News & Analysis

2020 NFL Scouting Combine: What to watch for during QB, WR and TE drills

The time has finally come for the infamous NFL Scouting Combine on-field drills. The first positions set to display their skills in primetime are the quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends.

Rumors have been swirling in Indianapolis, and PFF has numerous analysts present to offer our analysis and key takeaways. That being said, here is your primer for the drills and what you need to watch for throughout Day 1:

Henry Ruggs III and Jalen Reagor both have an opportunity to run in the 4.2s and raise their stock exponentially 

The 40-yard dash is everyone’s favorite event of the NFL Scouting Combine. There is virtually no correlation between 40-yard success and on-field success in the NFL, as explained by my colleague Kevin Cole, but that doesn’t mean teams won’t be giddy over a receiver running in the 4.2s. In this class, Henry Ruggs III and Jalen Reagor are prime candidates to do just that.

It was hard for Ruggs to fight for target share in the Alabama offense with Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith alongside him. But when he had the ball in his hands and a slimmer of an open path ahead of him, he exploded. Ruggs averaged 10.5 yards after catch per reception in 2019 and generated an explosive play on over half of his catches.

As for Reagor, his situation in 2019 was the complete opposite of Ruggs’. Among draft-eligible wide receivers, Reagor saw the fourth-lowest rate of catchable targets at 61.4% (for perspective, that’s 12% lower than the average; the highest rate was Justin Jefferson at 89.6%). Reagor’s raw traits and athleticism are bolstering his stock, and a 40-yard time in the 4.2s will raise it even more.

Jacob Eason is going to “wow” scouts with his arm strength, leading to him being over-drafted

“The guy can drop f—— dimes… He's an extremely talented passer, and he's gonna rise up the board as the draft gets closer because people are gonna look at his build and see him throw and go, ‘Where (else) am I gonna get a guy like that?' ” – NFL general manager to NFL.com’s Michael Silver

Jacob Eason’s arm has been a popular topic of conversation here in Indianapolis. As noted in the PFF Draft Guide, that’s his greatest trait — but it’s also one of the least important traits for a quarterback. Accuracy and pocket presence trump arm strength, and Eason is incredibly shaky there. Among 108 qualifying quarterbacks in 2019, Eason ranked 67th in accurate pass rate, according to PFF’s ball-charting process. He can hit the shallow throws, but once the depth of target increases, the further Eason moves from the mean.

Eason's accuracy is nowhere near as big of an issue as his pocket presence, though. This past year, Eason invited 16 total pressures, with eight going for a sack, and when he got a pass off when under duress, it got ugly. His pressured passing grade in 2019 ranked 92nd, and he failed to crack the top 100 in yards per attempt. Don’t fall in love with the arm, as great as it might look on Thursday when he is throwing against air.

The entire tight end class can get shaken up really easily

This tight end class is full of wild cards, and a good or bad day on Thursday by a select few could really affect the position's landscape come April. Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins owns a serious drop issue — he’s had 22 drops since 2016, which is eight more than any other tight end in the class. If this arises on Thursday, he may slip on some teams’ boards. 

Adam Trautman is one of the premier FCS prospects in this class and completely dominated at Dayton. He posted a 94.3 receiving grade in 2019, which is the second-best we have seen here at PFF at any college level. He did this against the likes of Butler, Jacksonville, Indiana State, etc., but if he continues to shine at the Combine like he did at the Senior Bowl, he’ll rise.

One of the players to hurt his draft stock the most since the start of the 2019 season is tight end Jared Pinkney. His 81.9 receiving grade in 2018 fell to 53.4 in 2019. He had poor production all-around by generating just 0.87 yards per route run, which was dead last among qualifying tight ends. Pinkney's Senior Bowl made matters far worse, dropping his PFF big board rank from 43rd to outside the top 100. He can either gain back some ground on Thursday or fall further down the hill.

Off the field issues from C.J. O’Grady caused him to drop from one of the top tight ends in the class to a possible UDFA. In 2018, O'Grady was one of the highest-graded at his position, and over the course of his career he has flashed great ability to create after the catch. O’Grady owned up to his mistakes in media availability, admitting that he screwed up and professing that he learned from the situation and is a changed person. Regardless, he’s going to need a big day on Thursday to win teams back. 

If Justin Herbert and Jordan Love throw accurate balls, teams will melt 

Outside of Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa (if healthy), there is no quarterback in this draft class that teams can feel truly confident in. Herbert falls in a similar category as Eason — he’s got a cannon but has yet to show sharp accuracy and is panicky under pressure. Herbert’s stock is a bit higher than Eason’s, as he owns a bit better accuracy and pocket presence, but only marginally. Removing screens, Herbert doesn’t even crack the 50th percentile in this draft class in accurate pass rate. Still, if he displays his cannon and routinely throws accurate balls, don’t be surprised if we start hearing top-10 lock.

If you give Jordan Love a wide-open receiver deep downfield, he’s going to hit him. Love proved it this past year with 23 big-time throws to a receiver with a step or more of separation and just two turnover-worthy plays on the same throws. If you give him a tight window downfield, however, Love won’t hit it. He threw 15 interceptions into a tight window in 2019, which is three more than anyone else in the class. On top of that, Love didn’t crack the 50th percentile in uncatchable pass rate on throws to a tight window. Since he thrives in favorable situations — and with him throwing against air at the combine — he’s likely going to be the talk of the night and join Eason and Herbert in the over-drafted category.

Can Jalen Hurts actually be a rushing threat in the NFL?

Jalen Hurts is a quarterback; not a wide receiver, not a running back. That being said, Hurts flashed some rushing ability at Oklahoma in 2019, though he was by no means as prolific as Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray. Lincoln Riley gave Hurts the third-most designed carries for a quarterback last season, and he was specifically great on the RPO designed runs, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. On read options, Hurts averaged 5.8 yards per carry. 

Over a quarter of Hurts' scrambles resulted in an explosive play, but he’ll need to show some sharp athleticism to convince teams they can build a rushing attack around him. If Hurts can show that, his stock will rise, as the risk of banking on his passing ability will decline.

Chase Claypool and Clyde Edwards-Helaire working out at different positions?

PFF's Mike Renner has been tossing around the idea of Chase Claypool moving to tight end for quite awhile now, and NFL teams apparently have, too — they've asked him to work out with the tight ends as opposed to the wide receivers. The 6-foot-4, 238-pound Claypool has never been a separation generator, but rather one who thrives in contested situations. He was a top-20 receiver in PFF grade on such plays and posted one of the 10 highest rates of catchable passes caught. Of his 726 snaps in 2019, 614 were out wide, and just one was inline. His measurables are those of a tight end, but whether or not he can effectively play the position is another question.

Interestingly, Clyde Edwards-Helaire was asked to work out with the wide receivers as opposed to the running backs. It seems that teams want to see his receiving skills and how he can bring them to the table as a running back — kind of like Tarik Cohen. Based off what we saw from Edwards-Helaire in 2019 in Joe Brady’s offense, the receiving skills are there. He hauled in 55 of 64 targets for 453 yards and broke an impressive 14 tackles on those catches. We still don’t know whether or not Edwards-Helaire will actually work out with the receivers, but if he does it’s something to keep track of.

Which contested wide receivers can separate themselves from the pack? 

This receiving class is stacked — we all know it by now. There are the separators like Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and K.J. Hamler, then there are the contested receivers like Tee Higgins, Denzel Mims, Michael Pittman Jr., Tyler Johnson, Isaiah Hodgins, et al.

None of the contested guys are considered “first-round locks” at this point, but a glimmer of athleticism during the workouts on Thursday may get one or two a step closer to that status. Higgins is most likely the first one off the board among the contested group, sitting in the back-end of the first-round, but he isn’t a lock like Jeudy or Lamb. Of the 2020 draft class, Tyler Johnson owns the highest contested receiving grade, and Higgins and Mims aren’t too far off him. 

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