- Winners and Losers: DL/LB
INDIANAPOLIS — There were some big guys on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf at the NFL Scouting Combine on Saturday night. The top defensive linemen in the 2020 NFL Draft class worked hard to show NFL teams they have what it takes to excel at the next level. Linebackers also had their chance to shine. However, with Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen both suffering injuries during their second 40-yard dash runs and several other prospects sitting out for medical or personal reasons, it gave some lesser-known players the spotlight.
The vast majority of young men at the combine perform as expected. A few "winners" exceed those expectations, though, or at least meet very high expectations facing them coming into the event. A strong combine is unlikely to push a Day 3 prospect into the first round, but it can allow him to win tiebreakers over other similarly valued players at his position.
Unfortunately, others fail to change scouts’ minds about deficiencies keeping them from being at the top of the class. Thankfully for those players, the combine is only one part of a robust evaluation process. Teams will add the workout data from Indy to the prospects’ game tape, all-star game performances, interviews and background checks to determine their final grade.
While the timing results and measurements are key data from the event, the on-field workouts are also important. Let’s face it, it’s as close to actual football as we get in Indianapolis this week. I focus on that aspect of the combine experience in these articles nearly as much as the various testing results.
Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson: Simmons sat out on-field drills, but he did more than enough during the testing portion of his workout to confirm that he is indeed the type of freakish athlete that teams will covet in the draft. He led all linebackers with a 4.39-second 40-yard dash. He also impressed with a 39-inch vertical and 11-foot broad jump. The 238-pounder is the first player since at least 2003 to record a 38-plus-inch vertical jump, broad jump of 11 feet or more and a sub-4.4 40-yard dash at the combine while weighing 230-plus pounds, per NFL Research.
Shaun Bradley, LB, Temple: Bradley, who already had "Temple Tough" on his resume, added "Temple Fast" to his scouting report with a 4.51 40 time. The future NFL starting inside linebacker tested well in other areas (10-1 broad jump) and impressed with his agility in drills. His footwork over pads and fluidity in drops were noticeable. Teams are looking for productive players with speed to operate over the middle — Bradley fits that bill.
Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU: Blacklock was an explosive interior defender for the Horned Frogs, and his combine workout showed teams he possesses the athleticism to play anywhere around the line of scrimmage. His 4.9 40 and 29-inch vertical jump portended a quality on-field workout, and he didn’t disappoint. Blacklock consistently showed quick feet in drills, getting over field pads in a hurry and moving laterally while making it look effortless. He showed his lack of experience bending on the edge in some drills, but given his athletic profile, I don’t expect that to be an issue.
Neville Gallimore, DT, Oklahoma: Gallimore checked in at 304 pounds earlier this week, but still ran a 4.79 40. He moved like a 285-pound version of himself through the various drills on Saturday. His punch to pads was as powerful as anyone on the field, sending the upright pad to a horizontal state. His full-out effort caused him to lose his balance trying to bend around corners a couple times, but I think scouts will forgive him for that because of the flexibility he demonstrated.
Willie Gay Jr., LB, Mississippi State: Gay needed to hit this combine out of the park, and he did. He didn’t quite get to the 4.3s in his 40 (he predicted he would hit that mark earlier this week) but his speed was still impressive for a 243-pounder (4.46, 1.50 10-yard split). Gay jumped a mile high (39.5-inch vertical) and I watched him attack the broad jump with reckless abandon (11-4). The quick feet were obvious as he followed coaches’ instructions to move side to side and back and forth during drills. Gay has likely had to answer questions about some off-field issues from his Mississippi State career during interviews with teams this week, but his athleticism did plenty of talking on Saturday night.
DaVon Hamilton, DT, Ohio State: It took Hamilton time to get on the field for the Buckeyes because of the talent in Columbus. He played well as a senior, though, and excelled at the Senior Bowl last month. He should be taking another step up draft boards thanks to his combine performance. He impressed me with his movement skills on the various on-field drills. He kept his center of gravity low throughout the workout, pounded the bags as he slalomed through them and presented some nice bend in the new run-the-hoops drill. His 5.14 40 time at 320 pounds is fine; he lifted 33 reps on the bench press (with 33-inch arms) and jumped 29.5 inches vertically. This nose tackle showed teams he has the athleticism to be a long-time NFL player.
Malik Harrison, LB, Ohio State: Pegged as an inside ‘backer, Harrison actually looked athletic enough to play SAM ‘backer in some NFL schemes. There was no wasted movement in his drops or change-of-direction drills. A 4.66 40 at 247 pounds was good to see, as were his 36-inch vertical and 10-2 broad jump. Displaying this position versatility will definitely push him up boards.
Jacob Phillips, LB, LSU: Former LSU Tigers may make up a large share of the top 100 picks this year, thanks to guys like Phillips. He ran a bit faster than expected (4.66 40) and was explosive in the jumps (39-inch vertical, 10-6 broad). His junior-year tape exhibited good athleticism, which meant there was no surprise when he was able to quickly step over pads and fluidly change directions in the field workout. Phillips was a big part of a pretty strong performance by the inside linebacker group on Saturday.
Logan Wilson, LB, Wyoming: Wilson cemented top-100 consideration with an excellent combine performance. Despite weighing a solid 241 pounds, he was fast (4.63 40, 1.54 10-yard split) on the runway. His jumps were adequate (32-inch vertical, 10-1 broad) but his safety-like movement (and hands) during on-field work made it evident he can handle coverage responsibilities on Sundays.
Jabari Zuniga, DE, Florida: Zuniga came into the combine needing a big week to climb toward a top-100 selection — and I think he got the job done. He started with a solid 4.64 40 at 264 pounds. He led all defensive linemen in the broad jump (10-7) and had a solid 33-inch vertical. While he’s not the most flexible edge player, Zuniga had the best combination of bend and power among the true defensive ends in his group throughout the drills. In a class not brimming with elite hand-down rushers, he did himself a favor with his efforts in Indy.
A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa: Epenesa made many plays for the Hawkeyes using hustle and power. Scouts questioned his athleticism coming into the combine, and his performance on Saturday likely won’t do anything to assuage their suspicions. The 5.04 40 at 275 pounds was not exceptional, and his on-field work showed a lack of suddenness and bend off the edge. It’s clear to me that his future is as a five-technique at the next level, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he added some weight to play that spot. His jump results were not bad (32.5-inch vertical, 9-9 broad), so there’s some lower-body explosiveness to work with. NFL teams should give Epenesa credit for working out instead of choosing to wait until his pro day — but there’s not a lot of 275-pound defensive linemen with 5.0 40s going in the first round these days.
Trevon Hill, edge rusher, Miami: Hill had some interest as a potential top-100 prospect this season, but teams will likely be disappointed in his athleticism results from the combine. At just 248 pounds, he ran a 4.89 40 and managed pedestrian jump figures (28-inch vertical, 9-5 broad). His hustle and hand versatility may earn him a draft slot, but it probably won’t be as high as originally anticipated.
Rashard Lawrence, DT, LSU: Lawrence measured 6-foot-2, so he’s not among the taller defensive linemen in the class. Yet on the field, he failed to show much ability to bend or drop his hips. He was consistently stiff and upright in drills. Lawrence played that way at LSU, so this was no real surprise — but this workout confirmed the issue. He showed fair straight-line speed, and a team will value his strong get-off and pure power on the defensive line at some point in the draft. I expect him to have a long career in the trenches, but I don’t think his combine workout will convince a team to use a top-50 selection to acquire his services.
Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @chad_reuter.
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