With the 2019 NFL scouting combine just about in the books, let's highlight some of the prospects who helped themselves the most, beginning with a look on offense:
Houston DT Ed Oliver
Another clearly elite athlete whose down-to-down effort and determination is lackluster, Oliver's movement skills are so freaky that he was asked to work out with the linebackers. At 6-foot-2 and 287 pounds. He only competed in the bench, vertical and broad jump in Indy, but commanded might be a better word than competed: 32 reps, 36" and 120", respectively, all placed him among the top three D-linemen at the combine, and he leapt past Aaron Donald territory What's more, Oliver's three-cone and shuttle times are expected to be even more eye-popping. Indeed, all eyes turn now to Houston's March 28 pro day. One more note: Oliver took the LB conversion questions impressively in stride, saying in his media session that he'd want to work him out at linebacker, too. We're working on finding out how he answered teams' queries regarding his relationship with his coaches and attitude during a down 2018 season.
Notre Dame DT Jerry Tillery
Quinnen Williams of Alabama ran the fourth-fastest 40 ever by a 300-pounder (4.83), but only one tick behind him, Tillery finished at 4.93. He's 10 pounds lighter but three inches taller than Williams, and Tillery backed up his 40 with a 32" vertical, 7.45-second three-cone drill and 4.33-second short shuttle. In short, Tillery is an elite athlete. But a short glance at his film (we recommend his four-sack demolition of Stanford) tells us that. The problem is, the longer you watch, the more you realize Tillery only dominates when he wants to. That's why, despite showing up in this true workout warrior story, the truer indication of Tillery's combine will be how he interviewed.
Michigan EDGE Rashan Gary
Completing our trio of front-seven athletic phenoms with eerily quiet and/or inconsistent tape, the 277-pound Gary merely ran a 4.58 40 and jumped 38", both tops among all D-linemen. He told the media he was the best player in the draft, offense or defense, and that his lack of production must be reconciled by clubs. He's another one we're working extra hard digging on at the moment, but based purely on his workouts, Gary confirmed that he is one of the more explosive prospects in the draft, with endless possibilities for the team that can harness his skill set.
Mississippi State EDGE Montez Sweat
He ran the fastest 40 ever for an EDGE in Indy at 4.41. His 20-yard shuttle (4.29) and three-cone (7.0) are nearly as terrifying. Sweat doesn't have to answer questions regarding bleh film, either, not with 22 sacks and 29.5 TFLs making him among the Power 5's most prolific rushers. While Gary was being out-produced by the likes of teammates Chase Winovich and Devin Bush, there was room for Sweat and Jeffery Simmons to dominate up front for the Bulldogs. Add in imposing length (6-foot-6, 35 3/4" arms) alongside Sweat's blinding speed and suddenness, and he seems ticketed for the top 10.
TCU EDGE Ben Banogu
With apologies to Florida State's Brian Burns, Iowa's Anthony Nelson and other deserving candidates, we dug a bit deeper for Banogu. His 40" vertical led his EDGE peers and was bested only by five prospects regardless of position. Banogu's 7.02-second three-cone, at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, and 4.62 40 ranked sixth at his position. Perhaps most impressively, his 134" broad jump beat his closest-pursuer this year, Burns, by five inches en route to a combine record. All of this coming after a productive career with the Horned Frogs, including 20 sacks and 45 TFLs. Two inches taller and 13 pounds heavier than fellow former Senior Bowl standout Haason Reddick, Banogu's athleticism compares favorably to the 13th overall pick two years ago.
Michigan LB Devin Bush
The "other quarterback" who won big at the weigh-in (more on his exceptional on-field performance in a moment), Bush measured 5-foot-11 and 234 pounds — plenty big in today's NFL, where speed in space is all the rage. He then proceeded to show off that speed and explosion with a position-leading 40" vertical and 4.43 40, trailing LB1 Devin White by only one-tenth of a tick. Of course, speed and explosion in space mean little if a player can't line people up and use his instincts, and many prefer Bush's film to White's — the biggest difference between the prospects prior to the combine was size. Our expectation is that White is still LB1, but Bush just cemented his Day-1 standing.
Minnesota LB Blake Cashman
We're doubling up on B1G off-the-ball linebackers with Cashman, honestly a relative unknown for us entering the week. That changed quickly with Cashman running a 4.5 and jumping 37.5" at 6-foot-1 and 237 pounds. That's even bigger than White and tough size to obtain without sacrificing the athleticism now required in a changing position. Cashman, for good measure, ripped up the three-cone (6.95) and broad jump (124"), which will send us back to the tape to for a much closer look.
Virginia S Juan Thornhill
The force is with Thornhill, who tied former Oakland Raiders second-round DB Obi Melifonwu's combine records with 44" vertical and 141" broad jumps. Of course, Melifonwu appeared in only five games prior to being waived by Jon Gruden. But the 6-0, 205-pound Thornhill has better tape and production — six INTs last season compared to Melifonwu's 10 over four years — and supplemented his explosive jumps with a blistering 4.43 40 and impressive 21 reps on the bench. How he does at the whiteboard will be important, but Thornhill's film shows smarts and big-time playmaking ability, and that's a good combo when paired with his combine to land early on Day 2. He can cover, tackle, take it away and, as we now know, run and jump with the best of them.
Penn State CB Amani Oruwariye
At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, he has the press CB size that teams covet. Oruwariye showed out early on in positional drills, flashing awesome ball skills to make a lunging one-handed catch. And that wasn't until after he put up 17 reps on the bench, which is key because he showed a lack of strength and assertiveness on film. Oruwariye added a 4.47 40 — outstanding for a man his size — and showed he could transition in individual drills. For a corner supposedly best suited to play zone at the next level, this is all very promising.
Miami CB Michael Jackson
We're higher on Jackson than most, but perhaps other analysts will catch up this week after he ran a 4.46 40 and jumped out of the gym (40.5", 130") at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds. Another prospect with prototype press CB dimensions, Jackson needed to show he could carry vertical receivers downfield — and his timed speed does just that. His man-to-man technique is already superb, but Jackson can continue helping himself Monday during the catching drills after failing to record an interception in three of his four seasons.