The largest sports-related Job Fair is actually starting to evolve, as players have their bags packed and are headed to Indy. It seems like the Senior Bowl is almost ancient history, tho it was played only 3 weeks ago. However, the shortest month of the year just continues to grind on. It looks as tho disaster has been avoided with the NFL conceding some protocol points to Agents and Players. But don’t be surprised if even more prospects than usual don’t do much, if anything, in the way of on-field workouts. The current Combine format has seen that trend develop, especially over the past decade.
Also please remember that the biggest aspect of the Combine has more to do with medical facilities in Indianapolis than what goes on within the confines of Lucas Oil Stadium. The medical exams and tests that are conducted first are the most important information that NFL scouting staffs, and team doctors, will scrutinize over the next two months.
Most importantly, I wanted to give you a short list of names who you should be watching for as weigh-ins and on-field drills unfold. It is a “short” list in part because there are some fascinating players that have emerged, primarily from All-Star venues that took place primarily in late January thru February, failed to get a last minute invite, which should happen every year at scouting events, that is as important as anything beyond game tape. Oh well, maybe another reason to disband the Combine concept beyond the medical component, and work with Universities/Colleges to develop more regional workout and interview Combines on select college facilities around the country. Just thinking out loud for a moment here.
Top of my list is DANNY GRAY WR SMU, who had a breakout season at SMU in 2021, while Reggie Roberson was coming back from a serious knee injury. Then GRAY (along with Roberson) went to the Senior Bowl but left after 2 days, 1 practice, with a leg injury of some kind. But before he left, he managed to post a top end speed of 22.01 mph in practice, which held up as the fastest speed of the week from either the Senior Bowl or Shrine Bowl venues, with a GPS measured time of 22.01 mph. He also measured in with some very nice receiver measurements in Mobile: 5’115″, 182 lbs., 9 1/2″H, 32″ A, 76 5/8″ Wing Span. If GRAY is 100% healthy he could be putting on a show that gets him into Day 2 of the Draft!
For those of you who enjoy the Draft, but aren’t obsessed Draftniks, I would also stand on the table for you to watch for a “smaller school” standout who really used the Star game concept to stand out, both during the Shrine venue and the HBCU Bowl. The name is De’SHAAN DIXON a DE/Edge player from Norfolk State. His measurements from the Shrine venue were 6’04, 251 lbs., 10 3/8″ H, 33 1/2″A, 81 1/4″ Wing Span. He’s a good athlete that makes plays, especially behind the line of scrimmage. At the Shrine Bowl, he recorded 2 tackles and deflected a pass. He also recorded 1 tackle during Special Teams action. During the HBCU game, he was credited with 4 tackles, which included 1.5 TFL. In his final 2 seasons at Norfolk St. he was credited with 115 tackles, including 19.5 TFL. His 4.5 sacks in 2020, jumped to 9 this past season. This guy is a serious player and a legit prospect. He plays with a high FBI and can set the edge against the run. A good showing at the Combine could influence me to move him up into my Top 100 prospect list, as he currently sits in the 101-200 range group.
Players I truly don’t know enough about and numbers generated at this Combine may help me fill in some evaluation blanks:
SKYY MOORE WR W. Michigan A young man who exploded in MAC competition last season with 95 receptions, for 1,292 yards, including 9 TD’s. Will his speed & quickness numbers look as good as his stats compared to players from the Power 5 Conferences? And what about his real size? How much smaller than 5’10/195 is he? Hand size please.
LEO CHENAL LB Wisconsin Surprised many by declaring, but if you look at his stats, we probably shouldn’t be surprised. In 11 games, LEO recorded 114 tackles which ranked 7th in FBS football. Let’s see how his 40-time will stack up against all those Georgia & Alabama LB prospects. He is a do-it-all LB. Just as an aside
MARIO GOODRICH CB Clemson A stellar high school athlete who competed in a stacked DB group at Clemson. He emerged last season with 42 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 INT’s, and 15 PD. Jim Nagy of the Senior Bowl was effusive in his praise of Goodrich upon inviting him to the Senior Bowl venue. I really want to see what numbers he posts in the short shuttle and 3-Cone drills where flipping those hips is essential.
DAI’JEAN DIXON WR Nicholls State When you look at his college career stats of over 200 catches and a senior season with 71 catches for 1,002-yards and 8 TD’s, you have to pay attention to him. And he was the outstanding player in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl to my eyes, with 6 receptions for 131 yards and 1 TD. His long catch/run was for 47 yards in that game. He is over 6/2 and 203 lbs, with 9 5/8″ hands as measured at the NFLPA weigh-in. I really want to see his vert, long jump, and 40-time this week. He has already moved into my Top 100, and I hope to see that validated in Indy.
ABRAM SMITH RB Baylor I have developed a crush on this tough kid, who played LB for the Bears in 2020, but was moved back to RB in 2021, rushing for 1,601 yards and 12 TD’s last season. He is strong, with great balance and some speed to him. He was at the Senior Bowl and excelled. Any numbers he posts will be of interest to me. I’m just looking for an excuse to move him into my Top 100.
RACHAAD WHITE RB Arizona State The often overlooked, all purpose RB for the Sun Devils did very well in Mobile. He may be the best RB in this Draft given his running and receiving ability. He looks good on film and on the stat sheets, but perhaps even better in game action. He looked like the player many of us thought he was with solid demonstrations of his dual ability as a runner and a receiver. For the 2021 season, WHITE ran for 1006 yards at 5.5ypc, with 15 TD. He also caught 43 passes for another 456 yards. I feel like I need to verify his athleticism just a bit more, since I have him as a sleeper for late in Round 1. What is his 40-time, and can he block adequately to protect his QB at the next level. His run/catch ability speaks of a 3-down player, but not if he can’t block in pass pro.
My sense of things is that our beloved 40-yard dash is not far from elimination, bowing to the advanced technology of GPS speeds, measured in miles-per-hour. But not for this year’s event, unless the NFL pulls a fast one on us. So, since we are using the time honored system at least one more time, let’s ask the question as to ‘Who will clock the fastest 40-time at this year’s Combine? Here is my short list of suspects.
DANNY GRAY WR SMU He ran the fastest GPS clocking at the Senior Bowl venue @ 22.01 mph
DaMARCUS FIELDS CB Texas Tech He ran the 2nd fastest GPS time at the Shrine venue @ 21.77 mph
VELUS JONES WR/RS Tennessee Was clocked @ 21.75 mph @ the Senior Bowl
KALON BARNES CB Baylor A former track star who was clocked @ 21.47 at the Shrine, but his track background might give him a serious advantage as the Combine 40 starts out of the blocks.
CALVIN AUSTIN WR Memphis This year’s TUTU ATWELL as that smallish (5’7/173) Swiss Army knife offensive weapon. I personally think he is quicker than fast, but I welcome contradiction of that opinion.
But if I were a betting man, and I will bet that Vegas has odds on this, I would take “The Field” over anyone in this grouping.
One of my biggest questions for any player in Indy revolves around DL PERRION WINFREY who was an absolute beast during Senior Bowl week. He was the Defensive Player of the Game, and was a leader all week in practices with his work ethic and leadership . He weighed in at 303 lbs. in Mobile, which is about 15-20 lbs. above his program weight at Oklahoma. Does he show up at that 303 weight for the Combine, or is he back down to the 280’s to gain speed for drills? If he shows up over 300 and tests near, or at the top, of the DL group, then to me he’s a late First Rounder.
Another puzzler for me is JESSE LUKETA, the Canadian born, Penn State DE/OB who was also at the Senior Bowl. In the actual game in Mobile, he was credited with 3 Tackles, 2 of them sacks. Last season at State, he had 1/2 Sack all season. He looked good during practices in Mobile as well as the game. Will he post athletic numbers to compliment his Senior Bowl work? If he does, he jumps up to the mid-rounds of the NFL Draft, and the CFL will have to wait to see if he comes back north to play or gets significantly bigger money as an NFL player.
As many of you realize, I am a big fan of Special Teamers, especially Kickers & Punters. I think there are 3 Punters at this Combine who should be drafted this April: JAKE CAMARDA/UGA, JORDAN STOUT/Penn State & MATT ARAIZA/SDSU. It won’t happen, but I would luv to see these 3 literally compete with each other for distance, accuracy and hang times. I know it’s just me.
Just a few more names of prospects that I don’t know enough about right now, but am anxious to watch; TYLER SMITH OT Tulsa, ALEX WRIGHT DE/ER UAB, TRAVON WALKER DL Georgia.
We always talk about the importance of the Combine component that is most meaningful to teams in general; the medical exams, which are extensive. And perhaps the most significant medical report of all will be on former LSU CB DEREK STINGLEY, Jr. After a superb Freshman season, STINGLEY has been a basic no-show out on the football field. Most recently, he has been rehabbing from a Lisfranc foot injury. He is not expected to be ready for any on-field drills, but NFL teams certainly will want to have the most current medical update info on him, with most teams looking to also get to meet with him during the individual team interview sessions. He looked like an all-world player as a Frosh and has NFL gene lines going back to both his father & grandfather. Stay tuned here. If he ever gets a totally clear medical report, he could be a Top 10 Draftee, tho I am personally scared to death of the risk involved here.
Enjoy the watches. I am sure we will all be adding anymore observations and opinions over the next week. Let’s hope most of the news coming out of Indy is positive this week.