NFL Draft – Trust the tape. This mantra is spoken ad nauseam throughout every draft season immemorial as a reminder that a player’s tape is his most important attribute. However, like any other piece of information, tape can lie! A player can be older and dominate younger competition or play a soft schedule that doesn’t truly challenge him.
Statistics and data can also lie. A defensive back can accrue fewer pass breakups or interceptions than a teammate simply by being targeted less by opposing offenses, while a wide receiver can gather more targets simply because he plays alongside someone who demands double coverage.
Do you know what also lies (at least relatively speaking)? The turf on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium. No, not the turf exactly. While this turf is probably very similar to turf used in stadiums across the NFL, even combine data is crooked. Per an analysis by data scientist Bud Davis, players are opting into performing the drills that make them look the best and opting out of drills that would put them in a less than flattering light. What are the implications? Average times for drills such as the prized 40-yard dash are down, as is the share of athletes participating.
Despite this, the combine does provide useful information. It generally helps to differentiate elite athletes who are NFL contenders from pretender prospects who got by on tape or reputation alone. In my Grinding the Mocks combine risers and fallers column from last year, I identified rising prospects such as Georgia edge rusher Travon Walker, Tulsa offensive tackle Tyler Smith, and Western Michigan wide receiver Skyy Moore, all of whom were impact players for their teams as rookies. Which prospects will be primed for big bumps in their expected draft position and important roles on their future teams? Read ahead to find out!
Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
If Travon Walker was the clear-cut winner of the 2022 NFL combine, then 2023’s winner must be Florida’s Anthony Richardson. Both are winners for similar reasons. As players without high levels of college production, it was well known that athleticism would be each player’s calling card. However, what we witnessed from both Richardson and Walker went above and beyond expectations and made them both post-combine contenders for top overall pick honors. Richardson put up the best ever performance by a quarterback at the NFL combine. His speed, size, and explosion offer a glimpse into the type of talent he can show if he can develop as a player.
Richardson’s comparisons as a player abound. Optimists (such as myself) see him similarly to Cam Newton or Josh Allen while pessimists see him more like Jake Locker or JaMarcus Russell. No matter who you compare him to, what Richardson did at the combine puts him in rarified air as an athlete at the quarterback position and will surely intrigue many teams come late April.
Adetomiwa Adebawore, ER, Northwestern
Coming into the combine, I didn’t know that Northwestern edge rusher Adetomiwa Adebawore’s first name translates to “crown of one,” but afterwards, that name makes a lot more sense. He was one of the best linemen at this year’s Senior Bowl, where he first got on draftniks’ radar in a big way by showing inside and outside versatility as a defensive lineman. With the performance he put on at the combine, he has now made himself known to the rest of the broader NFL community.
No one has ever run a faster 40-yard dash than Adebawore (4.49 seconds) at a greater weight (270 pounds). Most players would have just stopped there (like my fellow Pittsburgh alum Calijah Kancey), but Adebawore kept going, putting up elite numbers in the vertical and broad jumps and in the bench press. The main thing that he lacks is height, but at Grinding the Mocks we stan a “short” king (prince, but who’s counting). Adebawore has utilized the draft process to the fullest, working himself into the mid-Round 2 range with more room to grow.
Nolan Smith, ER, Georgia
They forgot about Nolan Smith like they forgot about Dre … and I don’t necessarily blame them. Injured for a decent part of his last year in Athens, Smith was on the sideline as Georgia repeated as national champions this January. Once healthy, Smith showed at the combine why he was in the conversation to be taken in the first round of last year’s draft along with his Bulldogs teammates who had decided to go pro after the first of what would be back-to-back championships.
This year’s draft class is stacked with top end talent and athletes at the edge rusher position, so adding Smith fully back into the Round 1 mix is a boon to teams seeking pass-rush help. Smith ran a blazing 4.39s 40-yard dash, which is fast even given his lower weight for his position, but more importantly ran a 1.52s 10-yard split and put out elite performances in the vertical and broad jumps, which measures explosion more than speed. I put Smith with the Philadelphia Eagles with the 30th pick in my first mock for Football Outsiders. Probably not gonna happen!
|2023 Grinding the Mocks Post-Combine Risers|
|Name||Pos||School||Pre-Combine EDP||Post-Combine EDP)||Difference|
|Anthony Richardson||QB||Florida||12.1 (10)||3.5 (3)||+8.6 (+7)|
|Adetomiwa Adebawore||ER||Northwestern||95.0 (114)||49.9 (47)||+45.1 (+67)|
|Nolan Smith||ER||Georgia||34.0 (33)||20.8 (19)||+13.2 (+14)|
Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
Talking about fallers is a lot less fun than talking about risers, and the biggest faller is even less enjoyable to write about than most. Georgia’s Jalen Carter is an all-world football talent on the field whom draftniks believe is a top-five player in this class. Off the field, however, Carter has become mired in legal proceedings surrounding the car crash that caused the deaths of Devin Willock and Chandler LeCroy, a former teammate and a member of the football recruiting staff respectively.
Because of the court case hanging over him due to his recklessness and poor judgment (as well as the changing landscape at the top of the draft), Carter’s stock accounting for draft pick value has fallen the most of any player since before the combine. I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t need to be one to know that it is not good for him to have this situation clouding over his head. Even if that changes, the stigma from this incident will likely be a stain on his character going forward and could give teams pause when drafting him. Maybe I’m being optimistic, but Carter’s stock could continue to fall.
Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU
Kayshon Boutte started off the 2022 college football season the same way his LSU Tigers did: with plenty of hype followed by a good deal of disappointment before rounding out with some hope for the future. That hope was probably what lured Boutte to initially announce that he would be returning to Baton Rouge for another season, which is the cause of the gap between mock drafts for Boutte in the chart above. However, right before the deadline for underclassmen to declare, Boutte announced that he would be forgoing his eligibility and entering the draft.
An about-face like that from a player isn’t usually a good sign, especially if he had his heart on initially returning to school. Boutte would need a strong combine to show that he wasn’t just a player whose last college campaign didn’t quite live up to the lofty expected draft position he had before the season began. However, not only did he show up under 6 feet tall, but Boutte performed poorly in the explosion drills and only ran a 4.5s 40-yard dash, with subpar splits as well. Those types of numbers will still get you drafted, but likely not inside the top 100.
Myles Murphy, ER, Clemson
Myles Murphy’s is labeled as a post-combine faller less because of the things he did at the combine and more for the things he didn’t do in Indianapolis. Murphy unfortunately managed to tweak his hamstring while warming up to work out, so he didn’t have the opportunity to show off how he compares athletically to his peers at the edge rusher position.
Before and immediately after the 2022 college season, Murphy was regarded as the ER2 behind Alabama’s Will Anderson. However, in the time leading up to the combine, Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson (who also didn’t work out at the combine due to an injury sustained during the season) saw his stock grow in leaps and bounds as he overtook Murphy for the ER2 spot and challenged Anderson for ER1. Now squarely in the mix with the next group of edge rushers, Murphy has a wider draft range than he did before as players such as Lukas Van Ness of Iowa or Georgia’s Nolan Smith also compete for the chance to be the next edge rusher drafted .
|2023 Grinding the Mocks Post-Combine Fallers|
|Name||Pos||School||Pre-Combine EDP||Post-Combine EDP||Difference|
|Jalen Carter||DT||Georgia||3.0 (3)||6.6 (6)||-3.6 (-3)|
|Kayshon Boutte||WR||LSU||45.7 (51)||82.0 (77)||-36.3 (-26)|
|Myles Murphy||ER||Clemson||9.0 (7)||16.0 (15)||-7.0 (-8)|