There is no doubt that teams make decisions on players thanks to their combine showings. Whether or not that is the correct way to approach the draft is another question, but it obviously happens. Look no further than John Ross a couple of years ago for proof. Jaw-dropping athleticism is an undeniable canvas for teams to work on. As such, those players with such traits will make rises and falls accordingly, for better or for worse.
For the following five players, their best chance to maximize their value at the combine will be in showing off those physical traits that may have been under-valued, or in some cases, not considered at all.
We have yet to find a general consensus when it comes to WR1 in this year’s class. Metcalf seems to have the most buzz, given his immense physical traits and ridiculously high ceiling. But N’Keal Harry and Kelvin Harmon are also in play to be taken first, given their slight advantage in polish and significant advantage in college experience and production. As it should be, Metcalf’s draw comes down to what he could be, not what he has done. And if he puts up the big numbers at the combine people expect, he will leave little doubt that he should and will be the top receiver selected in the draft and a potential top-10 pick.
Drills to Watch: 40-Yard Dash, Vertical, Broad Jump
Once a slam-dunk top-five pick and a candidate for the number one selection, Oliver’s stock has dipped a hair in the past year. At this time, Alabama’s Quinnen Williams is a near-lock to go higher than Oliver, and there is a real chance that Oliver ends up being the third or fourth defensive lineman off the board. Plenty of mocks also have him outside of the top-10.
It is usually difficult to make judgments on defensive linemen at the combine, given the non-contact drills. And with Oliver, the main concerns about him are his lack of size, which will be tough criticism to shake in shorts and a t-shirt. That said, for Oliver to re-enter the top-five, top-10 conversion, a showcase of his twitchy athleticism could be his best opportunity. It would not put Oliver ahead of Williams, but it could force some scouts to consider his freakishness the same way they did in 2017.
Drills to Watch: 10-Yard Split, Three-Cone, Broad Jump
That thing about it being difficult to evaluate defensive linemen? That goes double for the offensive line. Few of the testing drills directly correlate to greatness as a blocker. Rather, it will be the kick step and mirroring drills that give teams an idea of a lineman’s abilities. That said, there is no denying that linemen can shoot up draft boards with strong times. Look at last year when Kolton Miller and Brian O’Neill turned in great 40-yard dash numbers. Both ended up going higher than predicted, with Miller the second tackle off the board. Of course, their seasons had opposite trajectories, as Miller struggled and O’Neill proved a solid starter right away.
Dillard seems like a strong candidate to be that late riser, thanks to strong combine numbers. He is pretty raw in terms of technique, but there is no denying his fluid athleticism. He should put up one of the better 40s among linemen, but more importantly, his change-of-direction lends itself to a good three-cone score. The latter should have been an indication with Miller a season ago. While he showed great straight line speed, he was stiff in turning corners, and it showed on the field with robotic movement. Dillard could establish himself as a top-three tackle in this draft if he performs well in this area.
Drills to Watch: Three-Cone, Mirroring Drills, Shuttle
Sternberger has come out of nowhere to be one of the better tight end prospects in this class. His rawness will not earn him any first round consideration, and he will probably end up waiting until day three. That said, Sternberger’s greatest asset is his athleticism, and that could all he needs to convince teams to take a flier on him earlier than expected. Last year, Mike Gesicki took off following the combine, thanks to his tremendous scores in the 40 and the vertical. Now, Sternberger is probably not going to match those numbers, and he still lacks the polish that Gesicki had. But Sternberger’s best bet to rise will be demonstrating what makes him intriguing. That said, all of that could be undone if his route running lags behind.
Drills to Watch: 40-Yard Dash, Vertical, Route Running
McLaurin is living proof that the Senior Bowl can be a godsend for later round prospects. Scouts say that McLaurin looked like a different guy in practice and during the game than what his tape shows. A moderately productive, fairly athletic target who was hidden a bit behind Ohio State’s top-two guys, McLaurin is now in position to make a leap up the draft board if he lights up the combine. Scouts expect him to do well in the 40, while dipping a bit in agility drills. A strong 40 time could especially help him out, given his past as a solid gunner on special teams. If he shows improved quickness in and out of breaks, while putting up great times, McLaurin could earn some stock as a guy whose pro potential exceeds his college play.
Drills to Watch: Three-Cone, Shuttle, 40-Yard Dash, Route Running
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.