INDIANAPOLIS – Now, things get really interesting.
The 2023 NFL Draft is seven weeks away, but with free agency quickly approaching at the scouting combine this past weekend, it will be a sprint to the finish line. As always, Florida was topped by an eye-popping performance from quarterback Anthony Richardson.
Will Richardson’s view change over the weekend? What other prospects helped or hurt their draft hopes in Indianapolis? Athletic Draft analysts Nick Baumgartner, Diane Lee and Nate Dice break it all down:
Let’s start with the biggest talking point of the weekend: Anthony Richardson’s fitness. What were your takeaways from that performance?
Diane Lee: This is my amazing face…
I know he had freakish athleticism, but I’d say his performance was against a draft class that put up pretty ho-hum collective performances. I was very pleased with Richardson’s relaxed footwork and during quarterback practice. He’s not going to eliminate all concerns with touch and a series of throws in a single workout, but I’m glad he doesn’t need to confirm his arm strength to stand out from his competition.
We all know who he is on the way to Indianapolis. This week proved what the optimists are talking about.
Nick Baumgartner: Zero surprise. What he showed Saturday serves as the best confirmation we’ve seen on film. I don’t know what that will do to his stock because there’s so much about Richardson. Everyone in the league likes his talent; Not everyone in the league can spend the time necessary to develop that skill.
If you like him, you like him – you did before you got together. If you’ve been to Indianapolis, for a variety of understandable reasons, that didn’t change over the weekend.
Nate Dice: Richardson was expected to get a big on-field workout in Indianapolis — an assortment of highlights this year that didn’t show his athleticism in Florida. I’m sure teams feel the same way.
A panel interview process will drive Richardson’s role. Richardson is someone who I believe polishes his game more than he gets credit for, so if he crushes teams one-on-one, that’s what will push him over the top.
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Follow-up: We’ve talked a lot about the possibility of three QBs going in the top five. Any chance to see all four?
Baumgartner: I think we can see four guys going into the top 10. I’m not ready to put Richardson in the top five, though, for all the reasons we’ve talked about — including the fact that not every QB-needy team has the staff, resources or time to properly develop him.
There was nothing to criticize about the way CJ Strode threw the football during on-field drills, and we wondered what Will Lewis’ arm would look like. This quarterback class isn’t generational, but it’s better than what people have offered this winter and Saturday showed some of that.
Dice: Nick’s last sentence triggered it. This is a good class of quarterbacks, but every top prospect has flaws and question marks. Some teams will wave them around, while others will use them to knock QBs down the board. I think about how the four quarterbacks in the top 10 or 12 will eventually be out, and teams are playing for position to get “their” guy.
Lee: I move past “possibility” and I begin to expect it.
There is a need and motivation to avoid backsliding in selecting young QBs, but Jalen Carter’s legal issue is also a factor, as is the lack of blue-chip talent elsewhere at the top of this class. I’m not ranking the top QBs as top four prospects overall — make no mistake about it. But until we clear up veterans like Aaron Rodgers and Derek Carr, the draft will be lined up to play signal callers early.
Other than Richardson, which players would you call Combine Week winners?
Dice: Stroud and Jackson Smith-Njikpa were the stars on Saturday night.
Several tight ends had big days, including Darnell Washington, who put on a performance that will only help fans of his game make a case for his value as a receiver. Sam Laporta is an all-round footballer who does a lot of things well and had a great test day. And a prospect like Luke Schoonmaker continues to be very interesting because he’s a tight end who’s shown to play in-line and his testing numbers could be even higher to tap into as a receiver.
In a draft that didn’t feature a ton of size at the wide receiver position, matching the downfield ability he showed in the AT Perry film with a good day of testing helped alleviate some of the concerns about his speed.
Parris Johnson Jr. is measured with rare length, which will appeal to teams, especially those who believe he can develop his game. And various front-seven players put in big performances. To name a few: Nolan Smith, Lucas Van Ness and Adetomiva Atebawore.
Lee: Smith-Najikba, who missed most of the 2022 season, was needed this week. His mobility and body control are as fresh and strong as ever, and the consistency of his production throughout his college career (injury aside) speaks for itself.
I was pleasantly surprised at how Brian Breezy weighed (a spry 298 pounds) and moved during his position training.
I owe a steak dinner to Dane and Nick for alerting me to Lucas Van Ness the week before the combine, because they told me every athlete was an Iowa prospect. He ran a 7.02 three-cone, 1.64 10-yard split and 4.32 short shuttle at 272 pounds. Hercules, indeed.
Baumgartner: Stroud and Smith-Najikba were, to no one’s surprise, outstanding. Smith-Njikpa’s agility and movement skills are off the charts – we know that. He reminds me of a more agile and slippery version of Amon-Ra St. Brown, who is a first-down machine from the slot.
Two other receivers who had better testing days: Perry and Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt.
Cornerbacks Christian Gonzalez and Deontay Banks both looked fantastic, and Georgia OT Broderick Jones (34 3/4-inch arm length, 1.75 10-second split, 30-inch vertical) matched his tape. Jones is a great prospect.
On the flip side, what prospects are getting hurt in Indianapolis — or at least missing an opportunity to help?
Baumgartner: I don’t know if Bryce Young hurt his stock by opting out of testing/workouts, but it was A missed opportunity. We know how big he is based on his size, so I wanted to see him show his competitive nature in front of the country like Stroud (and others) did. When your best competitors are killing it, sitting out everything in Indy and ultimately doing the same things at your pro day — at a much lower weight than Young’s 204-pound combine — is something teams are going to notice. That’s it.
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Lee: Since everyone else threw up, Young should be out, and there’s nothing to lead me away from that opinion. Even after clearing the 200-pound limit, Young didn’t do enough to change the narrative about his size. His competition, meanwhile, was good enough to climb or solidify their spot in the draft rankings.
Another: Kelly Ringo. I’m still a believer in the Georgia cornerback, and his speed (4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash) is legit. His vertical jump (33 1/2 inches) and hip mobility aren’t where I need them to be, however, and he should be considered at the top of the corners class – especially with guys like Gonzalez and Devon Witherspoon competing against him.
Dice: there A lot Receivers weighing less than 180 pounds and testing numbers are good, but not overwhelming. However, its role has actually continued to trend downward, LSU’s Kayshon Boutte. He’s still a talented player and his 40-yard dash time (4.5) finished well, but his lack of explosive numbers will have teams wondering how he’ll translate to the pros.
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Any chance you’ll circle back after seeing them this weekend? Will anyone you wouldn’t expect test the way they did?
Lee: Going back to Breezy’s 2021 tape. Especially given how cold I made him in the 2022 season, he tested well enough to get another look. Schoonmaker is someone else I’d like to spend some time with. He weighed over 250 pounds and ran a 4.63 40 and a 4.27 short shuttle. I need to lock in how well he blocks, but considering how deep the TE class is already, he could be a serious steal.
Dice: Bryce Ford-Wheaton of West Virginia. He didn’t post great numbers in college and will enter the NFL as an older player, but his combination of size (6-foot-4, 221 pounds) and tools are worth a second look. Old Dominion tight end Zach Kuntz also had a monster day. His game tape is that of a player with the reputation of a wide receiver (think Mike Gesicki), but his testing numbers will have me revisiting him to see if there are any shots of him moving in-line.
On the opposite end of things, I thought Jordan Addison would test a bit better. Addison is a talented player who performed extremely well at his two college spots (USC and Pitt) and tested well – I’m not knocking his stock because of that. He acts very fast in the film.
Baumgartner: South Carolina defensive lineman Zach Pickens continues to impress in everything he does, from talking to working. There is a lot of diversity out there. Pickens is an interesting player who played around a lot of good players in Columbia.
I turned on Illinois safety Sidney Brown (40 1/2-inch vertical, 10-foot-10 broad jump, 4.47 40) after the Senior Bowl and I had to do it again. He was absolutely brilliant at the link.
(Photo by Anthony Richardson: Stacey Revere/Getty Images)