Every player can boost his stock at the NFL Scouting Combine, but some can swing their fortunes more than others. Whether it’s measuring in at a height NFL teams deem acceptable or performing well in the athletic tests, draft prospects have a chance to separate themselves from the pack.
Players in the past like Aaron Donald (who ran a damn 4.68 40-yard dash at 285 pounds), Byron Jones, and Ezekiel Ansah were able to cement themselves as first-round picks with incredible showings at the combine. So who is going to rise during the combine this year?
We’ve highlighted one player from each position group who has a chance to help himself, along with a couple additional candidates to keep an eye on, during the week in Indianapolis. Except for kickers. Sorry, kickers.
Quarterback: Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
Murray might have the most to gain of any quarterback at the combine. Murray had a completely dominant season en route to winning the Heisman Trophy. In 2018, he threw for 4,361 yards, 42 touchdowns, and had an additional 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
He’s a dynamic player with the skillset to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. His arm talent is extraordinary — this touchdown pass against Alabama in the Orange Bowl shows the peak of his arm strength and accuracy.
Murray will also get a chance to talk to media and teams about his decision to choose football over baseball — and put on a display if he decides to throw during the drills.
The biggest point of concern with Murray is his height. Murray was listed at 5’10 by Oklahoma, but he might measure in a few inches shorter than that in Indianapolis.
Murray’s height didn’t affect his production in college or his ability to throw over his offensive line without getting his passes batted down by defensive linemen. Still, it would be great for him to measure in at 5’10, or close to it, just to remove doubt that he’s tall enough to play in the NFL.
Running back: Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic
Every year it seems like there’s a running back drafted in the middle rounds who becomes an instant-impact performer during his rookie season. FAU’s Singletary has a chance to be that player this year.
Singletary is a short running back, but he isn’t a small running back by any means. This run versus North Texas perfectly encapsulates what Singletary brings to the table. He evades a defensive lineman in the backfield, runs through two defenders, and then gracefully balances along the sideline before getting tackled for a 22-yard gain.
Singletary has a lot to gain during the combine if he can run a fast 40-yard dash time. The strength, balance, and vision he has are littered through his tape.
A middling 40 time wouldn’t be the end of the world for him, but if he can show that he has an extra gear in the open field, then he could wind up going as high as the second round.
Other RBs who can help their stock:
Joshua Jacobs, Alabama
Benny Snell, Kentucky
Wide receiver: N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
Harry has been a driving force for Arizona State’s offense over the past two seasons. In that span, Harry totaled 2,230 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns for the Sun Devils.
Harry is a talented receiver who dominates contested catches, but his game is a bit too reliant on out-muscling defensive backs for the ball instead of generating separation. That’s a fine strategy for college football, but it’s a bit harder to consistently win that way against NFL defensive backs.
Watch Harry (noted with the white circle) struggle to create separation against man coverage.
Even on his big plays down the field, Harry finds himself in situations where defenders are draped over his back, forcing more difficult throws for the quarterback.
If Harry can prove to teams he’s a great athlete at receiver, then he’ll be able to separate himself from a crowded group of receivers that are competing for draft position the first round.
Tight end: Isaac Nauta, Georgia
Nauta is a former five-star prospect who didn’t really get to shine in a Georgia offense that was centered around the running game. The tight end posted career highs during the 2018 season with 430 yards and three touchdowns.
Nauta is a natural receiver who’s strong at the catch point and has just enough athleticism to occasionally make a big play after the catch. Here, he is matched up against one of LSU’s cornerbacks and he creates enough separation for the quarterback to throw him a catchable pass for a first down.
He can create some buzz for himself if he runs well during the combine. He probably won’t run a 40-yard dash in the 4.5 range, but between a 4.6 and a 4.7 would be a good time for him to convince teams that he can be a receiving threat on the NFL level.
Offensive line: Chris Lindstrom, Boston College
One of the few potential first-round guards this year is Lindstrom from Boston College. He has been starting for three seasons at right guard. The combine will give him a chance to show off his athletic ability and quell some concerns about his explosiveness and ability to drive defensive linemen off the ball.
Here’s a quick example from Boston College’s game against Clemson. Lindstrom (#75, to the right of #77) is trying to drive Dexter Lawrence off the ball, but doesn’t get any real push there.
Two drills that help measure explosiveness are the 10-yard split and the broad jump. If he performs well in those two drills, then teams might want to go back to the tape and see if it was more of a technique issue with Lindstrom than an athletic issue, where he physically might not be able to hold up against stronger defensive linemen.
Defensive line: Dexter Lawrence, Clemson
Lawrence was the rock of Clemson’s offense-wrecking defensive line. He wasn’t exactly the most disruptive player that the Tigers had on their defensive line — Lawrence had seven tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in 13 games last season — but he’s a wall at the line of scrimmage.
The biggest question in terms of athleticism with Lawrence, like most players who weigh close to 350 pounds, is his initial burst off the line of scrimmage. Even on the plays where he does make the tackle in the backfield, he’s not really exploding at the snap of the ball. Lawrence wins more with his technical ability right now.
The combine is a big event for nose tackles like Lawrence. Nose tackles don’t typically hold a ton of value because they generally aren’t great pass rushers, but if Lawrence can blow up the combine like Dontari Poe did in 2012 or Vita Vea last year, then Lawrence can make himself a little bit of change.
Lawrence also has a chance to clear the air on a failed test for PEDs that kept him out of Clemson’s Playoff run.
Linebacker: Devin Bush, Michigan
Bush is a Tasmanian devil on the football field. He was everywhere for the Michigan defense, totaling 161 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, and 10 sacks over the past two seasons.
Bush often catches running backs on the edges of the field even when he starts his pursuit in the middle of the field. Watch him track down the running back for a short gain near the sideline after sprinting from a standstill position.
That’s real speed.
Bush has two answers to question at the combine: How big is he and exactly how fast is he? Michigan listed Bush at 5’11. Height isn’t the biggest deal when playing linebacker, but it could cause some problems for him when trying to cover some of the bigger tight ends in the league.
Of course, teams could overlook Bush’s size completely if he comes out and runs a blazing 40-yard dash. DraftScout.com projects Bush to run a 4.67 40-yard dash, which would have ranked 15th among all linebackers in last year’s combine. If Bush can run in the 4.5s, he might solidify himself as a first round pick for the draft in April.
Defensive back: Nasir Adderley, Delaware
Adderley played his college ball at the University of Delaware, an FCS program. Adderley did a bit of everything for the Blue Hens while he played safety there. He can play in the box near the line of scrimmage, play in the slot against receivers and tight ends, and lay huge hits on receivers as they try to catch passes down the field.
As it stands right now, Adderley is a fringe first-round prospect, but he can catapult himself into the top 32 with a strong combine. It’s one thing to show on tape that you can dominate FCS football — it’s another to show that athletically you truly belong in the NFL.
Adderley will get that chance this week.