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Top 10 takeaways from the 2018 NFL Combine

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 02: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley in action during the 2018 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 2, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 02: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley in action during the 2018 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 2, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 02: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley in action during the 2018 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 2, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 02: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley in action during the 2018 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 2, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

With the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine finally in the books, let’s take a look at 10 of the most significant takeaways from the past few days in Indianapolis.

The 2018 NFL Combine is a backward world where freaks are welcomed with open arms and those perceived as “typical” are pushed aside in favor of the abnormal.

It is the place where athletes go to shine and the overlooked come to get recognized. Each year there are plenty of so-called “combine warriors” who impress the scouts in attendance and shoot up draft boards due to their impressive performances.

While it may not be the most effective way of scouting players, there’s no denying that a stellar showing at the combine could earn a player a little extra cash when it comes to draft day. Just ask previous combine standouts such as Dontari Poe, Terron Armstead, and most recently John Ross.

This year’s combine featured no shortage of exciting moments, inspiring stories, and incredible feats of athleticism. From Saquon Barkley’s magnificent results to the motivational tale of Shaquem Griffin, this year’s combine was one of the most talked about scouting events in recent memory.

With plenty to talk about, let’s jump in and take a look at the 10 biggest takeaways from all this spectacular action.

ATLANTA, GA – JANUARY 01: Shaquem Griffin #18 of the UCF Knights celebrates after sacking Jarrett Stidham #8 of the Auburn Tigers (not pictured) in the third quarter during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 1, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA – JANUARY 01: Shaquem Griffin #18 of the UCF Knights celebrates after sacking Jarrett Stidham #8 of the Auburn Tigers (not pictured) in the third quarter during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 1, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

10. Shaquem Griffin is more than just a nice story

Shaquem Griffin is a ball player. He is an athlete. He is an exceptional football player. And above all, he is a competitor.

Leading up to draft day, the talk will almost assuredly be about his incredible, unlikely journey to get to this point. But for a moment, let’s forget about all of that.

Let’s forget about his congenital disorder that left him with a severely deformed left hand and caused him so much pain and discomfort that his parents were forced to schedule an amputation because they found him attempting to do the deed himself.

Let’s forget about the fact that he continued to excel as a three-sport athlete in high school and later went on to become the defensive captain at the University of Central Florida, a team that finished the year undefeated in his senior season.

And let’s forget about the fact that this player still wasn’t among the initial invitees to this year’s combine and it wasn’t until a standout performance at the Senior Bowl that he was ultimately sent the tardy invite.

While the above may seem contradictory, what we should all take away from Shaquem Griffin’s remarkable combine showing is that he is a football player, not a charity case. He deserves to be analyzed and evaluated like any other athlete would.

His combine wasn’t just special for a player with one hand, it was historically special for players with one, two, or five hands. Griffin became the first player to weigh in at 225 pounds or more and run a sub-4.40 40-yard dash since at least 2000.

That incredible 40-yard dash time combined with his above-average performance on the bench press likely skyrocketed him up many teams draft boards and it will be interesting to see just how high he goes come April.

The question is no longer if Griffin will be drafted, but when?

His journey to the NFL may be different than every other player who has played the game but at the end of the day, he will always be what he has been since he first stepped foot on the gridiron.

A football player.

Next: 9. Saquon Barkley is the real deal

GLENDALE, AZ – DECEMBER 30: Running back Saquon Barkley #26 of the Penn State Nittany Lions rushes the football against the Washington Huskies during the second half of the Playstation Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 30, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. The Nittany Lions defeated the Huskies 35-28. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ – DECEMBER 30: Running back Saquon Barkley #26 of the Penn State Nittany Lions rushes the football against the Washington Huskies during the second half of the Playstation Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 30, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. The Nittany Lions defeated the Huskies 35-28. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

9. Saquon Barkley is the real deal

If a group of mad scientists was given all of the necessary ingredients and entrusted with the task of creating the perfect running back prospect from scratch, the end result would look something like Saquon Barkley.

The former Penn State running back is an absolute monster of a prospect who checks all of the boxes scouts look for when evaluating a player.

Impressive college production … check. Insane combine performance … check. Outstanding football IQ and leadership qualities … check. Fantastic all-around player with NO weaknesses in his game … check.

A surefire top-five NFL Draft pick … soon to be check.

If people weren’t already aware of just how good Saquon Barkley is, his performance in Indianapolis made sure everyone knew what he was indeed capable of.

Barkley put up the highest bench press with 29 reps, the highest vertical at 41.0 inches, and the second-fastest 40-time with a finish in 4.41 seconds. This means that Barkley is essentially the strongest, most athletic, and essentially the fastest running back in the entire class.

The 230 pounder was already considered one of, if not the best prospect in the entire class before his visit to Lucas Oil Stadium. Barkley doubled down on that assumption by posting the highest combine grade by any player this year, per NFL.com.

Say-Say (which is an adorably misfitting nickname for a savage like Barkley) has likely solidified himself as a top-five pick in this year’s draft and it wouldn’t be surprising in the least to hear his name called even earlier. There’s even some talk of the Cleveland Browns selecting the talented running back with the first overall pick, something that has not been done since the Cincinnati Bengals took fellow Penn State alum Ki-Jana Carter with their first selection in 1995.

Wherever he is taken, there’s little doubt that Barkley is going to excel at the next level and his spectacular combine showing simply reinforced that fact.

Is it too early to place bets on who will win next year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year?

Next: 8. Orlando Brown is NOT the real deal

8. Orlando Brown is NOT the real deal

If Saquon Barkley was the 2018 combine warrior, Orlando Brown would classify as this year’s combine flop.

The monstrous Oklahoma offensive tackle posted poor numbers in every drill he participated in with his worst showing coming in the bench press with an embarrassing 14 reps recorded.

For a man the size of some small automobiles, that’s a problem.

Brown measures in at 6’8″ 345 pounds and has the football pedigree in his blood. His father, the late Orlando Brown Sr., played in the NFL from 1993 to 2005 and made 119 career starts along the offensive line. But size and genetics can only get you so far.

The massive lineman already had questions about his athleticism and blocking technique before the combine rolled around. While most anticipated that Brown wouldn’t test well, few could’ve predicted the absolute disaster that was the former Oklahoma Sooner’s weekend.

Aside from his measly 14 reps on the bench press, Brown ran a sluggish 5.85 40-yard dash and jumped just 19.5 inches and 6-foot-10 inches on the vertical and broad jumps respectively. All of those numbers are considered horrendous not only for offensive tackles but for any player.

His 40-time was the fifth slowest time by any player in 20 years and his vertical and broad jumps were the third worst by any player in the same timeframe. On top of that, coaches were notably discontent with Brown’s effort at the combine and even accused him of loafing during drills.

Perhaps Brown could make up for his disastrous combine showing at his upcoming Oklahoma pro day, but any team that drafts the colossal offensive tackle must be willing to overlook his work in Indianapolis and focus more on his tremendous upside.

It’s just a shame he wasn’t able to show any of this in the combine.

Next: 7. Josh Allen shows mechanical improvements

IOWA CITY, IOWA- SEPTEMBER 2: Quarterback Josh Allen #17 of the Wyoming Cowboys warms up before the match-up against the Iowa Hawkeyes, on September 2, 2017 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
IOWA CITY, IOWA- SEPTEMBER 2: Quarterback Josh Allen #17 of the Wyoming Cowboys warms up before the match-up against the Iowa Hawkeyes, on September 2, 2017 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

7. Josh Allen shows mechanical improvements

Josh Allen has been one of the most polarizing figures in this entire draft class, but his performance this weekend may have helped silence some of his doubters.

At 6’5″ and over 230 pounds, Allen has ample size and all the tools necessary to be an elite quarterback at the next level. The only problem has been his accuracy.

The Wyoming signal-called has the arm talent to place the ball anywhere on the field at will, but his consistency remains a major concern. Too often in college Allen would misstep, throwing off his footwork and forcing numerous errant passes. At this year’s combine, all eyes were on the Mountain West standout to see how he would shape up against the other top quarterbacks in the class.

Not only did Allen show that he belonged in the conversation for the best QB in this year’s draft, he came out of Indianapolis looking like he may very well be the best at his position.

While Allen was always destined to test well in the athletic drills (he led all quarterbacks in the broad and vertical jump and placed third in the 40-yard dash all at 230 pounds nonetheless), the former Wyoming Cowboy really won scouts over with his superb showing in the positional workouts.

Allen showed vast improvements with his throwing mechanics and footwork and came away as one of the most accurate passers of the weekend. His biggest mechanical problem to this point had been something referred to as “over-striding” where Allen would overstep with his left foot causing many of his passes to miss high and sail on his receivers.

In part due to the help of his trainer, former NFL quarterback Jordan Palmer, Allen has now shown up to both the Senior Bowl and this year’s combine with tremendous upgrades to the mechanical aspect of his game. As a result, the bulky quarterback has improved his ball placement and accuracy immensely and draft analysts and NFL teams alike have taken notice.

Will this trend continue at the next level? No one knows for sure.

But we do know that Josh Allen improved his draft stock a ton and placed his name in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick come draft day in April.

Next: 6. There is no clear top QB in the class

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 03: Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield looks on during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 3, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 03: Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield looks on during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 3, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

6. There is no clear top QB in the class

Despite Josh Allen’s fine showing at the combine, there still remains no clear-cut “best” quarterback in this year’s draft. In fact, there remains an argument for the top four signal-callers (sorry Lamar Jackson) in this class to lay claim to the top of the quarterback prospect totem pole.

First, there’s the aforementioned Allen who’s accuracy struggles are well documented. He’s a physical marvel of a football player whose stands as one of the biggest and most agile quarterbacks in this year’s class. His arm strength is second-to-none and he remains the QB who likely has the highest potential of the bunch. Still, he is nowhere near a finished product as his mechanical concerns (although recently improved) and poor college accuracy will scare many teams away.

Then there’s the former USC superstar Sam Darnold. If there were a consensus top QB in the draft it would be Darnold who is looked at as the most complete prospect. The 20-year-old is a smooth passer with excellent football IQ and leadership skills for his age. The major knock on him has been turnovers as his 22 combined giveaways were “good” for worst in the FBS. That’s a major problem going forward, but not something that is necessarily unfixable.

There’s the part political activist, part gifted quarterback Josh Rosen. Rosen is known as the most naturally gifted thrower in this year’s class. He is as fluid a pocket passer as they come and the way he slings the ball effortlessly around the field leaves scouts in awe. His detractors point to his small frame and injury history as well as questions about his desire to play football and leadership skills, which for the record are WILDLY overblown.

Finally, there’s the ever-controversial Baker Mayfield whose crotch-grabbing, cocky comment antics turn many off immediately, but it’s hard to argue the caliber of player he was in college. This year’s Heisman winner threw for 4,627 yards and 43 TD’s as opposed to just 6 INT’s en route to a historic senior season at Oklahoma. Simply put, if you draft based on production then Mayfield is your guy. Some teams will be put off by the fact that he’s just 6’0″ and has plenty of off the field concerns, but there’s no denying that his fiery nature and competitive aptitude will go a long way towards allowing him to reach his ceiling in the pros.

So what did the combine do to differentiate between these leading quarterback candidates?

Not a whole lot.

While Allen did come away looking the best, no player was really able to distinguish themselves and separate from the pack as the unanimous premier QB in the draft class. They all have their strengths and weaknesses that make each of them both enticing and risky at the same time.

There may very well be multiple good quarterbacks that turn pro this year, but at the moment none of the above players have been able to gain a distinct advantage over the other.

It should be a very interesting draft season indeed.

Next: 5. There IS a clear top edge rusher

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 04: North Carolina State defensive lineman Bradley Chubb (DL28) runs in the 40 dash drill at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 4, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 04: North Carolina State defensive lineman Bradley Chubb (DL28) runs in the 40 dash drill at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 4, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

5. There IS a clear top edge rusher

While the quarterback class might still be a scrambled mess at the top of most boards, there is an obvious favorite by most standards at edge rusher and that man is NC State defensive end, Bradley Chubb.

Chubb didn’t have the flashy, athletically freaky combine that Saquon Barkley did mostly because he’s not the flashy, athletic freak that Barkley is. That’s not a knock, however. It’s just not Chubb’s game.

The NC State All-American is by far the most polished pass rusher in the draft and his combine proved that he’s a pretty darn good athlete as well. His 4.65 40-yard dash was one of the best times for his position and his 36-inch vertical jump, 24 reps on the bench press, and 121-inch broad jump were all above average results.

Chubb is a solid athlete at worst, but his true strength comes with his versatility. As opposed to many of today’s pass rushers who have the athleticism to be speed rushers around the edge but are glorified one trick ponies, Chubb is a superior run defender who utilizes his strength to disengage blockers rather than just relying on his pure athletic capabilities.

Think more Joey Bosa than Jadeveon Clowney.

In fact, per Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated, several NFL officials even believe that he’s a better all-around defensive end prospect than Myles Garrett was last year. That’s high praise for the 2017 ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

Chubb may not have had the headline-grabbing combine performance that Barkley did, but what he did do was establish himself as the premier edge rusher in a weak class by a wide margin.

Next: 4. Vita Vea is a force to be reckoned with

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 04: Washington defensive lineman Vita Vea (DL22) runs in the 40 yard dash at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 4, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 04: Washington defensive lineman Vita Vea (DL22) runs in the 40 yard dash at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 4, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

4. Vita Vea is a force to be reckoned with

Vita Vea is a monster among men. He is a beast among mortals. And he is a barbarian amongst the public.

At 6’5″ and nearly 350 pounds, Vea is a behemoth of a human being capable of wreaking havoc against opposing offenses at any level. Soon he’s going to have the chance to do just that at the NFL level once he is selected in this year’s upcoming draft.

Up until this point, Vea had been looked at as a mid-first round prospect who had the immense size and athleticism to be a very successful player as a professional but was slightly overlooked due to his position. After all, you don’t see too many nose tackles selected in the top-15 picks.

But even though it’s hard to overlook a man as massive as Vea, it’s even harder to overlook the fact that a man that size ran a 5.11 40-yard dash. To put that in perspective Brian Allen, one of the better center prospects in this year’s draft, ran a 5.34 at a full 50 pounds lighter. Now, of course, Vea and Allen play different positions and their games emphasize different strengths, but there’s something unreal about seeing a player that big run that fast.

Apart from his unbelievable 40-yard dash time, Vea also put up a staggering 41 reps on the bench press which was good for second among all players at the combine showing off his brute strength aside from his athleticism.

Due in part to his impressive combine, Vea may have established himself as a top-10 pick come draft day. This would make it the first time since the 1992-93 drafts that the University of Washington had players selected in the first round in consecutive drafts as fellow former Husky John Ross was selected ninth overall by the Cincinnati Bengals last year.

Who would’ve thought that Vea would share Ross’ proficiency for speed as well?

Next: 3. Tremaine Edmunds draws rave reviews

3. Tremaine Edmunds draws rave reviews

In a class chock full of athletic freaks Tremaine Edmunds might be the freakiest of them all.

The former Virginia Tech linebacker stands at 6’5″ and measures in at over 250 pounds which might lead one to believe he’s a prototypical run-stuffing linebacker in the NFL of yesteryear. That is until you do some simple research and find out that despite possessing the size of some small defensive ends, Edmunds ran a 4.54 40-yard dash which was the fifth fastest out of all linebackers.

Oh and he’s only 19 years old.

This is a kid who only recently gained the right to vote.

When they say the sky’s the limit, they weren’t accounting for the universal potential that Edmunds owns. He is an athletic specimen capable of playing virtually any role asked of him. At Virginia Tech, the coaching staff used him near the line of scrimmage as a pass rusher, as an off-ball linebacker in coverage, and really anything and everything in between.

In many ways, he is the future of the linebacker position in the NFL. A large, agile player who can be a figurative swiss army knife for any defense he’s a part of and help limit potential “matchup nightmares” of opposing offenses is a dream scenario for NFL teams and this should lead to Edmunds hearing his name called very early come April.

Before the combine, there was an ongoing debate about who the best versatile linebacker prospect was in this year’s class, Edmunds or Georgia’s Roquan Smith. At least for the time being, it appears that Edmunds has surpassed Smith in that mini-battle and he has a strong combine to thank for it.

While he still experiences his share of mental blunders and his football IQ doesn’t match up with some of the top-tier defenders in the class, Edmunds has more than enough athleticism to make up for it and should only continue to improve with age.

The only question now is if Edmunds will earn his first Pro Bowl appearance before he is legally permitted to drink.

Next: 2. Top safety prospects prove the future is now

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 05: Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (DB51) runs the 40 yard dash during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 5, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 05: Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (DB51) runs the 40 yard dash during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 5, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

2. Top safety prospects prove the future is now

Safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James are to the NFL exactly what Tremaine Edmunds and Roquan Smith are to the extensive football empire: the future. And in many cases, the future is already here.

With NFL offenses becoming more like their college counterparts with three to four receivers on the field becoming the norm, defenses have had to adjust by adding extra speed on to the defense in the form of additional defensive backs.

But these aren’t just any defensive backs. These aren’t the typical coverage corners who are soft as a pillow and tackle like they hug. These are mean, nasty hybrid defenders who can shut you down in man-to-man coverage and blitz the A-gap on consecutive downs and they are what the NFL is begging for.

Fitzpatrick is the ideal example of such a player. The Alabama product has the ability to play anywhere from slot corner to center field safety to off-ball linebacker to outside corner to box safety to … you get the point. Essentially anywhere on the defense a team puts him, he will be effective. Honestly, he’d probably even excel as a 3-technique defensive end if asked to do so.

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He’s that quick to pick stuff up.

James is probably a better athlete than Fitzpatrick, but he’s not the finished product the former Crimson Tide defensive back is. At 6’3″ and 215 pounds, James is yet another athletic freak of the 2018 draft class posting a top-10 time in the 40-yard dash among safeties, the sixth best vertical and the fifth best broad jump among defensive backs, and the third best bench press of the same positional group.

The Florida State product has drawn comparisons to fellow former Seminole Jalen Ramsey which is high praise for the one-time Freshman All-American. Personally, I see the Ramsey comparison as a better fit for Fitzpatrick but the two will likely still get compared due to their alma mater.

James reminds me of a bigger, longer version of Eric Berry, but with a lot of edges to smoothen out before he can reach his true potential. Much like Fitzpatrick, James can be used as a blitzer, in run support, and can be matched up against receivers in the slot. That’s the type of versatility that will have scouts salivating come draft day.

Fitzpatrick and James are the future of NFL defenses. And the future is now.

Next: 1. Quenton Nelson is the safest pick in the draft

1. Quenton Nelson is the safest player in the draft

Saquon Barkley is the most flashy. Shaquem Griffin is the most inspirational. Bradley Chubb is the most well-rounded. But if you’re looking for the safest bet to be a perennial All-Pro player look no further than Quenton Nelson.

One of the most hyped interior line prospects to come out in years, Nelson is a probable top-5 draft choice and a virtual lock for the top-10, and honestly both of those evaluations are likely lower than he should go.

The Notre Dame offensive guard has all the tools necessary to be a premier guard in the NFL for the next decade and he comes with essentially none of the weaknesses and/or risks associated with the other players in the class.

All of the quarterbacks have their own drawbacks, Minkah Fitzpatrick doesn’t have a defined position and isn’t the best athlete, and Bradley Chubb doesn’t appear to be on the level of other top-tier pass rushers at his position.

The best argument can be made for Penn State superstar Saquon Barkley but there is always a risk associated with taking a running back. Injuries are always a concern for players that touch the ball a lot and there is no position at greater risk for bodily harm than the running back position, regardless of whether or not he’s had previous injury concerns.

Nelson is the most pro-ready offensive lineman in years with a mean streak to boot. He’s already an elite run blocker using his 330-pound muscular frame to carve out holes in the run game. On top of that, he is far from a liability in pass protection, something often glossed over when evaluating interior line prospects.

The Fighting Irish lineman put up an impressive 35 reps on the bench press which ranked second among all offensive lineman further establishing his outstanding physical strength. His combine interviews gave reporters chills as he talked about “dominating his opponents” and “taking away their will to play the game.”

That’s one bad dude.

Must Read: 30 greatest draft picks in Jets history

When all is set and done, there’s a good chance that Nelson will wind up being the most successful player from this class and we will look back and wonder how he fell as far as he did because in all honesty, anywhere outside the top three picks would be a steal for some lucky team.

Never has the term ‘safe’ been so menacing.

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