2020 NFL Combine burning questions answered: Which prospects will erupt, who needs a big workout, and more
Answering the most pressing questions leading into the 2020 NFL Combine in Indianapolis
While film trumps all, the NFL combine answers many questions for scouts, GMs, head coaches, draft analysts, and fans about a player's athletic ability when transitioning from the college game to the pros.
Therefore, this is a combine preview that aims to provide the answers to what I figure are the most pressing questions leading into this year's combine.
Which prospects will erupt at the combine?
Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson
There's been more build-up to Simmons' combine performance than any other prospect in the 2020 class. Expected to measure in around 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, the Clemson star is the prototype for the modern-day linebacker/safety, and his range on the field is phenomenal. He's incredibly explosive and should destroy the vertical and broad jumps along with running a blistering time relative to his size in the 40. I genuinely believe Simmons will receive top-5 overall buzz after the combine.
Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
Wirfs is a weight room legend at Iowa, breaking records there as early as his sophomore season. One of the best offensive tackle prospects in this class, Wirfs should be near the top in the bench press, but he's expected to excel in the on-field drills too. On film, the Iowa standout glides in pass protection with short, controlled steps and has minimal delay when needing to change directions. For being a "power" blocker, Wirfs is an awesome athlete, and he should show that in Indianapolis.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
With Wisconsin running backs, we typically don't think "pure speed," but Taylor is like lightning down the field. While he isn't expected to best Saquon Barkley's iconic performance at the combine, don't be shocked when the three-time 1,700-plus yard runner has a workout close to Barkley across the board. Taylor could get some late first-round hype after he weighs in over 220 pounds and runs in the low 4.40s.
Kyle Dugger, LB/S, Lenoir-Rhyne
Dugger did not look out of place against Power 5 competition at the Senior Bowl. In fact, he put on a show in Mobile. Taller than 6-0 and around 220 pounds with experience ranging from the deep middle at safety and aggressively attacking outside runs, Dugger is, in a way, Simmons-Lite in this class. His athleticism pops on film, from his smooth change-of-direction transitions to his flat-out speed to the football in coverage or in run support. We will all learn plenty about Division II Lenoir-Rhyne during this pre-draft process thanks to Dugger putting himself on the map after the combine.
Who will run the fastest?
Henry Ruggs, WR, Alabama
Ruggs is the unquestioned headliner in the combine's most hyped event. He looked like an Olympian in the hyper-fast SEC during his time at Alabama, as he scored 24 times on 100 career touches for the Crimson Tide. Like most blazing fast human beings, Ruggs has an electric get off, quickly shifts into second gear, and his afterburners leave everyone else in the dust.
Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
Reagor should measure in close to Ruggs, and there were times during the TCU star's college career when he created distance while running away from cornerbacks in the Big 12. Also, in a 2018 matchup inside Jerry World against cornerback factory Ohio State, Reagor looked like the fastest player on the field. While Ruggs seems more likely to run in the 4.20s, Reagor could sneak into that prestigious range. A time in the low 4.30s is expected.
LeVante Bellamy, RB, Western Michigan
Typically, it's wide receivers and corners who time the fastest in the 40, yet occasionally a running back sneaks his way into the mix. Heck, Chris Johnson held the record for the fastest time in combine history for nearly a decade. Bellamy could be the ball carrier who runs among the best times in the 40 at this year's event. According to the Western Michigan website, Bellamy ran a laser-timed 4.28 in June of 2019.
Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU
Gladney has the frame, explosiveness, and light feet perfectly suited for the 40, and a time in the low 4.30s would surprise no one. He may not be even 190 pounds at the combine, which, at around 6-0, should help glide down the track. On film, it was very rare to see Gladney not in the hip pocket of a wideout down the field.
Which under-the-radar prospects are bound to be household names after the combine?
Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State
Cleveland is easily one of the smoothest pass protectors in the class. He's rarely beaten by small, bendy outside rushers and flashed the ability to slide back inside against counter moves. Listed at 6-6 and 310 pounds, the Boise State standout has an NFL franchise tackle frame. His clear weakness on film is his lack of strength. Cleveland should have a workout comparable to current Raiders left tackle Kolton Miller, who spring-boarded to the first round after a ridiculous combine performance in 2018. But, along with stellar on-field work, Cleveland may very well put up a respectable number in the bench press, thereby alleviating some of the concerns about his power deficiency.
Troy Pride, CB, Notre Dame
Pride wasn't a well-known name until the Senior Bowl when his electric footwork allowed him to mirror amazingly down the field and led to a bunch of production in one-on-ones. There's really no doubting his athletic gifts and speed. It's his inability to consistently find the ball in the air that doomed him often at Notre Dame. This event is ideal for him, and Pride will likely be widely considered a Day 2 lock after running the 4.3s or low 4.4s along with explosive distances in the vertical and board jumps.
Neville Gallimore, DT, Oklahoma
As a former space-eating nose tackle who shed weight, Gallimore still has the muscle from this time at a much higher weight and looked freed athletically in 2019 while playing around 300 pounds for the Sooners. He should run well below 5.0 seconds in the 40 -- Quinnen Williams ran 4.83 last year -- and Gallimore should finish as a top performer in the other drills as well thanks to his loose hips and elite flexibility for the position.
Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Auburn
Son of two Olympic athletes, Igbinoghene's change of direction looks like a video-game glitch, especially for a corner expected to measure in close to 6-0 and 200 pounds. He cruised downfield in-phase with speedy wideouts in the SEC despite starting his career at Auburn at wide receiver. The 40 and the jumps will catapult Igbinoghene into the first-round conversation.
Davion Taylor, LB, Colorado
Taylor went the junior college route and beyond football, he was a standout on the track team before Colorado and ran a time of 10.63 in the 100. At 6-2 and 225 pounds, Taylor has a modern-day linebacker body type and plays with ridiculous speed to the sideline and when needing to chase down the field. Don't be surprised when he runs in the 4.40s and receives late Day 2 hype after the combine.
Which quarterbacks will move up boards after the combine?
Jordan Love, Utah State
The throwing sessions are probably the most vital for a quarterback at the combine (after the interviews), and Love is the Patrick Mahomes type wild card in this class at the position. If Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa don't opt to throw at the combine, the Utah State product will take center stage -- potentially with Justin Herbert -- to demonstrate his effortlessly strong arm.
Jake Luton, Oregon State
A deep sleeper who completed over 61% of his passes in each of the past two seasons in Oregon State's vertical passing offense and threw 28 touchdowns to just three picks in 2019, Luton is 6-7 and 230 pounds with a big arm to drive the football to any location on the field. After he lets it rip during the throwing session, at his size, we'll be hearing plenty of chatter about him as a favorite Day 3 pick at the game's most vital position.
Who needs a huge combine the most to save/boost their draft stock?
Bradlee Anae, EDGE, Utah
Anae is the all-time leader in Utah's program history with 29.5 quarterback takedowns, and the vast majority of those splash plays came after spectacular pass-rushing moves. However, the nearly 6-4 and 257-pound edge rusher is noticeably lacking explosion off the football. If he can piece together a respectable workout -- mostly in the 40 and broad and vertical -- along with a solid three-cone time, Anae will garner second-round buzz.
Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
A central figure in the best receiver class in a long time, Higgins is different from the other top wideouts in this class in terms of size and separation ability. With the Alabama receivers expected to scorch in the 40, and CeeDee Lamb, Jalen Reagor, and even Brandon Aiyuk bound to run somewhere between 4.35 and 4.45, Higgins could be widely considered in the second tier of the elite prospects in this class after the combine. If the 6-4 pass catcher runs any time below 4.50 and has reasonably good figures in the agility drills, he'll cement himself inside the top 25.
Kenny Willekes, EDGE, Michigan State
Like Anae, Willekes is a savvy, experienced edge rusher with a pass-rush move arsenal more impressive than his burst off the snap or sustained speed and bend to the quarterback. He racked up 49 tackles for loss and 23.5 sacks in three years contributing at Michigan State. Based on his combine, Willekes could go anywhere from the second round to the fifth.
Troy Dye, LB, Oregon
Dye is arguably the most keenly aware, NFL-ready coverage linebacker in the class, and at upwards of 6-4 and 230 pounds, he naturally has a huge tackling and pass-breakup radius. However, the Oregon product doesn't appear to be on the same level athletically as Simmons from Clemson, Oklahoma's ridiculous specimen Kenneth Murray and sleeper Akeem Davis-Gaither from Appalachian State. If Dye is anywhere close to that group at the combine, he'll lock himself inside the top 50, if not higher.
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