INDIANAPOLIS -- Day 2 of the NFL Scouting Combine featured the game's true skill position players (at least in my book), the offensive linemen, as well as a running back class with some intriguing stories.
The vast majority of young men at the combine perform as expected. A few "winners" exceed those expectations, though, or at least meet very high expectations facing them coming into the event. A strong combine is unlikely to push a Day 3 prospect into the first round, but it can allow him to win tiebreakers over other similarly valued players at his position.
Unfortunately, others fail to change scouts' minds about deficiencies keeping them from being at the top of the class. Thankfully for those players, the combine is only one part of a robust evaluation process. Teams will add the workout data from Indy to the prospects' game tape, all-star game performances, interviews and background checks to determine their final grade.
While the timing results and measurements are key data from the event, the on-field workouts are also important. Let's face it, it's as close to actual football as we get in Indianapolis this week. I focus on that aspect of the combine experience in these articles nearly as much as the various testing results.
Tristan Wirfs, OL, Iowa: Many have projected Wirfs as a Pro Bowl guard, and he did nothing on this night to dampen the high expectations for his future. His testing was off the charts for a 6-foot-5, 320-pound lineman. He set a record for his position with a 36.5-inch vertical, tied the record with a 10-foot-1 broad jump, ran a 4.85 40 (the best time among O-linemen this year) and recorded a 7.65-second three-cone drill (fifth-best among offensive linemen). Then he moved like he was controlled by a joystick on change of direction and pulling drills, moving effortlessly from side to side and back and forth at the whim of coaches leading the drills. His agility around cones was also impressive. Wirfs' arms measured 34 inches earlier this week, which means an NFL team may try him at tackle given his size and athleticism. Put it all together, and a team is going to want to lock him up early in the first round.
Hakeem Adeniji, OL, Kansas: Adeniji's smooth movement was tough to overlook. He looked the part of a guy capable of playing multiple positions in the NFL, providing the strongest punch in the group when asked to hit a bag, but still dropping his hips to change directions well. It's been a strong postseason for Adeniji, which could result in him being picked much earlier than many expected back in December.
Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State: Cleveland put on quite a show during his time in Indianapolis. He benched-pressed 30 reps before stepping foot on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf, fifth most among O-linemen. Cleveland ran a 4.93-second 40 with a very good 1.73 10-yard split, and that straight-line speed showed in some of the on-field drills. He struggled in other drills when quick change of direction was needed, but his 7.26-second three-cone result was ridiculous for his size (and was the best mark among O-linemen). Teams will be taking another look at the game tape on this underclassman after this performance.
Austin Jackson, OT, USC: Jackson measured at a shade under 6-foot-5 and 322 pounds, with 34 1/8-inch arms. His 5.07 40 with an excellent 1.73-second get-off (10-yard split), added to a 31-inch vertical and 9-7 broad jump, gives him the athletic profile needed to land a first-round selection. Jackson moved well in pass-pro drills and showed light enough feet throughout the workout to give teams confidence in his ability to guard the edge against elite NFL defenders. With Louisville's Mehki Becton having to take a seat due to a tight hamstring after an outstanding 40 and one on-field drill, Jackson joined Wirfs in the spotlight and may have joined the top tier of the tackle group with his effort.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: Taylor is in a battle for the top running back spot in this class. While D'Andre Swift did not drop the ball this evening (figuratively or literally), Taylor wowed with his performance. He was the only back to run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds (4.39 -- at 226 pounds). His feet were blurs when required to go over the often dreaded blue pads in drills. Taylor's cuts were not as quick and effortless as those of Swift, Darrynton Evans (more on him below) or Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but his speed and vision have allowed him to find and exploit holes over the past three years for the Badgers. Despite the lack of receptions early in his collegiate career, Taylor looked natural snatching passes during workouts, grabbing high throws and others that were far from his frame. Scouts will forgive him for running out of his shoe on one rep.
Darrynton Evans, RB, Appalachian State: Evans challenged Taylor for the quickest feet at Lucas Oil Stadium. His 4.41-second 40 got everyone's attention. Then the former Mountaineer, who left school with one season of eligibility remaining, put on a show during drills. He got his knees up and down in a hurry over bags and also cut as smoothly and quickly as any back I've seen at the combine. He also acquitted himself well in pass-catching drills. At 5-10, 203, teams may not consider him a three-down back, but I'm not sure there are many of those anymore.
Trey Adams, OT, Washington: Adams' injury history (a 2017 ACL tear and 2018 back surgery) was well-known coming into the combine, and he needed to shine to make teams consider him for a top-100 selection. A 5.60-second 40 (with a 1.89-second 10-yard split, the second-worst in the group) did not aid that effort. Adams' on-field agility was limited during drills, as well. His experience at tackle was reflected in the kick-slide drill, though. I suspect he'll stick in the league for as long as his back will allow, but Adams will probably have to wait until later in the draft to hear his name called.
Logan Stenberg, OG, Kentucky: Stenberg does not suffer fools gladly on the field. Whether he's jawing with referees calling penalties on him or with opposing defensive linemen, he brings the intensity on every snap. However, he could not show the athletic prowess to grab a top-100 selection on Friday. While other large linemen got down the 40-yard dash line in a hurry, Stenberg finished with a pedestrian 5.30-second mark. The 8.00-second three-cone will not be a feather in his cap, either. On the field during drills, he struggled to move with fluidity. His lateral agility is limited, even in comparison to other interior players. His game is physicality, though, which is not part of the combine process.
Tony Jones, RB, Notre Dame: The 220-pound Jones is known as a power back, but he struggled athletically tonight, even in comparison to other big runners. He left South Bend a year early with the hope of earning a middle-round draft grade, but a slow 40 (4.68 seconds) and a lack of explosiveness shown in his jumps (32.5-inch vertical, 9-foot-11 broad) will make that difficult to achieve. On the field, his tight hips prevented him from cutting as quickly or as fluidly as others. On the positive side, he did not look out of place as a pass receiver. Like Stenberg, Jones did not get to show his best attribute (nastiness), because pads were not in play.