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20 Winners and 10 Losers from the NFL Combine

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The winds of change are blowing...

Outback Bowl - Minnesota v Auburn
How much did Derrick Brown hurt his draft stock?
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

One of my favorite parts of the NFL calendar starts today. We now have a decent idea where players stack up athletically, have some idea who teams are invested in, and there’s rumors about free agency (but nothing locked in just yet)!

While everyone will preach that athletic tests at the NFL Combine don’t matter and the tape truthers will beat you over the head with a televsion for doubting them, the truth is team’s adjust their boards after this week. You should too.

What follows are some prospects who stood out to me in one way or the other. Keep in mind that if a player was expected to perform a certain way and did, he wasn’t included. Also if you’d like to listen I talked about this list and a few others with Locked On Broncos’ Cody Roark.

Winners

This is not necessarily an exhaustive list and they may not all fit into the Broncos’ scheme once I really get the time to pore over all the reports and tape, but the 20 players that follow all did themselves a lot of good in the underwear Olympics.

Denzel Mims

There may not be a prospect who has done more for his draft stock since the season ended than Mims. He came to Mobile and dominated 1V1 drills at the Senior Bowl, then came to Indianapolis and tested through the roof.

At one point in November Mims was going in the 6th round of The Draft Network’s Mock Machine, now they have him as a top 50 prospect. I suspect even that’s low. He brings a stupid catch radius and the kind of hands to bring the ball in with bodies around him. There’s concentration drops on tape and some have concerns about his route running, but my WR4 is going to be a first round pick when it’s all said and done.

Chase Claypool

There’s been talk that Claypool would need to bulk up and play tight end to make a living in the NFL, something that weighing in at 238 lbs only fueled. Despite that, he ran a 4.43 40-yard dash and jumped out of the building. His workouts will have evaluators going back over his film to double check what’s there.There’s a decent chance he could be viewed as a hybrid pass catcher/offensive weapon going forward, with snaps as a big slot or move itght end. That has a ton of value in a modern offense.

Michael Pittman Jr.

If not for Claypool and Mims, Pittman would be the receiver everyone is buzzing about. He had a decent Senior Bowl but questions remained about his athleticism coming into the week and he turned heads in how he answered them.

One big difference between him and Mims is that he didn’t dominate any one drill but the Short Shuttle. Instead he was good across the board while measuring in with elite size. It’ll be interesting to see how his numbers wind up comparing to Clemson’s Tee Higgins, who sat out workouts.

Ezra Cleveland

The Boise State Bronco won across the board this week. Not only did he dominate workouts, but there’s been a number of reports from Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline that suggest teams like the Cleveland Browns view him as a first round talent.

Tristan Wirfs

It speaks volumes about what I thought of Wirfs’ athleticism that historic jump measurements were merely “checking the box” for me. More than what he did on the track is the fact that his arms measured in above what NFL evaluators considered the tackle/guard divide. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah was just one of the people who were suggesting him at guard leading up to the week, but it’d be a surprise if the team that drafts him in the top 10 doesn’t give him every opportunity to succeed on the outside first now.

Andrew Thomas

The Georgia Bulldog has been a victim of his own success for the past couple of months. After three years starting and producing at left tackle in the SEC, evaluators have taken turns poking holes in his game. So much so that there had been reports that he could go between 15 and 30 in the middle of February. Then he measured in with stupidly long vines and rumors began to crop up about one of his competitors for the top of the tackle list. He still isn’t as exciting as guys like Wirfs or the mammoth Mekhi Becton, but he did enough for a team that trusts the tape to feel comfortable with him high.

Nick Harris

At one point he was being touted as a second round talent because of his movement skills and mental processing. He showed up to the Senior Bowl at just 293 lbs and got wrecked most of the week in 1V1 drills, which caused him to plummet on TDN mocks.

He showed up to Indy 9 lbs heavier and did not appear to lose his mobility in the position drills. There’s still reason to wonder where he’ll wind up when it’s all said and done as he best fits in a zone blocking scheme that can protect him from the more powerful interior rushers, but he did what he had to to staunch the bleeding.

Justin Madubuike

He’s a guy who could send evaluators back to the film as he showed up as an elite athlete this week, even dominating the Short Shuttle. Barring interviews or a medical situation, he looks locked into that top 50 range.

Ross Blacklock

One of the players Denver used a formal interview on, this Horned Frog slimmed down for workouts and showed off his impressive long speed. He’s locked in a bit of a logjam in that second tier of defensive tackles with Neville Gallimore and Madubuike, but held his own this week.

Khalil Davis

If you’re looking for an afterthought who will probably get another look, Davis is your guy. Unlike the two defensive linemen above him on this list, he weighed in above 300 lbs and still blew up the 40-yard dash.

Malik Harrison

For months the narrative on draft Twitter has been that this class is pretty weak. It caught my attention when the Las Vegas Raiders’ General Manager said that he liked this linebacker class on Friday night. Malik Harrison is just one reason why. Most expected him to have a decent showing in Indianapolis, and he surprised with an elite one.

Shaun Bradley

With word from Vic Fangio that the Broncos will look at inside linebackers this spring (but it’s nuanced(!)) I have a lot of catching up to do on off ball backers. One that is early on my list is this Temple product. He showed off speed, agility, and explosiveness that suggests he could be a nice addition later in the draft.

Logan Wilson

I’ll admit I’ve watched all of 0 plays of the Wyoming Cowboys so far this year, as there’s only so many hours in a day when juggling a Master’s Thesis with writing. I try to pay attention to the football factories early before circling back on guys I’m intrigued by leading up to workouts. People have been telling me I needed to check out Wilson for over a month now, and I definitely plan to. He had himself quite the week.

Curtis Weaver

He’s been an interesting prospect because most have slept on his production. It came in the Mountain West and few expected him to put up decent workout numbers, so there was a bit of a glass ceiling on his draft stock. I’ll be curious if his workout was enough to break through this week.

Derrek Tuszka

When I first saw that the Broncos had had a formal interview with Tuszka, my response was “who?” Turns out, Vic Fangio may know a thing or two about digging up small school edge prospects. He wound up as the only defensive end prospect to turn in a sub-7 3-Cone.

Jaylon Johnson

He’s been a dark horse 1st round player for a couple months now and needed a good workout to cement that. So far, so good. He smothered people at Utah and it’d be a lot of fun to see what Fangio could do for him.

Jeremy Chinn

Having Hall of Fame bloodlines did not prevent the nephew of Steve Atwater from winding up at Southern Illinois. The thing is, if you can ball it doesn’t matter where you play the league will find you. Everything that Chinn has done since his collegiate career ended has helped his draft stock. He fit right in at the Senior Bowl and jumped out of Lucas Oil Stadium after weighing in at a chiseled 6’3 221 lbs.

Kyle Dugger

If a D2 Safety who blows up the workout circuit isn’t exciting enough, there’s a D3 prospect who’s doing the same. It doesn’t take two plays of Lenoir-Rhyne film to find Dugger as he looks like a man among boys. He also held his own in Mobile.

Antoine Winfield

Tape was never an issue for this Golden Gopher, just everything else. Coming into the Combine there were concerns about Winfield’s size, speed, and medical history. I can’t speak to the latter, but he answered doubts about the first two. So long as team doctors are satisfied with their poking and prodding, he seems to have locked a spot in the second day.

A.J. Dillon

The Boston College product has drawn comparisons to Derrick Henry for his bruising style and did little to dissuade that comparison with his work on the field. After weighing in at 247 lbs, Football Outsiders’ Bryan Knowles tweeted that the Eagle would need to run faster than a 4.7 to post a 100 speed score. Let’s just say that won’t be a concern for him. Of the running backs Elway and the Broncos’ staff formally met with, he most intrigues me.

Losers

I’m not going to take too much time beating up on guys here because many of them have really great tape. Thing is, teams look for any reason to sell a prospect and a poor workout can impact draft stock. Here’s a few who could be sweating their week.

K.J. Hill

If you read my Pre-Combine Receiver Rankings you’ll know I didn’t rank Hill because I wanted to see him workout. He was a constant presence for the Ohio State Buckeyes and schooled opponents at the Senior Bowl, but a 4.6 40-yard dash and poor jumps won’t help him shed comparisons to the Broncos’ DaeSean Hamilton. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he gets forgotten about in this loaded receiver class.

Jerry Jeudy?

First there was the controversy about wearing the Star of David, and then there were his workouts. This may be an overreaction by some, but people expected Jeudy to dominate the agility drills and run in the 4.3’s. He did neither, and Tristan Wirfs out jumped him. At one point over the weekend there was some talk that he could fall to the Broncos at 15, and they did use one of their 30 formal meetings to speak with him.

Laviska Shenault

While fans and media obsess over the workouts, the biggest tests for prospects at the NFL Combine are the medical evaluations. That’s been the huge question on this Colorado Buffalo for months as he brought a laundry list of past ailments with him to Indiana. He did himself no favors by trying to grit through a 40-yard dash and running a disappointing 4.58 after getting hyped as a 4.3 guy. He finished his trip with an announcement that he’d need surgery for a core injury that would prevent him from participating in CU’s Pro Day.

Jedrick Wills?

I’m still scratching my head at this one, but there were reports by Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline that some teams have taken Wills off their tackle board over fears that he can’t handle the mental side of the position. There was once a point in time where I would have never guessed Denver had a chance at him. Now? I’m not so sure. They did have a formal meeting with him.

Trey Adams

This isn’t about beating up on Adams, but the truth of the matter is that I had already taken him off my own personal board because of his medical concerns leading up to Indy. Then he came in and just about bottomed out the workouts across the board. He was getting hype from the national media because his tape was once good, but at some point it’s fair to wonder if all of the injuries have made him into a completely different player.

Derrick Brown

At one point in the process he was getting hyped as the next Ndamukong Suh. Then Daniel Jeremiah started comparing him to Haloti Ngata. By the end of the night there were some ready to pass on him for Henry Ruggs.

A.J. Epenesa, “defensive end”

Dating back to last summer, the Iowa Hawkeye was once considered a competitor for Edge 1 in this class with Chase Young in some circles. Since then people have become quite torn on him, with some seeing another Justin Smith while others see a slow burn power end. He didn’t help himself when he topped out his 40-yard dash with a glacial 5.05.

The good news is, he shows signs on tape that he could still grow into a solid or better 5 technique and interior rusher for a team that deploys him in a similar role to what Derek Wolfe has done for the Broncos. He logged close to 100 snaps inside last year and has the length and heavy hands to make that sort of transition. He’ll need to get his weight back up, but the potential is there.

Cameron Dantzler

Generally speaking, I don’t put too much stock into 40-yard dash times. For most positions they don’t make a huge difference beyond “did this guy prepare for the Combine?” They matter at cornerback, which made Dantzler’s 4.64 alarming. He looks faster on tape than that, but very few cornerbacks who run that slow make a real difference in the NFL.

Agility scores

The way the NFL moved the Combine for extra ad revenue seemed to have a profound impact on both the measurements themselves and how many people participated. There were complaints by agents that soft tissue injuries went up as well.

The guys who skipped

This is a bit of a catch all for the healthy players who made business decisions this past week. In the end nothing will matter if they can show up and dominate their Pro Days over the coming week, but guys like Tee Higgins left the door open for people to steal their thunder by “resting” in Indianapolis.