2022 NFL Scouting Combine: Notes on tight end free agents and prospects, potential top picks

Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack tackle Ikem Ekwonu (79) blocks during the first half against the Louisville Cardinals at Carter-Finley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

NFL scouts, coaches, executives, agents and reporters have been trickling into Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine over the past couple of days (as have the American Association of Swine Veterinarians for their annual meeting — it was an interesting mix at the hotel bars on Monday night), but the event officially kicks off Tuesday afternoon when head coaches and general managers speak to reporters at the Indiana Convention Center.

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Despite the fact that Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead are skipping the event this season, according to The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue (we did spot Rams assistant quarterbacks coach Zac Robinson already in attendance Tuesday, so there are some employees of the Super Bowl champs in attendance), the people we spoke to around the league still ultimately find the combine useful.

Executives are making the most out of official meetings with prospects, scouts are talking to players from their area and agents are meeting with teams. The main goal for prospects working out should be to simply not mess up. If they perform better than expected, great. If they perform as well as expected, good enough. But it’s the players who struggle this week who could really see their draft stock impacted.

The combine remained in Indianapolis this year — as it has since 1987 — but it could be moving in 2023 with Dallas and Los Angeles under consideration to host. Indianapolis doesn’t have the greatest weather in late February and early March, but it does have a downtown where Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indiana Convention Center and hotels are all connected. It’s a major perk, and people around the NFL are creatures of habit.

Monday notes from the combine:

  • Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal, who’s currently -150 to be the first overall pick (held by the Jacksonville Jaguars), will not work out and will instead wait until his pro day on March 30, a source told NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport. Consider that an opportunity for North Carolina State's Ikem Ekwonu to stand out this week if the Jaguars are indeed looking to take an offensive tackle first overall.
  • The current expectation is UCLA's Greg Dulcich will be the first tight end taken in the 2022 NFL Draft. He should come off the board in the middle of the second round. Things can change, however, and all it takes is for one team to prefer another top tight end like Colorado State’s Trey McBride.
  • Expect New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick to make a cameo at the combine this year. Director of player personnel Matt Groh, scouting consultant Eliot Wolf, director of scouting administration Nancy Meier and a number of scouts are already in Indianapolis.
  • The 2022 NFL Draft class is deep. One agent told me, “The second half of this draft is going to be mayhem.” Meaning, agents are still having a tough time figuring out where their prospects will be drafted.
  • We’ve heard positive things about Louisiana offensive tackle Max Mitchell. One league source indicated he “will gain strong momentum through the draft process.”
  • Kansas City Chiefs free-agent cornerback Mike Hughes is expected to be popular in free agency. He’s still only 25 years old and had his best career season in 2021, generating a 72.9 overall PFF grade. A first-round pick in 2018, Hughes was traded along with a 2022 seventh-round pick for a 2022 sixth-round pick last May. That was a steal for Kansas City, and the team could potentially see a compensatory pick return if it doesn't re-sign him, which is still on the table.
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