NFL scouting combine winners and losers by the numbers: Defense

Indianapolis, IN, USA; Pittsburgh defensive lineman Calijah Kancey (DL09) participates in the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

  • Former top recruits show out: Nolan Smith and Bryan Bresee were each No. 1 overall recruits in their respective classes and showed why with dominant combine performances.
  • Jalen Carter’s status is up in the air: The projected top-five pick left the combine after he was charged with two misdemeanor counts of reckless driving and racing in relation to a fatal crash back in January.
  • Jack Campbell puts athleticism concerns to bed: The Butkus Award winner had concerns about his athleticism entering Indianapolis but tested out as the most athletic linebacker in attendance.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

With the 2023 NFL scouting combine in the books, it’s time to see who made some money and who lost some cash.

Here are the biggest winners and losers on the defensive side of the ball from Indianapolis.

Winner: Former No. 1 recruits

After somewhat disappointing careers marred by injuries, a pair of former No. 1 overall recruits reminded everyone at the combine why they were thought of so highly coming out of high school.

Georgia edge defender Nolan Smith was the top recruit in the 2019 class and tested like a wide receiver in Indianapolis. At 238 pounds, he ran a ridiculous 4.39-second 40-yard dash. That’s the second-fastest time ever recorded by a defensive lineman at the combine. Smith’s 41.5-inch vertical was also tied for third all-time among defensive linemen.

Clemson interior defensive lineman Bryan Bresee was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2020 class and also had a strong showing in Indianapolis. At 6-foot-5 and 298 pounds, Bresee ran a 4.86-second 40-yard dash, which was just below the 96th percentile for defensive tackles.

Both could hear their names called in the top 20 of the 2023 NFL Draft now.

Loser: Jalen Carter

The biggest story of the combine didn’t come via any measurements or testing.

Less than an hour before Carter was set to take the podium and answer questions from the media, it was reported that he was charged with reckless driving and racing in connection to a January crash that killed one of his former teammates and a recruiting staff member. He promptly returned to Athens, Georgia where he was booked into jail before posting bond. The Georgia interior defensive lineman’s arraignment hearing is set for April 18th, nine days before the draft. 

Carter was the favorite to be the first non-quarterback selected, but now it’s completely unknown how high teams will be willing to take him with these legal issues.

Winner: Jack Campbell

As the highest-graded Power Five linebacker this past season (91.7), Campbell was seen as a high-floor player with a relatively low ceiling due to a perceived lack of athleticism.

The Iowa linebacker put all of those athleticism questions to bed with a stellar combine. The Butkus Award winner has elite size for the position at 6-foot-5, 249 pounds. He also tested above the 82nd percentile for his position in the 10-yard split, vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone and short shuttle. In particular, his three-cone (6.74 seconds) and broad jump (10-foot-8) were above the 97th percentile for linebackers.

With both fantastic tape and elite athleticism, Campbell has a strong case to be the top linebacker in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Loser: The safety class

For the most part, it wasn’t a great day for the top safety prospects at the combine. 

Alabama’s Brian Branch tested as a slightly above-average athlete, running a 4.58-second 40-yard dash at just 190 pounds. 

Texas A&M’s Antonio Johnson likely lost some money after an average performance. He only threw up eight reps on the bench press — first percentile for safeties. His 31-inch vertical and 9-foot-10 broad jump were both below average as well. 

Georgia’s Christopher Smith has been a three-year starter for the back-to-back national champs. His combine was one to forget, though. Smith is very undersized for the position at 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds. He didn’t make up for his lack of stature either, as his 40-yard dash (4.62 seconds), vertical jump (33 inches) and broad jump (9-foot-8) were all below the 46th percentile for safeties. 

Jammie Robinson, Ji’Ayir Brown and Brandon Joseph all had less-than-inspiring performances as well.

Winner: Adetomiwa Adebawore

One of the biggest winners of the week was Adebawore. 

The Northwestern edge defender ran an absurd 4.49-second 40-yard dash at 282 pounds. His 1.61-second 10-yard split, 37.5-inch vertical, 10-foot-5 broad jump and 27 bench press reps were all above the 87th percentile for edge defenders as well. That performance likely solidified himself as a top-40 pick.

Loser: Andre Carter II

As the No. 24 prospect on PFF’s big board heading into the combine, Carter had the potential to become the first first-round pick from a service academy since 1947. 

After his performance at the combine though, that streak looks like it’ll be extended even further. The Army edge defender’s muscle mass was the biggest negative in his profile in PFF’s Draft Guide, and that was proven with just 11 reps on the bench press. That number stands below the third percentile for edge defenders. His vertical jump and broad jump were both below the 32nd percentile for his position as well. 

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