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Players who are invited to the annual NFL scouting combine usually spend anywhere from four to six weeks preparing for the event at different performance camps around the country. They are expected to do well because they are attending these camps.
Very little has changed at the combine over the past 25 years. Each player runs the 40-yard dash, the 20-yard or pro shuttle, the 3-cone drill, the standing long jump and the vertical jump. Once they complete these standard measurable drills, they do a series of position-specific drills that also haven’t changed in well over 20 years. The players know how to perform well in the drills and they practice them on a daily basis.
Still, just about every player goes into the combine with preconceived ideas as to how well he should perform. If he meets these expectations, nothing really happens to his grade. If he exceeds those expectations, then his grade could rise a little. It’s the players who do not meet expectations who are the surprise — and these players are generally the ones who are red-flagged by the different clubs. The good news is most players have a chance to make up for a performance that fails to match expectations at their schools' pro day some time in the next four weeks.
Here are some of the players on the defensive side of the ball who exceeded expectations:
Shaquem Griffin — LB – Central Florida
A month ago, Griffin wasn’t even invited to the combine, but after a strong performance at the Senior Bowl, he was extended an invitation. Not only did he perform well, he had one of the better workouts of all the linebackers in attendance.
In the 40, he easily ran the quickest time with a blistering 4.38-second dash. He also had a 9’9’" standing long jump and lifted 225 pounds 20 times on the bench press. In the position drills, he showed quickness and explosion, and his body control was exceptional.
Marcus Davenport – Edge — Texas-San Antonio
Davenport has been riding the express elevator since the Senior Bowl. After a strong week in Mobile, he put on another strong performance in Indy. At just under 6-foot-6, the 264-pound Davenport ran the 40 in 4.58, had a 33.5-inch vertical jump and a 10’4” standing long jump. His 3-cone time of 7.20 seconds and his 4.41 20-yard shuttle show that he has some tightness in his hips, but at his size that can be expected.
Davenport is raw and might not be quite ready to be a full-time player as a rookie, but his natural traits are excellent — he has unlimited upside. That is going to get him drafted much higher than many would have thought three or four weeks ago. He could go in the top 10.
Bradley Chubb – Edge – North Carolina State
Chubb went into the event as the highest-rated defensive player in the draft, and some people (including me) have him as the best overall player in the draft. He did nothing to disappoint. His scores across the board were very good. Just about the only disappointing drill was the 3-cone, where he timed 7.37 seconds. That is considered a good time, but some expected even better. Make no doubt about it: Chubb will be the first defensive player drafted next month.
Harold Landry – Edge — Boston College
After a stellar 2016 season, Landry was thought of as a possible top-10 player. In 2017, his sack production fell (though he still had 10 sacks) and we didn’t see any special in his overall play. Part of the reason is that he was playing hurt for a good part of the season. Sunday, he showed that he has some special athletic skills. Across the board his numbers were excellent with a 4.64 40, 36” vertical jump, 9’11" long jump, 6.88 3-cone and 4.19 20-yard shuttle. Those numbers put him back into the Round One discussion.
Leighton Vander Esch – LB – Boise State
Vander Esch was a hot name for weeks leading up to the combine. I had a late first- or early second-round grade on him. After his weekend in Indy, he should be a lock first-rounder. Across the board, his numbers were excellent. At 6-foot-4, the 256-pound Vander Esch ran 4.65, had jumps of 39.5’ and 10’4”, respectively, and ran the agility drills at 6.88 and 4.15. With his size and overall athleticism, he can play as an off-the-ball linebacker or outside in a 3-4.
Denzel Ward — DC – Ohio State
There were two questions on Ward entering the combine: How tall was he going to measure and how fast would he run? Many teams in the NFL won’t draft a corner who measures shorter than 5-10. Ward measured right at 5-10, which many teams needed to see. He came in at 5107, which is fine. He also has 31.25” arms — good length for a sub-6-foot guy. He also ran really fast, clocking a 4.32-second 40-yard dash, which was among the fastest of all the corners.
Justin Reid – DS – Stanford
When underclassmen enter the draft, they have to hit a home run when they work out because many teams didn’t get a live look at them during the season. Reid did just that with one of the better safety workouts at the combine. He ran like a corner, with his low 4.4 speed. He also excelled in the position drills. He will get a lot of work in the next month at his pro day and private workouts.
Here are some of the players on defense who didn't meet expectations:
Josey Jewell – LB – Iowa
Clubs were all over the board on Jewell with some having grades as high as the second round, while others had him as a Day Three pick. He needed a strong combine, and didn’t get it. He ran only 4.82, and his bench press was just 18 reps. While he showed quickness in the agility drills, his explosiveness was just average.
Tim Settle – DT – Virginia Tech
Settle is very young, but he showed some dominating ability on tape. His numbers, though, were below average for a player at his position. He ran 5.37, his vertical was only 23.5” and his 3-cone was 7.95. Some people were comparing Settle to Dontari Poe when he came out, but his combine numbers weren’t close to the 11th overall pick in 2012.
Arden Key – Edge – LSU
Key did not have the season that many had hoped for at LSU in 2017. He needed a strong combine to overcome his play on the field. He didn’t get it. He weighed in at just 238 pounds, which is very small for an edge player. Then he decided to wait until his pro day to run the 40 and do the bench press. His results in the drills he did perform were only average for his position and size. The vertical jump of 31” is very disappointing, as is his long jump of 9’9”. That means he has marginal explosion. A 7.16 3-cone is OK, not great for an undersized edge. He has to hope for a great pro day in order to climb back into the premium-round discussion.
Josh Jackson – DC – Iowa
The big question on Jackson was how fast would he run? No one disputed his ball skills, which are as good as any defensive back in this draft. If Jackson ran fast, he may have solidified being a top-10 selection. However, his official 4.56-second 40 was not what teams want if they're going to take a corner high in the first round. Jackson still has his pro day to fall back on, and he has to hope that he runs faster. Still, he should go some time after pick No. 20 overall.
DeShon Elliott – DS – Texas
Elliott was inconsistent at Texas. There were times when he looked like he had top potential, and others when he looked disinterested. What he needed was a knockout workout. He didn’t get it, clocking in the high 4.5s.
Tarvarus McFadden – DC – Florida State
Entering last season, McFadden looked like he could be one of the better corners in the 2018 Draft. His play fell off during the season, and then he had a poor combine. Corner is a stop-watch generated position when it comes to draft day, and McFadden's 4.67 40 means he won't get selected until Day Three.
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