NFL Combine: The 5 SEC participants who intrigue me most
In their own way, all 93 of the SEC’s NFL Combine participants intrigue me.
There’s a guy like Kristian Fulton, who came back to school and showed why he’s worthy of being a first-round cornerback. And there’s a guy like Javon Kinlaw, who dominated a day of practice at the Senior Bowl and showed why he’s a physical freak who is absolutely ready to play in the NFL.
If I had all the time in the world, I’d write 1 reason every SEC combine participant intrigues me. I, however, do not have that time. Quite frankly, you don’t have time to read that.
So instead, here are the 5 SEC players who I’ll be keeping a close eye on this week in Indianapolis:
1. Henry Ruggs III, Alabama WR
The overwhelming favorite to run the fastest 40-yard dash is going to have major pressure in Indianapolis (Sports Betting Dime gave Ruggs 4/1 odds to win that title). There’s talk that he could legitimately threaten John Ross’ record of 4.22. Whether that happens or not, Ruggs is still in position to run the fastest SEC 40 since 2006. Zedrick Woods in 2019 was the only SEC player to run in the 4.2-range during that stretch. Ruggs is also in favorable position to best Alabama’s top 40 time since 2006, which was Julio Jones’ 4.34 in 2011.
Should Ruggs’ 40 time impact whether he’s a top 15 pick? In my opinion, no. We’ve already seen the game speed. It’s off the charts.
But it’s intriguing because he has a legitimate chance to make history. The Combine, more than anything else, is supposed to test how guys compete. Ruggs’ 40 should have the attention of not just Alabama fans or combine junkies, but all football fans.
Henry Ruggs III is a Ferrari that operated in a Honda car lot weekly. He moves at a different tempo than his surroundings and makes everyone else look as if they’re moving in slow motion. pic.twitter.com/PiuzTCe3J1
— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) February 24, 2020
2. Justin Jefferson, LSU WR
Speaking of pressure-packed 40-yard dashes, a lot seems to be riding on Jefferson’s time. Never mind the fact that the guy just had a season with 111 catches for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns for the national champs. But there are expectations that the former LSU wideout will run in the mid-late 4.5-range. The tempered expectations with the breakaway speed is why he’s considered a borderline 1st-round pick.
In my opinion, that’s a bit ridiculous. His route-running is what gets him separation. And the route tree he ran was second-to-none in that offense. Jefferson can win 1-on-1 battles all over the field.
But am I still interested in how he runs? For sure. He knows the importance of it, too. My guess is that if he runs better than those 4.5 expectations, more people will go, “wow, maybe he is a no-doubter 1st-round pick.”
Jefferson is at his best when people doubt him, so he’ll be in his comfort zone.
3. C.J. O’Grady, Arkansas TE
How would we be talking about O’Grady if he was just being evaluated for his on-field performance? Perhaps as a legitimate 2nd round tight end. He moves well, he makes catches all over the field and the physicality isn’t lacking. Before the 2019 season, Chad Morris called him “one of the best players in the country” after a 2018 season in which he had 6 touchdown catches.
But unfortunately for the former Hog, that’s not the case. He was dismissed from the team this past season after he admittedly didn’t show up to a workout. After Morris said they “mutually parted ways,” O’Grady told his side of that story:
C.J. O’Grady says the old C.J. was immature and he has moved past that pic.twitter.com/WAwjb0hZ3x
— PFF (@PFF) February 25, 2020
That’s pretty candid for an NFL Draft hopeful. That’s a welcome sight because it would look much worse if that came out from somewhere else.
The question with O’Grady is a common one — can his workouts impress to show that he’s worth a Day 2 selection? There’s reason to believe that can happen. And in a draft that doesn’t have a bunch of likely first round tight ends like last year, perhaps O’Grady’s athleticism will allow him to stand out.
4. Lynn Bowden, Kentucky WR/QB
One of my favorite stories of the past few years was watching what Bowden did for Kentucky. Few players would have been willing to sacrifice their draft stock to help their team with such a drastic a midseason position switch. He’s truly a Kentucky legend.
Oh, and that willingness to play anywhere extended into Indianapolis:
Bowden says he’ll work out at any position NFL teams want him to. “I’ll work out at DL if they want to.” https://t.co/eEbQ1rymnZ
— NFL Draft (@NFLDraft) February 25, 2020
Bowden, by all accounts, is rare. But this weekend is huge for him to show that he’s not just a great story, and that he was a preseason All-SEC receiver for a reason. How he handles these drills as a receiver will determine what exactly his draft upside is.
It was interesting that Bowden actually measured 5-10 5/8 and not the 6-1 he was listed at. Does that matter? Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. weren’t 6 feet. Is Bowden the route-runner that those guys were? No, but anyone downgrading him because of his height clearly didn’t watch how lethal he was with the ball in his hands.
This translates on any level:
Rep 1 – Stiff arms LB then trucks CB
Rep 2 – Dominating in space
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) February 17, 2020
Unfortunately, Bowden announced that he won’t be running at the combine because of a hamstring injury. There’s still plenty he can do to impress in Indy.
Plenty of eyes, including mine, will be on the All-American.
5. Jake Fromm, Georgia QB
He is the forgotten quarterback in this class, and understandably so. He’s not in the Tier 2 group with Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Jordan Love (Joe Burrow is by himself in Tier 1), all of whom are in the 1st round in nearly every mock draft you’ll find. Fromm isn’t getting 1st-round buzz, and there’s probably not much he can do in Indianapolis to change that.
But I want to see how he stacks up against those guys, and not just with his hand size. He’s now away from the system and being measured purely on his abilities, and not on the abilities of the weapons/play-callers around him. Fromm isn’t Aaron Murray 2.0, despite what some evaluations might say.
Does the ball come out of his hand a little differently? Absolutely. Does he need to trust his receivers more? Sure. Could the arm talent be better? Probably, yeah, though you could say that about a lot of quarterback prospects.
Still, I’m fascinated with how Fromm handles this weekend. Will we see reports of him throwing his UGA system under the bus when asked about why he struggled at times in 2019? Or will Fromm come away from the weekend with a plus evaluation after showing there’s not such a gap between him and Herbert?
I wouldn’t be surprised if Fromm’s pre-draft reputation as “the forgotten quarterback” took a turn this weekend.