Players to Monitor at the 2020 NFL Combine
Every year the NFL Combine serves as a coming-out party for a host of draft prospects. Most eyes are trained on the wide receivers, running backs, and cornerbacks as far as athletic testing is concerned, but the NFL Combine also helps separate prospects at other positions. Edge rusher Montez Sweat secured a first-round payday with an electric 2019 combine while Juan Thornhill did the same with his sub-4.4 timing at safety.
We will take a look at a few prospects from each day that can help themselves the most with a dominant combine, and at others who NFL teams will monitor closely to confirm whether or not the speed and athleticism shown on tape translates to a combine type of setting. The NFL Combine often does not change any opinions on players, but rather helps teams separate prospects they may have ranked similarly.
Putting this list together was a tough task, as discussing every player worth monitoring would have ended up well over 10,000 words. Leaving players like Laviska Shenault Jr., Donovan Peoples-Jones, Cam Akers, Austin Jackson, Hunter Bryant, Bradlee Anae, Cesar Ruiz, Anthony Gordon, K’Lavon Chaisson, Xavier McKinney, and more off of this list seems almost criminal, as some positions feature 10 to 15 prospects apiece worth monitoring. Gil Brandt of NFL.com posted a well-curated list of 90 names to watch here, so we will focus on the players that NFL teams may be monitoring the closest when the 2020 NFL Combine starts on Thursday.
Thursday, February 27, 2020 (4-11 p.m. EST)
Quarterbacks, Tight Ends, and Wide Receivers
Jordan Love (Utah State)
Jordan Love is an interesting prospect. In terms of raw tools, he seems like a first-rounder. However, he took a step back during his junior season, so he could strengthen his case for first-round consideration with a strong combine performance. The athletic timing will be of interest, but NFL teams will pay the closest attention to his throwing drills.
Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma)
One of the most exciting college quarterbacks of 2019, there is concern as to whether Hurts’ game will translate to the NFL. The success of Lamar Jackson will ensure teams at least kick the tires on Hurts, but he could greatly improve his stock with a strong combine. Unlike most quarterbacks, NFL teams will be almost as interested in the interviews and athletic testing as they will be with his throwing drills. A pure athlete, Hurts should be able to convince more than a few teams that he is worth consideration on Day 2, if not as a trade into the end of Day 1 for the extra year of team control.
Justin Herbert (Oregon)
Justin Herbert was expected to be in the top-quarterback debate entering 2019, but a step back in his on-field product has seemingly knocked him out of the conversation altogether. There has been some smoke suggesting the Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, and Miami Dolphins have increased their draft grade on him since the Senior Bowl. With a strong combine, Herbert could pass Tua Tagovailoa, and possibly even Joe Burrow on the draft boards of some contrarian thinking teams. He should be able to secure a spot in the top six with another strong showing.
Henry Ruggs III (Alabama)
Henry Ruggs III is expected to be one of the fastest receivers at the NFL Combine. He may have to be to live up to first-round draft expectations. Expected to run a sub-4.3, Ruggs ran a reported 4.25 at his Alabama junior pro day and could solidify himself as a first-round talent, despite controversial college production, if he comes close to replicating that time.
Jalen Reagor (TCU)
Jalen Reagor is the other notable speedster in this draft who has reportedly been clocked at 4.29 in the 40-yard dash. Unlike Ruggs, Reagor has the college production, analytics, and game tape to back up his speed and potential. He could scream up draft boards of NFL teams and analysts alike if he runs as fast as expected. Reagor would have to run a sub-4.5 in order to fall out of the first-round conversation.
KJ Hamler (Penn State)
A speedster who does not get the same recognition as Ruggs or Reagor, KJ Hamler was timed at 4.29 by Penn State coaches and is expected to be one of at least three receivers to run a sub 4.3 40-yard dash at the 2020 NFL Combine. To put this in perspective, Parris Campbell was the fastest player at the 2019 NFL Combine at 4.31. At 4.22, John Ross holds the combine record. A strong showing should get Hamler drafted by the end of Day 2.
K.J. Hill (Ohio State)
K.J. Hill won himself a lot of fans with his precise route running during Senior Bowl week, but he will need a strong combine to get drafted for any sort of significant role. If the performances of former Ohio State teammates Campbell and Terry McLaurin are any indication, Hill could turn some heads and work his way firmly into the Day 2 mix. With that said, he will need to greatly improve on the 4.70 he ran back in 2014 if he is to be considered as anything more than a late-round flier.
Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty)
Antonio Gandy-Golden quieted some concerns with a strong showing during Senior Bowl week, but he will need an impressive NFL Combine to help solidify him as a potential early Day 2 pick. Teams will be focused on AGG’s performance in athletic testing as well as the wide receiver drills.
Adam Trautman (Dayton)
The small-school Dayton product will need a strong combine to remain in the mix to be one of the first three tight ends off the board in April. A talented tight end with solid enough blocking skills, Trautman could be drafted to start if he shows well in Indianapolis.
Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri)
Okwuegbunam would have been in the first-round mix had he declared for the 2019 NFL Draft, but he instead decided to go back to school, where his receptions per game and effort level tumbled without Drew Lock. Albert O is not much of a plus blocker, so he will need to have a strong overall combine to remain in the Day 2 mix. Currently projected to be the fourth to sixth tight end off the board, he will hope to re-enter the conversation as one of the first tight ends to hear his name called in April’s draft.
Brycen Hopkins (Purdue)
Brycen Hopkins is a talented tight end who could lead the pack as far as the position’s athletic testing is concerned. He is a smooth tight end who caught a lot of attention from evaluators who may have been eyeing his teammate in 2021 first-round prospect Rondale Moore. There is little separating the tight ends at the top, so the NFL Combine will serve as a tool to help teams more accurately tier the prospects.
Thaddeus Moss (LSU)
No list of players to monitor would be complete without mentioning the son of the gold jacket wearing Randy Moss. Moss’ production was sporadic despite playing in a historically great offense, but he showed enough down the stretch to be in the conversation as one of the first tight ends taken. Athletically gifted with a Hall of Fame tutor to help him become the best possible player he can be, Moss could surprise with how well he performs in Indy.
Friday, February 28, 2020 (4-11 p.m. EST)
Running Backs, Offensive Line, Special Teams, Place Kickers
Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)
Timed at 4.42 in high school, the draft community interestingly continues to express concerns over Taylor’s track speed. He will look to assuage concerns about his long speed at the combine and remind teams that he indeed warrants consideration as the first running back off the board. With multiple backs expected to run sub 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, Taylor may not be the fastest one in Indianapolis. But with strong showings in the speed, agility, and receiving drills, he has a chance to confirm that he is indeed the most talented.
DeeJay Dallas (Miami)
Miami’s DeeJay Dallas is a talented running back who is flying way under the radar. He has scat-back speed and skill in a power back’s body, so he should fly up draft boards after the NFL Combine. Left off many top 10 lists, Dallas will look to make himself a fixture on them with a strong combine.
A.J. Dillon (Boston College)
A massive power back with good game speed, Dillon is going to have to prove that he has NFL speed and agility to be anything more than a Day 3 flier. The inevitable comparisons to Derrick Henry are unfair, as Henry was miles ahead of Dillon as a prospect. Could he play a similar role in the NFL, or even assume that same role in Tennessee if the Titans choose to move on from Henry? Sure. But expecting him to perform like a running back who looked like a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott as a pure runner is asking a bit much. The NFL is a copycat league, so with a strong combine Dillon could climb the draft boards of more than a few teams who are looking for a backfield hammer.
Salvon Ahmed (Washington)
Timed at 4.32 in the 40-yard dash in high school, Salvon Ahmed is expected to be one of the fastest running backs in Indianapolis. He has enough issues on film to give him a Day 3 grade, but he can sneak his way into Day 2 with an explosive combine. He may never be a full-time NFL starter, but if he times as well as expected, he can convince teams that he has committee upside.
J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State)
J.K. Dobbins shines in the talent, production, film, and analytic departments, but he does not get as much attention as Taylor and D’Andre Swift. The NFL Combine could change things; Dobbins reportedly recorded a sub 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash at Ohio State. He will be looking to be one of at least three running backs to run a 4.39 or less.
Jedrick Wills (Alabama)
Jedrick Wills has the nastiness to play right tackle. The NFL Combine will help determine whether NFL teams believe he has the size and athleticism to play on the outside. Wills is currently discussed as a potential top-10 pick, but he may experience a mini free fall if teams decide he will need to move inside to guard. The measurements and drills will be huge for Wills.
Mekhi Becton (Louisville)
Mekhi Becton is an intriguing prospect. He has great size and power, but due to playing in Louisville’s run-heavy scheme, he is not as experienced in pass protection as other first-round offensive line prospects. Although he has the tools to dominate, he will need to show well to remain in the mix as a potential top-15 pick. Becton has ‘no doubt’ first-round upside, but he will need to avoid a sluggish showing to cement his stock.
Tristan Wirfs (Iowa)
Much like Wills, Tristan Wirfs is dogged by concerns that he may have to move inside. While it’s true that guards often do not garner the same draft capital as tackles, Wirfs also has Pro Bowl upside if he makes the position switch. Measurements and drills will be key in determining Wirfs’ NFL future.
Saahdiq Charles (LSU)
Saahdiq Charles is another talented offensive tackle who many believe may end up kicking inside to guard in the pros. He looked good for most of the season, but he may have really improved his stock by allowing zero pressures in the National Championship Game. Charles will look to open the eyes of evaluators who have him as more of a late Day 2 or early Day 3 pick than an early Day 2 selection.
Josh Jones (Houston)
No player has raised his profile more than Josh Jones since the college season ended. Hardcore film junkies knew him well, but the average observer would have heard and/or seen more of Andrew Thomas, Becton, Wills, Wirfs, and Austin Jackson. With so many of this class’ top tackles being candidates to move to guard, Jones may surprise many with his draft slot. He will earn some high-profile team visits and can potentially cement himself as a first-round pick with a strong combine.
Saturday, February 29, 2020 (4-11 p.m. EST)
Defensive Line and Linebackers
Chase Young (Ohio State)
While Chase Young has absolutely nothing to prove (he is almost universally viewed as the top talent in the entire 2020 NFL Draft), all eyes will be on him when he takes the field on Saturday. Young is an explosive pass rusher who is just scratching the surface of his potential. He should entice a few more trade-up feelers from teams around the league after his testing and drills are through.
Julian Okwara (Notre Dame)
Julian Okwara, the younger brother of the Detroit Lions’ Romeo Okwara, has first-round tools and tape, but he will likely need a good combine to pass names like A.J. Epenesa, Yetur Gross-Matos, Bradlee Anae, and Josh Uche on the draft boards of teams looking for edge help in the first round. All of the names mentioned will be closely watched by NFL teams, but no other player has as much to potentially gain with a dominant combine as Okwara.
Derrick Brown (Auburn)
The only player who joins Young in the conversation as the draft’s number one overall talent is Derrick Brown. He is a physical force who, much like Young, still has a lot to learn about playing his position. He should be a top-12 pick in April, but Brown could raise his stock with a stronger combine than expected. He has top-five talent and a chance to solidify such draft capital with a strong showing on Saturday.
Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina)
Often overlooked due to Brown’s eye-popping film, Javon Kinlaw has some great film in his own right. He showed off his upside against a quality Alabama offensive line and went on to dominate headlines at his position at the Senior Bowl. A strong combine should garner Kinlaw consideration as early as a top-10 or 12 pick. He has first-round talent but will once again need to confirm what evaluators think of him in the defensive linemen drills.
Ross Blacklock (TCU)
While Kinlaw has received most of the media attention following a great Senior Bowl week, Ross Blacklock may actually be the second defensive tackle off the board. He has a first-round grade, but due to the abundance of players with first-round talent, Blacklock often gets lost in the shuffle in mock drafts. With a strong combine, Blacklock can lock up a first-round grade from most NFL teams.
Isaiah Simmons (Clemson)
If Young is the number one viewing priority on Saturday, Isaiah Simmons is 1B. An electric moveable chess piece of a defender, Simmons went viral for running step by step with running back Travis Etienne in a foot race. For context, Etienne was timed at 4.38 as a recruit. Simmons will be the first off-ball linebacker selected, and he is in the mix to come off the board as soon as fourth overall to the New York Giants. He will look to solidify himself as a top-10 pick with a strong showing.
— Travis Etienne Jr⁶𓅓 (@swaggy_t1) May 1, 2019
Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma)
Kenneth Murray has top-15 talent. But with off-ball linebackers seemingly being devalued in the modern NFL, he will need a strong combine to cement himself as a value in the top half of the first round. Murray is an electric sideline-to-sideline linebacker with a great motor who must prove that his film speed and quickness can translate to the NFL. It is rare for two off-ball linebackers to go in the top-15 picks, so Murray will need to dominate to join Simmons.
Sunday, March 1, 2020 (2-7 p.m. EST)
Bryce Hall (Virginia)
Expected to be one of the first cornerbacks off the board had he declared for last year’s draft, Hall went back to school and unfortunately saw his season cut short due to injury. His stock seems to have dipped a bit, but a strong combine showing could remind NFL teams why evaluators were so smitten with the talented cornerback in 2018. An impressive display will put Hall firmly in the first-round mix.
Cameron Dantzler (Mississippi State)
A talented cornerback who held LSU’s wide receivers in check, Cameron Dantzler needs to prove that he can add some weight and still move as well as he did in college. A thin, but long corner, he has first-round tape and analytics, but he needs to prove he can add size without sapping his upside. Dantzler is one of the names I will be most interested in observing on March 1.
Jaylon Johnson (Utah)
Despite his talent and first-round grade, Johnson may be squeezed out of the first due to positional depth and team needs. With a notable performance at the NFL Combine, Johnson can ascend up boards and fortify himself as a top-50 pick.
Grant Delpit (LSU)
The consensus top safety in the draft class does not need a strong combine to solidify his status as the first at his position off the board. However, the combine may help determine how high he gets drafted. Prior to the combine, the majority of NFL teams likely don’t view Delpit as a value in the top 10. He will need to prove that he is one of the rare safeties to merit consideration in that range.