The offensive players are done and gone, on their way back to their training facilities as they prepare for pro days and visits. Sunday was the first of a pair of defensive days in Indianapolis, with the interior defensive linemen, EDGE, and linebackers on the field.
The New York Giants are in need of help at all levels of their defense, and could use prospects at each of these positions. In particular, a pair of SEC players vaulted themselves from being potential dark horses for the sixth overall pick to front-runners. Those would be Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat, who proved to be even more of an athletic freak than Jadeveon Clowney, and LSU’s Devin White who is one of the most athletic linebackers to eveer perform at the combine.
So, who else helped themselves, and which prospects might have hurt themselves?
- Montez Sweat (Mississippi State) – Every year there is a player who seizes his opportunity in the run-up to the draft, and Montez Sweat has been blowing up the draft process. Sweat finished the season a bit of a forgotten man in a crowded Front Seven class, but was so disruptive in Senior Bowl practices that coaches had to take him off the field so they could get a fair look at the offensive tackles. He showed up the Combine at 260 pounds and blazed a ridiculous 4.41 second 40-yard dash with an even more ridiculous 1.50 second 10-yard split. While he has some lower-body tightness which could limit how well he is able to turn the corner, his length (6-foot-5 3⁄4 inches tall, 35 3⁄4 inch arms) and explosive speed cannot be ignored or easily countered. Sweat could well be in consideration for the Giants at 6th overall.
Note: Florida State EDGE Brian Burns could be mentioned here as well, but he started out high on boards and had a good day. Sweat wasn’t as highly regarded, so his workout is more notable.
- John Cominsky (Charleston) – The Scouting Combine always presents a chance for small-school players to raise their profile and force scouts to look at their tape with a good workout. That’s what Charleston defensive lineman John Cominsky did Sunday. Weighing in at 286 pounds, he turned in a 4.66 second 40-yard dash, which puts the D-II player in the same range as Aaron Donald. Coming from a small school, he is fighting an uphill battle, but his work over the last two months will go a long way toward proving to NFL general managers that he belongs.
- Ben Banogu (TCU) – Banogu was one of the most productive EDGE players in the country at TCU, but he has been regarded as a mid to late round pick so far in the draft process. He got people’s attention, however, with a record-setting 11-foot 2 inch broad jump followed by a 4.58 second 40-yard dash (1.47 second 10-yard split). He also had to answer some questions about his ability to bend around the edge, which he helped to do with a 4.29 second short shuttle and 7.02 3-cone drill.
- Chase Winovich (Michigan) – Billed as a player who makes up for a lack of athleticism with high effort and a non-stop motor. Winovich proved those perceptions wrong with a good 4.60 second 40-yard dash, good work in pass rushing drills, and he looked surprisingly comfortable playing in space in linebacker drills.
- Khalen Saunders (Eastern Illinois) – Saunders was one of the good stories to come out of the Senior Bowl between the birth of his daughter, finishing a practice with backflips and a back handspring, and picking up a sack in the game. But he went from being a good story to an intriguing prospect at just over 6-foot tall and at 324 pounds ran a 5.01 second 40-yard dash with a great 1.73 second 10-yard split. While he looks like a nose tackle, he is very quick off the ball and very agile in drills. Saunders could well have worked himself into the second day of the draft since the start of the draft process.
- Jerry Tillery (Notre Dame) – Tillery has been mentioned by some over the course of the process as one of the top defensive tackles in a very talented class. However, he wasn’t mentioned often in the national discussion. But even with talents like Quinnen Williams and Christian Wilkins on the field, Tillery managed to stand out. His 4.94 second 40-yard dash (1.71 second 10-yard split) was one of the best of the defensive tackle group, and he looked consistently good in the field drills. He should be on most lists of the top five defensive tackle prospects for the remainder of the draft process.
- Kevin Givens (Penn State) – Quinnen Williams stunned the NFL Network — and the Twitter — with his 40 yard time. But while everyone was expecting him to perform well, Penn State’s Kevin Givens surprised with a 4.87 second 40 yard dash and an incredible 1.59 second 10-yard split. He followed that up with a great performance in the position drills. Givens didn’t have much public buzz around his name, but his work Sunday should have scouts going back to Penn State’s defensive tape.
- Trysten Hill (UCF) – Hill will have questions to answer from NFL teams when it comes to why he went from a regular starter in 2017 to starting just one game in 2018. His athleticism needn’t be questioned though. Not only did he perform well in measurable events, he was among the most agile, fluid, and explosive defensive tackles in the field drills.
- Devin White (LSU) – Can the top player at a position raise his draft stock? Well, probably not in relation to the rest of his position group, but he might have raised his name up the draft board. White turned an amazing 40-yard dash time of 4.42 seconds at 240 pounds. For reference, Luke Kuechly ran a 4.58 second 40 at his combine. Like Sweat, he should be in the conversation for the Giants at sixth overall.
- Devin Bush (Michigan) – Bush has been behind White throughout the process, and has somewhat slipped through the cracks with all the talent on the defensive line and edge. Bush might be too small for some teams at 5-foot-11 inches, 234 pounds, but he not only has 4.43 speed and a 40-inch vertical, he is fluid and comfortable in space as well as coming downhill as a blitzer. He might have slipped to the second round, but that seems increasingly unlikely.
- Ben Burr-Kirven (Washington) – Burr-Kirven has a reputation as one of the most instinctive linebackers in the draft, but needed those instincts to make up for limited athleticism and generate his production (he led FBS in tackles in 2018 with 176 total tackles). He is going to force scouts back to his tape after turning the third-fastest time on the 40-yard dash with a 4.50. Answering questions about his athleticism, and with his instincts evident on tape, Burr-Kirven could climb draft boards, and might make a great value if he doesn’t.
- Gary Johnson (Texas) – Johnson has a great story, the kind that makes you root for him to make it in the NFL. But on Sunday he showed that he has the potential to be a player who deserves to be on the field. He stood out in a linebacker class that has proven to be surprisingly athletic, performing well in measurable events as well as field drills.
- Justin Hollins (Oregon) – Teams looking for outside linebackers who could be a value as an edge rusher and versatile enough to play in space should take a look at Hollins. He tied Burr-Kirven for the third fastest 40 time among linebackers and moved extremely well in drills. Hollins did
- Ed Oliver (Houston) – Oliver started the weekend well by measuring bigger than expected. However, he elected to pass on all the drills except the jumps and bench press (36-inch vertical, 10-foot broad jump, and 32 reps). Oliver will perform at his pro day, but the decision to keep his sweats on in Indy could come back to haunt him if he is drastically lighter at Houston’s pro day or doesn’t perform well. This might not hurt his stock per se, but it does create an opportunity for other players to make an impact while he isn’t on the field.
- Dexter Lawrence (Clemson) – Lawrence started out getting everyone’s attention with a 5.02 second 40-yard dash (1.76s 10-yard split) at 342 pounds. Unfortunately, that was the end of his day, as he injured his quad on the run. With less than two weeks until Clemson’s pro day, this injury could have consequences past the combine. While it might not hurt Lawrence’s stock directly, it does leave the door open for players like Saunders to step up and impress.
- Dre’Mont Jones (Ohio State) – Jones looks like a powerful 5-technique, but played more of an athletic “finesse” game. Unfortunately, he didn’t back that up in Indy and had a bad workout. Jones had a slow 40-yard dash, a very bad 3-cone drill, and showed little explosiveness in his jumps. When a player who is supposed to get by on athleticism doesn’t show that athleticism, it is a problem and will force teams back to his tape. Hopefully he just had a bad day at the Combine and can erase it at Ohio State’s pro day.
- Jachai Polite (Florida) – I was very high on Polite coming in to this weekend, but he did not have a good day on Sunday. He came in heavier than expected, but also softer with more bad weight and came off poorly at his press conference. Compounding matters, he ran poorly, not only having a slow 40 time, but a disappointing 10-yard split in the high 1.7’s. Polite is probably the most explosive rusher on tape, but it did not show on Sunday. He did claim that he was trying to perform through a hamstring injury and shut his workout down early. He will get a second chance at the Florida pro day, but teams will be watching closely.
- Terrill Hanks (New Mexico State) – Hanks, a safety turned linebacker, was expected to have a good combine. Unfortuantely, he turned a very poor 4.99 second 40, only running once before shutting it down for the afternoon. It came out later that he pulled a hamstring on that run, and he jumped well before running the 40, with a 36.5 inch vertical and just under 10-foot broad jump. Injuries at the combine are never good, but for a small-school player hoping to get teams’ attention, they can be devastating.