Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. In today’s installment, he offers up a personalized primer for the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.
The NFL Scouting Combine is on the horizon, with hundreds of top prospects looking to impress during a series of on-field workouts and off-field interviews. Though scouts place greater emphasis on previous play between the lines, these proceedings in Indianapolis will enable evaluators to complete their scouting reports and issue final grades ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft.
For my own scouting purposes, the combine is the perfect time to compare notes from my film study with the information that I learn from observing prospects complete a battery of agility drills and positional work. Although skeptics will dismiss the value of watching prospects in T-shirts and shorts, astute evaluators can project a player’s long-term potential by examining his movements in drills.
The combine sheds light on prospects’ physical dimensions (height, weight, hand size and wing span), while also supplying official results in the 40-yard dash, vertical leap and other testing drills. And these gifted athletes participate in positional workouts that are designed to showcase specific skills. The workouts give scouts the opportunity to see some of the athletic traits that are not always displayed in game tape. Moreover, the combine provides a side-by-side comparison of similarly graded prospects, helping evaluators determine final rankings on draft boards. With interviews, medical examinations and psychological testing also on the agenda, this event truly is an essential piece of the evaluation puzzle.
With all of that in mind, I have compiled a list of prospects I cannot wait to see in Indy. Here are 10 intriguing players to watch at this year’s combine:
Many draft analysts, including my colleague Daniel Jeremiah, have Young as the top quarterback prospect in this class. The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner displays the arm talent, football IQ and clutch playmaking of a franchise quarterback. However, his slender frame and sub-standard height lead to concerns about durability at the NFL level.
Now, teams regularly make exceptions for elite players who lack prototypical dimensions. Kyler Murray’s stature was a huge topic of conversation heading into the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine. He ultimately checked in at 5-foot-10 1/8 and 207 pounds. Apparently that was big enough, as Murray went on to be selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft. In the years since, he’s won Offensive Rookie of the Year, made two Pro Bowls and signed $230.5 million contract extension. Has his diminutive frame brought about some of the health issues he’s suffered at the NFL level? Maybe, maybe not — that’s hard to determine with any certainty. But clearly, his smaller size hasn’t stopped him from performing at a pretty high level.
All of that said, Murray is more densely built than Young. And Murray is a more explosive athlete than Young. This further underscores a growing question with all of the different body types emerging at the game’s most important position: How small is TOO small? So, yeah, the Alabama product’s height/weight measurements could be the most highly anticipated numbers of the entire 2023 combine.
As an explosive playmaker with A+ size and speed, Johnston has the potential to leave Indianapolis as this draft class’ WR1 if he can dazzle on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf. This prospect pool generally lacks size at the receiver position, increasing the appeal for a big-bodied playmaker like Johnston. But some draftniks remain skeptical about how his game will translate to the next level.
Despite the TCU standout’s rich contributions in Sonny Dykes’ version of the Air Raid offense — contributions that helped the Horned Frogs take college football by storm this past fall and advance all the way to the national championship game — questions persist about the wideout’s hands and ability to separate. With a chance to show coaches and scouts that he can deftly run the entire route tree and consistently corral the football, the extra-large pass catcher can abate potential concerns about his skill set.
As a unanimous five-star recruit with an impressive track background, Ringo arrived at Georgia with a whole heap o’ hype. He was forced to redshirt his first year on campus due to a shoulder injury, but started on each of the Bulldogs’ back-to-back national championship teams over the past two seasons, earning second-team All-SEC honors this past fall. A size-speed combo with explosiveness, Ringo has all of the surface-level attributes NFL teams are looking for at the cornerback position. But there are questions about his anticipation, technique and ability to track the football in the air. His tape from the 2022 campaign was a mixed bag.
Ringo’s rare athleticism should shine in the combine setting. The question is how he’ll perform in positional drills. If he can showcase better-than-anticipated footwork and technique, as well as scheme versatility, Ringo could see his draft stock soar.
The supersized tight end is built like an offensive tackle, but moves like a receiver in space. College football fans certainly recall his tackle-breaking, hurdling, 25-yard gain in Georgia’ season-opening blowout of Oregon. Washington’s combination of superb run-blocking skills and extraordinary athleticism — at 6-7 and 270 pounds, according to Georgia’s listing — make him a unicorn at a position that has become the biggest mismatch spot in football. The combine is made for freak shows, and this guy fits the bill.
If Washington can display refined skills as a route runner and pass catcher, he could push his way into serious first-round consideration as a rare specimen with blue-chip traits.
The electric runner displays remarkable stop-start quickness and short-area burst. In addition, Spears has impressed as a versatile playmaker with the potential to impact the game as a runner and receiver.
Given another opportunity to shine in front of NFL coaches and scouts after a magnificent performance at the Senior Bowl, this explosive playmaker could drive up his value in a crowded running back class.
The mammoth interior blocker could move into top-10 consideration with a strong performance in Indianapolis. A three-year starter at Louisiana, Torrence followed head coach Billy Napier to Florida for the 2022 campaign and absolutely flourished in the SEC, earning first-team All-American honors from the Associated Press.
A bona fide people mover in the run game, Torrence has displayed light feet and outstanding balance in pass protection. He can cement his status as a blue-chip prospect in Indy with an impressive showing in positional drills.
The 2021 Buck Buchanan Award winner (top defensive player in FCS) is poised to build on a solid performance at the Senior Bowl that showcased his versatility and disruptive potential as a front-seven defender.
With another chance to show off his athleticism and movement skills among the best players from the FBS ranks, Land can entice teams to view him as a front-line hybrid (edge rusher/linebacker) with the potential to play multiple spots in a defense that features various sub-packages and personnel groupings.
The prolific pass catcher (SEE: 195 catches for 2,364 yards and 19 touchdowns over the past two seasons at North Carolina) flashes elite traits as a slot receiver with excellent ball skills and route ability. But questions about his size could derail his chances of entering the Round 1 conversation if he fails to post athletic numbers that overshadow physical deficiencies.
If Downs blazes the Lucas Oil Stadium turf with an exceptional time in the 40-yard dash and shows great change-of-direction skills in the shuttle drills, coaches and scouts are more likely to ignore the durability concerns associated with slender pass catchers in the league.
It is rare for a member of one of the service academies to grade out as a top-notch draft prospect, but Carter could be the exception as a high-end player with A+ physical dimensions and athletic attributes. The Army standout burst on the scene in 2021 with 15.5 sacks during a breakout junior season. His senior campaign wasn’t nearly as statistically dominant, though he dealt with injury and extra blocking attention from every single team the Black Knights played.
If Carter displays his unique skills with a spectacular workout, the long, rangy pass rusher could boost his draft stock and emerge as one of the stories of draft weekend.
Teams looking for a dynamic “traffic cop” will pay close attention to Simpson’s performance in Indy. A swift linebacker with outstanding sideline-to-sideline range, the Clemson product checks many boxes as a second-level defender with A+ athleticism.
That said, the NFL’s current status as an overwhelmingly pass-centric league will challenge Simpson’s proficiency in coverage. He must display enough awareness and ability to hold up against the pass in order to warrant a Day 1 grade.
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