The first set of workouts at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine is in the books. With the schedule shift this year, the workouts took place later into the day into prime time, and we will have more on that in a moment. But with the testing and on-field work from the quarterbacks, tight ends and wide receivers in the books, it is time to highlight some “winners” and “workers” from these positions, as well as from some more “big picture” areas.
We will start off with the passers. While throwing sessions and testing drills are not full evaluations for players, some quarterbacks turned in strong workouts while one quarterback in particular leaves Indianapolis with some work to do.
Winner: Justin Herbert
With Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa not working out in Indianapolis, the Oregon quarterback had a chance to take center stage on Thursday night. He did just that, with an impressive throwing session that highlighted his arm talent and ball placement. Of course, that took place in a very sterilized environment, and should not replace film study, but he had an impressive night. He also showed some of his athletic ability, posting a 40-yard dash time of 4.68 and a vertical jump of 35.5 inches. Those numbers give Herbert a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.69, which was the best of the quarterbacks who chose to work out. Hat tip to Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) for his work on the RAS.
Winner: Jalen Hurts
The Oklahoma product certainly came into Indianapolis known for his athleticism, and he did not disappoint. Hurts posted a RAS of 9.60, just behind Herbert, and his number was boosted by his 40-yard dash of 4.59, which was tops among the quarterbacks. Hurts did not participate in the agility drills (the short shuttle and the 3-cone) which are things to watch for at his Pro Day.
But Hurts also impressed during his throwing session. His mechanics appeared crisper and much tighter, and the ball came out of his hand extremely well. He delivered on a well-placed out route to Isaiah Hodges along the left sideline, as well and a great dig route to Antonio Gandy-Golden off of a deep drop into the pocket. That throw also highlighted some improved footwork from the quarterback. Hurts helped himself this week, especially when you consider how well he likely performed in his interviews with teams.
Winner: Anthony Gordon
The Washington State product did not participate in the athletic testing, but he did throw at the Combine. As discussed here and elsewhere, his footwork is a work in progress. Yet Gordon did show some improvement in that area, especially with the balance and fluidity in this feet. The bigger issue with his footwork comes when he is forced to work through full-field reads, as he often fails to keep his mind and feet in synch, but the progress is there.
However, Gordon flashed the quick release that endears him to many evaluators, and when combined with the podium session, Gordon had a strong week as well.
Worker: Jake Fromm
When putting together his RAS cards, Platte uses green for impressive scores and red for... unimpressive scores.
Here is Fromm’s:
That is a sea of red, and not the good kind that Darrion Daniels described to me during his podium session on Thursday morning.
Making matters worse, Fromm’s throwing session illustrated the lack of upper-end strength and velocity that some teams covet at the position. I have thought that Fromm was a scheme-dependent quarterback, and everything that took place on Thursday did not move me off that position. But these testing numbers highlight an additional question: How will he respond to collapsing pockets in the NFL?
Prior to the week I wrote that the most important place for Fromm in Indianapolis was the whiteboard, when he can illustrate to NFL teams the mental aspects of the game where Fromm does excel. Hopefully he nailed those meetings...
This tight end group certainly does not match the buzz of the 2019 draft class, but a few players helped themselves on Thursday night. Including one we will mention at the end for reasons you’ll probably figure out.
Winner: Adam Trautman
The FCS product looked to continue his strong pre-draft process that began in Mobile during the Senior Bowl. Things started shaky for him, when his 40-yard dash of 4.8 was an underwhelming time. But Trautman changed things a bit during the agility drills. His short shuttle of 4.27 was a very good time, and he posted a 3-cone time of 6.78, which was the quickest from a tight end since 2003:
According to @pfref, Adam Trautman's 6.78-second three-cone is the best by a tight end at the #NFLCombine since 2003.— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 28, 2020
Do you know who loves the three cone? #Patriots pic.twitter.com/q7szjqHiuV
Evan’s tweet says it all.
Winner: Cole Kmet
Among tight ends, Kmet posted some great speed scores. His 40-yard dash time of 4.7, combined with a 10-yard split of 1.63 (estimated by Platte) are very good times. His agility testing was more underwhelming, especially a 3-cone time of just 7.44, more than a half second behind Trautman’s. But Kmet’s testing, combined with his workout and film, show strong NFL potential.
Winner: Stephen Sullivan
Perhaps I am going to die on this hill, but I was very impressed with Sullivan this week. He was a tremendous player to hear from during his podium session (which you can hear for yourself in this episode of The Scho Show) but his testing numbers impressed as well. His 4.66 40-yard dash was among the top times from the tight ends, and he showed some explosiveness with great vertical and broad jump numbers. I firmly believe that despite a lack of usage at LSU, he can be a matchup nightmare in the NFL.
Worker: Mitchell Wilcox
Look, I don’t make the rules but when you take a dome shot during the gauntlet, you’re leaving town with work to do:
Mitchell Wilcox took a fastball right to the face... damn. pic.twitter.com/P0SVn39IEn— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) February 27, 2020
Incomplete: Albert Okwuegbunam
I, like many others, nearly fell out of my barstool when Okwuegbunam posted his blazing 4.49 40-yard dash time (more on the barstool aspect of that in a moment). That is an extremely impressive time for a tight end. But “Albert O” did not participate in any of the other testing drills, so he still needs to show what he can do at his Pro Day. While his work might technically be incomplete, a 40-yard dash on that level moves you at least into the Incomplete category.
Winner: Chase Claypool
Claypool posted the best RAS numbers among the wide receivers. Just look at the growth of green on his RAS card:
Even without the short shuttle and 3-cone numbers, these are elite results. Even more impressive given his size, which has many believing that Claypool could transition to tight end and excel at that position. His blocking skills might make that a pretty easy switch. Claypool addressed a potential position switch and more during his podium session on Tuesday. He is adamant that he is a WR, but also spoke of his “versatility,” which would make him an intriguing option for teams.
This is an extremely deep wide receiver class. Thursday night showed its depth in full.
Winner: Justin Jefferson
Jefferson’s hands, physicality and willingness to work over the middle showed up on film. Yet evaluators were looking to see how well he tested out in Indianapolis.
He tested extremely well:
That 40-yard time took many by surprise, including the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah live on television. But when you post those numbers in combination with what he did on film, as illustrated in this tweet from Trevor Sikkema from The Draft Network, you have a winner:
Justin Jefferson had (2019):— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) February 27, 2020
• A 92.3% contested catch rate
• Forced 23 missed tackles
• Most catches from the slot
• Most yards from the slot
And just ran a 4.44pic.twitter.com/VvVv6TFlS2
Winner: Donovan Peoples-Jones
Peoples-Jones might make for a difficult film evaluation, given the Michigan offense and the level of play around him. But he made up for that with a very strong workout in Indianapolis. His explosiveness drills (the vertical and broad jumps) were off the charts. He posted a 44.5 inch vertical, combined with a broad jump of 11’7”. Just incredible numbers. The film and production don’t match those numbers, but that explosiveness and catch radius will endear him to teams.
Winner: Henry Ruggs III
A great deal of the pre-combine buzz centered on the 40-yard time that Ruggs would post. While he did not surpass the record of 4.22 turned in by John Ross a few years ago, 4.28 is not exactly slow. Speed kills in the NFL, and when combined with his film Ruggs remains at or near the top of most WR boards.
Worker: Laviska Shenault Jr.
Shenault’s versatility and toughness flash on film, and coming into the combine he was a wide receiver that I thought could be that kind of matchup nightmare at the next level. Colorado used him all over the field, including at boundary WR, slot WR, running back, tight end and even at quarterback.
But his testing numbers were underwhelming. He simply ran the 40-yard dash, and that number of 4.58 was slower than many (myself included) hoped for. He did not partake in any of the other drills, which raises questions about his agility and ability to change direction quickly. He needs to have a better performance at his Pro Day.
This was my first credentialed NFL combine experience, so I thought we’d close on some big picture thoughts about the experience.
There is a reason many in and around the league love that the combine takes place in Indianapolis. The city is lovely and very walkable, and for teams and players, you can literally spend your week in Indianapolis and never go outside. You can walk from the hotel to the Convention Center (where most of the work takes place) to Lucas Oil Stadium via a series of skyways and tunnels. Not too bad at all.
But the city itself has a ton to offer away from the Combine itself, and while I got to sample just a bit of Indianapolis, it was a tremendous time.
Winner: The Famous St. Elmo’s Shrimp Cocktail
Whenever you bring up Indianapolis, this appetizer is one of the first things people will ask about. It is tremendous, repleat with horseradish and with some of the best shrimp you can find. Well worth it.
Winner: The Combine Security Dogs
If you have been on Twitter during the Combine you have probably seen sportswriters, like myself, talking about and posting about the security dogs that are on duty during the event. They are wearing vests that warn you not to pet them, given their training and the service they are providing, but they are quite adorable. Especially the golden retriever wearing a black sock on one of his front paws. I stand by this take:
Would definitely buy a “Security Dogs of the Combine” coffee table book. Just take my money.— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) February 27, 2020
Worker: Los Angeles
One of the simmering stories below the surface in Indianapolis was the notion that this might be one of the last Combines to take place in the midwest. Many believe that the NFL is looking to move the event to LA when the new stadium complex - or campus as Peter King described it during his annual tweet-up - is open and ready for business. Granted that this was just my first Combine, I might not be the best to vouch for Indianapolis, but in my opinion the current host city is the perfect venue. In addition, many told me that the new complex out in LA might not have easy access to the medical facilities that the teams use to conduct the player physicals, unlike Indianapolis. If the league does move the event to Los Angeles, the city will have big shoes to fill.
Worker: The New Combine Schedule
Look, I really should not be comfortable griping about a schedule when my “job” involves WRITING ABOUT FOOTBALL, which I understand is a dream job to many. Hell, it was my dream job when I was stuck in an office and/or a courtroom failing as an attorney. But at the same time...
When the league decided to move the workouts to primetime to maximize TV viewership, it forces them to move the podium sessions to the early morning. There were... a lot of bleary eyes at the Indiana Convention Center this week, and often some vacant media rooms when they opened:
This room is gonna be hopping in a bit... pic.twitter.com/gFPceRsbG2— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) February 27, 2020
I took that photo 29 minutes after the media workroom opened on Thursday morning. When I’m on of the first to arrive...
In addition, another hidden secret about the Combine is this: Only a handful of sports writers, specifically a selected few members of the Pro Football Writers Association, are able to actually attend the workouts. For the rest, you’re relegated to watching them either via a stream on your computer or like everyone else, on TV. So that leads me to my final two Workers of the first day of workouts:
Workers: Southwest WiFi and Champps Americana at the Indianapolis Airport
Given the new schedule, I made the decision to fly out after my work was done Thursday afternoon. Thanks to the inflight WiFi as well as the TVs at Champps at IND, I was able to catch the workouts while traveling home. What a time to be alive.
Finally, given that this is a Patriots’ website, we have to conclude with this.
Worker: The Tom Brady Situation
The Brady situation, in addition to the ongoing CBA negotiations, was the dominant story of the Combine. At every dinner conversation, every encounter at the Convention Center, and during every hushed conversation at High Elevation, the bar at the J.W. Marriott, Brady’s name came up. I have not been told anything definite, but in the nights leading up to Jeff Darlington’s reporting Thursday, the conversations I had led me to believe that where there is smoke... there is fire. Certainly a lot can change between now and free agency truly beginning, and later reporting on Thursday indicated that Brady is still in the team’s plans for 2020, but whether his is the Plan A that comes to fruition, or not, remains to be seen.
So that’s just a bit of what I saw on the first night. The second night of workouts are upon us, and now, I’m going to get some sleep.