Speed and length matter to NFL teams. And yes, size matters.
Football isn’t played in a singlet — and yet the NFL hosts the underwear Olympics every year in Indianapolis. That’s when NFL scouts will get a chance to inspect players at great length to get a sense of things like size, speed, and health.
Here are five NFL prospects whose draft stock could change significantly with a stellar combine performance. They’ll be out to prove something.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
For now, Jackson is out of the discussion when pundits debate the top quarterbacks in the draft. His name is rarely thrown in with Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield. But the combine could be Jackson’s chance to ensure that he’s in the mix to be one of the most touted quarterbacks prospects in the draft.
He’s got the opportunity to blow teams away in interviews. He should be fine in medicals. And he has a chance to prove he’s just as elite of an athlete as he appears on film.
He can also put together a throwing routine that shows he’s just as accurate as his contemporaries, particularly Allen, whose accuracy was roughly the same in college and yet the Wyoming product could go as high as No. 1 overall. Jackson should insert himself into the mix to be one of the top quarterbacks taken.
Donte Jackson, CB, LSU
Everyone already knows he’s a freak. But when a player proves it, NFL teams begin to salivate. Think about Dontari Poe, Taylor Mays, J.J. Watt and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Even if the player isn’t that good (Mays, Hayward-Bey) and they’re considered a first-round talent, they can squeeze some extra millions out of NFL teams by jumping a few spots in the draft with an excellent combine performance.
So if Jackson runs the fastest 40-yard dash time in his entire draft class, do you think he’ll still be projected to go in the 30s? No way. If he’s the athlete everyone thinks he is, he’s going to jump quickly into the top 15 discussion — maybe even top 10.
Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
From the outside linebacker position, Evans did a little bit of everything for the Crimson Tide during the 2017 season when they won yet another National Championship. He could be a sack artist, if a team decided to make him their blitzing linebacker. But to limit him to that would be silly, which is why Alabama used him to cover and defend the run. He’s one of the most versatile linebackers in the draft. If he records a handful of staggering combine numbers, he could generate enough intrigue to vault himself higher in the first round.
Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA
NFL teams just need an excuse to draft Davenport in the top 10, who put up ridiculous film at UT San Antonio. There are probably a handful of teams who are waiting for Davenport to post a fantastic combine performance. In a draft devoid of pass-rushing talent, Davenport has what NFL teams need. And as long as he can prove he’s the athlete he appears to be when competing with lower levels of competition, he should see his stock improve significantly heading to draft day. Haasan Reddick, the 2017 13th overall pick, is a nice comparison. After getting projected as a fringe first rounder, he flew up draft boards after a great combine performance. Davenport could do the same.
Nyheim Hines, RB, N.C. State
In this draft, there’s Saquon Barkley and then there’s everyone else. For now, Hines isn’t even the highest-rated running back entering the draft from NC State. Jaylen Samuels, Hines’ former backfield-mate, is ranked higher than Hines, who figures to be more of a change-of-pace back in the NFL.
But boy can Hines change the pace. He’s an incredibly explosive runner, who has a shot at running the fastest time at the combine this season. And fast running backs get love, especially in today’s passing-centric NFL. Dri Archer (who?) went in the third round in 2014 after running a 4.26 40-yard dash. Hines won’t be that fast. But he should impress.