NFL Scouting Combine Notebook: Meet This Year's Small-School 'Draft Crush'
Admit it: You have a draft crush or two every year. You fall madly in lurve with certain prospects, often guys from smaller programs you discovered before any of your friends. You want your favorite team to draft those guys early and develop them into All-Pros.
Well, this final notebook of the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine introduces you to the most crush-worthy small-school marvel of this year's draft class: safety Kyle Dugger of mighty Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University. Find out what he did on Sunday and why the draft hipsters cannot stop gushing about him, plus:
• A tutorial on how to stop Chase Young from recording sacks, from someone who actually stopped Chase Young from recording sacks
• Jeff Okudah takes a tumble during his workout, but not before taking a reporter down for asking a silly question
• Tanner Muse makes a scouting report look silly
• Javelin Guidry explains why he is named after a biblical weapon
• Winners and non-winners from a week of workouts and interviews
• The latest quarterback free-agency and CBA murmurs
...and much, much more!
Kyle Dugger's Strong Combine Solidifies His Status as the Ultimate 'Draft Crush'
When it comes to being a small-school draft crush, Kyle Dugger checks all the boxes.
• Does he come from a tiny program? Like, a college that sounds like it's nestled in the mountains of Switzerland? Check: Lenoir-Rhyne, which is actually nestled in the mountains of North Carolina.
• If and when you dig up his game footage, does it look like it came from a mid-sized high school, with trees behind the bleachers and dudes leaning on fences in the end zone? Check. Here's Dugger at Mars Hill University. Note what appears to be a lonesome farmhouse in the mountains behind the right end zone.
• Did he show up at the Senior Bowl in a goofy-looking helmet and kick butt? Check, though the Lenoir-Rhyne helmet isn't all that goofy. I can't be the only person who scribbled "that safety from Rutgers looks pretty good" in my notebook.
• Did he major in something non-footballish? Check: Pre-engineering and physics. "It's a lot of solving problems," he explained on Friday. "I think that goes a long way at my position, safety. You've got to be the quarterback of the defense, and you ain't always going to have the answer for everything you see. But you've got to fix the defense."
• Does he have one of those humble origin stories about how he was only 170 pounds in high school and got overlooked by every major program, then suddenly blossomed into a 220-pound super-athlete when he reached college? Yep, that's pretty much the story. Chase Goodbread's NFL.com profile of Dugger fills in the details.
• Did he blow up the combine? Check. A 4.49-second 40-yard dash and exceptional jump results—a vertical of 42 inches and a broad jump of 134 inches—were testaments to his explosiveness.
That's all the boxes. But one question must remain unanswered for now: Will Dugger be able to make the transition from draft crush to successful pro?
Dugger's tape is a mixed bag. He's the best athlete on the field on every snap, but he's sometimes caught standing flat-footed and waiting for the play to happen before he reacts, particularly on passing plays. That's something he could get away with facing Division II competition but will keep him from seeing the field in the NFL.
The NFL.com scouting report on Dugger goes so far as to suggest he "looked bored" when chasing down some plays. Dugger addressed that suggestion on Friday. "The competitor in me definitely wanted more at times, but I wouldn't describe it as boredom," he said. "It was: How am I going to use this situation so I don't look at everything I do well and say, 'I'm so great'? I'd really dive into the details and see if I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, or if it was me getting away with it because of the level of the competition."
In other words, Dugger has stayed humble—yet another hallmark of a true draft crush.
There will be plenty of time to contemplate Dugger's future as the draft approaches. Let's enjoy his present for now. There were almost as many reporters around his podium on Friday as there were fans in the stands of that Mars Hill video. Dugger is being mentioned in the same conversations as Alabama's Xavier McKinney and Minnesota's Antoine Winfield Jr. In just a few weeks, he leapt from obscurity to the draft spotlight. The next stop, of course, is the NFL.
If you already knew all about him, congratulations on being an early adopter. If not, get to know him now, and let the draft crush commence.
How to Block Chase Young, by Someone Who (Mostly) Did It
Ohio State edge-rusher Chase Young did not work out at the combine because he didn't have to. He's awesome, everyone knows it, and he will be the first non-quarterback off the draft board come April.
So for a bit of insight on Young, since we didn't get to see him in action, we instead turn to someone who spent two years trying to block him, often rather successfully: Michigan left tackle Jon Runyan, B/R's 23rd-ranked offensive tackle in this draft and a player who helped hold (hush, Buckeyes fans) Young without a sack in two straight meetings.
Runyan sounds a little like Alex Gibbs giving a presentation at a coaching clinic when he starts explaining blocking techniques, so here are some visual companions to his quotes: a substantial highlight package from Ohio State's 2019 win over Michigan and a cutup of every Michigan offensive/Ohio State defensive play from 2018.
What Runyan said
• On his past encounters with Young:
"Last year was actually the third time I went against him. I played against him in 2017. I went in for a quarter-and-a-half at right tackle. They had Nick Bosa and Sam Hubbard. At the end of the game, I saw Chase, and I said, 'Who is this guy. This guy's huge. Why hasn't he been playing?’
"I didn't really have him figured out in 2018. In 2019, I kinda knew what to expect, just trusted what I was taught and tried to go out there and execute."
• On how Michigan game-planned against Young:
"They knew that our game plan was to slide to where he was. They figured that out really early. So they started putting him to the three-technique side, when he usually plays on the weak side. [Translation: Young moved from the offensive left side to the right.] ... So we started incorporating the chip stuff. Then they started figuring that stuff out. So we started going with empty protection and sliding away from him. He did get me one time on an inside move with empty protection. Luckily, it was a quick throw.
"So we were just trying to give him different looks. People were saying that we triple-teamed him. I don't think you can ever triple-team somebody. It just doesn't make sense mathematically. But you do what you can to eliminate one of the best players in the country, and that's what we were doing."
• On his personal approach to stopping Young:
"I knew going into the game that my hands were going to be important. ... My technique is a little different. Most people will try to punch and grab the breastplate of the shoulder pads, but I was taught to punch wide and clamp the outside of the shoulder pad. Because if you've got a defensive end like Chase who's so strong that he can club your outside hand, and you've got that wide, if he knocks it down you can replace it real quick. But if it's inside, on the breastplate, he's gonna knock your hand down and then he's going to get the edge on you.
"I'm all about getting that first initial contact and then reacting off of that. Once you get that initial contact you throw off the timing of his rush. From that, it's just grabbing, it's a dog play, and trying to react to his countermove."
• On what happens when it doesn't work:
"When he does beat you, he's gonna burn you and hit the quarterback hard. I remember he got me one time, and he planted [quarterback] Shea [Patterson] after he released the ball. ... When Chase picked him up and dumped him on the ground, I heard Shea exhale. And I felt so bad. That was the one hit that I let up on Shea. I felt so bad. I looked Shea in the eye and apologized to him."
What it means
Someone actually asked Young why he was held without a sack for three straight games at the end of his college career. "You'll see how they changed their whole offensive game plan for one guy," Young replied (semi-)patiently. Runyan's explanation confirms that: The Wolverines tried just about everything to slow Young down, and while it worked, they still got blown out.
Young is the sort of player who forces offenses to adjust their schemes and linemen to be technically perfect. Only one or two edge-rushers per draft class can do that, and those players often happen to come from Ohio State. Look for Young, like Nick Bosa, to make an impact as a rookie, even if it isn't always apparent in his sack total.
Beyond the Workouts
Let's take one last look beyond the 40 times and shuttle numbers to learn just who helped themselves the most at Sunday's workouts.
Jeremy Chinn, safety, Southern Illinois: Chinn ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash and had a 41" vertical (second-best among defensive backs) and 138" broad jump (best among defensive backs), at 6'3", 221 pounds. Traits! Traits! Traits! He has the measurables of an ideal box safety/outside linebacker hybrid: big enough to thump the run, fast enough to chase Travis Kelce up the seam. He was a productive starter at a top FCS program, though his career is dotted with injuries, and his tape shows him arriving a step late more often than a step early. The numbers above will send teams back to check the tape, review the medical reports and perhaps draft Chinn based on his upside.
Javelin Guidry, cornerback, Utah: Guidry was a high school and college track star, so his 4.29-second 40-yard dash was no surprise. But his tape has lots of holes—struggles in slot run support, getting caught flat-footed on quick underneath routes and so forth—so he needs every hundredth of a second of his track speed to convince NFL teams that he is capable of doing more than chasing down punts as a seventh defensive back. Oh, and are you wondering where the name "Javelin" comes from? It comes from Guidry's father, who played for UCLA. Fine, but how did his father get the name "Javelin"? Guidry explained on Friday: "My grandpa, as he was reading the Bible, he saw javelin in there. Thought it was a great name. David and Goliath. Goliath had the javelin. That's where he got it." Goliath was the bad guy, of course. Also, he lost in an upset. But "Slingshot Guidry" doesn't have as much of a ring to it.
Tanner Muse, safety, Clemson: The first three words of Muse's NFL.com scouting report are "slow-footed safety." Oops. He ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at 227 pounds (and since we used the photo of him above, he also did 20 bench press reps). Seriously, check the 2:17 mark of this cutup of the Fiesta Bowl, and you'll see Muse chase down Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins from 10 yards behind for a shoestring tackle. Eh, we all have some scouting reports we'd like to take back. The rest of that NFL.com scouting report checks out. Muse makes plays all over the field but lacks change-of-direction quickness and can get pushed around by blockers at times. But scratching "slow" off the page is worth a few dozen draft slots.
L'Jarius Sneed, defensive back, Louisiana Tech: Sneed is a lanky 6'0" with long arms and a knack for pulling down interceptions as a center fielder. And he proved on Sunday that he's fast enough to be a potential matchup defender against taller wide receivers, running a 4.37-second 40. The tape shows a real work in progress, but Sneed's measurables should earn him a late-round look.
Antoine Winfield Jr., defensive back, Minnesota: Antoine Winfield Sr. was a hard-hitting but undersized cornerback who played forever for the Bills and Vikings. Winfield Jr. is the 2020 version of the family model: an undersized technician and diagnostician at safety who needed to prove he had the speed and athleticism to double as a slot cornerback to justify a Day 2 draft grade in the modern NFL. He ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash with a 36" vertical jump and a 124" broad jump. Mission accomplished.
Remembering the Time When Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah Vaporized a Reporter
Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah was running well and looking swell in his positional drills Sunday when he tumblesaulted hard after leaping for a deep ball and was slow to get up. Okudah wasn't seriously injured, but it was time to get the likely top-five pick in April's draft off the field and into some comfy packing peanuts.
So instead of dwelling on workout results, let's harken back to Friday, when Okudah shut down an underprepared reporter in a combine-record 14.22 seconds.
What they said
Reporter: "Sometimes you have a tendency to get kind of sloppy. How are you looking to improve that?"
Okudah: "Sloppy in what way?"
Reporter: "Sloppy in, kind of, penalties and stuff like that."
Okudah: "I had zero pass interferences, zero holdings. Put the tape on again; you might see something else."
What the transcript fails to capture is the optic blasts from Okudah's eyes that seared a hole through the reporter's heart. Fortunately, Jon Ledyard of Pewter Report captured the moment perfectly on video.
What it means
Combine podium interviews are no place for "gotcha" questions. Yes, we ask about documented transgressions or bad games, but these are "get to know you" interviews with early 20-somethings who have much more important things on their minds, so it's not an appropriate environment for hard-hitting journalism. Which is to say: That question came out of deep left field. As mentioned earlier, Chase Young was also asked a strange question about not generating enough sacks. Did Michigan fans sneak into the interview sessions to cause chaos?
Okudah handled the situation with grace without letting a silly question slip away unchallenged. He came across as thoughtful and confident throughout the interview. In short, he was not "sloppy" at all, just as he wasn't sloppy on the field. Sometimes, it's the questions that need a little tidying up.
Combine Wrap-Up: Winners
Denzel Mims, wide receiver, Baylor: Mims is our pick for biggest winner of the combine, following an outstanding Senior Bowl week with exceptional workouts. He has pushed his way toward the top of a crowded field of wide receivers.
Mekhi Becton, tackle, Louisville: Huge man run fast smash things get paid.
Ezra Cleveland, tackle, Boise State: Cleveland played through turf toe last year, so his film is a mixed bag. His elite jump and shuttle results will force teams to go back and look at his 2018 tape and perhaps grade 2019 on a curve.
Chase Claypool, wide receiver, Notre Dame: He entered the week looking as though he might need to switch to tight end. He ended the week drawing (unrealistic) Calvin Johnson comparisons. Marques Colston or Vincent Jackson may be more accurate comparisons for this burly, high-effort receiver who displayed some untapped speed and athleticism.
Khalil and Carlos Davis, defensive tackles, Nebraska: The Davis twins came into the combine looking like just another pair of mid-tier tackle prospects, with the quicker and more dynamic Khalil having the edge over his burlier brother. Their outstanding workout results suggest potential upside that should vault them into the middle rounds of the draft.
AJ Dillon, running back, Boston College: Nothing will boost your draft stock quite like putting up Derrick Henry-like workout results two months after Henry nearly dragged his team to the Super Bowl with one of the greatest playoff performances in history.
Willie Gay Jr., linebacker, Mississippi State: Gay had sprint and jump results to rival Clemson's Isaiah Simmons. He's a frenetic run-around guy on tape; teams may be a little more charitable about his over-aggressive blunders now that they know precisely how fast he runs around.
Antonio Gibson, wide receiver/running back, Memphis: Gibson's 4.39-second 40 time verified the speed that's evident on his sizzle reel. Teams looking for an all-purpose Alvin Kamara-type will be in a hurry to snap him up on Day 2 of the draft.
Justin Hebert, Jalen Hurts and Jordan Love, quarterbacks, Oregon, Oklahoma and Utah State: All three were fine in Indianapolis, as they were in Mobile for the Senior Bowl. But all three really benefited from the bottom falling out of the third-tier quarterback market. If a team wants a developmental quarterback with real starting potential after Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa are off the board, it's either draft one of these three or wait for 2021.
Derrek Tuszka, edge-rusher, North Dakota State: Workout results are much more important for mid-major edge-rushers like Tuszka than for major-program guys. Tuszka's jumps and cone-shuttle results prove that he can hang with the big guys, and they will add a glow to tape that shows Tuszka careening around the field, chasing down plays from behind and leaping to swat down passes.
Tristan Wirfs, tackle, Iowa: Combine Wirfs' remarkable workout results with his game film, and he may be the best Iowa offensive line prospect ever. That's saying something from a program that produced Marshal Yanda, Bryan Bulaga, Brandon Scherff, Ross Verba, John Alt, Riley Reiff, Robert Gallery (who was a mega prospect before his disappointing NFL career) and many other NFL starters and Pro Bowlers.
Austin Hooper, tight end, Atlanta Falcons: Hooper is about to crush free agency. He's the best young tight end on the market, and this year's draft class lacks a Travis Kelce in the making. Based on the steakhouse scuttlebutt, teams are lining up to make offers, not just because Hooper can help them, but because Hooper is the closest facsimile to Rob Gronkowski available, making him potential Tom Brady flypaper for a few teams.
Combine Wrap-Up: Non-Winners (Because "Losers" Is Such an Ugly Word)
The New York Giants: The biggest losers. New head coach Joe Judge sounded testy when unveiling his new Pop Warner policy of not acknowledging who any of his potential starters are. General manager Dave Gettleman was his usual Loopy Uncle self when doubling down on Judge's policy while delivering inscrutable cairns like: "Offense is offense, right? Somebody snaps it, somebody catches it, and then you either run it or throw it." Judge and Gettleman cast doubt on Daniel Jones' future for no constructive reason while coming across as simultaneously out of touch and paranoid. In a decade of covering combine press conferences, I have never seen a team do more self-inflicted harm in what should be a routine situation.
Late-round quarterback prospects: Yeah, Washington's Jacob Eason has a howitzer, Washington State's Anthony Gordon has great mechanics, Colorado's Steven Montez is an ace in the film room and Georgia's Jake Fromm is tall and experienced. But we can't Frankenstein them into one prospect, and none of them truly separated himself in workouts or postseason all-star games. If a team in need of a quarterback isn't in position to select one of the top prospects, dropping $80 million on Ryan Tannehill will start to look like a pretty good option after studying the film of these guys.
Zack Moss, running back, Utah: Moss tweaked a hamstring doing his vertical jump but still pushed through some of his workouts. Coaches will admire his grit (and his Marshawn Lynch playing style, coupled with a no-nonsense personality) and forgive the results, but it's never a good sign when a 223-pound bruiser back with lots of mileage gets hurt while when there aren't 11 guys trying to tackle him.
Laviska Shenault Jr., wide receiver, Colorado: He entered the combine with a chance to elevate himself into the CeeDee Lamb-Jerry Jeudy top-receiver conversation. Instead, a 4.58-second 40 made the versatile Shenault look more like a Mohamed Sanu-type role player, and now he'll be out six to eight weeks due to a core injury that requires surgery. You can shout "trust the tape" if you like, but the tape is dotted with injuries and a lot more Wildcat wrinkles and reverses than precise routes. In this wide receiver class, if a prospect isn't leaping ahead, he's falling behind.
Mitchell Wilcox, tight end, South Florida: The poor guy got drilled in the face by a football so hard that he popped a blood vessel in his eye when running the gauntlet drill, dropped passes and slipped and fell during other drills, and ran a 4.88-second sprint that would have been excellent for a left tackle. Don't despair, though, Mitchell: Chris Jones had an embarrassing combine moment a few years ago, and Orlando Brown Jr. looked like a slow-pitch softball keg-tapper at his workouts. Both of them turned out A-OK.
The bomb-sniffing dogs at the Indiana Convention Center: These poor puppers really wanted to get a pettin' this year. They wagged their tails and made sideways heads every time someone approached. And we wanted to pet them, too. But their handlers gave us the don't you dare stare, so we walked past without so much as a "such a good boy" as they dutifully confirmed that our laptop bags were not loaded with C-4. C'mon, security people: Take off the K-9 harness and let the doggos romp with the media during their breaks! Sniffing for explosives can't provide very much job satisfaction, anyway. And really, that's a good thing.
Combine Wrap-Up: News and Notes
All week, we've been handling the "around the league" news here in Combine Notebook with one-line zingers. But it's time to get semi-serious. There has been a lot of movement on both the quarterback market and the labor front while the NFL world's gaze has been fixed on Indianapolis. Let's take a minute to recap it all and figure out what it means:
The messaging about Newton at new Panthers head coach Matt Rhule's press conference can be best summarized as: We love how hard Cam is working and what a great guy he is, and we think he's gonna be healthy, but gosh, we can't really make any long-term commitments just yet. Meanwhile, the steakhouse scuttlebutt suggests that Rhule, with a huge long-term deal and a roster that has already shed veterans Luke Kuechly (retirement) and Greg Olsen (now in Seattle), feels comfortable hanging the "Roster Under Reconstruction" sign in front of team headquarters.
In other words, the Panthers appear to be hedging their bets: talking Newton up to interest any suitors who don't see what they like in their price range on the free-agent quarterback market while keeping the door open for him to return to prove himself on a rebuilding team if they don't get an offer they like.
Speaking of hedging their bets: As Mike Silver reported, Washington's interest in Tua Tagovailoa sounds pretty legit. And while it could be a smokescreen to fetch a hefty ransom for the second overall pick, there's little reason to believe the team is highly committed to Haskins. He accomplished little as a rookie, the regime that drafted him (amid much confusion) is gone, and the Cardinals' decision to move from Josh Rosen to Kyler Murray last year now looks rather shrewd.
Here's a scenario to consider: Washington drafts the still-injured Tua while Haskins serves as the short-term starter. If Haskins shines, Washington trades him when his value is high. Everybody wins.
Of course, these are the Skins, so here's another scenario to consider: Owner Daniel Snyder pushes the more rational Rivera to rush Tua into the lineup to justify their decision and sell tickets, Tua struggles early, and the organization factionalizes around the two quarterbacks faster than you can say "Robert Griffin and Kirk Cousins."
NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported on Sunday that Winston had surgery on a torn meniscus and played with a broken thumb last season. He also reported that the Buccaneers are likely to franchise-tag linebacker Shaquil Barrett instead of Winston. In other words, bye-bye Winston, but here's a lovely parting gift: injury news that helps explain away your 30-interception season.
Despite some thoughtful objections,dubious reasoning and shirtless rants against the new collective bargaining agreement, there's a very high probability to pass. Experienced labor leaders know that for every person pounding the table in the break room and shouting "No," there are usually a half-dozen workaday members who just quietly vote "Yes" so they can get on with their lives.
The current deal as we know it is not very favorable to the players, but the "no" voters have no clear agenda ("WE WANT MOAR $$$" is not a clear agenda), and if the NFLPA crawls back to the table looking to start from scratch when there's an obvious fissure between union leadership and the star players, ownership will wait for them to self-destruct, then impose an 18-game season and whatever else they want on the survivors.
After the CBA is ratified, NFLPA leadership must do what it can to realign with all of its constituency. Those who oppose the CBA can then do their part, not by rage-tweeting, but by getting more involved in leadership and the negotiation process for the future. But they probably won't, because rage-tweeting is easier.
The Brady saga is well above Combine Notebook's pay grade. It's not the sort of situation that is hashed out at the corner table at 3 a.m. What's clear about Brady's availability is that he's a massive white elephant whose presence makes the rest of the quarterback market unpredictable. It's impossible to gauge how much interest Winston or a Newton trade will garner until we know whether the Patriots will be shopping, if Derek Carr will shake loose because the Raiders signed Brady and so forth. And Brady isn't the sort of player who gets signed during the "legal tampering period," so he could push the timetable on other quarterback moves back for days once free agency starts in two-and-a-half weeks.
Wait. Free agency starts in two-and-a-half weeks? But we're still doing our combine laundry! Better get some sleep. Things are about to get really, really wild in the NFL.
Oh No! Xavier McKinney Has Lost His Sleeves!
Hundreds of NFL prospects give interviews during the combine, and the young men come in all shapes and sizes: huge dudes, surprisingly small dudes, yoked-up dudes, really yoked-up dudes, dudes who look like they are CGI-generated, dudes with dad bods who can bench press SUVs, dudes with Thor beards, dudes who look like they spend four hours every morning on their hair, dudes who appear to have never combed their hair, dudes with entire psalms tattooed on their arms, dudes who look like big ol’ teddy bears, dudes who look like they are auditioning for a Predator movie and at least one dude who could have claimed he was the new assistant general manager of the Cleveland Browns and the entire press corps would have bought it. (That would be Michigan tight end Sean McKeon.)
But they all have one thing in common: They wear warm-up jumpsuits to their media interviews. All of them except Alabama safety Xavier McKinney. Here's a shot of him at the podium. With a gunshow like the one pictured above, McKinney has no reason to even own a shirt.
McKinney is a projected first-round pick. He's your typical Alabama safety—the NFL is full of them—and he performed just fine in his workouts. Not spectacular. Not disastrous. Just fine. Dozens of other prospects had a similar combine experience: They weighed in, met with teams, answered dull, repetitive questions from my colleagues and me, performed satisfactory workouts and then flew home in coach to continue working out and wait for team visits, pro days and the draft.
It's impossible to tell all of their stories. And 99 percent of what happened at the combine will be forgotten long before the next combine arrives. Do you remember Patrick Mahomes' combine? George Kittle's? Aaron Donald's? Some players we saw this week will become Hall of Famers. Many more will have become fringe players or never have significant NFL careers. Yet the only truly enduring memories of this week will be Henry Ruggs III's 40-yard dash and that poor dude taking a football to the face.
So let's take one more moment to enjoy McKinney in all his sleeveless glory. We won't see him again until he's wearing a suit at the draft or posing with some team's jersey. Then his real career will begin, and then the real work begins. Because for 51 weeks out of the year, football has nothing at all to do with running between cones in glorified underwear.