The NFL Scouting Combine is a crucial part of the draft jigsaw, giving franchises the chance to gather some hard data on the exciting college prospects that they have been lining up over the last few months. While the evidence produced by the various drills at the Combine is rarely used in isolation, it is a key part of the scouting process and will go a long way to inform decisions at the NFL Draft next month. It also offers the chance for NFL fans and journalists to get a closer look at the best college players and indulge in debates and speculation about who will end up with which franchise.
This year’s Combine, which was held in Indianapolis from February 27th through March 5th, was closely followed by millions of NFL fans, including those who bet online with Stakers. The event is a good opportunity for football bettors to weigh up the strength of this year’s draft complement, and to look for clues in the way that teams respond to the evidence of the Combine, particularly teams such as Green Bay, who are known to be scouting defensive players in their bid to get back to the top of the NFC North, and the Jets, who have multiple holes in their roster to fill, not least at quarterback.
What did we learn from this year’s Combine? Here are five takeaways to consider as we look ahead to the 2018 Draft on April 26th.
A good year for cornerbacks
Pundits had been talking for some time about the strength of the 2018 defensive tackle and linebacker class, but this year’s cornerback class also looks solid. Donte Jackson of LSU, Parry Nickerson from Tulane, and Denzel Ward from Ohio State all ran 4.32 in their 40-yard workouts. We already knew a lot about Ward and Jackson, but Nickerson’s time will likely see him moved up into a draftable grade. In fact, the secondary class as a whole performed strongly at the Combine, but it was the cornerbacks who stood out, with six corners running sub 4.4 times for the 40 yards and 12 with draftable grades standing 6-1 or taller.
Expect another running back to go top five
Many were expecting Penn State running back Saquon Barkley to impress at the Combine, and he did not disappoint. With 29 reps on bench press, a 4.4 40-yard time, a 41-inch vertical leap, and a time of 4.24 seconds for the short shuttle, Barkley underlined his talent and confirmed his likely spot in the top five. The last four running-back top-ten picks – Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliot, and Christian McCaffrey – have all worked out well, and it is highly likely that we will see another running back go top five in April.
Defensive tackles looking strong
Everyone knew that the defensive tackle class was looking good this year, but fans and pundits were still surprised by a number of the performances at the Combine. Da’Ron Payne of Alabama, Harrison Phillips of Stanford, B.J. Hill of NC State, Taven Bryan of Florida, and Vita Vea of Washington all impressed, and teams such as the Saints, the Bills, and the Packers, which all need to strengthen in this area, will have taken note.
Lamar Jackson needs an extra-level commitment
The Louisville quarterback may be the most complete athlete in next month’s draft and even had to bypass the 40-yard dash to underline the fact that he is a quarterback and not a quarterback-wide receiver hybrid. He may be an erratic passer, but his sheer athleticism makes him a rare kind of quarterback who will need a different kind of commitment from a team, of the kind that Houston gave to Deshaun Watson.
Watch out for Shaquem Griffin
A late invite to the Combine, the Central Florida linebacker scored an impressive 4.38 40-yard dash time, 20 bench-press reps, and a 9’9” broad jump to push himself up the draft order. He may even get a late Day Two pick after this impressive performance, and his fast, sustained speed along with his single-minded determination means that he will be a key target for a number of franchises that are desperate to add more pass-rushing threat to their roster.
This year’s Combine was a typically fascinating mixture of talent, speculation, and analysis, and will continue to provide fuel for heated football discussion in the next few weeks as we countdown to the eagerly anticipated 2018 NFL Draft.