INDIANAPOLIS — Wednesday marked the first day of prospect press conferences at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine, with defensive linemen and linebackers leading things off at the podiums. Here are six things we learned from their sessions with reporters on the eve of their workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
NOTE:Tune in to NFL Network and NFL+ for live coverage of the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine beginning at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 2.
1) Wilson already impressing: Texas Tech edge rusher Tyree Wilson, NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s No. 6 overall prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft, won’t be working out at the combine, as he’s still recovering from a season-ending foot injury. Wilson, who just started running again recently, said he might consider bench pressing in Indianapolis but otherwise will wait until his pro day on March 29 to perform his battery of tests.
“I plan to be 100 percent by then,” Wilson said.
It’s a good year for pass rushers, but Wilson stands alone in a few areas — mainly his impressive length combined with rare athleticism for a player of his size.
“I feel like I’m a different pass rusher than most, you know,” he said. “I’m not just committed to power. I feel like I could do power and speed and you know, be effective inside and outside.
“Really just being that dominant dude on the field each and every game.”
While he won’t be taking the field to work out at the combine, that doesn’t mean Wilson isn’t making a good impression here in Indianapolis. The former Red Raiders star is among the prospects earning rave reviews for their interviews with NFL teams, per Jeremiah. — Eric Edholm
2) Respect for Bijan: Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. is among the most decorated prospects at the combine and a candidate to be one of the first players selected this year. He recorded 34.5 sacks, 62 tackles for loss and even a pick-six over three brilliant seasons with the Crimson Tide, who won a national championship his freshman year and lost in the title game his sophomore campaign.
Anderson’s nickname is “The Terminator,” so called for his fearless, relentless rush style. So, when Anderson was asked Wednesday to name the toughest opponent he faced in college, media ears perked up.
And his answer — after mulling it over for a few moments — was a bit surprising to me and definitely enlightening: Texas running back Bijan Robinson.
“(Robinson) was a big back,” Anderson said. “We had to gang tackle him. We had to get all hats to the ball.”
What’s surprising about it has less to do with Robinson himself and more about the fact that Anderson picked a skill-position player and not, say, a massive offensive tackle. And not even an SEC player, to boot.
Robinson nearly led an upset of the Tide last season, accumulating 130 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in Alabama’s eventual 20-19 victory on Sept. 10. Although Robinson was held to 2.7 yards per carry — Anderson explained Alabama sold out to stop the run – Robinson still managed to catch three passes for 73 yards in the game.
“We knew (Robinson) was going to break a few tackles,” Anderson said. “We knew we had to tackle him the right way. But he was probably the toughest I faced.”
Teams often are hesitant to use high picks on running backs, but if other players heap praise on Robinson the way Anderson did, the Longhorns back should do well for himself come April. — Eric Edholm
3) Following the Watt path? Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness, NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks’ No. 3 edge rusher in the draft, continues to find himself playing the role of unseasoned newbie. He didn’t start playing tackle football until eighth grade, was just a three-star recruit out of Barrington, Illinois, redshirted his first year at Iowa and didn’t start playing defensive end for the Hawkeyes until last spring. Now he’s preparing for another significant change in his life.
His story somewhat mirrors that of his favorite NFL player, the recently retired J.J. Watt, who switched positions from tight end to defensive end, walked on at Wisconsin and made himself into a first-round pick. Van Ness said Wednesday he spent years watching Watt with the goal of modeling the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year’s game.
Watt measured 6-foot-5, 290 pounds at the combine in 2011, while Van Ness is listed by Iowa at 6-5 and 275 pounds. They’re both big, brawny individuals who win with sheer power and determination. Van Ness has another advantage: He’s already become a physical presence thanks to his experience as an interior defensive lineman.
“Everything happens a little faster inside,” he said. “You’ve got to be good with your hands, play with a lower pad level, but it taught me all of the fundamentals of playing good defensive line. I think that really translated to my outside play, helping play with good leverage, be physical. I attribute a lot of my play (in 2022) to my years before playing inside.”
Van Ness didn’t get his physicality from the defensive interior alone. He grew up playing as a defenseman in hockey, where he often had the attention of officials on the rink.
“It’s probably not good to say, but my last two years, I think I led the league in penalties, just due to my size,” Van Ness said with a smile. “Unfortunately, it was just part of the game. There’s really not many big kids that play hockey. So just due to my size and my weight, I was able to sustain a lot of penalties that in my mind I don’t think were fair.” — Nick Shook
4) Will Giants reunite the Ojulari brothers in Big Apple? Two years after the G-Men selected Azeez Ojulari out of Georgia with the 50th pick of the 2021 draft, Azeez’s younger brother, BJ Ojulari, is one of the top 50 prospects available, per Jeremiah’s rankings. The Giants might have more pressing needs at the moment, but adding another talented edge rusher certainly wouldn’t hurt. BJ said he met with the team at the combine and had “a great feeling walking out of that room after that formal interview.”
Perhaps GM Joe Schoen will decide the idea of pairing the Ojulari brothers off the edge is too good to pass up.
“We’ve always talked about (playing together in the NFL),” said BJ, who posted 16.5 sacks for LSU over the past three seasons. “When he went to college, he wanted me to come play with him, but I took my different route. So, this, I don’t have the power to choose that (in the draft). If I end up with him, I think it’s going to be a blessing as well, to be able to play with my brother again and dominate on the opposite side of the (defense).” — Dan Parr
5) Emulating Garrett: Add Clemson edge rusher Myles Murphy to the list of multi-sport standouts who found their first passions away from the gridiron. Murphy, the sixth overall pick in Brooks’ most recent mock draft, said Wednesday his favorite sport as a teen was baseball. He was a first baseman, outfielder and pitcher. As a left-hander, he told reporters he reached 90 mph with his fastball but admitted he didn’t have the best control.
“I really thought that was going to be the path that I had,” Murphy said. “I had those MLB dreams.”
Murphy wasn’t bashful when asked for his go-to pitch: A two-seam fastball.
Murphy isn’t just about speed when it comes to football, though, explaining he bases his approach on a style similar to that of Browns star Myles Garrett.
“I take a few pieces from T.J. Watt, J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Khalil Mack, a little bit of everybody,” Murphy said. “T.J. Watt, we’re two different types of pass rushers. He’s a smaller, slender pass rusher. I’m a bigger guy, I like to start off with power. That’s why I model my game after Myles Garrett.” — Nick Shook
6) Carter facing charges: The notable absence from Wednesday’s press conferences was Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter. He had been scheduled to meet with the media at 10:30 a.m. ET, but there was a change of plans after news broke that he is the subject of arrest warrants in Athens, Georgia, on reckless driving and racing charges as a result of an ongoing investigation into a fatal Jan. 15 car crash.
Carter issued a statement later on Wednesday, saying he intended to return to Athens “to answer the misdemeanor charges against me and to make certain that the complete and accurate truth is presented.”
The 21-year-old was rated the top player in the draft by Jeremiah in rankings published on Monday. – Dan Parr
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