News & Analysis

Stock up, stock down for prospects after the NFL Scouting Combine

With the NFL Scouting Combine now over, NFL teams’ draft boards are starting to take shape — as is ours here at PFF.

Using PFF's advanced database, top-150 big board and 2020 NFL Draft Guide, let's look at some of the prospects who have impacted their draft stock the most with Combine performances.

STOCK UP

WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama

This was expected. Henry Ruggs III clocked the fastest 40 time of the week at 4.27 and separated himself from other wide receivers in this loaded class. Ruggs played with some of the best talent in the country at Alabama as part of what might have been the best receiving corps in history, and he consequently saw a low target share.

That said, Ruggs made the most of that situation and shined when given the opportunity to make a play with the ball in his hands. When removing targets behind the line of scrimmage in 2019, Ruggs produced the second-most yards after catch per reception of any FBS receiver at 11.5. Overall, Ruggs produced an explosive play of 15-plus yards on 38.2% of his targets in 2019, which was the highest rate in college football. The speed is legit, and if he gets a step on his coverage defender, look out because he’ll explode for big gains.

LB Willie Gay, Mississippi State

If there wasn’t a single off-field issue, Willie Gay might be getting some first-round love. Unfortunately, he’s missed a significant amount of time throughout his career for cheating in class, punching his quarterback in the face, etc. Gay performed exceptionally well when on the field, though he still needed a superb Combine to show teams he’s worth taking a risk on — and he did just that.

Among linebackers, Gay posted the second-best 40-yard dash (4.46), second-highest vertical jump (39.5) and longest broad jump (11-foot-4). During his limited time on the field for the Bulldogs, Gay has been a sharp tackler, missing only nine of his 99 tackle attempts. He's been an even better coverage defender, posting a 93.9 coverage grade on his 294 career coverage snaps. Gay isn’t skyrocketing himself anywhere near the first round, but he may sniff the second-round with his freakish athleticism.

WR Justin Jefferson, LSU

We have been bullish on Justin Jefferson in the past, and he tested exactly how he needed to in order to creep up boards. The biggest concern with Jefferson’s play at LSU is how much of his production was schemed. He finished 2019 with 815 receiving yards that came from routes underneath the coverage or from finding a hole in zone coverage. Not to mention, Jefferson benefitted from having the most accurate quarterback in the country — his rate of catchable targets was the highest in the FBS at 90%. A more promising stat was how he fared in contested situations, as he snagged 10 of 11 such targets in 2019. While we aren’t as high on Jefferson as others, he’s checked the athleticism box.

S Antoine Winfield Jr., Minnesota

After having to obtain medical redshirts in both 2017 and in 2018, Antoine Winfield Jr. still had to prove his athletic makeup was the same as it once was, even despite playing all of 2019 at a high level. Winfield posted the fourth-best 40 time among safeties (4.45), tied for seventh in the vertical (36-inch) and shined in drills. This after playing in all 13 games for the Golden Gophers in 2019 and being an absolute playmaker with great ball tracking.

On his 401 coverage snaps, Winfield was responsible for only 11 catches while picking off seven passes and breaking up another. On top of that, he forced a couple of fumbles. Winfield seemingly knew where the ball was going at all times. The instincts are clearly there, and the only real concerns lie within his physical makeup. His height isn’t quite what you’d want, but everything else is solid, as he showed in Indy.

RB/WR Antonio Gibson, Memphis

All Antonio Gibson needs is space to show off the blazing speed. While it wasn’t on Ruggs’ level, his 4.39 40-yard time was good enough to tie for the fifth-best in college football. His ability to create after the catch was on Ruggs’ level, though. Gibson rattled off an average yards after the catch per reception of 11.7, which was second among FBS receivers. On top of that, Gibson routinely made guys miss by breaking a tackle on 45% of his catches in 2019, the second-highest rate in the FBS. A lot of his production came underneath, though, as opposed to running actual routes, which is a big concern. While we saw a small sample of him at running back, Gibson looked like he could handle that job fine with 11 explosive rushes of 10-plus yards and 16 broken tackles on his 33 carries.

TE Cole Kmet, Notre Dame

There was reason to worry about Cole Kmet as an NFL prospect since he had seen only 82 targets in his career at Notre Dame, but top-four finishes in the 40, vertical jump and broad jump helped assuage the small sample size concern. It still doesn’t help that didn’t see a whole lot of work in the slot or on the outside. Plus, a lot of his production was schemed — well over half of his 515 receiving yards were schemed, open throws. Kmet's Combine performance does show there is reason to improve on his college numbers.

At 6-foot-6, 262-pounds, Kmet has arguably the largest catch radius of anyone in the class. He hauled in 93.5% of his catchable targets in 2019, a figure that ranks among the five best in the 2020 draft class. Kmet has the size and athleticism to be a chain mover at the next level. Poor Combine performances by other tight ends in this class could also help raise his stock.

QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma

No quarterback had more to prove at the Combine than Jalen Hurts, and he significantly bumped his stock. Any team that takes Hurts and expects to turn him into their franchise signal-caller will have to change its offense and cater to his strengths (i.e. RPO-based, read options with motion, play action, etc). As a result, Hurts' athleticism measurables needed to suggest that an offense would be able to get away with making such changes. That's more likely after last week.

Before you compare him to Lamar Jackson, Hurts isn’t near the same level of athleticism. He is, however, a guy who can execute a solid RPO attack. He averaged an impressive 7.4 yards per carry on quarterback-designed RPOs and made perfect reads when he opted to pass on those plays, averaging 10.5 yards per pass. As great as RPOs can be for a guy like Hurts, you won’t be able to get away with running them at an absurdly high rate as college offenses given the difference in how far downfield offensive linemen can get before drawing a penalty.

Hurts' passing has a lot of room for improvement because of his slow time-to-throw and release, but, again, Hurts showed he has the profile to find some success in an innovative offense similar to what we saw with Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo. There’s still a lot of unknown, but Hurts certainly has improved on his No. 10 quarterback ranking in this class.

WR Denzel Mims, Baylor

The 6-foot-3, 207-pound receiver far exceeded everyone’s expectations throughout testing. Mims posted far and away the best three-cone of any wide receiver in attendance while also tying for the third-best 40-yard time at 4.38. In the NFL, Mims is going to be the outside vertical threat ready to body any defensive back on a contested ball. In fact, he posted the sixth-highest receiving grade of 2019 on such targets. He may have a really bad drop issue (24 drops over the course of his career), but Mims can torch a lot of defensive backs off the line in press coverage with that speed.

WR/TE Chase Claypool, Notre Dame

Throughout the pre-draft process, numerous people in and around the league have said that 6-foot-4, 238-pound Chase Claypool looks to be a tight end at the next level. That’d be a scary tight end considering Claypool posted a 4.42 40, 40.5-inch vertical and 10-foot-6 broad jump. Claypool broke out in 2019, posting an 82.3 receiving grade after owning a career high of 66.1 prior. He clearly is a unit of a receiver, and he toasted some coverage defenders on contested balls because of it. Of the 39 receivers to see 25 contested targets, Claypool produced the sixth-highest catch rate at 57.7%. He’s also a bowling ball after the catch, breaking 14 tackles on his 66 catches in 2019.

STOCK DOWN

WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado

Laviska Shenault Jr. being thrown into the stock down report was really out of his control. After running an oddly slow time in the 40-yard dash, Shenault sat the rest of the day and announced later that he’d have surgery on a core muscle injury that would sideline him a month or two. If the wide receiver class weren’t so deep, it wouldn’t be that big of an issue. But he's going to fall because of it.

Shenault is an interesting player — he was used in a multitude of ways from designed rushes to jet sweeps/screens to sometimes deep vertical routes, and he was successful at any role. He has seen 39 carries the last two years and produced an explosive rush on nearly a quarter of those and broke a tackle on 12. As a receiver during that same stretch, Shenault recorded a two-year receiving grade that is the third-best in all of college football. And he was nasty after the catch, breaking an FBS-high 44 tackles and averaging 7.7 yards after catch per reception. The injury isn’t completely destroying his stock, but he lost his spot as one of the three best receivers in this class.

EDGE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa

Burst and speed off the line was a large concern for A.J. Epenesa entering the week in Indianapolis, and he did nothing to dispel the doubters with one of the worst 40 times of the day among edge defenders at 5.04 seconds. He still has tremendous technique and has been one of college football’s top pass-rushers the last two years, so he's not completely falling out of the edge No. 2 spot, but  he no longer is a top 15-player on our big board.

There haven't been many edge defenders who could overpower offensive tackles the way Epenesa has the last two years. Among FBS defenders during that stretch, Epenesa has posted a PFF pass-rush grade that ranks as the sixth-best and has won on over 20% of his pass-rush reps. Again, he’s still easily a first-round talent, but the gap between him and the next best edge defender has gotten smaller and smaller.

CB Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State

Dantzler really needed a good time in the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis but couldn't make it happen, posting the second-worst time among cornerbacks. Dantzler is in a similar boat as Shenault — if it weren’t such a deep class at his position, the significance of the Combine wouldn’t be as big of a deal.

While his Combine was poor, Dantzler's on-field performance has been exactly what you’d want in an NFL Draft prospect. During his career, Dantzler has allowed a minimal 42.7% catch rate and just one touchdown while racking up 20 combined pass breakups plus interceptions. In the last two years alone, he has allowed the third-lowest passer rating when targeted among Power-5 outside corners at 45.0. That being said, I’d take his 40-time with a grain of salt — it may have caused him to fall a smidge on our board, but the film doesn’t lie, and Dantzler was a shutdown corner in college football's best conference, the SEC.

OL Calvin Throckmorton, Oregon

After ranking in the bottom six offensive lineman in the 40, broad jump, three-cone and 20-yard shuttle, our biggest fear on Calvin Throckmorton was proven true. As stated by Mike Renner in the PFF Draft Guide, the length and agility aren’t quite there to survive at tackle. The good news is that Throckmorton has experience playing on the interior. The bad news is that he actually lost more reps on the interior than when playing tackle over the course of his career, and he did it against a rather weak pass-rush conference in the Pac-12. With the big athleticism difference relative to NFL tackles, Throckmorton’s stock trends down.

TE C.J. O’Grady, Arkansas

C.J. O’Grady was already in the buyer beware category after numerous suspensions, an arrest and leaving Arkansas midway through his last season. Throw in the fact that he had a subpar Combine overall and teams will be less than willing to invest in someone so risky. That being said, when he was on the field throughout his collegiate career, the 6-foot-4, 253-pound O’Grady was tough to bring down after the catch. In his career, O’Grady averaged 6.3 yards after catch per reception (75th percentile) and broke 17 tackles on 87 catches. He wasn’t a polished run-blocker, either, which doesn’t help matters.

DI Ross Blacklock, TCU

Ross Blacklock had high hopes entering the Combine, but sadly things went the opposite direction. Blacklock only has two full seasons of playing experience at TCU after missing all of 2018 due to injury, but he took a big step forward as a run-defender from 2017 to 2019, raising his grade in that facet from 71.9 to 89.5. While Blacklock’s pass-rushing did improve, it was marginal. Blacklock was a part of a scheme that gave him very few true pass-rush reps, and even then he still failed to crack the top-50 in pressure rate generated.

Coming into the Combine, Blacklock was one of those athletic, low-production yet high-potential type of prospects, but now we aren’t even sure his athleticism can hang with NFL interior offensive linemen. He’s a Day 2 pick, but one with concerns.

TE Hunter Bryant, Washington

Bryant had an average-at-best week at the Combine, on top of injury issues in the past. When on the field, though, Bryant has shown a lot of promise. He’s posted a 91.7 receiving grade on his 120 career targets — a figure that ranks among the five best among tight ends since 2017. He was a winner after the catch by breaking 18 tackles on his 85 catches while averaging 7.6 yards after catch per reception. The big reason why Bryant is so down after his subpar Combine is because he looks more like a receiver than a tight end — and the numbers he put up would be horrendous for a receiver.

WR Jauan Jennings, Tennesee

Performing poorly at a Combine where your position group is already stacked is a recipe for personal disaster. Like Shenault, that's exactly what happened to Jennings after he put up the second-worst vertical and second-slowest 40 time. Still, his greatest strength in college in 2019 was his after the catch ability — something that the drills can't really measure. Jennings broke an absurd 30 tackles on 59 catches last year, put up the eighth-most yards after contact and averaged a very impressive 8.0 yards after the catch per reception. We knew the speed was not ideal, but not necessarily this poor. Among this class, that hurts.

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