News & Analysis

Predicting top performers at the NFL Combine

The NFL Combine testing kicks off this Thursday, and for the first time ever it is a primetime event. While the importance of the athletic testing is debatable, one thing is for certain: It’s still a ton of fun.

These are the guys who shouldn’t be moving up anyone’s board if they put up big numbers this week in Indy because we already know they’re freaks. Here are my predictions for the top performers at each position this week.

QB: Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma

Honorable Mention: Who cares?

The combine really doesn’t matter for QBs. Evaluators want to see them throw to know how badly they “want it.” Me? I couldn’t care less. Hurts is the only true QB in Indianapolis whose athleticism should factor heavily in his evaluation. He’s not nearly dynamic enough to skip the workout portion like Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson did. If he puts up RB-esque combine numbers, Hurts can prove he can lead an option-heavy attack in the NFL.

RB: Cam Akers, FSU

Honorable Mention: Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

The holes were few and far between for Akers behind the fourth-lowest graded run blocking unit in the Power-5 last year. His stats pale in comparison to the top backs, but he still broke 76 tackles on 231 carries. The former five-star looks poised to check every box athletically in Indy.

WR: Jalen Reagor, TCU

Honorable Mention: Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado

This is the far and away the hardest position to determine a possible “winner.” Henry Ruggs will blaze a silly 40, Jerry Jeudy should be agile as can be, and Laviska Shenault will be as explosive a 227-pound wide receiver as we’ve ever seen. Reagor is the wildcard here, as he was a state champion long jumper coming out of Texas and has only packed on muscle mass since. He measured 5-foot-10, 206 pounds and figures to run in the low 4.3s while jumping out of the gym.

TE: Stephen Sullivan, LSU

Honorable Mention: Hunter Bryant, Washington

Sullivan already won the weigh in at the Combine when he measured in with an 85-inch wingspan on Monday. For those who don’t want to do the math, that’s a 7-foot-1 wingspan for a man a shade under 6-foot-5. A former wide receiver, Sullivan was only on the field for 299 snaps and caught 12 passes last season, so he’s a big unknown in the class.

OL: Jedrick Wills, Alabama

Honorable Mention: Mekhi Becton, Louisville

I fully expect an all-time sort of combine in the realm of Lane Johnson coming out of Oklahoma or Terron Armstead coming out of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Wills legitimately looks more athletic than the linebackers he’s tracking down in space and more explosive than the defensive ends he’s battling at the line. He finished the season with a 90.1 run blocking grade — fourth best in the draft class.

DI: Ross Blacklock, TCU

Honorable Mention: Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma

Both Blacklock and Gallimore make more plays on wide runs than any defensive tackles in the class. It’s a big reason why Blacklock earned an 89.5 grade and Gallimore an 85.2 against the run this season. I lean Blacklock here because he has such freaky agility as well. His ability to cross the face of an offensive lineman is second to none in this class.

Julian Okwara, Notre Dame

Honorable Mention: Jabari Zuniga, Florida

Okwara is neck and neck with K'Lavon Chaisson for freakiest athlete after Chase Young (both Chaisson and Young would have had a real shot at this pick had they not pulled out of the workouts). Okwara clocks in around 250 pounds and has bull-rush reps on his tape where he is straight running with 300-plus pounders. The Notre Dame edge defender had bull-rush pressures this season against 350-pound Georgia tackle Isaiah Wilson and 370-pound Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton. That takes some juice.

LB: Isaiah Simmons, Clemson

Honorable Mention: Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma

Simmons is probably the easiest selection of any position in the draft. Last offseason, he went neck-and-neck in the 40 with stud Clemson running back Travis Etienne. There’s a reason he was able to line up literally everywhere for Clemson’s defense this past season at 230 pounds, and it’s because he’s truly an athletic freak.

CB: Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn

Honorable Mention: C.J. Henderson, Florida

Any time you see track stats in a player's football bio, you know they’re about to put up some numbers at the Combine. Igbinoghene started his career as a triple jumper and wide receiver at Auburn before switching to corner and focusing on football full-time. It’s not simply explosiveness and speed that Igbinoghene possesses — he’s got some of the smoothest hips in this class as well.

S: Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne

Honorable Mention: Geno Stone, Iowa

This one is easy. Dugger looks poised to put up Derwin James-esque numbers. You don’t get noticed as a D-II prospect because of your instincts — you get noticed because you’re on a different level athletically than everyone else. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Dugger explodes through ball carriers left and right on film. He was ferocious through contact even at the Senior Bowl. It’s tough to really glean too much from the Lenoir-Rhyne tape, but athletically this is a no-brainer.

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