One of the marvelous things about the NFL Combine for this Draftnik is uncovering previously under-appreciated Prospects. As I have expressed previously, but will detail once more, I head into the Combine with a prospect list that numbers just under 300 players. They are divided into groups of 100 but not ranked numerically yet. And one of the things that I am searching for in the ranks of Combine participants are a handful of players not currently within my Top 300 list, who just might need to be. I am usually looking for between 7-10 new names to throw into my group 3, which will become players 201-300… maybe. So, without any further ado, here are my players who I “uncovered” (albeit rather late) and have added to my prospect master list.
For now, in alphabetical order:
KEVIN AUSTIN WR Notre Dame 6’2/200 9″H/32 7/8″A 4.43/40 39″V 11’BJ 6.71 3-C Austin was a well recruited HS player, whose college career came off the rails early on. But he got himself together and came on in his final 2 years in South Bend. Last season he was a legit weapon for QB JACK COAN and the Irish offense. He had 48 catches, for 888 yards, 18.5ypc, 7 TD. He is an absolute master at winning 50/50 balls, and that 39″ very clearly explains why. He may not be considered a burner, but 4.43 isn’t slow. IMO, he passed the game tape test last season. He clearly passed the measurables test at the Combine. If he has also passed the interview process and medical at the Combine he’s a solid Round 4 prospect in my book…. now.
KALON BARNES CB Baylor 6’/183 9 7/8″H/31 3’4″A 4.23/40 (1.49 10-split) Part of the Matt Ruhle track star recruiting classes that has worked out well for the Bears football program. BARNES was the favored player to run the fastest 40 heading into Indy, and he came thru. I had been ignoring him as a track athlete, but then I pulled up his stats from 2021 and they weren’t bad; 24T- 3 TFL- 5 PBU- 1 INT. His speed does not put him in my Top 100, or even close to it, but he will get drafted by about Round 5-6 IMO. He’s now in my second group of 100 (101-200).
DECOBIE DURANT CB S.C. State 5’10/180 8 3/4″H/30 3/4″A 4.38/40/1.52/10 2021 stats 38 T/ 2TFL/ 12 PBU/3 INT Clearly a ballhawk once the ball is in the air. Arms are decent length for his height and frame. Looked smooth and on task in Combine drills. Best bet initially might be NB spot because of his overall size, and cover skills. Clearly showed basic skills and pro potential as a cover guy. His stats indicate that he is not afraid to help in run-D support.
JEFFERY GUNTER DE/EDGE Coastal Carolina 6’4/258 9 1/4″H/33″A 4.70/40/1.64 split GUNTER played a significant role for solid Coastal Carolina teams over his career there. His 2021 stats show what he’s capable of. I like his 4.70/40-time at almost 260, but he’ll have to play primarily in a 4-3 scheme in a3-point stance. His 18 career sack total doesn’t mark him as an Edge player, but he chases the ball and the QB well. For the 2021 season he totaled 35 tackles which included 5 1/2 sacks and 2 Forced Fumbles. He’s just not an elite guy, but I would now look at him in the later rounds. Again, not a standout collegian, or potential pro, but he will be drafted and could make a DL rotation because of his length, and his ability to run to the ball.
CAM JURGENS OC Nebraska 6’3/303 10″H/33 3/8″A/80 1/8″ 4.92/40 A surprise Underclassman who surprisingly (at least to me) declared for the Draft. Then his name came up a couple times during Draft talk and podcasts. So I watched for his name when Combine testing started and the numbers were good. Scott Frost needs to find more of these guys to compete in the Big Ten. I think JURGENS will go early on Day 3 (maybe Round 4) and compete for starting NFL job in due time. He may also be popular in an NFL locker room, since he makes/sells beef jerky as a start-up business. The vets are gonna wear him out requesting his jerky.
CHIGOZIEM OKONKWO TE Maryland 6’3/238 4.52/40 9 3/4″H/32 3/4″A/78 1/8″WS 35.5″V “CHIG” showed some serious progress, on a poor Terps team last Fall and got some solid praise for his work at the Shrine Bowl venue. But he really showed well in Indy and I had to pay attention. His size pretty much dictates a role as a Move-TE, H-B who has a solid body/frame for blocking purposes and big hands which he extends to make some nice grabs. That Vertical number would indicate he has some explosion in those legs of his. He also looks to me to still have upside. He’s my second hundred group now.
MALCOLM RODRIGUEZ IB Oklahoma St 5’11/232 9 5/8″H/30 1/8″A 4.52/40 (1.60-10) Vertical/39.5″ BJ/10″ I will confess that I am cheating here. I did already have RODRIGUEZ in my Top 300, but buried deep into that last group of 201-300. However, he posted decent enough numbers, and showed out enough in the Combine on-field drills to change my estimation of his pro chances. RODRIGUEZ has been the heart and soul of a very good Cowboys Defense in Stillwater for several years now. He led them in Tackles in 2021 with 129. He also posted 16 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PD, 4 FF, 2 FR. And I felt like I saw him stack up nicely against elite competitors at the Combine. I was particularly impressed with his “hands” catches in the position group drills. I also thought his 4.52 was upper echelon. 22 players listed at LB ran their 40-yard sprints in this Combine. RODRIGUEZ was 5th at 4.52/40 and tied with QUAY WALKER & BRANDON SMITH, both of whom are ranked in my Top 100 players. His vertical of 39.5″ tied him for 4th in the group with CHANCE CAMPBELL. Add another inch to make him 6′ tall and I would bet the dialogue about him as a pro prospect would change dramatically for some folks. I don’t need that 1″ add-on. I am now convinced he belongs in the middle rounds of the 2022 Draft (likely R5) and will make it damn hard for any team drafting him to cut him come next September. You just know his athleticism and desire will make him a viable Special Teams player immediately.
ZACHARY THOMAS OG San Diego St 6’5/308 4.96/40 10 1/4″H/33 7/8″A/82 1/2″WS THOMAS initially caught my attention during his 40-run. On a fast track he was in the big bunch of OL who broke the 5.00 second mark. But once I started watching him it dawned on me that he had the look of a long, fairly lean, but muscled body. He’s best at run blocking, which is always the case with OL from the Aztec program, which still believes in the run-first approach to Offense. He continued to look solid as the drill work began. He didn’t do anything outstanding beyond the 40-time but he did not looked outclassed in a talented OL group. I think he might be better off to work at OG being his primary position. But versatility could be his best friend. His biggest weak spot may the propensity to pop-up too high and too fast in pass pro. Another reason to move to the IOL. But he looks like a football player with a chance at an NFL job in his future.
ISAIAH WESTON WR Northern Iowa 6’4/214 4.42/40 9 1/2″H/32 1/2″A/78 3/4″WS, 40″Vert/11’3″BJ N. Iowa may send another player (Penning) into the NFL this year, as a 1st Rounder. The school may also send this guy to an NFL team in Round 4 or 5. He posted some very nice measurables, as you can see above. He reminds me a bit of ALAN LAZARD from Iowa St, who has developed nicely in Green Bay. If he shows Special Teams aptitude in a Training Camp it will allow him more time to develop his receiving skills as a Receiver 4/5. His 2021 stats are not elite, but show pro potential. He recorded 37 receptions for a whopping 883 yards, or 23.9 ypc. He doesn’t explode off the line-of-scrimmage, but once he gets rolling that 4.42 speed, and his size become an issue downfield for most secondaries. That vertical from the Combine shows you what he can do on jump ball throws, and shows soft, large hands. Draft him late and be patient.
Those are my Combine “discovery guys”for 2022. Only time will tell whether they are really what I thought they showed me last week.
P.S. As you may have noticed I brought up the seemingly “fast-track” in Indy that produced a record number of very fast prospects. I may have some relatively new info on that topic after listening to a post-Combine podcast with Dane Brugler and Lance Zierlein. ZIERLEIN mentioned that he has spoken with some Colts’ officials and it seems that just before the 2020 season a new turf-surface was installed at Lucas Oil Stadium. If you will recall there was no Combine in 2021 for the League. So this Combine was the first to be conducted on a new turf surface for this year’s prospects to run on. Not to diminish the speed of this upcoming Draft Class, but it might explain some of the record setting speed we saw as group after group of prospects ran their 40-times. Then again it may just be a coincidence.