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The 2020 NFL Combine Primer

The 2020 NFL Combine Primer

I’m going to be honest…writing an article with the word “Primer” in the title feels like copyright infringement.

Of course, my co-host on The FantasyPros Football Podcast, Mike Tagliere, writes a weekly article in-season called “The Primer” that dives into every single fantasy football relevant player. If you have never read it, make sure to keep an eye out as the NFL season rolls around. It’s an extremely valuable tool that will help you determine and gauge a player’s outlook for that coming week.

Anyway, back to what I was saying…we’re sitting here with the NFL Combine swiftly approaching and this is the perfect opportunity to take a birds-eye view at what the NFL Scouting Combine is, why it matters, and what players we should be watching. For this article, I’ll be breaking down each event at the Combine and why it matters (or doesn’t matter) for certain position groups. I’ll also give you some players (skill positions only) that I’ll be monitoring for that event and how their performance could affect their draft stock.

Let’s jump right in.

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40-Yard Dash

Introduction: The 40-Yard Dash is an event that measures explosiveness and top-end speed. Each player is required to line up, settle into their stance, pause, and then explode out and accelerate for 40 yards. This helps talent evaluators determine a player’s athleticism out of their stance (important for lineman) and their overall speed, which is incredibly important for judging wide receivers and their ability to get downfield quickly.

Players To Watch:

1. Henry Ruggs III (WR – Alabama)
The buzz around the 2020 NFL Combine right now is that Henry Ruggs III is a very strong candidate to break John Ross‘ 40-yard dash record of 4.22 seconds.

When you put on Ruggs’ tape, it’s not hard to see why there’s that buzz floating around. Ruggs is The Flash out on the football field and he brings a speed element to an offense that many NFL teams are going to covet. However, he’s not simply just a fast player…he’s a complete wide receiver with great hands and competitive toughness.

Ruggs is most likely to going to run under 4.3, which could elevate his draft stock into the Top-10 of the 2020 NFL Draft. All eyes will be on him as he lines up at The Combine.

2. Jalen Reagor (WR – TCU)
Jalen Reagor is an extremely underrated wide receiver in this draft class. His top-end speed is absolutely ridiculous and he’s the type of player you simply want to get the ball in his hands because good things will happen.

Reagor could come out and run in the 4.3’s easily. He might even be able to beat out Ruggs for the fastest player title. He’s electric and he’s going to be a playmaker in the NFL from day one.

3. KJ Hamler (WR – Penn State)
KJ Hamler is going to be stereotyped into a slot role in the NFL due to his size, but don’t let that fool you. Hamler has blazing top-end speed.

Slot receivers in the NFL are typically known for their short-area quickness and agility, but they aren’t exactly burners down the field. Hamler’s not only quick, shifty, and agile, but he can stretch the field from the slot position. NFL teams are going to be very excited to get their hands on Hamler and fit him into their offense. Reagor and Ruggs are going to be the favorites to win the 40-yard dash competition, but don’t count out the speedster from Penn State.

*Editor’s Note: It was revealed this week that Hamler will not run the 40 yard dash at the Combine due to a tweaked hamstring.

4. Devin Duvernay (WR – Texas)
Devin Duvernay is flying under the radar in this class, but my prediction is that he won’t be after the NFL Combine. Duvernay has legitimate track speed and it shows on the football field. Duvernay ran a 10.27 in the 100 meters in high school and there’s a video of him online running a 4.38 40-yard dash out of high school.

Duvernay can fly and he’s one of my favorite players in this class. Don’t be surprised if he runs a 4.4 or faster. If he does, we could be mentioning Duvernay as a day two guy.

5. Tyler Johnson (WR – Minnesota)
Tyler Johnson is someone who I’m very interested to watch at the NFL Combine, because I don’t think he possesses great top-end speed. While Johnson has great hands and can reel in some great contested catches, his tape suggests average athleticism. If Johnson comes out and runs in the 4.6’s, his draft stock will plummet. However, if he can come out and run in the mid 4.5’s, we could see Johnson’s stock rise due to people going back and reevaluating the tape.

Johnson has a lot to lose with this Combine performance and I’ll be very interested to see how he does.

6. Jonathan Taylor (RB – Wisconsin)
Jonathan Taylor is currently listed at 219 pounds, but he legitimately could run a 4.3 40-yard dash. He was a track athlete in high school and that speed translated to the field with him breaking away some long runs. While a lot of people are going to focus on the WRs that could be some of the fastest players at the Combine, we need to remember how fast Taylor is and that he could be right up there with the best of them at a much heavier weight.

7. Lamical Perine (RB – Florida)
Lamical Perine struggled in the 40-yard dash coming out of high school, where he ran a 4.87. This led to some schools being off of him in regards to recruiting, but Perine has steadily gained more explosiveness and quickness over his time at Florida.

There are several plays this season that have Perine breaking off huge runs with his speed, so I’m going to be interested in seeing what he clocks in at from a 40-yard dash perspective. In no way am I projecting 4.87, but I’m curious to see just how much faster he’s gotten and whether or not he’s going to elevate his draft stock because of it.

8. Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB – LSU)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire does a lot of things very well from the RB position. His vision, contact balance, and spin move are some of the best in this class. He has great hands out of the backfield and can immediately make an impact in the NFL from a receiving standpoint. However, one of the concerns with Edwards-Helaire is his top-end speed. While this isn’t as crucial of a requirement for the position as some of the other traits I just mentioned, it is relatively important and a poor 40-yard dash time can plummet your draft stock. Just ask Elijah Holyfield

Edwards-Helaire isn’t known for his speed, so expectations aren’t very high. However, he needs to run at least in the 4.6’s to keep his draft stock in the day two conversation. If he comes out and runs slower than that, we could be looking at him as a mid day 3 draft pick.

9. Salvon Ahmed (RB – Washington)
Salvon Ahmed is one of my favorite backs in this class. He doesn’t have great size or power, but his footwork is outstanding. His mind and feet are always working in conjunction and his lateral agility is impressive. On top of all that, Ahmed has blazing top-end speed. When the 40-yard dash is all wrapped up, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re talking about Ahmed with the fastest time for RBs.

10. Darrynton Evans (RB – Appalachian State)
Darryton Evans is an intriguing name to watch towards the end of the NFL Draft. While he has average contact balance and struggles with short-area quickness, his long speed is incredible. I expect Evans to come out and shock some people in the 40-yard dash and put his name on the map.

11. Anthony McFarland Jr. (RB – Maryland)
Anthony McFarland Jr. is an athletic freak show. His tape at Maryland isn’t overly impressive when it comes to the traits you should value in a RB, such as vision, pass protection, and patience. However, any athletic testing that he’ll go through (provided he’s fully healthy), he’s going to knock out of the park. McFarland’s burst, acceleration, and top-end speed are some of the best in the class. While he’s a bit of a projection at the next level, he has some of the highest potential out of any back in the later rounds based on his athletic traits alone. He could move quickly up draft boards and squeeze his way into round four or five consideration with a solid Combine performance.

12. Hunter Bryant (TE – Washington)
Hunter Bryant is your perfect “move” tight end for today’s NFL. At 6’2″/240, he’s not someone who you want to rely on for in-line blocking. Instead, get him out in space and let him be a mismatch on smaller DBs or linebackers. Bryant has great athleticism, so I’m going to be watching him to see how he does in the 40-yard dash and whether or not that play speed is validated with his time in the workout.

13. Cole Kmet (TE – Notre Dame)
Cole Kmet is someone who a few draft guys are high on, but I’m not one of them. Kmet has great size and was frequently relied upon in pass blocking, which shows that his coaches had faith in his blocking ability. However, he’s a very stiff mover in space and doesn’t possess great top-end speed on tape. Kmet could go plummeting down draft boards, for those who previously liked him, if he doesn’t test well.

Bench Press

Introduction: The Bench Press is a workout used to measure a player’s upper body strength. The weight is 225 pounds for each contestant and they are monitored to see how many reps they can put up with that weight. This workout is not as critical for a lot of the skill positions, like running back or wide receiver, as the majority of their translatable skills is lower body explosiveness. However, this drill is important for both offensive and defensive lineman who are going to be asked to engage play after play against incredibly powerful men opposite of them. This workout is also important for tight ends who are going to be asked to block repeatedly at the next level.

Players To Watch:

1. Thaddeus Moss (TE – LSU)
Thaddeus Moss is currently my favorite tight end in this class and that’s unlikely to change by the NFL Draft. He’s extremely fluid and a great mover in space for 250 pounds. He’s a good route runner and has great hands in the receiving game. However, he’s not just limited to that role. Moss is a mauler in the run game. The bench press is going to be fun to watch when Moss is up to see just how strong he is up top. A solid outing could boost his stock and have people consistently talking about him in the first round, which is where I think he belongs.

2. Brycen Hopkins (TE – Purdue)
Brycen Hopkins is a smooth route runner with insane explosiveness of the line of scrimmage. I expect him to test very well at the Combine in the speed and agility drills, but I’ll be watching to see how he does in the bench press, specifically. One of the questions with Hopkins is whether or not he has the strength to be a steady contributor as an in-line blocker. If he doesn’t, he’ll excel in his role as being split out wide, but that dramatically decreases the amount of teams that will have a need for him. If Hopkins is able to perform well in the bench press, he’ll remain as an option early on day two.

3. Hunter Bryant (TE – Washington)
As I mentioned above in the 40-yard dash, Hunter Bryant is an extremely athletic “move” tight end. However, there are serious questions regarding his strength and ability to stay in and block. While NFL coaches are not going to ask Bryant to block 70% of the time, you do need to have some ability to stay in-line and contribute. Otherwise, Bryant will be pulled off the field in those situations for another TE who won’t be a liability. Can Bryant put up enough reps to show his upper body strength that he won’t have to be taken off the field?

4. Cole Kmet (TE – Notre Dame)
Cole Kmet, as mentioned above, isn’t the most explosive player. However, he should test extremely well with the strength drills. I’m looking forward to seeing just how much he puts up. Based on his tape, this is a drill he needs to excel at in order to keep his draft stock relatively high. If he doesn’t test well in speed or agility drills and doesn’t perform well in the bench press, there’s no telling just how far his stock could fall.

Vertical Jump

Introduction: The Vertical Jump is a workout that is used to measure burst from a player’s lower body. Each player is required to stand in place and jump as high as they can from that spot. This allows talent evaluators to determine a player’s lower body strength and how explosive they are to be able to move from Point A to Point B or how quickly they can get out of their stance and accelerate forward.

Players To Watch:

1. Brycen Hopkins (TE – Purdue)
Brycen Hopkins is a great athlete, as I established above. His lower body explosiveness shows up with his acceleration off the snap, so I’ll be watching Hopkins here in the Vertical Jump. At 6’5″/245, having Hopkins come close to jumping 40 inches (which he’s rumored to be around) would be incredible. We’ll see if the young tight end out of Purdue can get there.

2. Donovan Peoples-Jones (WR – Michigan)
Donovan Peoples-Jones was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school, primarily because of his testing numbers. Peoples-Jones jumped a 38.8 inch vertical in high school and could very well break the 40-inch mark. While I don’t expect him to test the best here from the WR class, this is the event that Peoples-Jones needs to perform well in to keep his draft stock. He lacks refinement in other areas of the receiver position, so NFL teams are going to bank on his athleticism and hope they can then develop the rest later on.

3. J.K. Dobbins (RB – Ohio State)
J.K. Dobbins is an incredible athlete. Coming out of high school, his numbers were shocking for me to look back and remember…Dobbins jumped 43 inches at his testing day and ran in the low 4.4’s in the 40-yard dash. There’s a very real chance that Dobbins jumps the highest out of any position at the NFL Combine.

4. Cam Akers (RB – Florida State)
Cam Akers is an explosive athlete. He has great burst, acceleration, and crazy long-speed, but lacks the refined traits that make up a NFL RB right now. In high school, Akers jumped over 40 inches in the vertical jump and I expect him to put up similar numbers at the NFL Combine. Akers needs to show up and prove that his athleticism on tape is legitimate. If he does, he can convince a team to take him and work out the kinks later on. If not, he’s going to have even more questions surrounding him and opinions on his draft stock will vary immensely.

5. Henry Ruggs III (WR – Alabama)
Henry Ruggs III is going to destroy the NFL Combine, if you haven’t picked that up by now. He’s the favorite to finish first in the 40-yard dash, as we established before, and he legitimately has a shot to finish first in the vertical jump, too. Don’t believe me? Check out the video below.

6. Jalen Reagor (WR – TCU)
If it wasn’t for Henry Ruggs, we would be talking about as Jalen Reagor as the best pure athlete at the NFL Combine. In high school, Reagor won a Texas state title in the long jump…in which he jumped 26 feet in a regional competition. Yes, you read that correctly. 26 feet.

While the long jump is more translatable to the Broad Jump (listed below), Reagor’s lower body explosiveness will translate to this workout. Don’t be surprised to see Reagor jump over 40 inches.

Broad Jump

Introduction: The Broad Jump is a workout that is used in tandem with the Vertical Jump. Its purpose is to measure the burst from a player’s lower body. Players are required to stand in place and jump as far forward as they can. The players who do well in the Vertical Jump are typically going to do well in the Broad Jump.

Players To Watch:

(Same as the Vertical Jump)

Three-Cone Drill

Introduction: The Three-Cone Drill is a change of direction workout that is used to measure a player’s burst, agility, and fluidity.

Players To Watch:

1. Jerry Jeudy (WR – Alabama)
Jerry Jeudy‘s agility and start/stop ability are not in question after you put on his tape. While I don’t believe that Jeudy is going to finish first in the three-cone, I’m going to thoroughly enjoy watching him run this drill.

2. KJ Hamler (WR – Penn State)
KJ Hamler has great long speed, as I mentioned in the 40-yard dash section, but he’s also twitchy and explosive in short bursts. If Hamler excels in the three-cone drill, plus the 40-yard dash, we could be talking about him in the back half of the 1st round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

*Editor’s Note: It was revealed this week that Hamler will not run at the Combine due to a tweaked hamstring.

3. Jalen Reagor (WR – TCU)
For a lot of the same reasons mentioned above, Reagor belongs in the names to watch for this drill. He’s just one of those athletes that you want to watch compete in every thing you can.

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