Whether it's from agents, scouts, players or fellow media members, everyone wants to know the same thing this week—who is going to show out at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine?
That's a hard question to answer when you live and breathe the NFL draft on the daily. There are 337 players invited to Indianapolis to work out in front of scouts and coaches, so it's hard to narrow that down to just one player who could have a DK Metcalf or Nick Bosa kind of workout. But from film study and conversations with football people and trainers, there is a player whose on-field product was good enough that a great workout could throw him into the national spotlight with combine drills now televised in prime time.
That's LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson.
A redshirt sophomore in 2019, Chaisson was the best defensive player on a Tigers defense that will have all 11 starters eventually drafted—and many of the backups, too. Rocking the famed No. 18 jersey—handed out annually to a high-character player who exhibits leadership and work ethic—Chaisson was the focal point for SEC offensive coordinators.
You can Google his stats and probably won't fall in love—he had 6.5 sacks to go with 13.5 tackles for a loss—but it's his impact on the game that is eye-opening. Chaisson shows burst with an ability to bend around the edge, but like Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Josh Allen, he's also asked to stop the run by taking on offensive tackles and pulling guards. He's asked to drop into coverage and follow tight ends or running backs down the field. He wasn't a one-trick speed-rusher like many assume; Chaisson is a complete player.
The on-field is superb, and good enough that he is already ranked No. 10 overall on my updated big board, but the workouts are expected to be dynamic.
At 6'4" and a listed 250 pounds, Chaisson is expected to drop jaws with his performance at Lucas Oil Stadium if he opts to work out. There are credible rumors that many top players may not work out given the combine's change to a prime-time format—better to let other prospects figure out the new system and not the top players is how one agent explained.
Whether or not he tests, Chaisson will go through medical exams and interviews, and those areas are more important than any drill you'll see on NFL Network. A good rule of thumb for the combine is that the things you don't see are the most important. Medicals and interviews are the keys for a player who missed all but one 2018 game with a knee injury and was held out of two games in 2019 with an ankle injury.
Chaisson wasn't awarded No. 18 at LSU without a serious vouching for his character and work ethic by coaches and players. His interviews should be flawless, which in itself could push him into the top 10 picks of a loaded 2020 class.
It's easy to see quarterbacks and offensive tackles flying off the board early in Round 1, but Chaisson has a fit with many teams in the top 15. Before free agency, the Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all logical fits for a player one LSU coach told me is the best pass-rusher they've ever had in Baton Rouge.
The Scout's Report
—Drew Brees announced on Instagram this week that he's returning for the 2020 season. Brees is a free agent, but he has said he would only return to play for the New Orleans Saints, and head coach Sean Payton has said they want him back, so the contract seems a formality.
What this does mean is the Saints' quarterback room is about to change. Teddy Bridgewater, who went 5-0 while filling in for an injured Brees, is also a free agent. So too is backup/utility man Taysom Hill as a restricted free agent.
The smart money is on Brees and Hill returning (the Saints have the right of first refusal on any offers Hill receives) and then New Orleans drafting a legitimate quarterback of the future. Keep an eye on Utah State's Jordan Love here. Payton has made no secret how he felt about Patrick Mahomes coming out of Texas Tech, and Love has many similar qualities in terms of arm strength and mobility.
With no pressure to get on the field immediately, Love would be a very exciting option for the Saints' future.
—Who are the safest prospects in the NFL draft? In conversations I've had with scouts coming out of team meetings this week, many believe the two safest prospects are from Ohio State.
Pass-rusher Chase Young and cornerback Jeff Okudah are the consensus safest in the class. As one area scout put it, "At a minimum I know those two are going to be really good starters if not great players for a long time."
—The Indianapolis Colts select at No. 13 overall in the first round, and many analysts are predicting a quarterback selection, but plugged-in evaluators across the league disagree. Said one rival personnel director, "I could see them rolling with Brissett for another year and focusing hard on the pass rush because someone is going to fall and [GM Chris] Ballard can't help himself with 'best player available' picks."
—The Atlanta Falcons own the No. 16 overall pick, and it's a given when talking to evaluators that they'll be going after a pass-rusher. One personnel man linked them to LSU's Chaisson if he's available, but most believe it will be between Iowa's A.J. Epenesa, Chaisson and perhaps Penn State's Yetur Gross-Matos, who has seen his stock climb as teams dig in on his play, potential and character.
—Much time and space has been spent discussing the Miami Dolphins moving up from No. 5 overall to select quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, but there hasn't been as much talk about the team's second of three picks in Round 1. I'm told by many evaluators connected to the Dolphins that general manager Chris Grier will want to keep No. 18 overall to land an offensive tackle. Said one scout, "Don't be surprised if they ultimately move up from 5 and 18 to get Tua and a tackle."
The Big Board
A full top-350-player big board is coming out Wednesday of next week, but for now a teaser on my top 32 overall players.
1. EDGE Chase Young, Ohio State
2. QB Joe Burrow, LSU
3. CB Jeff Okudah, Ohio State
4. WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
5. QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
6. LB/S Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
7. DL Derrick Brown, Auburn
8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama
9. WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
10. EDGE K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU
11. DL Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
12. CB CJ Henderson, Florida
13. WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
14. RB D'Andre Swift, Georgia
15. LB Patrick Queen, LSU
16. EDGE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
17. WR Tee Higgins, Clemson
18. OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
19. QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
20. QB Jordan Love, Utah State
21. OT Mehki Becton, Louisville
22. OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia
23. S Xavier McKinney, Alabama
24. LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
25. WR Justin Jefferson, LSU
26. OT Josh Jones, Houston
27. DL Ross Blacklock, TCU
28. WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado
29. WR Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
30. LB Zack Baun, Wisconsin
31. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State
32. DL Marlon Davidson, Auburn
5. Throughout my 10 years covering the draft, I've seen prospects do a lot to get ready for the NFL Scouting Combine, but what Texas safety Brandon Jones has done over the last eight weeks after having routine labrum surgery is unique.
A senior safety/nickel for the Longhorns, Jones had his labrum repaired after the season. The eight-week rehab timeline meant no Senior Bowl for him and ultimately no combine workouts—Jones will attend for medicals and interviews but won't be running since he was just cleared to run about 10 days ago. So how would he get an advantage over his defensive back counterparts who would be working out in front of scouts and coaches?
He broke down every NFL team's defensive plays from 2019. All 32 teams. Every defensive play. Jones told me he has notebooks for every team he'll hand out during interviews at the combine.
"I knew I had a lot to prove after missing the Senior Bowl and now the combine, and I wanted to do something other than rehab to build the mental side of my game and show what I can do mentally. I learned it's a lot of fun to break down film. Whether or not it helps my draft stock, I know it'll help my acclimation to the NFL because I have a better understanding of what teams are doing."
Jones told me he started by reaching out to friends in the NFL, including Kenny Vaccaro, Andrew Sendejo and Quandre Diggs. They helped get him started with terminology and understanding how NFL coaching trees work. From there, Jones, with the help of his agent, Erik Burkhardt, started breaking things down.
I asked him what his film study taught him about where he'll play in the NFL, and Jones pointed to something the UT coaching staff asked him to do before his senior season. Last summer, Texas coaches asked Jones to play nickel in an effort to put their best defensive back in the best matchups. He did so and excelled, playing roughly 80 percent of his 2019 snaps in man coverage. Now Jones, who has played every safety alignment and excelled on special teams throughout his four years in Austin, sees himself as a well-rounded, versatile safety with coverage experience.
Jones won't be running in Indy, but he will be ready to go for the Texas pro day on April 1 and for private workouts with individual NFL teams. The 2019 team captain impressed in our conversations and will no doubt surprise NFL coaches with his breakdowns.
4. The video isn't great, but check this out. The Alabama wide receivers raced the defensive backs in a 4x100 relay. It was over fast.
3. Combine Schedule
The NFL has moved the combine into prime time, which is great news for those of us paying the bills through draft coverage. It also means you at home have a better chance to view without having to call in sick to work. Here's the updated schedule in case you missed it.
THURSDAY, FEB. 27, 4-11 p.m. ET — TE, QB, WR
FRIDAY, FEB. 28, 4-11 p.m. ET — PK, ST, OL, RB
SATURDAY, FEB. 29, 4-11 p.m. ET — DL, LB
SUNDAY, MAR. 1, 2-7 p.m. ET — DB
2. Tailgate Tour
Come hang out with Mello, Connor and me on Tailgate Tour throughout the 2020 draft process. Here are the details:
- TwoDeep Brewing Co. in Indianapolis on February 29 at 2:00 p.m.
- HoneyFire BBQ in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 13 at noon
1. Stick to Football is back in studio this week with our first 2020 mock draft based on what we would do as general managers. We're also joined by Zack Moss (Wednesday) and Lynn Bowden Jr. (Friday) as prospect interviews ramp up before the NFL Scouting Combine.
Check out all our podcast episodes, which are also available on YouTube as a video series, and subscribe if you haven't already. We will also post a ton of behind-the-scenes content on our Instagram page.