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Top 5 things we learned from the NFL combine

Posted Mar 6, 2018

As much as the quarterbacks garnered the headlines at the NFL combine, there were other revelations in Indianapolis.

1 – The cornerback class is deep
We already knew that the defensive tackle and linebacker classes possessed quality depth in this year’s class, but the cornerback class appears to be right there with the other two defensive position groups.

Only helping their cause was how well most of the cornerbacks tested on Monday. LSU’s Donte Jackson, Tulane’s Parry Nickerson and Ohio State’s Denzel Ward all clocked 4.32 40-times in their workouts.

Ward is a top-10 prospects, while Jackson is a borderline day one, day two prospect. Nickerson may have moved himself into a draftable grade with his 40 time alone.

More important is the cornerback class offers respectable talent that should contribute at the very least on special teams into the early stages of day three.

“I think the secondary as a whole there’s some pretty good depth,” said Bills GM Brandon Beane. “I don’t have it exactly in my head if it’s more corners or safeties, but we just finished our meeting and we went through a lot of guys that we have some decent grades on in the secondary. I think that’s an area at hopefully some point we can continue to add some depth there.” analyst Dane Brugler, confirmed that the cornerback class is the deeper of two secondary positions.

“At corner specifically it’s a loaded group from top to bottom,” said Brugler.

Six corners ran sub-4.4 40 times and 12 corners with draftable grades stand 6-1 or taller.

2 – Another top RB will go top 5
Most reporters in the know were fully expecting Penn State RB Saquon Barkley was going to crush his NFL combine workout, and he did. He had 29 reps on the bench press, ran a 4.4 40-time, had a 41-inch vertical leap and a 4.24-second short shuttle. All that did was confirm that Barkley is a lock to be a top-five pick, and perhaps first overall.  

Barkley’s draft stock will continue a recent trend with the running back position.

“The last four top-10 picks at running back have made their teams better. I don’t care if you look at [Todd] Gurley, [Leonard] Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott, or [Christian] McCaffrey,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. “He’s a different style back, but they all made their teams better. If you believe a running back is a top-10 pick, and you’re willing to commit philosophically to him, go get him.”

Elliott, who went fourth overall, helped lead the Cowboys to a 13-3 record as a rookie. Fournette, who also went fourth overall, was instrumental in Jacksonville’s run to the AFC title game. Gurley was in the running for NFL MVP after more than 2,000 total yards from scrimmage, as he helped make things easier for Rams QB Jared Goff.  

“What it does is it makes your offensive line better. It’s easier to run-block,” said Mayock of having an elite back. “It makes your quarterback better, because it takes the pressure off him. It makes your quarterback better in play-action passing and you defense plays less snaps. A good running back kind of combines to help you in all phases of your game.”

3 – Defensive tackles dominate
The talent at the position is deep this year, and that’s good news for the Bills. Despite the fact that the talent among interior defensive linemen was well known, no one expected Da’Ron Payne and some other notable defensive tackles to blow up the workouts in Indianapolis.

The 311-pound Alabama product ran a sub-five second 40 time at 4.95. a solid 27 reps on the bench press, a 28 ½-inch vertical and a respectable 4.71-second short shuttle.

Washington’s Vita Vea was expected to turn in a big workout as well and ran a 5.1 40-time at 347 pounds before suffering a hamstring injury. He also cranked out 41 reps on the bench press.

Stanford’s Harrison Phillips put up 42 bench press reps and a 32-inch vertical, N.C. State’s B.J. Hill ran a 4.99 40-time at 311 pounds with 35 reps on the bench and Florida’s Taven Bryan ran a 4.98 40-time at 291 pounds with a 35-inch vertical and 30 bench press reps.

4 - Lamar Jackson will require special commitment
Jackson made headlines in refuting an NFL Network report that some NFL clubs wanted Jackson to also do a wide receiver workout at the combine.

Jackson even bypassed the 40-yard dash in his workout, to put even further emphasis on his stance that he’s a quarterback and only a quarterback. But as NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock explained, it will require a special commitment from an NFL team to maximize what Jackson does best.

“I think he’s the most fascinating athlete in this draft,” said Mayock of the Louisville QB. “I think a team’s going to bite on him and commit to him philosophically. You have to understand what you’re getting. You saw it out there on Saturday. Erratic, inconsistent (as a passer), but again, perhaps the best athlete in this draft.

“I think the way the NFL’s going, teams are going to start to commit. You saw what happened with Deshaun Watson. I thought Bill O'Brien did an excellent job catering to Deshaun and making him comfortable last year. I think somebody's going to do that with Lamar. Lamar, he’s Michael Vick. He’s got as good legs as any quarterback in the history of the game. He’s going to win games with his legs.”

5 – Shaquem Griffin’s stock rising
Central Florida LB Shaquem Griffin was a late invite to the NFL combine, but the unique talent, who has been without a left hand since it was amputated due to a congenital defect at age four, made the most of the opportunity.

His 4.38 40-time, 20 reps on the bench press and nine-foot, nine-inch broad jump cemented him as an NFL athlete.

Forecast as a late day-three pick going into the NFL combine, Griffin may have pushed himself as much as four rounds higher in the eyes of some NFL clubs.

“I think late day two is now possible,” said Brugler. “Coming into the combine the fourth or fifth round is what you expected. But on the first line of my scouting report on Griffin it reads, ‘runs like the wind.’ He’s so fast and what so special about his speed is it’s sustained to start to finish of a game.

“But I don’t think anybody expected a 4.38 40-yard dash at 227 pounds. It just shows whatever challenge is in his way he’s going to overcome it.”