DAY FOUR of the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine is in the books, and we wrapped up the workouts with an exciting look at tomorrow’s top defensive backs. From the cornerbacks to the safeties, we learned a lot about those who will be making quarterbacks and receivers miserable for years to come. Throughout the day, we catalogued our thoughts on some of the prospects, and we have written them down here. Below, check out our notes on March 5, the fourth day of the 2018 Scouting Combine.
Perhaps no cornerback drew more attention to himself this week than did Donte Jackson of Louisiana State. He boasted that he would break Bengals wide receiver John Ross’ record 40-yard dash time of 4.22 seconds from last season. It was not to be. Jackson ran an impressive 4.32 40 in his first attempt, pulling what appeared to be his calf in the process. It was a good time, but not enough to beat Ross.
Jackson was part of the Holy Trinity of speedy corners who ran exactly 4.32. It was him, Ohio State’s Denzel Ward, and Tulane’s Parry Nickerson. On Ward for a moment, we have been somewhat low on him because of his lack of size, but I will admit that I did not fully appreciate his speed when watching his tape. After today’s result, I will go back and re-watch Ward’s film to attempt to see what others are seeing in this corner.
As for Nickerson, he becomes the second Tulane player in as many days to show out at the Combine (Tulane EDGE Ade Aruna had a great day yesterday). We liked Nickerson as a mid-to-late round corner before the Scouting Combine – we really like him now. At 6-feet even and 180 pounds, Nickerson is not going to be dependent on a certain scheme. He can run, and based on his film, he can play, too.
Son! RT @NFL: We’ve got a tie atop the fastest DB leaderboard…
— i am. (@Meauxses_) March 5, 2018
Two of the Alabama cornerbacks, Tony Brown and Anthony Averett, blazed 40 times of 4.35 and 4.36, respectively. Brown will be a fine player at the next level, but it is Averett who has a chance to be a superstar. Our first-round grade on him was locked in after today’s performance. He was a bit awkward in the positional drills, though.
— Nachmany Football (@NachFootball) March 5, 2018
Rounding out the sub-4.4 40s were Louisville CB Jaire Alexander (4.38) and Pittsburgh CB Avonte Maddox (4.39). Alexander put himself in the first round conversation with his time, while Maddox may have ensured he will hear his name called at some point in the draft.
A couple of corners really boosted their stock with good bench press numbers. Illinois State’s Davontae Harris posted 22 reps on the bench, while Central Florida’s Mike Hughes put up 20. For a guy who is only about 200 pounds, Harris has a remarkably thick trunk and is well-built, but he can still move well. In addition to his bench press, he ran the 40 in 4.43 seconds. There is a place for a corner like Harris in this league, despite his years of playing at a small school.
One cornerback broke 40 inches in the vertical jump; it was Georgia State’s Chandon Sullivan at 40.5 inches. He also was one of just two corners to hit a broad jump of over 130 inches (Ward was the other). Sullivan may well end up drafted, but a slower time in the 40 (4.6 flat) could hurt him.
Unfortunately, some cornerbacks were not as good as they needed to be. Florida State’s Tarvarus McFadden was the worst example of this. He ran a 4.67 in his first time, then ran in the mid-4.7s his second time around. McFadden already struggled on the field in 2017, and a large part of that was his inability to cover receivers running deep patterns. He got burned routinely on Saturdays – just imagine what will happen on Sundays.
South Carolina’s Jamarcus King, a long corner who plays a lot better than he works out, had the worst time at 4.7 flat. He should not have run in Indianapolis. While Oklahoma’s Jordan Thomas did not have a stellar 40 time (running in the 4.6s), he made up for it with great agility in the 20-yard shuttle, running a best-in-class 3.94 second time (tied for first with Penn State’s Grant Haley, and just ahead of Alexander and Maddox).
Few things were more enjoyable during the Combine than Central Florida LB Shaquem Griffin’s amazing 40-yard dash and bench press, but watching Penn State safety Troy Apke’s 40 (and Deion Sanders’ reaction) was certainly in the running. Apke ran a ridiculously fast 4.34 second 40, best among all safeties, also recording a 41-inch vertical jump and a 131-inch broad jump. More importantly, he placed first in his position group at the 3-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle. Apke may have just guaranteed himself a spot on an NFL roster as a special teamer at the least for the next 5-7 years.
If you blink, you might miss Troy Apke’s 4.35-second 40-yard dash that made Deion Sanders the happiest person on earth. pic.twitter.com/d8VwjPxqAu
— Roar Lions Roar (@RLRblog) March 5, 2018
The two top safeties, Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Florida State’s Derwin James, did not disappoint. The two clocked nearly identical 40 times, each one breaking 4.5 seconds and establishing themselves as the 1-2 combination of safeties. Fitzpatrick showcased incredible footwork and ball skills in the positional drills – he can play nearly any position in a defensive backfield. Along with his physical talent, his football mind is otherworldly and he will succeed wherever he goes.
— NFL (@NFL) March 5, 2018
Going into the draft process, one safety who has flown under the radar (somewhat surprisingly) has been Stanford’s Justin Reid. The younger brother of a solid NFL safety who went in the first round (Eric Reid), the former Cardinal played at one of the most well-respected football programs when it comes to producing NFL talent.
After today, however, Reid will not fly under anyone’s radar anymore. He clocked a superb 4.4 flat in the 40, second only to Apke and tied with Wisconsin’s Natrell Jamerson. He also put up a great 20-yard shuttle time of 4.15, placing him third among safeties, and 6.65-second 3-cone, also good for third place.
Three players who surprised many casual observers were Jamerson, Arizona’s Dane Cruikshank, and Northwestern’s Godwin Igwebuike. Each one ran a 4.44-second time in the 40. For Cruikshank and Igwebuike, both placed in the Top 5 among safeties at the 3-cone and the 20-yard shuttle. Jamerson and Cruikshank tied for the lead in the bench press, with a tremendous showing of 25 reps (Igwebuike was not far behind, with 19 reps for sixth place).
Props to Nebraska’s Joshua Kalu, another relative unknown who had the best vertical jump and broad jump of the safeties. His explosiveness and quick-twitch athleticism will serve him well at the next level.
Unfortunately, some players did not do so well. Ohio State’s Damon Webb ran a 4.62, which is not nearly where an athlete of his size (5-foot-11, 195 pounds) should be. Texas safety DeShon Elliott, one of our favorites on film, was pretty average in the workouts. His 4.58 40-yard dash, 15 bench press reps, 36-inch vertical jump and 121-inch broad jump did not stand out much, indicating that the athleticism we saw on tape may only come out when the pads come on. Truth be told, in the long run, that is just fine.