Every position group has its year in the Combine spotlight, with the opportunity to exceed, match or fail to meet expectations, and this year was no exception.
What we learned this year is that the defensive front seven more than lived up to its billing based on the workout results.
From the interior linemen to the edge rushers to the linebackers, they turned in explosive test results. Overall, top prospects ran, jumped and lifted as though they were competing for podium spots on the podium in the Olympic decathlon.
A number of prospects who were highly regarded actually raised their stock.
That’s good news for teams such as the Detroit Lions, who can fill a need for a defensive playmaker or two – or maybe three going deeper into the draft after Round 1 – starting with the eighth pick in the first round and deeper into the draft.
We also learned that little things mean a lot, especially involving Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray; that Lions GM Bob Quinn leaves it to others to parse his words about whether he really is considering drafting a tight end or a quarterback at No. 8; that the Combine is fertile territory to plant the seeds for potential trades, and that there was a Combine winner and loser – all because of the same player, and with no fault of his.
We start with the defensive line:
Up front: None of the pass rushers or interior linemen who’d been rated as top 10 prospects did anything to hurt their stock. We found out that athletically, they’re as good as projected, and maybe better.
Edge rusher Nick Bosa of Ohio State, the consensus pick to go first overall to Arizona, showed he was healthy after playing a limited 2018 schedule. Rashan Gary of Michigan, Josh Allen of Kentucky and Clelin Ferrell of Clemson tested well, although Ferrell did not run the 40. At a little over 6-4 and 264 pounds, he stood out in the 3-cone drill that measures agility and in the bench press, doing 25 reps of 225 pounds.
On the interior, Alabama tackle Quinnen Williams’ time of 4.84 in the 40 at 6-3 and 303 pounds reminded people of a bigger version of Rams star Aaron Donald. And 342-pound Clemson tackle Dexter Lawrence running the 40 in 5.05 seconds was an eye-opener. He hurt his leg in the drill, but his stock must have soared – but not enough to catch Williams.
Sweating it out: As we learned again, there’s always a rising star at the Combine, and on defense this year it’s Montez Sweat of Mississippi State. He had the production going into the Combine, with 22 sacks in his last two seasons. And he also had the size – 6-5-6 and 260 pounds with big hands and long arms.
And now he has the numbers. Sweat’s 40 time of 4.41 in his first attempt is considered the “modern” Combine record for a defensive lineman. He stood out in all the drills, including a significant 1.55 seconds for the first 10 yards of his blistering 40.
Without doubt, Sweat’s effort puts him in the mix of the top defensive linemen.
Perhaps in the top eight?
We’ll learn that on April 25.
Backing up, moving up: Call them Devin 1 and Devin 1A – Devin White of LSU and Devin Bush of Michigan.
There wasn’t much in their workouts that separated the draft’s top two linebackers. They both ran, jumped and lifted in the top echelon.
White is a little bigger – an even 6 feet and 237 pounds to 5-11, 234 for Bush. White is a year older at 22.
White has been ranked ahead of Bush, and he remained that way. That does not detract from Bush’s stock.
Bottom line: Add it all up, and there are eight or nine prospects in the front seven whose Combine performance was worthy of the top 10. They won’t all go there, but they’re good enough.
Quinn’s comments: Quinn’s message didn’t change in his Combine interview from what he’d said earlier regarding two positions the Lions will consider filling with the eighth pick.
Will he consider a tight end at No. 8? Yes.
How about a quarterback? Yes.
We’ve learned that when Quinn makes a statement, he leaves it to others to parse his words
In this case, would the Lions actually draft a tight end at No. 8? Of course. It’s a position of extreme need, assuming they don’t fill it in free agency. T.J. Hockenson is considered a legitimate opening day starter. That doesn’t mean the Lions will draft him at No. 8 but they will, and should, consider it.
Would they actually draft a quarterback at No. 8? After thorough consideration, I don’t see that happening.
Combine trade talk: We learned that there are different levels of support from Cardinals GM Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury for second year QB Josh Rosen. It doesn’t mean he’s on the block, but the Cardinals could deal Rosen and get back at least a high first-round pick to go with the first pick overall that they already possess.
It’s just talk for now, but it’s how trade speculation gets started.
Combine winner: It was Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray. After all the questions about his height, he topped the 5-10 mark by an eighth of an inch. He weighed in at a solid 207 pounds, and his hand size was measured at 9 and 5/8 inches. Then he told the media he was going to “do nothing” in the Combine drills. He’ll work out at his Pro Day in Norman Oklahoma on March 13.
Which brings us to ...
Combine loser: ABC network. It showed the quarterback drills live Saturday afternoon. It would have been a good show if Murray had gone through drills, but he didn’t.