The number one rule of draft evaluation is “Trust the Tape.” Week-to-week, a player will show his tendencies and ability more on film than he will during some padless drills in late winter. That said, year after year, players draw the eyes of fans and scouts with their combine performance. Whether it be blazing 40 times or simply physical presence, a player can help or hurt his stock tremendously by standing and performing shoulder-to-shoulder with his peers.
This year, there were a number of combine standouts who may very well have bumped their stock, for better or for worse. Here are a few of the biggest potential movers from combine weekend.
The size, the speed, the leaping ability. All of it came together in the beautiful cacophony of freak-of-nature that is D.K. Metcalf. Of course, that comes with one caveat: Metcalf’s three-cone drill was an underwhelming 7.38, third-worst among receivers. That said, he showed natural hands in the gauntlet drill, tremendous straight-line speed and was fairly clean out of all of his breaks during route drills.
Metcalf stole the show as the imposing physical specimen, but Campbell had the smaller speed demon prize locked down. Campbell recorded the best 40 time among receivers at 4.31, but also added a 40-inch vertical, the third-furthest broad jump and the best 20-yard shuttle. During on-field drills, Campbell answered every question; he tracked deep balls perfectly, was crisp in his breaks and had smooth, effortless hands during the gauntlet drill.
Timing issues temporarily delayed the television audience’s impression of Isabella, as the clock began rolling over .2 seconds before Isabella took off. However, once the official times came in at 4.31 (and unofficial times as low as 4.27), Isabella showed why everyone was referring to him as “track star.” His speed is clearly elite, his change-of-direction upper-echelon (sub-seven seconds in three-cone drill). The gauntlet drill did not answer as many questions about Isabella’s catch radius, but he caught every on-target pass away from his body. Stock seems on the up-and-up for Isabella.
While Fant has slipped behind his teammate T.J. Hockenson on most boards, Fant’s athletic advantage took center stage at the combine. He posted the best scores among tight ends in every athletic category but the 20-yard shuttle, including a sub-seven second three-cone drill and a nearly 40-inch vertical. Hockenson remains the more rounded prospect, but Fant may draw eyes as the uber-athletic upside pick.
Most figured Dillard would put up strong times in all speed and agility drills, and he did. His 40, three-cone and shuttle were all the fastest among tackles. He also showed off his explosion with the best broad jump among all offensive linemen at 118 inches. So yeah, Dillard can move. But more importantly, he excelled in the more applicable on-field drills. There was a notable difference between Dillard and virtually every other tackle prospect when it came to mirroring, kick stepping and hip flipping. He was simply smoother, quicker and more effortless in all of his movements.
Winovich’s motor, aggression and polish have been his greatest assets as a draft prospect. But over the weekend, Winovich showed he belonged among the premier athletes in the edge rusher class. The Michigan product recorded the fourth-fastest 40 and the second-fastest three-cone drill, as well as a solid broad jump. That three-cone drill is particularly helpful for his case, as were his smooth movements during on-field drills, given his reputation as a vertical player who may lack necessary lateral quickness.
This weekend was the showcase for Burns. He has consistently been ranked among the top edge-rushing prospects, just a tick below Nick Bosa and Josh Allen. Yet, the combine allowed Burns to separate himself from the pack in terms of athletic ability. No edge prospect looked smoother during on-field drills, no one combined speed and flexibility during pass rushing drills like Burns. And his numbers bear that out, as well. His 40 time was third-fastest, broad jump second-furthest and three-cone drill fifth-fastest. His frame will remain Burns’ greatest question mark, but he proved what he needed to this weekend.
The 40 provides little value in evaluating pass rushers. That said, wow, did Sweat’s stick out. His official time of 4.41 was fastest of anyone on day three, including top linebacker prospects Devin White and Devin Bush. But he also came through in the more indicative drills, posting a solid seven-flat three-cone drill and the fourth-best broad jump at 10 feet, five inches.
Gary’s athletic traits are driving his high draft position, because his tape and production are fairly hit-or-miss. So perhaps more than a lot of top-10 talents, he needed to put some numbers to those traits. Well, he did exactly that. A 40 time of 4.58 plus the best vertical and second-best broad jump among defensive linemen seems to fit the bill for an elite athlete. Gary’s position is still a bit of a question mark, but regardless of whether he is an end or a three-technique, the guy has athleticism to burn.
The 40 time of 4.91 is going to catch most people’s attention, given that he under-performed expectations. But much more disappointing was Nauta’s run in the three-cone drill. His time of 7.45 seconds was the worst among tight ends. So the numbers say that his hips are too tight for quick route breaks, but then he also lacks vertical speed to challenge in other ways. It could come out that Nauta was injured, because his game speed and quickness indicate that he would have run significantly better than he did.
Sternberger did not stand out like Nauta in the sense that his numbers were catastrophically bad. Rather, Sternberger had to transcend the other players at his position, given his late leap into the draft limelight in his final year at Texas A&M. Instead, Sternberger fell into line with the other tight ends. His 40 time was average, his broad jump slightly above, vertical slightly below. But more than that, Sternberger was all over the place in his gauntlet drill, unable to hold the line as he weaved to and fro. Sternberger’s greatest asset was athleticism, and that did not come into play this weekend.
Perhaps if Little was not working in close proximity to Andre Dillard, his on-field workout would not stand out as much. However, there was a fairly significant gap between Little and other top-tier tackle prospects like Dillard and Jawaan Taylor. His movements were a little clunkier, his hips a little tighter and his mirroring not quite as smooth. There was nothing disastrous about Little’s workout, and his broad jump was pretty good, indicating good explosion. Plus, his arms came in at a whopping 35 1/4 inches, giving him some of the longest arms in the class. However, given that the combine most helps scouts identify how linemen move, Little fell a little short of the mark.
Perhaps the biggest slipper of the weekend. Polite is, or perhaps was, a potential top-15 prospect, but his overall performance was not ideal for his stock. Polite’s interviews left a bad taste in some scouts’ mouths, and he reportedly showed up out of shape. He is supposed to be a speed rusher in the purest sense of the term, yet he posted one of the worst 40 times among edge rushers at the combine. Then, after he sat out much of the day with a hamstring injury, reports came out that at least one scout believed he was fabricating the injury. Only one team seemed to be in Polite’s good graces: the Rams. According to Polite, they were the one team that “didn’t bash [him]” and “everybody else was picking at [his] game.”
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.