    But the TCU product isn't just a speed demon. He's also expected to test the upper limits in the more explosive drills. He doubled as a track star during his high school days and won a state championship in the long jump.

    One has to wonder how well he'll do during the combine's vertical and broad jumps. The official record for the vertical stands at 45 inches. The broad jump is a little more interesting. Byron Jones shattered the mark with a 12'3" effort prior to the 2015 draft.

    Reagor may fall short of being the fastest man at the combine and breaking any jump records. That's OK. If he comes close to any of those previously mentioned numbers, he'll have an all-around workout that will make him a first-round lock.

OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Wide receivers who blaze in the 40-yard dash are fun to watch. The athleticism defensive backs often display can be mesmerizing. Gifted quarterbacks draw the most attention. Yet, there's something different about 300-pound men moving like dancers.

    Iowa's Tristan Wirfs has a chance to become the most talked-about prospect because of what he can do as an athlete.

    "He's a world-class Olympic lifting athlete. That's [head strength and conditioning coach Chris] Doyle saying that," Iowa Hawkeyes offensive line coach Tim Polasek said during an interview on the Pro Football Fire podcast. "... I think the worst he'll go is middle 30s in the vertical jump. At 320 pounds, he also has a chance at being a sub-4.9 guy."

    The reigning Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year could become only the fourth tackle prospect to post more than 30 bench-press reps of 225 pounds and the fifth tackle to break the 4.9-second barrier in the 40-yard dash. None of the previous players weighed as much as Wirfs (322 lbs).

    Wirfs' power is staggering. He posted a school-record 450-pound hang clean with ease.

    "That's a really huge lift that people don't recognize," Doyle said, per The Athletic's Scott Dochterman. "Maybe people that don't have the experience with college football or with strength training don't realize that borders on ridiculous."

    The hang clean isn't a combine event, but the power and explosiveness translate. Wirfs is a tremendous all-around athlete, as his high school state championships in wrestling, discus and shot put indicate.

DE Chase Young, Ohio State

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Editor's Note: Per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, Chase Young will not do physical drills at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. He is in Indianapolis for other purposes though. 

    Whether a workout is good or bad is relative. It's based on the available data of similarly skilled athletes at each position.

    For example, Ohio State's Chase Young is considered the best non-quarterback prospect in the class, and he was on track to be the No. 1 overall pick until Joe Burrow put together the best season in college football history.

    Even so, Young will be held to the same standard of recent No. 1 overall picks Jadeveon Clowney (2014) and Myles Garrett (2017), both of whom who were exceptional athletes for their size. The following are the workout numbers for each, as well as Young's former teammate Nick Bosa, who went second overall in 2019:

    • Clowney (6'5", 266 lbs): 4.53-second 40-yard dash; 21 bench reps; 37½-inch vertical; 124-inch broad; 7.27-second three-cone; 4.43-second short shuttle.
    • Garrett (6'4", 272 lbs): 4.64-second 40-yard dash; 33 bench reps; 41-inch vertical; 128-inch broad.
    • Bosa (6'4", 266 lbs): 4.79-second 40-yard dash; 29 bench reps; 33.5-inch vertical; 116-inch broad; 7.1-second three-cone; 4.14-second short shuttle.

    Those numbers range from good to great for edge-rushers.

    The 6'5", 265-pound Young doesn't need to eclipse all of those to have a stellar combine. As long as he finishes within those established ranges, he'll confirm what everyone has already seen: He's an explosive and dynamic athlete while coming off the edge to sack the quarterback.

    Some disappointment may occur if Young falls short of Clowney's or Garrett's athletic testing. But the reigning FBS sack-master and Maxwell Award finalist will still be considered a fantastic athlete with outstanding natural gifts.

DT Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma

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    Some athletes take time to develop. Oklahoma's Neville Gallimore reshaped his body this past year and unleashed his full potential.

    According to The Athletic's Bruce Feldman, Gallimore shed 25 pounds, which amplified his already impressive physical prowess. The defensive tackle boasts a 500-pound bench press and an 800-pound squat. Those are great numbers for a space-eater in the middle of the defense. But he's far more than an immovable interior presence.

    "He is amazing," teammate Kenneth Murray told Feldman almost two years ago. "He's definitely got more confidence. He's figured it out. He's leading. I know for a fact that when he's in front of me, those four guys in front of me are gonna be right just because he's down there."

    Gallimore's on-field growth became obvious. His number of tackles for loss and sacks and his overall disruptive play increased in each of the last two seasons.

    The trimmer version was far more explosive up the field. The Canadian native's first-step quickness and overall speed will likely show up in Indianapolis. He reportedly ran a 4.76-second 40-yard dash while at Oklahoma.

    No 300-plus pound player has broken the 4.80-second barrier since 2006, when combine results became public. Mario Williams and Fletcher Cox came closest at 295 and 298 pounds, respectively.

    Gallimore is a great example of an all-around athlete who didn't commit solely to football early in life. He played basketball, soccer and volleyball, and these sports are reflected in his movement skills. Despite being a compactly built 6'2", 302-pound athlete, the second-team All-Big 12 performer will likely post numbers more in line with his defensive end counterparts.

LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson

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    Close your eyes and imagine what the ideal NFL defender should look like. Chances are the picture closely resembles Clemson's Isaiah Simmons.

    "Big, long, athletic player who can be a chesspiece for a team if you use him right," an NFL scout said of Simmons, per the New York Post's Ryan Dunleavy. "People will draft him high because of all the dream traits, then figure out where to play him."

    Simmons played all over the field for the Tigers as a linebacker, strong safety, free safety, slot defender, blitzer and even outside corner. The 6'4", 230-pounder displays every physical trait necessary to excel in professional football.

    The unanimous All-American was easily the best Clemson player on the field during this year's national championship game. At the same time, he could have been an NCAA champion in another event.

    "He had everything in place to be an NCAA-champion jumper if that was his primary event," Clemson track and field coach Mark Elliott said, per The Athletic's Grace Raynor. "From a coaching side … if you have an athlete like that on your track team and he's a jumper, you can only think about how good the person could be. Just the speed that he has and for the size [he is], personally, was impressive."

    The reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year has a chance at the vertical-jump record and could run in the 4.4-second 40-yard-dash range. He registered a 11'10" max jump last May and showed he can go step-for-step in a race with one of the nation's best running backs, the 5'10", 210-pound Travis Etienne.

S Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    At least one small-school standout deserves attention every year. Lenoir-Rhyne's Kyle Dugger is arguably the most deserving as a football player and athlete.

    "You get a guy at a small college like him once every 20 years, maybe," former Lenoir-Rhyne head coach Drew Cronic said, per NFL.com's Chase Goodbread. "If he was at Clemson, at Georgia, at Alabama, one of those places, he'd be playing. He'd be starting."

    Dugger is a classic late bloomer who didn't receive attention from bigger schools. He had to grow into the intimidating defensive back he now is.

    Intimidating is a good descriptor since not many safeties in today's game are 6'1" and 217 pounds or bigger. The Cleveland Browns chose Jabrill Peppers in the first round after he converted to linebacker for the Michigan Wolverines. For comparison, Peppers measured in at 5'11", 213 pounds three years ago at the combine.

    Dugger represents what every team wants in today's defensive back. He's big enough to defend against the run as a force player and simultaneously capable of blanketing tight ends. He also has more than enough sideline-to-sideline speed.

    According to Goodbread, Seattle Seahawks scout Ryan Florence clocked Dugger between 4.41 and 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash this past spring. The safety previously posted a 38-inch vertical and a 10'6" broad jump.

    If Dugger matches each of those efforts in Indianapolis, only five previous safety prospects will have done better in those categories since 2006. Only one, Obi Melifonwu, will have weighed more.