2024 NFL Combine Skill Player Preview


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2024 NFL Combine Skill Player Preview

All 32 NFL general managers and scouting staffs have descended on Indianapolis for the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine. The event — jokingly known as the Underwear Olympics — is a hallmark event in the draft process in which NFL teams get more than 300 of the top athletes in this year's NFL Draft in the same building for a massive fact-finding mission.

It is essential to note that most, if not all, film evaluations of these players are already done on the team/scout level. This event exists primarily for teams to confirm or conflict priors and/or add additional information to their profiles. Official measurements like height, weight, and length are vital to teams. Meanwhile, the medical checks each player will go through might be the most valuable information for teams. Lastly, the teams get the opportunity to sit face to face with many of the prospects they could be looking to draft, getting a feel for the player’s personality and whether they would be a culture fit.

The on-field workout portion of the event, while semi-useful for teams, is more for the fans and draftniks, in my opinion, getting to take in an athletic spectacle and even bet on the event.

With all of that said, let's take a quick look at how I view this weekend in terms of skill players.

Combine Blow-Up Potential

Roman Wilson (WR, Michigan) — I fully expect Wilson to be the most impressive WR in Indy from a speed and quickness standpoint. He should contend for the fastest 40, and I would be shocked if he wasn’t the top WR in both the 3-cone and short shuttle. His movement skills are nothing short of elite. My prediction for him would be 4.36 in the 40, 6.5 in the 3-cone, and 3.9 in the short shuttle. I know those are all higher marks than his reported times in training, but adrenaline and pressure tend to slow guys down a tad.

Jaylen Wright (RB, Tennessee) — At this point in the process, it is no secret that Wright is expected to be the most explosive running back in the Draft. In fact, his speed is the one thing he can hang his hat on, as he has some lagging skills elsewhere. We know the NFL is obsessed with speed, though, so if he blows out the combine as expected, it could easily lead to him being the top RB selected in April.

Brian Thomas Jr. (WR, LSU) — Watch Thomas’ tape for five seconds and you will see a guy with an elite top gear and leaping ability. Some of the reported times coming out of his camp are also bonkers.

Xavier Worthy (WR, Texas) — Worthy is every bit of the freak athlete he has been billed as. But every year, there is some “double counting” that goes on after the Combine. This is something I try to avoid in my own evaluation process — basically, it’s a phenomenon in which evaluators unnecessarily boost their opinion of a player they already knew was fast, was strong, could jump, etc., because he did those things well at the Combine. Worthy is probably the biggest candidate to be one of these artificial “risers” in the class. He is good, and we already know he is fast — let's leave it at that without overreacting.

Potential Combine Surprises

Rome Odunze (WR, Washington) — For whatever reason, there is a sentiment within the draft community that Odunze isn’t an elite athlete. I vehemently disagree and think he will absolutely blow it out this weekend. I see a player with great explosive qualities (speed and jumping) and a substantial quickness to his game, considering his size. Let’s not forget, Odunze was a high-school track star in Las Vegas.

Ricky Pearsall (WR, Florida) — “I would have Pearsall higher on my board if he were a good athlete,” is a sentiment I’ve seen a lot from evaluators. I also think this is ridiculous. Do I think Ricky is a top-tier athlete for the position? No. Do I think he is at least in the “good” category? Yes. We have GPS proof that he has hit over 22 MPH as a ball carrier in college, which is in elite territory. When I watch him run routes and see him sink and explode out of acute-angled breaks, I see a pretty agile player.

Ladd McConkey (WR, Georgia) — McConkey has a lot of tape running away from SEC cornerbacks, widely considered the fastest players in aggregate in the country. That is enough for me to think he has a chance to turn some heads at the Combine. I don’t know how much he has to gain from a public perception point, though, since many are already high on his game.

Needs to Have a Good Showing

Keon Coleman (WR, Florida State) — Coleman is pure projection at this point, as he doesn’t have a whole lot of refined WR skills. But what you see on tape is the toolbox to develop, and if he can show up and simply check some boxes, it would leave scouts feeling much more confident projecting his development at the next level. It's hard to make it in the league if you have a long developmental runway ahead of you and you don’t have elite athleticism to rely on along the way. Coleman showing some higher-level athleticism is critical to maximizing his draft capital.

Xavier Legette (WR, South Carolina) — On tape, Legette has one of the best vertical skill sets in the Draft. There have been some questions about his athleticism, however, and while he is one of the most technically proficient big-body WRs in this class, getting the most out of the vertical skill set will require some juice. Legette doesn’t need a crazy performance, but he does need to check the boxes.

Brock Bowers (TE, Georgia) — I will save you my rant on how athleticism correlates to success at the tight end position more than any other position in the league, but it’s true (Scott Barrett will tell you this, too). Given the fact that Bowers is undersized and has a play style that basically predicates itself on “I am faster and stronger than you,” I really do think Bowers has to show up this week. My prediction? He will.

Malachi Corley (WR, Western Kentucky) - Similar to Coleman, Corley’s game and role at the next level require a ton of projection. He was used like a running back lined up wide at Western Kentucky. His production profile and wow plays are almost exclusively made up of designed touches — screens, end-arounds, and jets. Now, let’s be clear: he is fantastic at all of that stuff, but teams will inevitably want him to be more than a gadget player, especially if he requires significant draft capital investment. We did see Corley show off some refined WR chops during Senior Bowl week, but even with that, it will be tough for teams to throw out four years of college tape for three days of practice. At the end of the day, Corley proving he is the elite athlete he appears to be would go a long way in removing doubt.

Stock Risers?

JJ McCarthy (QB, Michigan) — This is less about him running around in his underwear and more about him getting the chance to show off his arm without the other top QBs present. McCarthy is my QB1, and I stand by my evaluation of him, but this weekend is a chance for other people’s feelings to catch up to mine — similar to how the combine did wonders for Anthony Richardson last year. If McCarthy does run the 40-yard dash, he is going to blow a lot of people’s minds when he runs in the 4.5 range.

Jaheim Bell (TE, Florida State) — This tight end class is not great. Outside of Bowers, there are no guarantees for who goes next and where they go. Bell has a huge opportunity to turn some heads this week. Like Bowers, he has this awkward, undersized build that might prevent him from being a traditional inline tight end. But he could really show that he has the athletic profile to be a mismatch weapon in the passing game. Maybe with a good enough weekend, he could even get himself into the TE2 conversation.

Brett Whitefield is an experienced professional in football analytics, with more than a decade in the business. He has held several key positions with some of the top companies in the industry, including as a process manager at Pro Football Focus (PFF), where he spent more than seven years. Brett has also worked with and consulted for multiple NFL teams and Power-5 NCAA football programs.