The SEC players who helped and hurt their draft stocks the most at the 2020 NFL Combine
Call me soft if you will, but I made a decision this year that I wouldn’t call this a “winners and losers” column.
I have a couple of reasons for that. I could make the case that we won’t really know who “won” the NFL Combine until we look back a couple of months from now and see which players benefitted and which players were hurt the most from what they did in Indianapolis.
The bigger reason, however, is that calling a handful of draft prospects “losers” doesn’t quite sit right. The overwhelming majority of these players put everything into preparing for this evaluation. Some of them crushed it, and some of them didn’t. Either way, it seems unfair to call an individual prospect a “loser.”
It’s far different from saying a team is a loser for something they did on the field. We’ve got a scoreboard that shows they lost.
So starting this year, I’ll phrase it with “who helped and hurt their draft stocks the most at the Combine.” Is it the same exact idea? Absolutely.
Here are the former SEC players who had their draft stocks get a nice bump or take a significant hit:
1. Justin Jefferson, LSU WR
Fair or not, the 40-yard dash was going to be incredibly important for Jefferson following his historic year. And, just as he did all year for the Tigers, the wideout stepped up. Instead of delivering the mid/late 4.5-time that the experts projected — that’s according to speed coach Morgan Wells — Jefferson ran a blistering 4.43.
As NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said during the broadcast, “huge.” He’s not wrong. Jefferson is considered a borderline 1st-round pick with the biggest knock against him being his explosiveness. Again, the irony is rich considering what he did in LSU’s offense this past year (111 catches, 1,540 yards, 18 TDs). But Jefferson ran a better 40 than Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb and Jalen Reagor, all of whom have been popular 1st-round receiver options in mock drafts.
And just in case there was any doubt about the explosiveness, Jefferson posted a 37.5-inch vertical with a solid 126-inch broad jump. There shouldn’t be any questions left about Jefferson’s draft stock after that showing.
2. Willie Gay, Mississippi State LB
If there are off-the-field questions going into the Combine, you’d better bring it in Indy. That’s exactly what Gay did. He posted one of the best combines of anyone in Indianapolis. At 243 pounds, Gay ran a 4.46 40 with a 136-inch broad jump (3rd-best among all linebackers since 2006) and a 39.5-inch (!) vertical. Yowza.
That’s not incredibly surprising considering the flashes he showed at Mississippi State. The issue was obviously that his suspension limited him to 5 games this past season. The fact that his last game with the Bulldogs was preceded by that infamous punch of Garrett Shrader will certainly give teams pause about taking a chance on him.
Now, at the very least, Gay reminded everyone just how freakish he is.
3. Jabari Zuniga, Florida Edge
Let’s just say anyone assuming Zuniga would work out like his former Florida teammate Jachai Polite did last year, well, they got a rude awakening. Zuniga was plenty in shape. He had the 2nd-best 40 among defensive linemen (4.64) and he had the best broad jump (127 inches) among his position group. A 33-inch vertical with 29 bench press reps was solid, too.
We always talk about how quickly Edge guys can rise. That usually happens after they struggled with consistency, which was a fair criticism of Zuniga. Have we seen plenty of him? Despite his injury-plagued senior year, yes we have.
But Zuniga was a guy who still stood to move into that unquestioned Day 2 conversation with a big showing in Indy. He proved that he’s absolutely in that discussion.
4. Albert Okwuegbunam, Mizzou TE
I’m not sure this season was what Okwuegbunam envisioned.
Check that. I know that this wasn’t the season that Okwuegbunam envisioned. He went from an obvious preseason All-American to a bit of an afterthought with his worst season. Granted, he was still an elite red-zone target (6 TDs), but his opportunities were somewhat limited as he battled injury issues … as well as a struggling Mizzou offense.
The Combine was a reminder that he’s still plenty athletic at 6-5, 258 pounds. A sub-4.5 40 was incredibly impressive. In fact, that was tied for the 4th-fastest time from a tight end since 2003. Oh, and this is something:
Among players at least 6’5” and 250 lbs, TE Albert Okwuegbunam’s 4.49 40-yard dash is the 2nd-fastest time at the combine since 2003, behind only 2019 1st-Rd pick Montez Sweat (4.41).
Okwuegbunam is the fastest TE at the combine since Evan Engram (4.42) in 2017.@MizzouFootball
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) February 27, 2020
It was so impressive that he shut it down after that. Can you blame him?
That’s a nice way to show that he does more than operate within the 20. Who knows if that’ll be the difference in Albert O. sneaking into that Day 2 discussion, but his weekend definitely didn’t support any belief that he only benefitted from playing alongside Drew Lock.
5. C.J. Henderson, Florida CB
In my opinion, Henderson had a favorable argument to be considered the No. 2 cornerback in the draft (Jeffrey Okudah isn’t letting go of the No. 1 spot). Kristian Fulton has a pretty good argument, too. Mock drafts seemed like they were all over the 1st round with Jefferson.
After Henderson’s Combine showing, there could certainly be more of a consensus in the middle of the 1st round.
He ripped off a 4.39 40 and at 6-1, 204 pounds, he also had 20 bench press reps. That’s certainly going to make it easier for someone to justify taking him as an immediate plug-and-play cornerback. I’d argue the film of Henderson’s past 3 years should carry a little more weight than that, but what he did Sunday will certainly make him a mainstay of the “CB2” discussion.
1. Jake Fromm, Georgia QB
No, this isn’t just because Fromm has small hands or because he ran a 40 in the 5-second range. I promise that’s not the reason he showed up on this list. If anything, I liked this rare bit of edge from Fromm with the media.
— Cody Chaffins (@Cody_Fox5) February 25, 2020
The question coming into the weekend was how he was going to look side-by-side next to Justin Herbert and Jordan Love. Fromm’s deep ball didn’t match theirs, nor did his ball have the same zip. Some experts claimed it looked like he was overthrowing to squash the concerns about his arm.
Was any of this a major revelation? Not necessarily, and that’s coming from someone like me who is in the pro-Fromm camp. But the issue was that this was Fromm’s opportunity to show that he deserves to be in that 1st-round discussion like many had him in coming into 2019.
Will someone take a chance on Fromm late on Night 1? It’s not impossible, but at this point, someone doing that would be deciding that mostly based on pre-2019 events. Fromm didn’t squash any concerns in Indianapolis.
2. Jauan Jennings, Tennessee WR
Before you attack me Vols fans, hear this.
Jennings is an elite route-runner who gets separation and will absolutely have a chance to stick in the NFL because of that skill. That much I believe. Anyone who consumed the Senior Bowl/his Tennessee career would agree with that.
But was running a 4.72 40 going to vault Jennings up draft boards? Nope. It probably didn’t help that he recorded the 2nd-worst vertical among receivers, as well. There will be concerns that his craftiness was what got him his production, though the 6-3, 215-pound wideout was clearly more than that.
Thursday was a chance for Jennings to make scouts wonder “what if he had a better QB” after an impressive workout. Instead, they might’ve gotten some confirmation as to why he could disappear for key stretches because of his physical limitations.
3. Josiah Coatney, Ole Miss DL
I’m not gonna knock a kid for getting injured at the Combine, nor will I knock someone for losing a shoe during a drill. The latter totally happened to Coatney:
Josiah Coatney lost a shoe during the drill ^^ pic.twitter.com/dApQHc2Tcv
— René Bugner (@RNBWCV) February 29, 2020
It happens. The more worrisome part of Coatney’s combine was that he had the 2nd-worst 40 among defensive linemen (5.21) and he didn’t crack 100 inches in the broad jump, which was the worst at his position. His 3-cone drill was also north of 8 seconds and he benched 22 reps, which was a number that was bested by 7 running backs, 1 receiver and 1 … punter?
That’s probably not a stat the 308-pound Coatney wanted to be a part of. That’s after a year in which he was part of a vastly improved Ole Miss run defense. Still, for a guy whose best individual season was in 2017, he had a chance to show that he was more explosive than what the dip in production indicated.
Coatney will have an uphill climb avoid anything but a late Day 3 selection.
4. Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt TE
It’s worth repeating that the Combine isn’t a all-or-nothing event. It’s meant to do a few things:
- See how prospects handle competition preparation
- See how prospects compete/stack up against one another
- Confirm strengths/weaknesses on tape
- Impress enough to make scouts take second look at tape
With Pinkney, the 2019 tape was, um, not great. Part of that was because he didn’t have a quarterback who could throw him the ball and part of that was because he made worse things for himself with how he handled that. That combination, plus a wrist injury, meant that Pinkney reverted to his pedestrian 2016-17 production.
What would have been a good way to show that he was more like the 2018 guy who was one of the top few tight ends in America? Ball out at the Combine. That, however, didn’t happen.
Pinkney ran the worst 40 of the tight ends at the combine with a 4.96, which was a time that even 3 offensive linemen beat. That’s not exactly “physical freak who just had a bad year” stuff. Meanwhile, comparable prospects like the aforementioned Okwuegbunam and Brycen Hopkins led the way among tight ends in the 40.
Also strange was that it came out that the Patriots claimed that Pinkney had answered one of their questions in an interview with a “loser’s mentality.” Yikes. If the Patriots are sending a message like that, surely that won’t go unnoticed.
That’s a tough way to make headlines in Indianapolis.