NFL Scouting Combine

Jaguars Looking At OL Ekwonu With Top Pick

We wrote a bit in January about NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu potentially being the best offensive lineman in the draft. Well, he certainly thinks so, as he told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine Thursday that he’d “definitely deserve” to be drafted No. 1 overall, according to Darryl Slater of NJ.com

He’s not totally off base in his thinking. ESPN’s Mel Kiper mocked Ekwonu to Jacksonville in his latest mock draft just before the Combine. According to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, many at the Combine, including ESPN’s Todd McShay, expected Ekwonu to blow up in Indianapolis.

There’s already been a bit of talk connecting Ekwonu to the Jaguars. General manager Trent Baalke has a tendency to prefer explosive linemen and Ekwonu demonstrated his explosiveness in field drills including an impressive sub-5.00 second 40-yard dash. Baalke and new head coach Doug Pederson will be looking to put together a group at offensive line that can protect former No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence and create holes for running backs James Robinson and Travis Etienne.

Jawaan Taylor is expected to compete with Walker Little for the right tackle job. Captain Brandon Linder should return to form at center after MCL and ankle injuries forced him to miss a large part of the 2021 NFL season. Andrew Norwell is expected to hit the free agent market and Cam Robinson could join him if the team decides not to utilize their franchise tag on Robinson for the second straight year. Veteran sixth-man Tyler Shatley was recently re-signed and Ben Bartch could help out at guard. So the versatility of Ekwonu could line him up as the perfect choice for Jacksonville’s current situation, where lots of question marks surround the depth chart. Even so, the Jaguars could also fall in love with Evan Neal, who is largely seen as the top pure tackle in the draft.

Still, the redshirt sophomore out of Raleigh is a young, talented prospect with the ability to dominate at tackle or guard. Even if he slips past Jacksonville at No. 1 overall, don’t expect him to be available after both New York teams get a chance to draft. Ekwonu will aim to be only the third Wolfpack offensive lineman in history to be picked in the first round, the highest-drafted Wolfpack prospect since Bradley Chubb in 2018, and, above that, the first top overall pick out of NC State since Mario Williams in 2006.

NFL Combine Changes Bubble Rules, Boycott Avoided

Crisis averted. The NFL Combine announced that they have changed their bubble policies and will allow prospects outside of restricted areas, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (via Twitter). Per Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com (on Twitter), the boycott has been avoided.

[RELATED: Latest On The NFL Combine]

“As has been the case throughout the pandemic, we continue to evolve our Combine policies and procedures in consultation with medical experts,” the National Invitational Combine said in a statement (via ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Twitter). “While masks continue to be required for air travel and during medical exams at the Combine (players and medical personnel), wearing a mask at other times while on site is recommended, but not required. We encourage all players to remain within the secure Combine areas at all times for your safety. However, if you would like to leave the secure areas during free time in your schedule, you are now permitted to do so at your own risk.”

This is a sudden change in philosophy, but it’s not particularly surprising following the news from earlier today. Due to the former restrictions, agents who represent more than 150 draft prospects were organizing a boycott of all testing, on-field workouts, and interviews at the Combine. Tony Pauline of ProFootballNetwork.com tweets that some compromise was likely reached, allowing the event to proceed.

Schefter tweeted a remark from a source earlier today who indicated that agents were not planning a boycott but were simply “advising the players en masse to hold off on workouts until Pro Day.” Either way, it sounds like the threat worked.

Update: Latest On The NFL Combine

7:15pm: True to our suspicions, it turns out a mass boycott of the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine is just what the prospects’ agents had in mind. According to Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, agents who represent more than 150 draft prospects will organize a boycott of all testing, on-field workouts, and interviews at the Combine. If that number is accurate, it represents nearly half of the Combine’s invited athletes.

Further tweets from Pelissero and Rapoport explain that agents are pushing for players to be allowed access to their full team of coaches, trainers, ATCs, etc. If these demands aren’t met, most top prospects are expected to only perform medical evaluations in Indianapolis.

The ball is now back in the NFL’s court as lines have been drawn in the sand.

6:15pm: Yesterday, the NFL informed college athletes invited to the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine of increased restrictions surrounding the event in the effort to create a “bubble” environment for protection against the spread of COVID-19. We noted yesterday that the extreme measures were not sitting well with prospective employees and that displeasure from the athletes involved could soon be voiced.

Well, less than 24 hours later, the NFL Players Association has stepped into the conversation. In a letter sent out to potential Combine participants’ agents, the NFLPA voiced their “long standing opposition to the NFL Scouting Combine.” A copy of the letter was first tweeted out by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

In the letter, the players’ union called out the “NFL’s proposed ‘bubble'” along with the league’s “antiquated system of every team doctor examining players and having them perform yet again.” The Association calls for “serious modification or elimination” of the current system.

Now, the NFLPA has no involvement in the Combine. Players are not usually introduced to the union until their rookie orientations, with the exception being players who participate in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl all-star game. The letter acknowledges this fact claiming that “while (they) do not represent these players (they) have advocated for their rights to fair treatment.” NFLPA president and current Browns’ starting center J.C. Tretter tweeted out his thoughts saying, “This year’s NFL Combine is an example of what happens when players are not yet represented by a union.”

Players declaring for the NFL Draft are solely represented by their respective agents. Word has it that many agents have been advising their clients not to participate in this year’s combine, opting to display their abilities at their schools’ Pro Days. We noted yesterday that this is a luxury afforded to players who will certainly have many scouts attend their school’s Pro Day. Players at smaller Group of 5 schools and FCS schools may be relying on the Combine to display their talents and, as a result, will have to subject themselves to the overwhelming restrictions enforced by the NFL.

We are nine days away from the scheduled start of the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, and more updates on the situation are certainly expected. With the support of the NFLPA’s “long standing opposition,” if a significant number of prospects protest this year’s testing, we may see the end of the NFL Scouting Combine as we know it.

NFL Combine Heavily Increasing COVID Protocols

The NFL sent a letter out to prospects invited to the 2022 NFL Combine scheduled for the beginning of March. Tom Pelissero of NFL Network tweeted out a copy of what was sent to players, showing guidelines for an event dead-set on preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The event does not require that the Combine’s participants be vaccinated against COVID-19, but face coverings are recommended for all players and attendees and testing will be available for everyone in attendance. If an attendee tests positive, isolation procedures and medical guidance will also be available.

Because participants are not required to be vaccinated or protected, the event lays out guidelines to seclude each player.

“Players will be restricted to secure Combine venues during their entire time in Indianapolis for their protection,” the letter reads. “Players who violate this policy at any time will be disqualified from further participation and sent home.”

Players will be allowed one guest, provided it is a medical support person. This guest could be a physical therapist, massage therapist, athletic trainer, sport psychologist, or some other professional whose intended purpose is to improve a player’s performance.

Anyone with access to the players, including the medical support, must follow what the letter calls “Tier 1 Combine COVID guidelines,” which requires that the individual be fully vaccinated and boosted, if eligible. They can’t be showing symptoms and must be wearing a face covering when in the presence of players.

In addition to player seclusion, the Combine is taking other extensive measures to ensure reduced exposure to COVID-19 including “fewer days on site, reduced testing schedule…scheduled medical examination, customized meal options/timing, single room accommodations and secure environment.”

The fear is that, with increased restrictions, many draft prospects will elected not to work out in Indianapolis, instead choosing to display their talents at their respective Pro Days.

Unfortunately, the only players that this hurts are those from smaller schools who get to compare their abilities to those of prospects from bigger schools at the Combine. The importance of the Combine and Pro Days for players at larger schools has been minimized over time with scouts relying more on game film than Combine results. Occasionally an elite Combine performance, like D.K. Metcalf‘s, or an extremely poor showing, like Orlando Brown‘s, will sway talent evaluators on borderline players, but, for the most part, minds have been made up by the end of the College Football Playoffs.

Regardless of Metcalf and Brown’s Combine performances, though, they both had plenty of scouts at their Pro Days. The same cannot be said for athletes at FCS and smaller Group of 5 schools. Look for athletes at those smaller schools to make less noise about the increased restrictions, while Power 5 stars of the college football world may be less willing to tolerate the restrictions and more likely to elect for a singular performance at their Pro Day.

In addition to the athletes, Pro Football Network’s Aaron Wilson has pointed out that prospective employees of the event have voiced discontent with the imposed work rules, including risk of being sent home.

Regardless of who elects to wait for their Pro Day and who is undeterred by the increased restrictions, the 2022 NFL Combine is sure to look extremely different than years past.

Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons Declares For NFL Draft

Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons has officially declared for the NFL Draft, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. While the move will not come as a shock to anyone familiar with this year’s draft class, the news confirms that Simmons will indeed be available to teams in just a few months.

Simmons is considered a consensus top-ten, potentially top-five, prospect in this year’s draft class. An incredible combination of size, strength, athleticism, and football IQ, Simmons has been one of the most lethal switch-army knives in college football over the past three years.

While his size, 6’4”-230lbs, makes him an obvious fit at linebacker, many have opined that he has the speed and coverage abilities of an NFL safety. Earlier this year, a video of Simmons racing Clemson running back Travis Etienne in a 40-yard dash led many to speculate that Simmons should produce times below 4.45 and maybe even 4.4 at the NFL Scouting Combine. Both would rank among the best performances by a linebacker in the events history.

Simmons completes his collegiate career with 238 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 20 passes defended, 6 forced fumbles, and 4 interceptions. While Clemson was unable to win back-to-back National Titles, Simmons had his most productive season this year, recording 104 tackles, 16.5 for loss, 8 sacks, 8 passes defended, and 3 interceptions.

Draft Rumors: Texans, Pats, Bears

The latest draft rumors from around the NFL:

  • Texas A&M cornerback Brandon Williams worked out privately for Texans coach Bill O’Brien and also visited the Steelers, Patriots, and Bears, Wilson tweets. Williams bench pressed 225 pounds 18 times at the NFL scouting combine and is said to be turning heads with his athleticism. Wilson writes that the A&M product, who had 34 tackles and seven passes defended in 2015, is drawing third/fourth round grades from scouts.
  • Michigan linebacker James Ross is drawing interest from the Colts, Raiders, Ravens, and Lions, Wilson tweets.
  • Temple wide receiver Robby Anderson had visited the Packers, Browns, Bengals, Chiefs, and Raiders, Wilson tweets. Anderson caught a career-high 70 passes for 939 yards on his way to an all-conference selection in 2015. The 6’3″, 190-pound receiver ran a 4.28 second 40-yard-dash at his Pro Day.
  • The Buccaneers and Chargers worked out Iowa State receiver Quenton Bundrage, according to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net (on Twitter). Bundrage, who posted a 4.5 second 40-yard-dash time, finished his senior year with 41 receptions, 548 yards, and one touchdown as a senior. He missed the 2014 season with a knee injury.
  • Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton is drawing late interest from the Texans, Vikings, and Cardinals, Wilson tweets.

NFL Considering Combine Changes

The NFL Scouting Combine could soon be subject to adjustments geared toward modernizing the workouts and other aspects of the event, Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports.

National Football Scouting Inc., which coordinates the combine, is starting a committee comprised of coaches, league executives, trainers, scouts and other key personnel to review the event, starting with this year’s 35th annual combine.

Pelissero points out the combine’s cornerstone tests could be under siege. The 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill and shuttle run represent the universal testing portion of the event, with most of these drills being unchanged for decades. The positional workouts haven’t been altered much in this span as well, Pelissero notes.

One of the potential adjustments National Football Scouting is considering is outfitting prospects with data-recording devices, which many teams now use at their respective facilities. A functional movement screen and the Player Assessment Tool, a psychological study that complements the Wonderlic test, have been added in recent years, and the NFL could be moving toward more scientific measures.

The league will conduct its first football performance and technology symposium Wednesday, with Dr. Marcus Elliott — director of P3, which has used 3D motion analysis to measure prospects at the NBA Combine the past two years — will be one of the speakers. P3’s already collected data on about a fourth of this year’s draft pool, per Pelissero.

Everybody wins when you do these things,” Elliott, also a former physiologist and injury prevention specialist to the Patriots, told Pelissero. “You start choosing players that are slotted more correctly based on their real physical tools, and you also have insight into injuries they’re at risk for, so you can help them prevent those injuries.”

The new committee will also evaluate medical and psychological examinations, according to Elliott. These tests have become invaluable to teams, arguably more so than the on-field work.

This year’s combine runs from Feb. 24-29.