2023 NFL Draft: 5 prospects whose stock shouldn't fall if they don't test well at NFL scouting combine

22. New York Giants -- Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State Syndication The Columbus Dispatch

  • Michael Mayer‘s skill overcomes lack of athleticism: He probably won't test exceedingly well at the combine, but don't let that fool you, Mayer is excellent and should have a great NFL career.
  • Dawand Jones‘ size makes up for lack of movement skills: The Ohio State product is the living embodiment of Bill Parcells' “planet theory,” as his size helps him make up for any lack of athleticism he may have.
  • Smooth but not fast: Jaxon Smith-Njigba probably won't wow anyone with his athletic testing, but his smooth route running from the slow should enable him to succeed in the NFL regardless.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Every year, there are a handful of prospects that almost everyone agrees are going to be quality NFL players; however, because they don’t tick the high-end physical boxes, they slip down boards. There are five prospects who don't need elite testing numbers in Indianapolis, as they are going to be good football players regardless at the next level.

TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame

Mayer’s straight-line speed has been in question ever since his freshman year. When the dust settles on his 40-yard dash in Indy, chances are it’ll be nothing special. Flip on the tape, though, and you’ll see a player who was still an unquestioned No. 1 option without high-end speed. That’s because Mayer has everything else you could want at the position, racking up over 800 yards each of the past two seasons because of it. His wiggle is special for a 265-pounder and his hands aren’t too far behind (6.3% career drop rate and 60% on contested catches in career).

Oh, and he’s one of the strongest inline-blocking prospects we’ve seen in the PFF era. While he could get more consistent with his hand placement in the run game and stay connected longer, Mayer has the skill to be special in that regard.

WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State

Everything I just wrote about Mayer applies to JSN (outside of the inline-blocking stuff), as he understands how to manipulate defenders with his stems, route pacing and route breaks. He was one of the cleanest route-running sophomore receivers these eyes have ever seen in 2021, which is why he outproduced two top-11 receivers (Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave) in the same Ohio State offense. Sure, he may be pigeonholed in the slot at the next level, but when featured in such a role, he’ll be an instant impact player.

OT Dawand Jones, Ohio State

Even though it doesn’t fit the traditional nomenclature, make no mistake, the offensive line is a skill position, which is why one of the worst-testing athletes in combine history — Orlando Brown Jr. — is about to be a top-five highest-paid offensive tackle in the NFL. While I’d expect Jones to still test better than Brown, I won’t be particularly worried if he doesn’t hit popular testing thresholds in his movement drills. That’s because, unlike most human beings playing offensive tackle, Jones doesn’t need his mirroring ability to be perfect when he has a 7-foot-5 wingspan, 11 ⅜-inch hands and 36 ⅝-inch arms that he knows how to use extremely well. All he needs to do is get his paws on defenders and more often than not, the rep is over. 

While he may not have the high-end ability that some others in this class have, Jones has an NFL-ready game.

S Brian Branch, Alabama

Branch sees the game so well, so it’s almost surprising that there’s not a “Jr.” at the end of his name. He may not “wow” a lot, but he most certainly doesn’t “yuck” either. He’s 6 feet and 193 pounds without a physical trump card to speak of. That being said, Branch is as consistent a defensive back as exists in this draft class, which applies to his ability as a tackler as well, where he’s missed only four of his 174 career attempts. His 89.5 grade this past season ranked third among safeties in college football. Draft him, play him wherever and profit.

IOL John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota

The track record of centers who graded as highly as Schmitz did this past season is very strong. The past three to do so — Frank Ragnow, Landon Dickerson and Tyler Linderbaum — have all turned into quality NFL interior offensive linemen. The tape highly suggests Schmitz will be the same — just don’t expect him to be a workout warrior. Part of that is due to his size, as he’s a very well-put-together center at the 320 pounds he was listed at this fall. His technique is exceedingly consistent, and he plays on balance so well. Those aren’t things that show up in a 40-yard dash or three-cone drill, but they do show up on Sundays.

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