0304 Combinetakeaways

The draft process is always interesting, but when you have a quarterback crop this deep, that’s when things get juicy. I’ve never been more excited to see how things pan out with this quarterback. I spent five days in Indianapolis last week and had many conversations with coaches, scouts, other media people and quarterback fans. Almost everyone seems to be polarized to one degree or another. Maybe that’s just the times we’re in, but I feel like it’s been different for years.

As I get into my biggest decisions from this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, let’s start with the quarterbacks.

The most surprising QB in the class is Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. As I wrote in January, the Huskies’ star has gone through tough times, the way he’s faced it head-on, the way he’s been so open about it and come out the other end so hard. , which is very good for him. I heard good things from the NFL staff in Indy, and then Penix looked special in his workout. He threw the ball better than the other quarterbacks, according to multiple NFL sources who watched the ball live and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the process. He was accurate, crisp and confident and the ball flew out of his hands. He left a big impression on those who didn’t see him throw in person. Pennix got a Heisman Trophy vote last year. Washington’s program was rocking until he arrived, and he led the Huskies to the national title game. He is a better athlete than most people are giving him credit for. Players who worked with him during the draft say they wouldn’t be surprised if he ran the 40 in the 4.4s.

Count me as a believer. He deserves a first round pick.

Go Deeper

Go deeper

Could Michael Pennix Jr. be the next CJ Stroud? In a complex view of the NFL draft

The next most impressive quarterback to throw in Indy was Michigan’s JJ McCarthy. He kicked the ball with a good display of football. Some NFL coaches have expressed some concern to me that he’s something of a one-pitch pitcher because he doesn’t overlap the football and stuff like that enough. Word has been working on that, and it looks sharp. He came in at 6 feet 2 1/2 and 219 pounds and was bigger and thicker than many expected. His 6.82 triple-cone time was impressive.

Gettyimages 2043992756 Scaled E1709561237431

Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy measured 6 feet 2 1/2 and 219 pounds in Indianapolis. (Zach Bollinger / Icon Sports via Getty Images)

USC’s Caleb Williams, the 2022 Heisman winner, is an intriguing topic. Williams never pitched or worked in Indy. It was, of course, a very hot topic. He’s amazing at what he does on the field, and I’ve gotten comparisons to Patrick Mahomes. Like the former Texas Tech great, Williams played behind a terrible offensive line and against a bad defense. In the year He picked up some bad habits for a team that is 7-5 in 2023. There were a lot of doubts about Mahomes when he entered the league, but he’s already a first-choice Hall of Famer before he turns 29. Then again, if you say so. I have no doubts Williams will be going to a team led by Andy Reid, he will flourish in the NFL. Situations with NFL quarterbacks matter.

The best line I heard on him came from an old NFL scout who said, “He looks like he’s trying to hit five home runs every game.”

Some NFL coaches I’ve talked to are concerned about some of the things they’ve heard about how his father handled Williams’ situation. The reports I was told about the quarterback leaving USC were neither shocking nor alarming. The coaches there loved it. It seems like the vibe people outside of the program have about him, from a player who was heralded as a superstar before college and then moved to Los Angeles and became a big man. A star in the growing world of the NFL. He is the first quarterback to come through a transfer portal and name, image and model line. Bryce Young had fame and some NIL stuff, but he didn’t make it through the transfer process and didn’t play in a big media market. The condition of the young man was very low.

“I think there are red flags?” asked a veteran NFL coach. “No. Some guys roll their eyes at what he puts on his nails. That’s not what you expect from an NFL quarterback, but he’s a very talented kid with a program on his back, and he knows a lot of people are learning from him. That’s a lot. On the field. When he’s available, you want to see him take the easy stuff and make smarter decisions, but he’s still very young, and I think he’s too good to pass up.

• The spacious reception area was impressively fitted, and looked the part in Indy. The player who stole the show was Texas’ Xavier Worthy, who set the record in the 40 in 4.21. (He also jumped 41 inches.) It was a great time to watch him fly down that sideline and light up the crowd. Fellow Texans AD Mitchell shined as expected. At 6-2 and 205, Mitchell runs a 1.52 10-yard split, an 11-4 broad jump and a 4.34 in the 39 1/2 dash.

Florida’s Ricky Pearsall had as good a day as anyone. He ran a 4.41 but had a straight of 42 inches, a broad jump of 10-9 and the second-fastest three-cone time at 6.64. The 6-1, 195-pounder was expected to turn heads in Indy, and he did. The same goes for LSU’s Brian Thomas Jr., who ran a 6-3, 209 4.33 40 with a 38 1/2-inch vertical and a 10-6 broad jump. An NFL source I spoke to before the receivers were drafted said he was surprised by how smart the football Thomas is.

• One final note on wide exits. I don’t believe Rom Odunze will be selected ahead of Marvin Harrison Jr., but it seems some NFL folks are more interested in the Washington star than Harrison. The 6-3, 212-pound Odunze has really good ball skills, and the receivers I talked to talked about his makeup and competitiveness. Going into my trip, I’d say Harrison is the closest thing to an “unmissable” in this draft. I’m still sold on the Buckeyes being an All-American, but after listening to NFL guys talk about Odunze, I might change my mind that he’s pretty close to being a can’t-miss project.

• Put me on the Marshawn Kneeland bandwagon. Western Michigan’s 6-3, 267-pounder edges the fastest three-pointer (7.02) and shuttle (4.18) out of all defensive linemen and linebackers combined. He jumped 35.5 inches in the vertical and had a 1.66 10-yard split. I doubt he made it past the second round.

In the year It’s hard to believe that 2022 WMU Kneeland and Braden Fiske, one of Friday’s other stars, were on the defensive line and the Broncos were No. 5 in the MAC and No. 42 in sacks. Fiske had six. Kneeland only had 1.5. Andre Carter, who led the team with seven, transferred to Indiana last season.

Fiske made quite a splash in Indy before hitting the field. Two defensive coaches we spoke to raved about him from their interviews.

“He’s got a lot of s–t around his neck,” one veteran coach said, evoking the high regard line coaches have for both sides of the ball.

Then 6-3 1/2, 295-pound Fiske, broad jump 9-9, vertical jump 33 1/2 inches and time 4,78 40: all high marks among the defensive methods in Indy. I know his size doesn’t fit in every defensive system, but he’s very gifted athletically and is unstoppable for four quarters.

• Another defensive lineman who left coaches bragging after meetings was Missouri’s Darius Robinson. Loved how he talked about playing defense, his role and his passion for being a defensive lineman. The 6-5, 285-pounder, who ran a 4.95 40 and a solid 35-inch jump, said several defensive coaches wanted to work with him after spending some time with him.

• Big MAC star Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell backed up all the hype going into Indy. He’s expected to run fast, and he clocked a 4.33-second 40-yard dash (1.51-second 10-yard split) at 6-0 1/8-inches and 195 pounds. He had a 38-inch incline and did 20 reps at 225 on the bench press. It’s the latest reminder of how much top-level talent ends up in and out of the MAC.

• I’ve posted my combo freqs to watch as he enters the event. The two players I most regret leaving are: Alabama edge rusher Dallas Turner, a 6-3, 247 prospect who ran a 4.46 40 with a 1.54 10-yard split. He had a 40.5 inch long jump and a 10-7 broad jump. Another: Louisville running back Isaac Gurendo combined for the fifth-fastest sprint in history with a 4.33 in the 40. He jumped 41 1/2 inches in the vertical and 10-9 in the broad jump at 6-0, 221.

Go Deeper

Go deeper

Feldman’s Freaks List Revisited: Who Will Show Up at the NFL Combine?

• No program produces as many Freaks as Penn State, then enters the draft process and backs up the eye-popping numbers they put up in Joy Valley. From Saquon Barkley to Mike Gesicki to Troy Apke to Micah Parsons to Odafe Oh, it’s a long list. This year, the Nittany Lions players have done what everyone else has done in Indy. Chop Robinson, No. 1 on our Freaks list, clocked 4.48 40; 10-8 broad jump and 4.25 shuttle at 6-3, 254. (His numbers from last season: 4.47 40; 4.22 shuttle and 10-7 broad jump.) Tight end Theo Johnson was an incredible -6, 259-pounder. 4.57 40 in 1.57 10-yard split to go 39.5 in vertical and 10-5 broad jump and a 4.19 shuttle. Daequan Hardy, undersized cornerback, ran 4.38 40 and vertical jump 42 1/2 inches.

• Michigan nickel Mikey Sainristil is a Wolverine fan with his incredible ability to make huge plays. He is a favorite of NFL coaches who rave about his smarts and instincts.

“He’s very smart and he led a team that had a lot of great leaders and won a national title,” said one NFL coach. “What’s not to like – in addition to his size, the man appears on film.”

His size is a concern at 5-9, 182, but no one doubts his strength, and he tested well, with a 4.47 40-by-40-inch vertical and 10-11 broad jump. He makes an impact wherever he goes.

• Clemson’s Will Shipley at 5-11,206 didn’t commit in Indy, but one source who worked with him said he’s one of the most explosive athletes in this draft class and believes there’s plenty of untapped potential.

(Best photos of Marshawn Kneeland, left, Xavier Worthy and Michael Penix Jr.: Stacey Revere and Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)