INDIANAPOLIS — Picking winners among the EDGE defender group at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine is challenging.
Young and Chaisson’s absence put Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa in the spotlight and his athletic testing turned out to be disappointing when he needed to alleviate concerns about his modest burst and mobility that was displayed at Iowa.
In a group in need of players to emerge to inspire more confidence in the depth of the class, a few guys came out as winners.
Alex Highsmith, Charlotte
Alex Highsmith is on fire. After walking on at Charlotte in 2015, Highsmith became a scholarship-athlete before the 2017 season. He continued his ascension with back-to-back dominant seasons in 2018 and 2019, both of which he was named first-team all-Conference USA. Highsmith peaked as a senior and racked up 75 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks.
After a strong showing at the Shrine Bowl in January, where TDN’s Kyle Crabbs named him the prospect that will be the highest drafted from the event, Highsmith was among the top performers again at the combine.
Highsmith’s athletic testing was solid across-the-board, but where he really showed off was in the drill work. The way he attacked each rep revealed an apparent focus and readiness to execute each drill correctly. He was fluid and quick performing each task and executed with confidence that is a result of being prepared for the biggest job interview of his life.
NFL coaches love guys who pave their own path while showcasing focus and determination, and that’s exactly what Highsmith brings to the table.
Curtis Weaver, Boise State
Curtis Weaver is a polarizing prospect, but maybe it shouldn’t be this hard. Weaver, the 2019 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, tallied 47.5 tackles for loss and 34 sacks across his three seasons at Boise State. Often used as a standup outside linebacker, that production comes despite a fair amount of reps where he dropped into coverage and played in space. On tape, Weaver is a good football player that is highly productive.
The concern with Weaver entering the combine was validating that he has the athletic profile for his playmaking ability to translate to the NFL, especially when it comes to the agility drills. Weaver answered those concerns.
Measuring 6-foot-2-inches and 265 pounds, Weaver ran the 3-cone drill in 7 seconds and clocked a 4.27-second short-shuttle drill. Both of those are solid marks for Weaver in his efforts to convert more believers in his game. It is critical for edge rushers to be able to win by getting around the outside hip of the offensive tackle and agility is required to get that done.
There have been rumblings that the NFL isn’t overly high on Weaver despite a stellar career in college. His agility work at the combine should help boost his stock.
Jabari Zuniga, Florida
Jabari Zuniga has teased evaluators for several years now. He makes some of the most dynamic tackles behind the line of scrimmage, but his awareness, inconsistent technique and injuries bring doubt into his evaluation.
In need of a standout performance at the combine, Zuniga delivered. At 6-foot-3-inches and 264 pounds, Zuniga clocked a 4.64-second 40-yard dash and led all defensive linemen with a broad jump of 10-foot-7-inches while also delivering 29 bench press reps. Despite showing some tightness on tape when changing directions, Zuniga showcased better than expected fluidity when executing drills Saturday.
The NFL is hungry for players that can get after the passer and Zuniga continues to show flashes and reasons why he has a chance to do that at the next level.