The true impact from the NFL scouting combine might not be known for months — if ever.
While the NFL draft’s evaluation stage in Indianapolis tends to feature a number of breakout performers, as well as players whose outings leave something to be desired, the event is still only one piece of teams’ scouting process. And with testing and on-field workouts often less important than information gleaned in interviews and medical evaluations, the full picture of the combine’s impact on the NFL draft can remain a mystery well after the final pick is in.
But while the impact of their performances might be hard to determine, several prospects this year distinguished themselves from their peers — for better or worse.
Here is our look at the biggest winners and losers of this year’s NFL scouting combine:
NFL combine winners
17. Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri: Amid his peers’ underwhelming workouts, Okwuegbunam clocked a 4.49-second 40, by far the fastest of any tight end. He’s still raw, but his ability to threaten down the seam could be enticing in the middle rounds.
16. A.J. Dillon, RB, Boston College: Let the Derrick Henry comparisons begin. Dillon is three inches shorter than the NFL’s reigning rushing champion, but both weigh 247 pounds and offer a hard-charging style as workhorse backs. Improving his agility (a 7.13-second three-cone drill was second worst among all players at his position) and pass-catching skills will be critical for Dillon to establish himself as more than a battering ram, but his 4.53-second 40 and 41-inch vertical (best of all backs) showed he’s not a plodder.
15. Jeremy Chinn, S, Southern Illinois: The Football Championship Subdivision star made waves with his measurements, as he registered a 4.45-second 40, 41-inch vertical and 11-6 broad jump at 6-3 and 221 pounds. Chinn is a developmental prospect who will require patience as he improves his recognition and anticipation, but his athletic package is one teams will gamble on.
14. Antonio Gibson, RB/WR, Memphis: Gibson worked out with the wide receivers, but his future might be as a running back featured heavily in the passing game. Running the 40 in 4.39 seconds at 6-0 and 228 pounds, he offers intriguing potential as a big-play threat after scoring 14 touchdowns on 77 touches and averaging 11.2 yards a carry at Memphis.
13. Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma: There’s not much a quarterback can prove throwing in the combine setting, but Hurts still made a solid impression with his accuracy and arm strength. Strong showings in the 40 (4.59 seconds) and broad jump (10-5) also set him apart from many of the other passers.
12. Cam Akers, RB, Florida State: Between his 4.47-second 40 and winning performance on the field, particularly when catching passes, Akers gave plenty of reasons for teams to take an even closer look at him. The former five-star recruit had an uneven college career, but Florida State’s offensive problems might have obscured much of Akers’ potential.
11. Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama: A 4.27-second 40 is hardly disappointing; the time is tied for the fourth best of any player since 2003, when the combine first began tracking data. Yet Ruggs had an even loftier goal: breaking Bengals receiver John Ross’ record of 4.22 seconds. Though he fell short of that mark, the 5-11, 188-pound speedster was clearly one of the biggest standouts in Indianapolis, as he also posted a 42-inch vertical leap and 10-11 broad jump.
10. Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville: At 6-7 and 364 pounds, the combine’s heaviest player was always bound to stand out. Becton, who later measured in at 357 pounds before his workout, created an even bigger stir when he ran a 5.10-second 40, though the test has limited relevance for offensive linemen. Becton’s unofficial 10-yard split of 1.77 seconds was also a very good time for a player of his size.
9. C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida: No corner is going to come within striking distance of Jeff Okudah as the top prospect at the position, but Henderson might be pulling ahead in the race to be the second off the board after the Ohio State star. Both his 4.39-second 40 and superb workout affirmed he’s a fluid player built to handle top-tier receivers. A spot in the top 20 looks like a good bet.
8. Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame: After Claypool weighed in at 238 pounds, many observers wondered if the 6-4 target had been bulking up to play tight end. Though he later dismissed that idea, a 4.42-second 40 and fluid workout helped position him as a tantalizing hybrid option. For a team willing to be creative in his deployment, Claypool could generate significant mismatches.
8. Kyle Dugger, S, Lenoir-Rhyne: Talent evaluators might question the level of competition Dugger faced in Division II, but there shouldn’t be any concerns about how he measures up to his peers after this weekend. The 6-1, 217-pound safety showed off with a 42-inch vertical, 11-2 broad jump and 4.49-second 40. Dugger might have a chance at cracking the first round and likely won’t have to wait long in the second if he has to wait another day.
7. Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor: Overdue for recognition as one of the promising receiver prospects in his class, Mims looked like one of the most athletically imposing pass catchers in Indianapolis. At 6-3 and 207 pounds, he secured a 4.38-second 40 that tied for third best among all receivers and led his position with a 6.66-second three-cone drill. Known as a great jump-ball target, he also landed a 38 1/2-inch vertical and 10-11 broad jump. Capping the night with a solid session catching the ball, Mims bolstered his case to go early in the second round.
6. Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa: Becton stands alone in this class when it comes to size, but Wirfs is in his own tier among offensive tackles when it comes to athleticism. The 6-5, 320-pound former high school wrestling champion set a combine record for offensive linemen with a 36 1/2-inch vertical leap and tied another with a 10-1 broad jump. Wirfs’ swift footwork was evident in his on-field workout, and a 4.85-second 40 (best of all offensive linemen) and 7.65-second three-cone drill further underscored his movement ability. All of the top offensive tackles fared well, but Wirfs might have been the biggest standout.
5. Willie Gay Jr., LB, Mississippi State: Covering tight ends and receivers downfield is Gay’s calling card, and he showcased his highly sought-after skill set at the combine. The 6-1, 243-pound linebacker boasted outstanding numbers in the 40 (4.46 seconds), vertical leap (39 1/2 inches) and broad jump (11-4). His interview sessions were likely integral to his draft stock given some missteps at Mississippi State, including an altercation with a teammate and multiple suspensions, but Gay appears to be an ascendant prospect.
4. Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State: Wirfs grabbed the spotlight among offensive linemen as one of the biggest names in action, but Cleveland’s performance was superlative — albeit in a more subtle fashion. His 4.46-second short shuttle — typically one of the better barometers for athleticism among tackles — was easily the best of his group, as was his 7.26-second three-cone drill. Though he has to become stronger to more effectively engage pass rushers, Cleveland has substantial upside as a blindside blocker and could be selected in the second round.
3. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin: With no real pecking order for the top running backs, Taylor made quite a case for himself to be the first ball carrier selected. His 4.39-second 40 was the best at his position and particularly impressive for someone weighing in at 226 pounds. Taylor also fared well catching the ball during drills, helping assuage some concerns about his potential limitations in the passing game.
2. Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU: So much for the questions about his athleticism. The 6-1, 202-pound target notched a sterling set of numbers in testing: a 4.43-second 40 (tied for eighth among receivers), 37 1/2-inch vertical leap and 10-4 broad jump. Jefferson also had perhaps the smoothest on-field workout of any player at his position, highlighting his primary value as a trusted outlet for any quarterback. His potential place in the first round is looking increasingly secure.
1. Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson: Abstaining from positional workouts might typically preclude a player from being labeled the combine’s top performer, but Simmons didn’t have much to prove after his athletic testing. The 6-4, 238-pound reigning ACC defensive player of the year recorded a 4.39-second 40, the second-best time of any linebacker since 2003, along with a 39-inch vertical leap and 11-0 broad jump. Though Simmons might face a ceiling in the draft given questions of the relative value of an off-ball linebacker, he reinforced his athleticism and skill set put him in a singular class that makes him worthy of consideration in the top five picks.
NFL combine losers
8. Myles Bryant, S, Washington: To be fair, Bryant excelled in the short shuttle (4.02 seconds) and three-cone drill (6.81 seconds). That agility doesn’t completely compensate, however, for a 4.62-second 40 and 31 1/2-inch vertical leap, both problematic marks for a player who stands just 5-7 7/8 with short (29 1/2-inch) arms. Bryant’s future is in the slot, and even that might prove a difficult spot for him.
7. Jalen Elliott, S, Notre Dame: His role at the next level is a mystery, as a 4.80-second 40 (worst among all defensive backs) eradicated what little chance he had of been given any assignments as a high safety. Yet he’s not a reliable tackler, and his stiffness signals problems with short-area work.
6. Salvon Ahmed, RB, Washington: His 4.62-second 40 was jarring, particularly for a player said to have clocked a 4.32 mark in college. A choppy runner with questionable vision, Ahmed needed to show he offered breakaway speed to entice teams, and he instead only raised further questions.
5. Calvin Throckmorton, OL, Oregon: His standing was on the downswing early in the week, when his 32 1/2-inch arms portended a move to guard. The real hit, though, came in testing, as his 4.98-second short shuttle and 8.07-second three-cone drill served as red flags for any potential matchups against nimble defensive linemen. Throckmorton offers value as a versatile backup, but teams might see that as his ceiling.
4. Trey Adams, OT, Washington: Standing 6-8 and 318 pounds, Adams is in a no-man’s land as a left tackle who lacks the athletic tools needed to handle NFL pass rushers. His 5.60-second 40 was the worst of any player at the combine, and his performance during the agility portion of his workout was subpar. Any team drafting Adams will need not only to be comfortable with those shortcomings, but also his medical outlook after his torn anterior cruciate ligament in 2017 and back surgery in 2018.
3. Cameron Dantzler, CB, Mississippi State: Given his stellar on-field workout, Dantzler fared better than some other players on this portion of this list. But a 4.64-second 40 is approaching prohibitive territory for a cornerback. Improving on that time at his pro day will be paramount to avoiding a draft-day slide in a class replete with other cornerbacks poised to be taken in the first two rounds.
2. Jared Pinkney, TE, Vanderbilt: The downward trajectory of Pinkney’s last year continued in Indianapolis, as his 4.96-second 40 was worst among all tight ends. Rigid in his on-field workout, he might be at risk of falling in the draft if his potential as a pass catcher comes under further scrutiny.
1. Jauan Jennings, WR, Tennessee: In the Southeastern Conference, Jennings regularly pulled down jump balls and racked up yards after the catch. After netting a 4.72-second 40 and a 29-inch vertical leap, both second worst at his position, the 6-3, 215-pound target will face questions about whether he can do either effectively in the NFL. In a deep receiver class, Jennings might have a hard time standing out given his disconcerting athletic profile.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.