2018 NFL Combine: Leighton Vander Esch, Shaquem Griffin crush their workouts
Marcus Davenport also starred as the defensive tackles, edge-rushers and linebackers dropped jaws
INDIANAPOLIS -- The 2018 NFL Combine rolled into Sunday with the defensive linemen, edge-rushers, and linebackers running through the gauntlet of drills inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
While the edge-rusher class is lacking after Bradley Chubb, Marcus Davenport and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, this defensive tackle class is overflowing with premier talents ready to be productive players right away in the NFL.
Here are my biggest takeaways from the workouts featuring the defensive front seven prospects.
Defensive Line Winners
Da'Ron Payne, Alabama -- The young, ultra-talented former Crimson Tide star ran an official 4.95 in the 40 at north of 6-foot-2 and 311 pounds. That's freakish. Since 2000, only 10 defensive linemen participating in the combine to hit the 6-2 and 310-pound marks ran a faster 40 time. In the on-field work, Payne moved fluidly without awkward change of direction. Payne had a 1.67 10-yard split time in his 40 -- think initial explosion -- which is ridiculous for his size. For perspective there, Panthers wideout Devin Funchess -- who was 6-4 and 232 pounds at the 2015 combine -- had a 10-yard split of 1.67.
Vita Vea, Washington -- From a weight-adjusted perspective, Vea is almost unfathomably fast. Since 2000, there've been 47 prospects who weighed in at 345-plus pounds at the combine. Vea's 5.10 in the 40 is tied for the fifth-fastest time among that group of exceptionally large human beings. He had a 10-yard split of 1.77, one hundredth of a second faster than the time Bills tight end Nick O'Leary had at the 2015 combine.
Taven Bryan, Florida -- The J.J. Watt comparison train will chug forward after Bryan's combine workout. At nearly the identical height and weight as the Texans' star, Bryan ran an official 40-yard dash of 4.98 seconds. Watt ran 4.91 in 2011. However, Bryan had a faster 10-yard split (1.68) than Watt (1.71). Bryan had a 9-foot-11 broad jump. Watt's was 10-foot. In the vertical, Bryan leaped 35 inches. Watt had a 37-inch vertical. Lastly, the former Florida stud had a 7.12 three-cone time. Watt's was 6.88. From an athletic perspective Bryan is extremely close to Watt, he just has shorter arms. Think of him as J.J. Watt Lite.
Ade Aruna, Tulane -- A deep sleeper in need of some refinement at the next level, Aruna certainly has the athletic gifts to thrive in the NFL. At almost 6-5 and 262 pounds, he ran 4.60 with a blazing 1.60 10-yard split. He had a 10-foot-8 broad jump, the best among the defensive-line group, and a springy 38.5-inch vertical, also the best at his position. Aruna struggled in the three-cone drill but undoubtedly is a super-explosive defensive line prospect.
Defensive Line Losers
Andrew Brown, Virginia - The defensive star of the Senior Bowl and an uninspiring combine performance, especially relative to the type of burst he showcases on film. At just over 6-3 and 293 pounds, the Virginia product ran 5.03, jumped 28 inches in the vertical, had a strangely low 8-foot-5 broad jump and 7.51 in the three-cone drill.
Derrick Nnadi, Florida State - Nnadi is probably a nose tackle in the NFL, so not crushing the combine isn't devastating for his draft stock. At 6-1 and 317 pounds he had 5.30 time in the 40. In the vertical, he leaped 27 inches. He had an 8-foot broad jump and an 8.15 three-cone drill.
Marcus Davenport, UTSA -- Explosive. That's the one-word scouting report for Davenport. At almost 6-6 and 260-plus pounds, Davenport lit the 40-yard dash on fire with a 4.58 and had a 1.63 10-yard split. Those numbers are comparable to former No. 5 overall pick -- and similarly sized -- Ziggy Ansah and aren't far away from the speed Jadeveon Clowney displayed at the 2014 combine before going first overall.
Shaquem Griffin, UCF -- Griffin ran an official 4.38 in the 40-yard dash, clearly a superb time, even at 227 pounds. He wreaked havoc on the edge in college and should play there in a sub-package role in the NFL. Let him stand up and rush the passer around the corner. His combine workout could move his stock all the way into the third round. Seriously.
Bradley Chubb, NC State -- Chubb just needed to have a respectable showing to stay inside the Top 5. Instead, he crushed his workout, running a 4.65 at 269 pounds with a lightning quick 1.63 10-yard split. He had a 36-inch vertical too. Chubb's three-cone time of 7.37 seconds was slower than expected, but it'll be a surprise if he gets past the Colts at No. 3 overall.
Josh Sweat, Florida State -- A former top 10 overall recruit in the country, Sweat has always been a gifted athlete. His 10-yard split of 1.55 in the 40 is a wide-receiver type figure. Bengals star A.J. Green had a 1.55 10-yard split at the 2011 combine. He jumped 39.5 inches in the vertical test and had a 10-foot-4 broad jump -- outrageous. Sweat's film shows inconsistency and a lack of pass-rushing polish, but he's squarely in the elite athleticism category, and is probably a Day Two lock now.
Harold Landry, Boston College -- It was all about the burst and agility for Landry. He had a super-quick 10-yard split of 1.59, jumped 9-feet-11 in the broad and had a 36-inch vertical. He timed at 6.88 in the three-cone -- beating the important 7.00 threshold -- and a low 4.19 in the short shuttle. He's not a defender who uses his hands well but those are some Vic Beasley-type combine figures.
Sam Hubbard, Ohio State -- Another edge-rusher with mediocre film in 2017, Hubbard knocked the vital three-cone drill out of the park at a hefty 270 pounds. He had the fastest time in that drill (6.84) of the edge-rushers. He also had a solid 35-inch vertical.
Arden Key, LSU -- Key decided not the run the 40-yard dash, which is strange because on paper, at nearly 6-6 and just 238 pounds, he would've (or should've) ran a fast time. In the on-field work, Key looked surprisingly clunky at times, particularly in the bag drill that asks defenders to bend the edge.
Hercules Mata'afa, Washington State -- If he had the size to play on the interior of a defensive line in the NFL, Mata'afa's combine workout would be fine. But at 6-2 and 254 pounds, he's likely bound for an outside spot. He ran 4.76. Ehhh. His 10-yard split of 1.64 wasn't bad. Also, a 31.5-inch vertical and 9-foot broad jump suggest he lost some of his patented explosiveness (likely) getting up to 254 for the combine. The same idea applies to his 7.24 three-cone time.
Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State -- The former Boise State star took full advantage of Tremaine Edmunds, his main, similarly-sized competition, sitting out the majority of the measured drills. Vander Esch ran 4.65 at slightly over 6-4 and 256 pounds. He proceeded to crush the rest of his workout. He had a 39.5-inch vertical, a 10-foot-4 broad, and a superbly quick time of 6.88 in the three-cone drill. His 4.15 in the short shuttle was an awesome time too. He can now be classified as a combine freak.
Dorian O'Daniel, Clemson -- Projected to play weakside linebacker in the NFL, the nearly 6-1, 223-pound O'Daniel dominated the agility drills on Sunday. He had the fastest three-cone (6.64) and short shuttle (4.07) among the linebackers at this year's combine.
Matthew Thomas, Florida State -- Thomas demonstrated serious explosiveness during his workout. He had a crazy 41.5-inch vertical at 232 pounds, broad jumped 10-feet-11 and had a 6.85 three-cone drill. His stock will rise.
Oren Burks, Vanderbilt - The underrated linebacker from Vandy turned in an impressive combine workout on Sunday. At 6-3 and 233 pounds, he ran 4.59, jumped 39.5 inches in the verticla and had an 10-foot-11 broad jump. He finished the day with a lightning-quick 6.82 three-cone drill. Burks is a springier but less refined version of former Vanderbilt linebacker and teammate Zach Cunningham who was picked in the second round by the Texans last year.
Malik Jefferson, Texas -- We didn't get agility times for Jefferson, but in the linear explosion tests, he performed very well, running 4.52 with a 36-inch vertical and a 10-foot-5 broad jump. That matches with his strength on tape. Jefferson flies from sideline to sideline.
Leon Jacobs, Wisconsin -- A super-experienced linebacker who wore many hats on the Wisconsin defense is a chiseled athlete, and he had a fine workout on Sunday. At 6-1 and 246, Jacobs ran a superb 4.48 in the 40-yard dash, jumped 34.5 inches in the vertical and had a 10-foot-2 broad jump. He'll probably be picked in the fourth round to sixth round range.
Christian Sam, Arizona State -- Maybe weighing in at 244 wasn't the best move for the former Arizona State second-level defender. He ran 4.75 in the 40, had a 32-inch vertical and a 9-foot-6 broad jump. His three-cone time of 7.03 was actually pretty impressive at his weight though.
Chris Worley, Ohio State -- At slightly over 6-1 and 238 pounds, Worley ran 4.86 and had a vertical of 29.5 inches. He's more of a thumper than anything on film -- like Sam -- but those numbers suggest he's limited as an athlete. He's likely destined for an inside spot in a base 3-4 alignment.
Keishawn Bierria, Washington -- At a few tenths of an inch taller than 6-0 and 230 pounds, Bierria needed a big day to boost his stock. Unfortunately that didn't happen. He ran 4.79, had a 30.5-inch vertical and a 9-foot-9 broad jump. Those numbers indicate the linebacker doesn't have dynamic athleticism.
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