Dane Brugler and Rob Rang
Posted with permission from The Sports Xchange
The quarterbacks took center stage Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine, though record-breaking Washington wide receiver John Ross stole the spotlight in exactly 4.22 seconds. Meanwhile, a terrific class of defensive linemen were introducing themselves to the NFL media (as well as the bench press). Here are the 10 takeaways you need to know.
1. Watson wows on the big stage again.
Ross' blistering 40-yard dash made him the obvious big winner Saturday, but Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson enjoyed the best day among quarterbacks. It was clear the two-time Davey O'Brien Award winner as the nation's top quarterback had spent a great deal of time working on his drop "from center" rather than resting on his laurels as he threw the ball with excellent rhythm and balance, easing some of the concerns scouts had about his ability to project to a pro-style offense. Watson was one of four quarterbacks in the afternoon session who stood out Saturday, joining Mitch Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes and Davis Webb. Miami's Brad Kaaya was the most polished of the morning session quarterbacks, though Iowa's C.J. Beathard and Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs also fared well.
2. Knight rises to the occasion.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day among quarterbacks was Texas A&M's Trevor Knight. Scouts knew he was athletic and therefore the fact that he led all passers in the 40-yard dash (4.54), vertical jump (35.5 inches) and broad jump (10-5 inches) was not surprising. Knight also threw the ball better than expected. He underthrew a deep dig route at one point, but adjusted his velocity and timing on the next two throws, showing the ability to respond that coaches will appreciate.
3. Ross wasn't the only receiver turning heads.
Citing tight calves, Ross elected not to participate in the position drills, but several who did likely boosted their stock every bit as much as the Huskies' speedster. Fellow Pac-12 star JuJu Smith-Schuster from Southern Cal was not nearly as fast (4.54), but this was a better time than many expected for him. He ran crisp routes, showing better agility and acceleration at Indianapolis than he did while fighting through various injuries last year. Alabama's Ardarius Stewart, Washington State's Gabe Marks and Northern Illinois' Kenny Golladay each turned in terrific grabs, showcasing the body control and sticky hands that will leave lasting impressions in scouts' minds.
4. Godwin? More like Goodwin. The Penn State receiver impressed.
It is tough to pick only one winner from the wide receiver group on Saturday, but Penn State's Chris Godwin might have been the most impressive.
At 6-foot-1 and 209 pounds, Godwin ran an official 4.42 40-yard dash, which ranked in the top five among all receivers. He was the only 200-plus pound receiver to hit the 4.42 mark.
Godwin isn't a slow receiver, but not many scouts expected such a fast time. When talking to him, he mentioned blocking, instincts, route-running and contested catches as the strengths of his game, but not speed. However, as his 40-yard dash showed, it probably should be.
To round out his day, Godwin also posted outstanding numbers in the vertical (36 inches), broad jump (10-feet-6) and the short shuttle (4.00), the latter of which ranked best among all receivers.
In a crowded wide receiver group, Godwin stood out and has teams buzzing.
5. Then, there were other wideouts that also stood out.
East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones continued his positive momentum from the Senior Bowl with a 4.45 40-yard dash, 36.5-inch vertical, 11-feet-1 broad jump and 4.01 short shuttle. Jones led the FBS with 158 catches in 2016, but only four of those grabs were 35-plus yards as he wasn't asked to consistently stretch the field, averaging only 10.7 yards per catch in his career. However, his workout numbers show he is more than capable, Jones just wasn't used in that capacity in college.
Texas A&M wide receiver Speedy Noil decided not to run the 40-yard dash, but crushed the leaping drills with a 43.5-inch vertical and 11-feet-1 broad jump. Neither numbers are very surprising as his tape shows a twitched up athlete with explosive skills. But the tape also shows a highly inconsistent pass-catcher, which is why he is better suited in the secondary, in my opinion.
Is he a running back? Is he a wide receiver? Regardless, Ohio State's Curtis Samuel is fast and his 4.31 40-yard dash backed that up. Forced to follow Ross and his record-breaking 4.22 40-yard dash, Samuel's impressive time went overlooked by many, but it will almost certainly rank among the top three times at this year's Combine, regardless of position. Samuel is a playmaker and chess piece on offense to stress the defense with his versatility.
6. Best tight-end class in 15 years shows its speed.
Evan Engram is officially listed as a tight end, but his play at Ole Miss and the athleticism he demonstrated Saturday prove that he is more of a big-bodied wide receiver -- and a very fast one at that. The 6-foot-3 3/8, 234-pounder twice was clocked in the low 4.4s, officially checking in at 4.43 seconds. Alabama's O.J. Howard nearly broke the 4.50 plateau, himself, officially registering a 4.51-second time at a shade under 6-foot-6, 261 pounds. No disrespect to the new record-holder Ross, but these times are nearly as extraordinary given how much bigger these two pass-catchers are in comparison to the 188-pound Washington wide receiver. Howard is an obvious first-round pick and Miami's David Njoku is likely to join him. Engram might have pushed himself into the top 32 mix with his eye-popping performance Saturday. Three tight ends haven't cracked the first round since 2002, when Jeremy Shockey (Giants), Daniel Graham (Patriots) and Jerramy Stevens (Seahawks) headlined one of the greatest classes at the position in league history.
7. Barnett battling sickness, may have to wait until Pro Day.
Scouts are eager to see Tennessee edge rusher Derek Barnett work out and not just because he recorded a NCAA-best 33 sacks over the past three seasons. Unfortunately, according to a report by ESPN's Adam Schefter, Barnett is sick and might not be able to compete in Sunday's drills. He did not participate in Saturday's bench press. The 6-foot-3, 259-pound Barnett lacks the elite burst and bend that scouts look for as an edge rusher and possesses below-average arm length (32 1/8 inches, winning instead with a combination of strength, instincts and tenacity. Scouts are hoping he will be able to recover in time for Sunday's other measured tests and position drills. If not, they will have to wait until Tennessee's Pro Day, scheduled for March 31.
8. Garrett commanded the room like a player who expects to be the No. 1 overall pick.
Regardless of his viral video on social media, if you ask Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett who the Cleveland Browns should pick with the No. 1 overall pick, he doesn't hesitate.
"I feel like I'm the best player in the draft," Garrett said. "I feel like I'll prove that today and tomorrow."
Garrett said he planned to meet with the Browns later Saturday and will apologize for the social media clip that had him begging for the Dallas Cowboys to trade up with Cleveland at the top spot. Regardless if he goes first or not, Garrett understands it is more about what he does when he reaches the top level.
"Shows I'm top dog at least at the beginning," Garrett answered when asked what it would mean if he is drafted first overall. "Once I'm in the NFL, I can't just hang my hat on that, I have to keep rising."
Garrett plans to put on a show during his workouts on Sunday, where he hopes put to rest any debate about who should be drafted first. He also plans to stay out of the limelight to avoid negative criticism. For Garrett, it's a simple recipe: "Dominate here and not make any more crazy videos."
9. Banged up, but Takk isn't letting that stop him.
"I'm here to get to the quarterback."
That's how the media session with UCLA pass rusher Takk McKinley started and he wasn't shy to share his thoughts about where he belongs in this class.
"It's a passing league and they need young guys who can get to the quarterback," McKinley said. "And I feel I'm the best in the class to do that."
McKinley shows on tape that he can beat blockers, but the main concern with his projection and draft grade is health. He plans to have surgery on Monday to repair a torn right labrum and fractured glenoid (broken bone of the shoulder socket). McKinley also revealed that it isn't a new injury.
"My thing is, I played with this injury for two years, dating back to 2015, my junior year. Never knew something was wrong with it," McKinley said. "I played with it my entire senior year; never knew anything was wrong with it.
"One day my agents asked if anything was wrong with me. I said I have a shoulder that sometimes bothers me so I got an MRI and the doctor was amazed that I played with it. And me, I told the trainers at UCLA to tape me up; 'I'm ready to go.' So why get surgery before the Combine? This is a dream come true for me, I'm here to knock it out."
McKinley expects the injury and rehab to span four-to-six months. But just like he played through the issue the past two seasons, he plans to do every drill at the Combine, including the bench press.
"I'm not the type to complain," McKinley said. "Everyone in the NFL is injured. Everyone in college is injured. I wasn't going to let no injury stop me."
10. Shaheen works out like he belongs.
Coming from the Division-II level, Ashland tight end Adam Shaheen had plenty to gain or lose with his performance in Indianapolis. On tape, he looks like a truly impressive athlete with speed, fluidity and body control.
But 99 percent of the defenders Shaheen faced at the college level won't spend time in a NFL training camp. So scouts were eager to see him in the context of this tight-end group, which is one of the most athletic and talented crops of tight ends the Combine has ever seen.
And Shaheen worked out like he belonged.
At 278 pounds, the Ashland product ran a 4.79 40-yard dash with impressive results in the vertical (32.5 inches) and broad jump (10-feet-2).
And even more impressive, Shaheen was clean and efficient during the positional drills, especially the gauntlet where he snatched the football and stayed controlled down the line.
Already considered a top-100 draft pick, Shaheen only helped himself in the eyes of NFL teams and it shouldn't surprise anyone if he finds his way into the top 50 picks.