News & Analysis

25 fantasy takeaways from the NFL combine

Mar 2, 2018; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Saquon Barkley goes through workout drills during the 2018 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

For dynasty aficionados, it’s never too early to start digging into the incoming class. For more casual fantasy players, the combine is often the kickoff point to catch a glimpse at the entire incoming class and start to draw some initial conclusions.

While there is useful information to be taken away from the combine, it’s important to remember it’s just one piece of the puzzle when evaluating a prospect. At PFF, we’d prefer to take a more data-driven approach to a player’s evaluation. Our 2018 NFL Draft Guide is a terrific starting point for that. This guide features collegiate production, advanced statistics, and in-depth player analysis to help supplement the combine and put a prospect’s athletic measurements into some perspective.

All that said, let’s take a look at 25 things we learned over the combine from a fantasy perspective and how it can help you in both dynasty rookie drafts and the 2018 fantasy football season.

Quarterbacks

  • One of the biggest winners at the quarterback position was Wyoming’s Josh Allen. Allen excelled in throwing drills, displaying terrific accuracy. Accuracy remains one of Allen’s major concerns by talent evaluators, so it was refreshing to see him succeed in that department. Allen finished last season completing just 56.2 percent of his passes and had the fourth-highest percentage of negatively graded throws in the draft class. Allen still has a lot of work to refine his accuracy, but it was good to see him excel in this setting, despite throwing to unfamiliar receivers.
  • Lamar Jackson doesn’t care what position you’d like for him to play, he’s entering the league as a quarterback. After being requested to participate in some of the wide receiver drills, Jackson opted to not participate in any of them, as he maintains that he wants to be purely evaluated as a quarterback entering the draft. I think this was a great move by Jackson, who continued to improve year after year at Louisville, drawing Michael Vick comparisons. Jackson finished last year with the highest passer rating on deep passes (102.2) while rushing for over 1,600 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns.
  • After generating a lot of buzz about his lack of height, it was nice to see Baker Mayfield check in at 6-foot-1. The recent success of shorter quarterbacks in Russell Wilson (5-11) and Drew Brees (6-1) haven’t made a lack of height a death knell by any means to incoming quarterbacks, but it was nice to see him clear the 6-foot mark. Mayfield also sported a 4.84 40-yard dash and excelled in his throwing drills. He enters the draft as one of our most highly graded quarterbacks in PFF history.

Running backs

  • Saquon Barkley is who we thought he is. This year’s top running back prospect came in and lived up to the hype. One could even argue he exceeded it, after posting a 4.40 40-yard dash at 233 pounds, while finishing first among the running backs in both vertical leap (41 inches) and bench press (29 reps, T-first). He remains a potential top-five draft pick in this year’s class.
  • Rashaad Penny clocked in at 4.46 in the 40 while weighing 220 pounds, sporting an impressive weight-adjusted speed score (91st percentile). That 4.46 speed was a major reason why Penny was able to return seven kickoffs for touchdowns over the past three years and is one of the top backs in this year’s class. Penny did not participate in agility drills, leaving something to look forward to at San Diego State’s pro day.
  • One of the most anticipated workouts I was looking forward to seeing was Nick Chubb from Georgia. His 2015 injury may have delayed his NFL debut a year, but Chubb excelled across the board in his workouts. He displayed impressive explosion in the broad jump (10-8) and vertical (38.5 inches), and finished with a SPARQ score in the 89th percentile.
  • Fellow Bulldog Sony Michel’s mediocre performance left some to be desired. He ran a 4.54, finishing with just a 65th percentile weight-adjusted speed score. Michel opted to skip several of the workouts, leaving the combine with more questions surrounding his athleticism than when he had entering. A strong performance at his pro day could alleviate these concerns. Michel was one of our top-graded backs in both elusive rating (95.1) and breakaway percentage (percent of yards accumulated on 15-plus-yard runs, 56.2). Michel has a chance to be this year’s version of Dalvin Cook and could surprise many in the NFL despite a disappointing combine.
  • Another one of the more disappointing performances was from USC’s Ronald Jones II. Jones sat out his positional drills after pulling up during his 40-yard dash with a hamstring strain. The only other drill he participated in was the vertical (36.5 inches), leaving much to be desired come USC’s pro day.
  • Derrius Guice ran an impressive 4.49 at 5-11, 224 pounds. While he only put up 15 reps on the bench press, his size-speed combination was more than impressive enough to overlook his bench press shortcomings. Guice is the prototypical-sized back and should make an immediate impact no matter where he’s drafted.
  • John Kelly had been a riser on some draft boards, but his size entering the combine was a worry. Kelly alleviated those concerns, weighing in at 216 pounds as a compact runner at 5-10. His wide receiver-esque build is sure to draw some intrigue from draft war rooms.
  • Adversely, Nyheim Hines (198 pounds) and Mark Walton (202) weighed in well below the desired range for bell-cow status. They may be limited to third-down roles to start their careers as shifty receivers out of the backfield. Walton was particularly disappointing after posting a lumbering 4.60-second 40-yard dash.
  • Royce Freeman had an all-around great performance, running a 4.54 at 6-foot, 229 pounds. He tested fairly well in the explosion drills, but particularly excelled in the agility drills like the three-cone (6.9) and 20-yard shuttle (4.16). Freeman caught 80-of-89 passes thrown in his direction over the course of his collegiate career, as the agile Oregon Duck solidified his stock this past weekend.

Wide receivers

  • I’m not sure any receiver increased his stock this weekend more than Maryland’s D.J. Moore. The 6-foot, 210-pound wideout posted incredible numbers across the board, finishing with a SPARQ score in the 97th Moore’s 2.78 yards per route run ranked No. 16 among all 2018 NFL Draft wide receivers and he may have solidified himself as a first-rounder after his combine performance.
  • While Moore was turning heads in amazement, Alabama’s Calvin Ridley was turning them for different reasons. Ridley’s 4.43 was attention-garnering, but his 31-inch vertical was tied for third-worst and his broad jump of 9-2 was dead last among this year’s class of wideouts. Ridley enters the league as one of the older prospects in the class (he turns 24 in December), leaving a shorter window of time for refinement if you’re looking to invest in dynasty leagues.
  • SMU’s Courtland Sutton had a fantastic outing. He excelled in the 20-yard short shuttle (4.11), 60-yard short shuttle (11.06), and three-cone drill (6.57), posting top-five numbers among all wideouts in each category. At 6-3, 218 pounds, Sutton could be a dangerous weapon wherever he lands after posting a combined 144-2,331-22 stat line over his final two years at Southern Methodist.
  • Antonio Callaway’s off-field issues are certainly a red flag in most evaluator’s books, but his performance at the combine this weekend showed the type of potential he can bring to an offense. Callaway ran a 4.41 at 5-11, 200-pounds, finishing with a 91st percentile weight-adjusted speed score. He reportedly interviewed very well and looks to have his stock on the rise, despite not playing at all in 2017.
  • One of the most hyped wideouts entering the draft process has been Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk. Kirk sported a 4.47-second 40-yard dash time at 5-10, 201-pounds and looked like he completed the gauntlet drill effortlessly. He finished third at the position with an impressive 20 reps benching 225-pounds. However, his agility marks in the 20-yard shuttle (4.45) and 60-yard shuttle (12.03) raised both eyebrows and questions.
  • The 6-5, 228-pound Auden Tate had a disastrous weekend at the combine. The big man from Florida State struggled in the 40-yard dash, running a mediocre 4.69. He also struggled in both the vertical (31 inches) and broad jumps (9-4), showing a lack of explosiveness at Indy. However, Tate’s massive frame still makes him a major red-zone threat anytime he’s targeted, as evidenced by his 66.7 percent catch rate in contested catch situations (T-sixth). Despite his tantalizing size, Tate will need a solid pro day at FSU to bounce back from this weekend’s tumble.
  • D.J. Chark turned heads as he blurred past the crowd en route to a 4.34-second 40-yard dash. Chark not only posted the fastest 40-yard time, he also netted the highest vertical among all wideouts at 40 inches. The young LSU phenom is still a raw route-runner, but his speed and explosiveness certainly garnered the attention of many as he moved up draft boards.
  • OSU’s James Washington was near the top of many draft boards entering the combine, but he came out with a rather lackluster performance. Washington led the nation with 815 yards on deep passes and ranked second on deep touchdowns (eight), but his athleticism wasn’t quite on display in Indy. He sported a quality 4.54 in the 40, but fared rather disappointingly in the other drills. While we’re often quick to label combine performers as “winners” and “losers,” I’m not sure there was really any change to Washington’s stock after this weekend — he still remains a strong candidate to be one of the first wide receivers drafted.
  • Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown is another one of this class’s big wide receivers, measuring in at 6-5, 214-pounds. St. Brown ran a 4.48 and benched 20 reps, but opted out of the rest of the drills. We didn’t really learn much from Brown here outside of his measurements, but he still finished in the 70th percentile in his weight-adjusted speed score.

Tight ends

  • The biggest winner at the combine not named Saquon Barkley may have been his Penn State teammate, tight end Mike Gesicki. After measuring in at 6-6, 247 pounds, Gesicki absolutely blew away the combine. He put on a historic performance, finishing first or second in literally every event. It culminated in him netting an overall 99th percentile SPARQ score — one of the most athletic tight ends ever recorded at the combine.
  • Jaylen Samuels was another tight end who improved his draft stock over this past weekend. Samuels tied Gesicki with a 4.54 40-yard dash, while finishing third at the position in the broad jump (10-1). Samuels was a chess piece for NC State, playing all over the formation at multiple positions. While his quickness and explosiveness were on display at the combine, it’s his blocking that will need to improve if he hopes to see the field with regularity.
  • Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews was a brilliant receiver for the Sooners, ranking fourth among all tight ends with 2.78 yards per route run, but his performance at the combine left a little to be desired. He ran an impressive 4.67 at 6-5, 256 pounds, but his agility and explosive drills were rather lackluster. His performance this weekend certainly wasn’t a boon to his draft stock and could see him slide a bit.
  • South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst tied Andrews with a 4.67 40-yard dash as the third-fastest tight end. Hurst also sported an impressive 10-00 broad jump, rounding out a quality outing at the combine. Hurst is a bit of an older prospect, entering the league at the exact same age as current four-year veteran Allen Robinson (both turn 25 Aug. 24). However, Hurst’s age and experience has left him as one of the more polished tight end prospects in the class. Hurst was about as sure-handed as they come for South Carolina, recording just three drops in 103 catchable passes in his career and likely maintained his current draft stock.

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