Top 4 takeaways from combine D-line workouts
On Sunday at the NFL combine, perhaps the deepest position group in the draft, defensive line, kicked off the morning’s action. The combine drills may be more important for this position group than any other in the eyes of NFL talent evaluators, as they look to see the same athleticism and strength that was shown on film. This is also the time we usually see a few athletic freaks rise toward the top of the draft board, even when the on-field performance doesn’t match the hype from a couple of days in Indianapolis.
Here are the top takeaways from Sunday’s defensive line workouts.
1. While the defensive line class is deep, it may be lacking in pass rushers.
There are a number of quality interior defensive linemen in the class, but as deep as the class looks, it may lack in flash a few years from now. The majority of the class consists of run-first type players, which is certainly a valuable commodity, but the surefire pass rushers are lacking. From a position standpoint, there are solid players for all schemes, whether looking for nose tackles, 3-techniques, or 3-4 defensive ends, but few players appear to be locks to get after the quarterback at a high rate. Sunday’s combine drills reinforced our grading and film study from that standpoint, as we didn’t see the same kind of athleticism that had been on display in recent years.
2. Mississippi State DT Chris Jones has as much upside as any player in the draft class.
While Jones received hype for more than just his workout, his 1.70 10-yard split at 310 pounds should not go unnoticed. He showed rare burst for a man his size, and when paired with his two-year production, he may have more upside than any player in the class. Jones played only 609 snaps in 2015, but graded at +54.2 overall, good for fourth among interior defensive linemen. When going back to 2014, he’s only played 1,052 snaps, but his +67.6 two-year grade is outstanding for that kind of workload. When watching Jones on tape, his strength is evident, though technique is often lacking, as he can play too high, particularly when shooting gaps. Given his lack of experience, size, burst, and current production, there appears to be plenty of room to grow, and Jones should not go overlooked in the first-round mix.
3. Joey Bosa does not have the burst of previous top defensive ends, but it doesn’t matter.
Bosa’s game is not based on burst off the edge, so running a 4.87 40-yard dash time with a 1.69 10-yard split should not raise red flags. He defeats blocks with power and technique, as well as quick hands that give offensive tackles trouble in both the run and pass game. Bosa projects as an excellent run-defender on the edge, while providing strong pass rush either against tackles, or perhaps against guards on the interior. From a production and role standpoint, Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks and Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints are likely his best comparisons in the NFL, and Sunday should do nothing to change that projection.
4. The race to be the No. 2 edge rusher off the board is alive and well.
One of the biggest questions of the entire draft is which edge player should be drafted behind Bosa. Among the options, Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah had the best day, as he ranked second in the vertical jump, third in the broad jump, and second in the 40-yard dash (4.63) among all defensive linemen. His +41.9 pass-rush grade ranked third in the nation, so he was always in the first-round mix, but Sunday’s performance could vault him to the top end of the round.
The nation’s top pass-rush grade belonged to Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun, and while a 4.82 40-yard dash and 115-inch broad jump were lower than expected, his 35-inch vertical jump ranked fourth in the class. Calhoun has two years of strong pass-rushing production, but inconsistent testing may keep him out of the first round.
The other top pass-rushing name to keep an eye on is Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence, who may be the best pure rusher of the entire group, and his numbers ran similar to Calhoun, though his 1.62 10-yard split may be the difference in separating the two.
– Clemson DE Shaq Lawson had a strong day, as he ran a 4.70 40-yard dash to go with a 1.64 10-yard split. That explosion wasn’t always evident on the field, but he was still extremely productive in 2015, grading at +44.0 overall, good for fourth in the draft class.
– Penn State DE Carl Nassib will never win any change-of-direction contests, but his 1.62 10-yard burst is impressive for the 277-pounder. He had a strong senior season, leading all 4-3 defensive ends with a pass-rush productivity of 18.3, and carrying that over to Senior Bowl practice week where he dominated the action. Nassib has the power and burst to make an impact, even if he doesn’t “turn the corner” in the same manner as some of the top edge rushers.
– Oklahoma DE Charles Tapper turned heads with a 4.59 40-yard dash to lead all defensive linemen. He had a strong all-around 2015 season grading at +12.8 as a pass rusher and +10.5 against the run, good for a 23rd-overall ranking in the deep draft class of interior defensive linemen.