The NFL Scouting Combine is underway in Indianapolis.
So far, we have previewed the Combine players at the offenisve skill positions. Today, we’ll look at the big boys on either side of the ball. These guys don’t get much of the glory, but there is still plenty to gain from watching the offensive and defensive linemen at the combine. As before, we’ll look at the top prospect, highlight a player who needs to have a big performance and examine another who would be a good fit for the Kansas City Chiefs.
But let’s start with what’s new for lineman at this year’s Combine.
Combine changes for lineman drills
- An Offensive Line Screen Drill has been implemented to gauge lateral agility and change of direction. This drill will also test an offensive lineman’s vision. Coaches will be placed in two different locations. The first one will give a key on which to block. The lineman will have to adjust on the fly when he sees the key — a step forward by the first coach — and then move on to blocking the second coach.
- We know that linemen will also participate in a Sled Push Drill that ranges from two to five yards — but the details are still a little unknown.
- Defensive linemen are also getting two new drills. The first is a Figure Eight Drill. Two large hoops will be placed on the ground with a small gap between them. The defender is to loop around both hoops while picking up objects from the ground — usually a small bag or ball — to simulate their ability to bend. The second is the Run and Club Drill. Defenders will run through a series of bags. They’ll club and spin, then club with the opposite arm, rip and then flatten to strip the final bag. To add a level or urgency, both drills will be timed.
Top performer: Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
It’s an odd situation for Wirfs. He is an upper-tier tackle prospect, but many around the league want to move him inside. He happens to be one of the most athletic tackles in the draft. Wirfs’ combination of strength, agility and explosive ability is going to be evident in the testing and field drills. Unfortunately for Wirfs, if his arm length is anywhere near the threshold, he may be urged to move inside.
Surprise performer: Austin Jackson, USC
Jackson has been in and out of the top 32 projected picks since the end of the collegiate season — but lately, he’s been moving toward Day 2. What he does in Indianapolis could be a springboard to push him back into the Day 1 talk. Jackson is incredibly fluid along the line, with lateral agility that may compare with some tight ends and hip fluidity that some defensive backs might envy. The strength he displays in the sled push drill may not be elite, but his ability to move and mirror will captivate scouts.
Needs a big performance: Prince Tega-Wanogho, Auburn
A raw prospect as he entered college, Tega-Wanogho’s stock had steadily improved through his junior year. But then he had a small setback as a senior. He wasn’t able to practice at the Senior Bowl, so this will be the last chance for the once-promising basketball player to showcase his elite athletic ability. He should look very good running in a straight line, but he will have to showcase that athleticism in space and show improved footwork.
Potential Chiefs fit: Saahdiq Charles, LSU
The underclassmen at OT are going to carry this draft class and one guy flying under the radar is Saahdiq Charles, #77.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) January 26, 2020
He's still developing footwork and initial punch, but the natural movement, strength, and great base are evident. His ability to latch, mirror, and re-work ++ pic.twitter.com/NSWOFVvYxq
Like Quentez Cephus, Charles has some off-field issues. LSU suspended him at the start the season — but he was able to return, starting at left tackle for the national champions. If his interviews go well, then his athleticism on the field will shine. Charles has some serious core strength — and is one of the most flexible tackles you will ever see. His testing should be phenomenal, but his positional drills will have to show growth.
Interior offensive line
Top performer: Netane Muti, Fresno State
In college, Muti has spent as much time hurt as he has spent healthy — but when he is on the field, his athleticism, power and bully ability shows up. If he clears the medical exams — allowing him to participate in drills — he should be a guy to watch. The addition of the sled drill will help show his power — it will be fun to watch — and the screen drill should demonstrate how he can move in space.
Surprise performer: Matt Hennessy, Temple
It is hard for me to escape the comparison between Hennessy to Garrett Bradberry from last year’s draft class. Bradberry was clearly a step above, but the two players’ strengths and weaknesses are nearly identical — and Bradberry tested better than nearly anyone in the class. Hennessy’s lack of core and lower body strength may be hard to isolate in a testing environment.
Needs a big performance: Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin and Nick Harris, Washington
During the offseason, both players had the potential to be considered the best interior offensive linemen in the class. But then, things slowly trended down. Both are now fighting to be top-5 in the position group — and could really use a rebound in Indianapolis. Harris needs to be an elite athlete, showcasing his ability to move in space. Biadasz doesn’t have the same athleticism — but as long as his medicals check out, demonstrating just an average ability to move laterally will help him get some of his hype back.
Potential Chiefs fit: Cesar Ruiz, Michigan
Cesar Ruiz OC #51— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) February 14, 2020
- Good eyes uncovered in protection. Set to handle A gap pressure, mirror stunt from depth to take the exchange
- Uncovered on the combo, big punch to kick out DT, quick climb w/ skip while framing to seal 2nd level
- Covered on the combo, pin-push, + torque pic.twitter.com/bKiseIjBJq
During testing or drills, Ruiz doesn’t have a lot to gain — or to lose. There are no concerns about his size, athleticism or ability to perform any task. But specifically for the Chiefs, he’s someone who has positional versatility inside the tackles, loose hips to open up and pull around the horn — and is excellent getting out into space.
Top performer: Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma
Another player who was near the top of Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List, Gallimore — weighing over 300 lbs. — has reportedly run a sub-4.8 second 40-yard dash. He’s built like a freak athlete. His first step explosion — and apparently his top speed — are there to match. A good (although not great) Senior Bowl may have slowed the rise of his stock — but after this week, it should skyrocket.
Surprise performer: Ross Blacklock, TCU
TCU invests a lot of time and resources into their strength and conditioning program. That’s why they consistently have freak athletes walking out of their doors. Blacklock is just the latest. His explosive ability and movement in space is going to draw attention — but his lateral agility during testing and timed drills will make executives drop their jaws.
Needs a big performance: Jordan Elliot, Missouri
Elliot has received some love as a potential top-5 defensive tackle. But for that to happen, he has to show up as a top-tier athlete. There is a lot to like in his film, but his production has been on the lower end. Combining that with poor pad level and other technique issues, he’ll have to present the NFL with an elite upside.
Potential Chiefs fit: James Lynch, Baylor
James Lynch DL #93— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) February 10, 2020
Wish we gotta see him align inside more often. Give him a gap and let him flourish.
- Expl 1st step
- Lateral agility
- Quick hands to free chest
- Upper body control to bend and twist around/through contact pic.twitter.com/xZklN2xpsm
At this moment, I’m not entirely sure what position James Lynch would play in the NFL. If he shows up between 285 lbs. and 290 lbs., the Chiefs likely have little use for him. But if he loses some weight to look a little more like a defensive end, the Chiefs could be intrigued. While it was masked by playing as a 5-tech at Baylor, there is a sneaky amount of athleticism in his game.
Top performer: K’Lovon Chaisson, LSU
After passing through medicals, Chaisson is going to blow the interview process away. From that point on, you may as well only watch Chaisson — because he’s going to blow up nearly every drill. He could set the standard for the new figure eight drill.
Surprise performer: Julian Okwara, Notre Dame
An injury suffered midway through the year quieted the hype for Okwara, but he’s in the same general mold as Chaisson. He’s a slimmer, athletic edge rusher who should test impressively. His explosion — and his ability to eat up space — is fantastic. His bend may jump out, too — which might surprise some people.
Needs a big performance: Curtis Weaver, Boise State
Weaver doesn’t look the part of an elite NFL edge rusher. So he’ll need to show up looking like he improved his body makeup. He’s dealt with some ankle injuries — making it hard to gauge his flexibility — but he’ll get the chance to showcase it in a timed setting.
Potential Chiefs fit: Ladarius Hamilton, North Texas
Ladarius Hamilton #2— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) February 20, 2020
Stuck playing a ton of frog stance, SDE in college which limited some pass rush success but the flashes exist.
- Long strides up the arc
- Lateral explosion to reset gap
- Powerful clubs, swats, and rips
- Flexible enough to power through tight quarters pic.twitter.com/wKI8skeFMT
Hamilton was another contender as the surprise performer. I saved him for the Chiefs fit because the Chiefs will likely have more pressing needs to fill in the first 100 picks. Hamilton fits the mold the Chiefs like in their defensive ends. It will be nice to get the measurements so we can start weeding out the height, weight and length parameters Steve Spagnuolo likes — but I expect Hamilton to meet them.
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