Almost across the board, the edge defenders I expected to win the Combine were impressive. In the same breath, a few shocking winners manifested themselves, including a number of lesser-known, lesser-hyped pass rushers that I did not anticipate being among the players I need to watch or re-watch coming out of this weekend.
Brian Burns, Florida State
I fully believed Brian Burns would light up the Combine, but Sunday’s results couldn’t have swung more in his favor. After weighing in just shy of 250 pounds, Burns blew the door off the rest of his workout, with a 36-inch vertical, a 10’9” broad and a 7.01 3-cone to go with his awesome 40. Burns may be a little light for the position, but he knows how to corner and he has a deadly inside counter to beef up his rush plan.
Montez Sweat, Mississippi State
What a day for Sweat. I have concerns on tape with him, but he was outstanding on Sunday, ripping off an absurd 4.41 40, jumping 36 inches, posting a 10’5” broad and shocking everyone with a 7-second 3-cone.
The Sweat to Jordan Willis comparison is now complete, but Sweat being much better with his hands as a rusher gives him a wildly better shot at success in the NFL. The stiffness he shows on tape is concerning, but the top 20 talk is now validated by his Combine at least, unlike the post-Senior Bowl hype.
Rashan Gary, Michigan
Gary is heavy for an edge defender, and as a result his 3-cone show up just average, which is a concern considering he doesn’t corner well on tape. You can’t help but be blown away by his jumps and 40, regardless of how little the latter translates to playing on the defensive line. Clearly Gary has top-notch lower-body explosiveness and good change-of-direction, but can it overcome his tape?
Jachai Polite, Florida
Man, what a weekend for Polite, and not in a good way. First, his questionable responses at the podium to media members asking him about his interviews with teams threw everyone off. That could have been excused away easily enough, but the Florida edge defender also clearly piled on a bunch of weight to come in at 258, sporting a sloppy frame, and then testing even worse. Polite’s wasn’t explosive, jumped just 32 inches in the vert and then bowed out of the Combine with a hamstring injury that didn’t show up on the TV broadcast. His pro day will be big, but he looks like a long shot for Round 1 right now.
Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
Ferrell chose not to do the 40 or jump, instead settling for participating in the 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone only. Neither turned out great for him, as he was right around average and failed to distinguish himself in the edge defender group. Perhaps worse for Ferrell is that he was clearly outperformed by Josh Allen, Burns and Sweat, his main competition for a draft selection.
L.J. Collier, TCU
Collier was somehow getting first round buzz going into the Combine, but a dismal performance there should put an end to that. His length and 283-pound frame bodes well for a hybrid role, but his athleticism simply doesn’t check out on the edge, especially considering his frame. A 7.71 3-cone and 4.78 shuttle to go with a 30-inch vertical just won’t cut it, even if his broad jump was good.
Ben Banogu, Texas Christian
Banogu’s tape leaves a lot to be desired, but he plays hard and tested like an elite athlete at the position. His 11’2 broad jump is the second best in recorded Combine history to only Bud Dupree, and his 40-inch vertical is tied for 11th all-time at the position. His agilities were also outstanding, suggesting that Banogu might be among the highest upside prospects in the class.
Anthony Nelson, Iowa
I don’t know what life is, because Anthony Nelson just tested like an elite athlete and he just isn’t that type of player on tape. Nevertheless, Nelson’s 6.95 3-cone and 4.23 short shuttle at 6-foot-7, 271 pounds were mind-bending, as was his elite jump of 35.5 inches in the vertical. He was a solid player at Iowa, but athleticism like that was totally unexpected.
Maxx Crosby, Eastern Michigan
I haven’t seen any of Crosby’s tape, but Kyle has been trumpeting him as a sleeper to watch for in this class. Crosby finished 80th percentile or higher in every Combine event per MockDraftable, posting one of the more insane performances of the year. After 18.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles and 34.5 tackles-for-loss over the past two seasons, Crosby is atop my list of players to study this week.