NFL Draft News & Analysis

One 2022 NFL Draft prospect to watch at every position at the NFL scouting combine

Michigan defensive back Daxton Hill takes the field for warmups before the Orange Bowl against Georgia on Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Florida.

The NFL scouting combine's most important aspects may be the team-player interviews and medical tests, but that doesn’t mean the on-field drills and measurements are completely ignored, as prospects crushing their athletic tests can only help their cause to rise up boards across the NFL landscape.


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Below are some players to watch that could impress during their workout to get NFL teams and media buzzing in Indianapolis.

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QB: MALIK WILLIS, LIBERTY FLAMES

PFF Big Board Rank: 22

It’s no secret that Willis is the best athlete at the quarterback position in the 2022 NFL Draft class, and tests at the Combine will further verify that. Willis led all FBS quarterbacks this past season in rushing grade (94.5), broken tackles (90) and explosive runs of 10-plus yards (46), so there’s no denying the impact he’s going to have as a runner at the next level. With his physical tools, expect Willis to be the talk of the position during the combine.


RB: JAMES COOK, GEORGIA BULLDOGS

PFF Big Board Rank: 103

Cook can catapult himself up the running back ranks with a big combine. He has impressive speed and explosiveness but needs to prove that during combine testing to convince any doubters. Cook didn't flash as a ball-carrier until this past season at Georgia, but he’s always been a top-notch receiver. Cook earned an 83.4 receiving grade this past season and has dropped just one of 74 targets in his four years on the field for the Bulldogs.



WR: CALVIN AUSTIN III, MEMPHIS TIGERS

PFF Big Board Rank: 110

Austin has elite track speed and quickness. His overall athleticism paired with his route-running and release package helps overcome his diminutive stature. Austin is undersized, standing at 5-foot-7 while weighing 173-pounds with 30.6-inch arms. Still, that didn’t stop him from producing at a high level as an outside receiver at Memphis in 2021, as he recorded an 85.2 receiving grade, 2.99 yards per route run and 14 broken tackles on 74 receptions. It also didn’t stop him from dominating at the Senior Bowl. Austin earned the highest receiving grade among qualifying wide receivers in practice and generated multiple steps of separation on over half of his targets against single coverage, forming the highest rate of such plays among all wide receivers in attendance.


TE: ISAIAH LIKELY, COASTAL CAROLINA CHANTICLEERS

PFF Big Board Rank: 108

Likely produced a top-three receiving grade among tight ends nationally in each of the last two seasons at Coastal Carolina. His receiving success translated to the Senior Bowl, as Likely earned a 91.1 receiving grade during the practices. He’s a polished route-runner who has impressive speed and great ball skills for the position. The 6-foot-4, 241-pound tight end isn’t going to be an inline blocker at the next level, though. Adding weight could be in the cards, but either way, his receiving ability should draw attention at the combine.


OL: TYLER LINDERBAUM, IOWA HAWKEYES

PFF Big Board Rank: 12

Positional value has come up often with Linderbaum throughout the pre-draft process. There is a wide belief that the center position is significantly less valuable than offensive tackle when, in reality, the difference between the two is almost negligible, according to PFF’s findings. In addition, concerns about his anchor have Linderbaum sliding down boards to the end of Round 1. He could, however, stop that slide with an eye-popping combine. If anyone in the offensive line group is going to do it, it’s Linderbaum, as he was one of the most athletic interior linemen in college football throughout his time with Iowa. Linderbaum was a top-five graded center in all three years starting at the position, including in 2021 when he broke the PFF College single-season grading record for a center.


DL: BOYE MAFE, MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS

PFF Big Board Rank: 48

Mafe landed in the top 20 of Bruce Feldman’s annual “Freaks List” last offseason. Among his absurd athletic accomplishments mentioned was a 40-plus-inch vertical and sub-4.6-second 40-yard dash time. Those elite marks are seen on the field. He has a fantastic get-off and has continuously improved his pass-rush toolbox. Mafe owns a 90.7 pass-rush grade for his collegiate career and posted the highest win rate of any pass-rusher at the Senior Bowl. With a big combine, Mafe could be a darkhorse first-round pick.


LB: NAKOBE DEAN, GEORGIA BULLDOGS

PFF Big Board Rank: 16

Dean is going to impress during the explosive tests. He is firmly in the undersized territory, but his elite explosiveness, instincts and proven production could check the boxes NFL teams need to invest in an undersized linebacker early. The Georgia off-ball linebacker became the first during the PFF College era to post a 90.0-plus grade as a pass-rusher and in coverage last season.


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CB: KYLER GORDON, WASHINGTON HUSKIES

PFF Big Board Rank: 50

Gordon is going to put on a show during the athletic testing, as he posted a 42.5-inch vertical and 3.87-second pro agility at Washington — both of which would be top-20 marks among defensive backs at the combine since 2000. Gordon’s explosiveness and agility showed up on the field this past season for the Huskies, as he earned an 89.6 coverage grade. His technique and instincts aren’t necessarily elite, but his athleticism certainly is. If Gordon tests like we think he can, he could get selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.


S: DAXTON HILL, MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

PFF Big Board Rank: 40

As a five-star recruit in high school, Hill posted a 4.30-second 40, 4.13-second pro agility and 43.6-inch vertical — the 40 and vertical would be among the 10-best for a defensive back at the scouting combine over the last 20 years. Needless to say, he’s likely going to blow tests out of the water in Indianapolis. Hills buoys his athleticism with proven collegiate production. He can be a versatile defender at the next level but has predominantly covered the slot over the past last two seasons. When playing inside since 2020, Hill has produced a top-10 coverage grade among Power Five defensive backs. Don’t be surprised if Hill climbs into the first round after his week in Indianapolis.

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