Every year the NFL Combine, a few prospects rise from obscurity into the mainstream chaos of draft season. Why? Because they work out as well or better than most of their more well-known classmates in Indianapolis. Sometimes, those performances don't have much impact on draft position. In other instances, they absolutely do.
Let's pinpoint which prospects, at every position, are primed to be those "sleepers" who raise some eyebrows after their on-field efforts at the 2022 combine.
Skylar Thompson, Kansas State
It's hard to peg who the late-in-draft-season buzzed-about quarterback will be -- there's always somebody -- but Thompson could conceivably be the one this year. Yes, even in a "down" quarterback class. He has those tools, and NFL teams adore tools more your uncle with the massive workshop in his basement.
He increased his completion percentage in each of his four seasons throwing passes for the Wildcats, which culminated with a juicy 69.2% rate in 2021. But the effortless athleticism and live arm will have scouts tantalized the most. At around 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Thompson is built like a power YAC receiver or tall running back, and he plays like it too, often scrambling for big gains, and he was utilized on purpose by his offensive coordinators in the run game.
I expected a nice little workout from Thompson this week, which will send people back to his film.
D'Vonte Price, Florida International
The combine puts future NFL players of many shapes and sizes on our televisions. At just north of 6-1 and 198 pounds, I'm fairly certain I've never seen a legitimate running back prospect with his measurable. Price was at the Senior Bowl, so he needs to be taken seriously in this deep running back class.
At FIU, he averaged a hefty 6.0 yards per carry on 329 attempts across five seasons. He was splash-play specialist for the Panthers until 2021 when he overtook feature-back duties, and the burst he showcased through the second level was intriguing. Simply given his unique body type -- being under 200 pounds at 6-1 is light -- Price has the physical makeup to scorch the 40-yard dash and fly in the vertical and broad jumps.
Wan'Dale Robinson, Kentucky
There is exactly zero buzz for Robinson right now. Why? Well, underclassmen like him -- who aren't at the Senior Bowl -- always slip through the cracks...until the combine. Robinson was sandwiched between Jameson Williams and John Metchie atop the SEC receiving yard list in 2021, and he caught 104 passes.
Traits-wise, Robinson was built to play in today's NFL. He's smaller, but ultra-sudden with acceleration to turn jukes into touchdowns. Based on his film, Robinson feels like a prospect who's going to erupt in the agility drills in Indianapolis then land on the second day of the draft and be a stud quickly in the NFL.
Austin Allen, Nebraska
Allen is a hair under 6-8 and 260 pounds. Monstrous, even for the tight end position. And he's not clumsy on the field or an excruciatingly long-striding, no-acceleration athlete. Relative to his size, Allen's pretty darn smooth. He averaged nearly 16 yards per reception for the Huskers this past season.
Being as tall as he is, Allen actually has room to add about 10-15 pounds to his frame, but at only 260 pounds, he has the height-weight combination to run fast relative to his tight-end contemporaries in this class.
Cole Strange, Chattanooga
Strange's twitchiness pops on film. He's a combo-blocking master. And that athleticism was one of the main reasons he excelled at the Senior Bowl against a variety of Power 5 defensive linemen. At just over 6-4 and 300-ish pounds, Strange has the body type to glide in the 40 and work out like a starting-caliber guard, which his film indicates he'll ultimately be.
Michael Clemons, Texas A&M
Clemons might win the weigh-ins for the edge-rusher position. He's listed at 6-5 and 270 pounds and looks every bit that sizable on film. While his 10-yard split might be slow, he plays with impressive functional athleticism for a prospect with his mass, and his length gives offensive tackles recurring nightmares throughout the game.
Clemons looks like he's already been in an NFL strength and conditioning program. While he may not have 15-sack upside, he's ready to play on the edge in the pros tomorrow, and his measurements and workout should indicate that to everybody.
JoJo Domann, Nebraska
Domann is more cornerback than he is linebacker. Not joking. He played 428 snaps in this slot in 2021 compared to just 66 in the box and 129 as an overhang defender along the defensive line.
But at just under 6-0 and 226 pounds, he has a linebacker build and will workout with the linebackers at the combine. Domann's collegiate usage is telling as to how the game has evolved. Anyway, he was absolutely dynamic as a slot defender in 2021. In his coverage area he allowed 32 receptions for just 179 yards. That's under six yards per grab. Bananas. In terms of ease of changing directions in a hurry, Domann is on the same level of linebackers who're going to be picked much earlier than him. I expected a nice workout that could solidify him as a Day 2 selection.
Kalon Barnes, Baylor
This is a former Texas state champion in track, who set the state record in the 100-meter dash at 10.22 seconds. Dude can scoot. He should compete with Memphis receiver Calvin Austin for the fastest time in the 40-yard dash.
And typically, the speediest prospects test well in either the vertical or broad jump, so Barnes is a candidate to leave Indianapolis as one of the most explosive players in this class.