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2017 NFL Combine Preview: Predicting the Winners and Losers

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A look behind the testing numbers and who will shine and who will disappoint.

The 102nd Rose Bowl Game - Iowa v Stanford Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Piggybacking off of Tuesday’s look at Myles Garrett and the improvements players from the past two draft classes have made since high school, I thought it would be fun to see how well we can predict who the “winners” and “losers” will be this weekend. Nike’s SPARQ combines do not include two key pro drills - the broad jump and the three-cone - but I was able to find at least partial results for 118 prospects tested on the vertical jump, 40-yard dash and 20-yard “short” shuttle. High schoolers are not tested for 225-pound bench press reps, but about a quarter of this sample did perform a powerball toss, which can be used as a rough approximation of the bench. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have enough powerball data to determine positional averages as I did with the vert, 40 and short shuttle.

Before I burn everyone’s eyes with another spreadsheet though, let’s run through some position by position predictions based on the digging I’ve done this week.

Quarterback

Winner: Deshaun Watson
Loser: DeShone Kizer

First I’ll preface: I don’t believe the athletic testing is as crucial for quarterbacks as it is for most other positions. The QBs will be judged more so on how well they throw the ball, how they mesh with personnel people in interviews, and probably their Wonderlic results. There does appear to be some correlation between three-cone and broad jump and NFL success, but again, those are not tested at the high school combines.

Baylor’s Seth Russell posted the best SPARQ numbers of any passer in the class, but I believe he is still working his way back from a late season leg injury. That leaves Watson, who I expect will have shaved a couple tenths of a second off of his 4.89 40, and should at least match his other, already solid results.

I’ve seen Kizer compared to Cam Newton and Jameis Winston, and the high school numbers suggest a player who will test closer to the latter. I believe Kizer will meet or surpass the 4.77 40 and 30.5” vertical that Carson Wentz posted a year ago, though the Notre Dame product will be hard-pressed to match Wentz’s numbers in the agility drills.

Running Back

Winner: Elijah Hood
Loser: Wayne Gallman

Hood’s tested speed and agility as a 221-pound high schooler would be impressive even if they have not changed at all. He weighed 232 pounds on Wednesday, and unless he’s lost a step, he should have a very good weekend.

Gallman has never struck me as fast, explosive or agile. Translation: he’s just a guy to me. He runs hard and has a pretty well-rounded game but those who are very high on him are going to be disappointed by his test results.

Wide Receiver

Winner: Malachi Dupre
Loser: Zay Jones

Curtis Samuel, Speedy Noil, and Kermit Whitfield are going to dazzle with their speed, but Dupre is my pick for “winner” because of his superior height and length. Given his high-end explosiveness, it’s fair to estimate improvement in his 40 time, and his ability after the catch suggests he should at least match his shuttle time.

Jones has been a riser since the Senior Bowl, even landing in some top-five receiver rankings. But his 5.08 40 as a 170-pound high schooler is not indicative of a player who will test out well. Even if Jones cuts his 40 by half a second, he’ll check in at 4.58, a pedestrian time for his positional group.

Tight End

Winner: Bucky Hodges
Loser: Evan Engram

O.J. Howard already won the Senior Bowl, so I wanted to spread the wealth. I expect Hodges, a former high school QB, to measure, run and jump well, and generate some real buzz of his own.

I don’t actually think Engram will bomb this weekend, but his 4.95 40 and mediocre vert and shuttle as a 210-pound high school senior do not suggest a freakish athlete. I think he’ll do fine in most departments, but time more slowly than we’d like to see out of a 235-240 “flex” tight end prospect.

Offensive Line

Winner: Cam Robinson
Loser: Zach Banner

Robinson already weighed in at 6’6” 322 pounds with 35 1/2” arms, so he’s off to a good start. I expect his testing numbers to be solid, if not spectacular, for a guy his size. Mike Mayock is calling Robinson a guard, and some teams almost certainly have an eye on moving him to the right side, but in a supposedly weak class of offensive tackles, I believe Robinson will lock up the top OT spot on most boards by the end of the weekend.

Banner is a massive dude whose father, Lincoln Kennedy, was an accomplished NFL lineman himself. But if Banner is still up over 350 pounds (hell, even if he’s over 330), he will be ticketed for guard. Given that heft, I’m penciling him in at or near the bottom of O-line group in every test.

Defensive End

Winner: Solomon Thomas
Loser: Carl Lawson

Thomas’ high school vertical and short shuttle at over 250 pounds suggest to me that he will be able to improve on that 4.95 40 by three-tenths of a second or more. Knowing he’s now about 20 pounds heavier, if his other testing numbers remain steady, he will be one of the overall winners at the event. Those who have a top five or ten grade on Thomas will feel vindicated.

Lawson not only may disappoint in the athletic testing, but he is also likely to take a hit in the medical checks. He’ll at least be heavily scrutinized. Credit to Lawson for posting a strong season after two injury-riddled years, but I think he will face a fall into the middle of later part of Day Two.

Defensive Line

Winner: Eddie Vanderdoes
Loser: Jaleel Johnson

I’m not sure how much these athletic tests matter for guys like Vanderdoes and Johnson, but I believe that the former will continue to build on the momentum he started to generate at the Senior Bowl. Johnson, meanwhile, will need to demonstrate vast improvement across the board to keep his supporters from wavering.

Linebacker

Winner: Raekwon McMillan
Loser: Connor Harris

McMillan was a hot shot recruit who flashed early at Ohio State, but by his role in he defense never lended itself to splashy production. The rumor mill has him knocking his 40 time down into the 4.6s, which seems reasonable given the athleticism he’s shown in the past. If he tests as well as I expect, McMillan will solidify himself as a Day Two, and probable second round pick.

Harris is a squatty, short-armed ‘backer from a DII, so he’s already facing long odds to get drafted. But he has completely changed his body since high school, packing on almost 60 pounds, so who really knows what we’re getting here.

Cornerback

Winner: Kevin King
Loser: Treston Decoud

I’ve heard Washington’s King compared to Kevin Johnson as far as anticipated combine results go. Two years ago, Johnson ran a 4.52 with a 41 1/2” vert and a 3.89 shuttle, so this comp feels right on the money to me.

At 6’2” 203 and with 33 1/8” ams (per the Shrine Game), Decoud has desirable size for a corner. But from what I’ve seen so far, it’s unlikely he will have improved his 40 time by more than 0.4 seconds, from a 5.00 flat down into the high 4.5s. Speed is viewed as critical for his position, so even if he lands in the low 4.6s, Decoud will be ticketed for late round/undrafted free agency status.

Safety

Winner: Marcus Williams
Loser: Lorenzo Jerome

Williams was the best testing safety in this class across the board, with a 4.43 40, a 4.06 shuttle, and a near-40” vertical. If he matches those numbers and his arms are long enough, he’ll get some looks at corner in workouts. It’s a similar situation to fellow freak Sean Davis last year, and like Davis, Williams should come off the board in the second or third round.

Jerome lit up the all-star circuit with two interceptions each in the NFLPA Bowl and Senior Bowl, but the former high school QB’s SPARQ numbers don’t offer the promise of an eye-popping combine.

I’m not sure how predictive these numbers will prove to be. As I mentioned earlier this week, 51 players selected during the first two days of the 2015 and 2016 drafts improved their verticals by an average of two inches, their 40 times by 0.05 seconds, and their shuttles by an average of about one-tenth of a second. There were extremes on either side of the coin, so the study is a work in progress. Still, it’s fun to see how much some players can better themselves in college, and if the already outstanding athletes remained on the high end.

You can follow along with me on the sheet below. Players are sorted alphabetically by position, and by 40 times (fastest to slowest). The top score in each position group is in green, the low score is in red. Blue is above average, yellow is middle-of-the-road, and orange is below average. Athletic testing for this year’s NFL combine begins this Friday and continues throughout the weekend and into next Monday.

(Editor’s note) Apparently you cannot color code the tables, but check out Justin’s work here.

High School Sparq Testing

School Name Pos HT WT PT VJ 40-yard 20S
School Name Pos HT WT PT VJ 40-yard 20S
Ala Marlon Humphrey CB 6000 179 32.0 4.48 4.27
USC Adoree Jackson CB 5100 182 35.0 34.3 4.48
UCLA Fabian Moreau CB 5110 175 32.3 4.52 4.63
UCF Shaquill Giffin CB 6010 183 34.4 4.59 4.47
Mary William Likely CB 5070 172 36.1 4.59 4.50
Fla Quincy Wilson CB 6010 197 33.0 32.4 4.60 4.16
Iowa Desmond King CB 5110 178 26.0 4.60 5.13
Lamar Brendan Langley CB 6010 181 36.3 4.61 4.14
NC St Jack Tocho CB 6000 175 34.9 4.63 4.47
Fla Teez Tabor CB 6010 188 31.0 35.1 4.64 4.16
Was Kevin King CB 6020 172 38.6 4.67 3.93
Wis Sojourn Shelton CB 5100 152 34.4 4.68 4.19
Mich Jourdan Lewis CB 5100 159 32.0 4.68 4.34
LSU Tre’Davious White CB 5110 170 30.0 4.74 4.46
Okl St Ashton Lampkin CB 5110 175 28.8 4.83 5.06
Ore St Treston Decoud CB 6010 165 24.7 5.00 4.34
NW Ifeadi Odenigbo DE 6030 212 33.5 4.62 4.25
VT Ken Ekanem DE 6030 235 30.5 4.69 4.46
Ten Derek Barnett DE 6030 274 40.0 29.3 4.89 4.24
Mich Taco Charlton DE 6060 249 31.6 4.89 4.50
LSU Tashawn Bower DE 6050 241 28.7 4.89 4.75
YSU Derek Rivers DE 6030 200 30.5 4.92 4.72
Stan Solomon Thomas DE 6030 256 44.0 36.7 4.95 4.25
Fla Bryan Cox DE 6020 230 25.0 4.96 4.59
TAMU Myles Garrett DE 6050 247 34.0 5.08 4.94
Aub Carl Lawson DE 6030 251 26.0 5.11 4.87
Ark Deatrich Wise DE 6050 217 32.4 5.14 4.62
FSU DeMarcus Walker DL 6040 280 30.6 5.04 5.00
Okl St Vincent Taylor DL 6020 267 25.4 5.07 4.75
UCLA Eddie Vanderdoes DL 6030 310 30.3 5.12 4.61
Miss St D.J. Jones DL 6010 287 27.1 5.13 5.03
Tol Treyvon Hester DL 6030 275 24.2 5.17 5.07
LSU Davon Godchaux DL 6040 271 24.7 5.22 4.91
Aub Montravius Adams DL 6030 281 24.4 5.31 4.95
Fla Caleb Brantley DL 6030 304 26.7 5.39 4.70
Was Elijah Qualls DL 6010 282 25.8 5.39 4.81
Iowa Jaleel Johnson DL 6020 290 20.5 5.48 5.28
NW Anthony Walker LB 6010 207 35.1 4.48 4.44
BC Matt Milano LB 6000 194 34.3 4.64 4.23
Fla Alex Anzalone LB 6030 231 29.3 4.73 4.34
CSU Kevin Davis LB 6020 220 4.73 4.40
BSU Tanner Vallejo LB 6010 220 32.6 4.74 4.30
OSU Raekwon McMillan LB 6020 249 35.0 36.3 4.79 4.15
Ten Jalen Reeves-Maybin LB 6010 198 29.1 4.82 4.20
Lind Connor Harris LB 5110 183 22.0 4.85 4.52
Clem Ben Boulware LB 6010 225 30.1 5.03 4.17
Wyo Chase Roullier OL 6030 260 21.5 5.03 4.79
Ten St Jessamen Dunker OL 6060 315 24.3 5.13 5.02
Pitt Adam Bisnowaty OL 6060 277 26.0 5.21 4.72
Ala Cam Robinson OL 6050 330 41.0 27.3 5.27 4.87
Utah Sam Tevi OL 6050 271 26.8 5.30 4.63
SDSU Nico Siragusa OL 6050 310 22.5 5.31 4.91
Mia Danny Isidora OL 6030 336 18.0 5.41 4.95
USC Zach Banner OL 6080 305 19.6 5.54 5.34
UK Jon Toth OL 6050 290 22.0 5.76 5.03
Van William Holden OL 6060 270 21.5 5.76 5.23
USC Damien Mama OL 6040 370 48.0 22.8 5.97 4.84
Bay Seth Russell QB 6030 195 36.6 4.62 4.06
VT Jerod Evans QB 6030 202 30.9 4.63 4.31
Clem Deshaun Watson QB 6030 190 39.0 34.2 4.89 4.24
Ten Josh Dobbs QB 6030 190 29.0 4.94
ND DeShone Kizer QB 6050 216 34.0 27.4 4.96 4.41
FSU Dalvin Cook RB 5110 196 38.0 30.9 4.46 4.18
UNC Elijah Hood RB 6000 221 42.5 37.0 4.48 4.20
Ten Alvin Kamara RB 5100 192 39.1 4.55 4.28
USF Marlon Mack RB 5110 192 36.0 32.9 4.60 4.59
USC Justin Davis RB 6010 199 37.3 4.71 4.12
NC St Matt Dayes RB 5080 193 26.5 4.71 4.51
IU Devine Redding RB 5100 187 32.8 4.75 4.36
FSU Freddie Stevenson RB 6010 230 28.8 4.80 4.87
Okl St Chris Carson RB 6010 190 33.5 4.84 4.28
Clem Wayne Gallman RB 6010 200 30.1 4.85 4.57
Tem Jahad Thomas RB 5100 163 31.5 4.88 4.41
BYU Jamaal Williams RB 6010 180 32.0 4.90 4.31
LSU Leonard Fournette RB 6010 226 38.5 29.9 4.30
Utah Marcus Williams S 5110 197 39.4 4.43 4.06
Mich Lano Hill S 6000 198 31.6 4.44 4.34
LSU Jamal Adams S 6000 204 40.0 34.0 4.48 4.23
TAMU Justin Evans S 6000 179 34.4 4.48 4.40
Was Budda Baker S 5090 174 38.0 35.0 4.51 4.15
Mia Rayshawn Jenkins S 6010 190 33.7 4.57 4.18
MSU Montae Nicholson S 6020 210 35.0 34.3 4.60 4.28
Fla Marcus Maye S 6000 195 31.9 4.64 4.23
Min Damarius Travis S 6010 185 27.9 4.67 4.75
St Fr Lorenzo Jerome S 5110 176 26.2 4.90 4.60
Ala O.J. Howard TE 6060 225 34.0 4.49 4.31
Clem Jordan Leggett TE 6060 225 26.0 4.60 4.81
VT Bucky Hodges TE 6060 220 34.8 4.70 4.37
Iowa George Kittle TE 6040 205 27.5 4.86 4.37
Ole Miss Evan Engram TE 6030 210 30.6 4.95 4.53
FIU Jonnu Smith TE 6010 196 31.6 4.97 4.62
OSU Curtis Samuel WR 5110 186 35.0 40.7 4.36 4.07
FSU Kermit Whitfield WR 5090 176 34.3 4.37 4.15
TAMU Speedy Noil WR 6000 176 41.0 44.1 4.45 3.87
WVU Shelton Gibson WR 5110 173 27.0 4.48 4.30
PSU Chris Godwin WR 6020 203 36.5 33.6 4.48 4.31
Ten Josh Malone WR 6020 191 39.0 31.1 4.49 4.01
Ark Keon Hatcher WR 6020 205 33.5 4.50 4.62
Tulsa Keevan Lucas WR 5100 180 4.50
UNC Ryan Switzer WR 5090 170 32.5 4.52 3.91
FSU Travis Rudolph WR 6010 188 40.0 33.9 4.52 4.20
Bay K.D. Cannon WR 6000 163 34.0 34.4 4.56 4.15
UGA Isaiah McKenzie WR 5080 160 35.0 36.0 4.56 4.54
Mia Stacy Coley WR 6010 173 30.0 4.57 4.35
LSU Malachi Dupre WR 6030 187 35.5 42.4 4.58 4.10
Clem Artavis Scott WR 5110 179 34.0 34.1 4.62 4.23
USF Rodney Adams WR 6010 166 31.1 4.68 4.50
Akr Jerome Lane WR 6020 203 30.7 4.69 4.40
ODU Zach Pascal WR 6010 176 30.1 4.70 4.40
USC JuJu Smith-Schuster WR 6010 206 34.5 32.7 4.71 4.27
AF Jalen Robinette WR 6040 191 31.1 4.71 4.49
LSU Travin Dural WR 6010 175 25.5 4.72 4.51
Lou James Quick WR 6000 180 27.6 4.72 4.65
Ark Drew Morgan WR 5110 175 29.9 4.86 4.28
VT Isaiah Ford WR 6010 161 31.0 4.86 4.42
ECU Zay Jones WR 5110 170 27.6 5.08 4.47
OSU Noah Brown WR 6020 215 39.0 25.3