The NFL Scouting Combine began early last week with player interviews, press conferences, medical exams and other tests. On Friday, the prospects began taking the field for drills. It all started with the offensive linemen. It must be understood that the Combine doesn't solely constitute a player's draft stock. It can certainly effect a player's stock, but if a guy jumps multiple rounds in either direction based off of his Combine performance, it is being used incorrectly as a valuation tool, and those teams usually rue their decisions. Film is always more important in evaluating a player.
With offensive linemen, there is a lot to take away from the Combine workouts, but a 40-yard dash time is never relevant for an offensive linemen. What is important is the 10-yard split. It shows their burst and explosion out of a stopped stance.
It simulates them coming off the snap. For tight ends, both the 10-yard split and the 40-yard dash have their use in evaluating a prospect. Like offensive linemen, the 10-yard split shows the burst off the snap. As for the 40, since tight ends are often used down the seam, it shows how fast they can get down-field. Granted, in full pads, they are a little slower, but it still has its use.
Now, let’s get into some of the day one players and how they might fit with the Broncos.
There were a few offensive linemen that stood out during the Combine, most of whom are good fits with the Broncos moving forward. Small school prospect, Ali Marpet, showed the best footwork and technique out of any offensive linemen Friday, and some of the best in the past few years. He also tested out brilliantly from an athletic stand point.
He was an under-the-radar prospect for me before the Combine, but he now has my full attention. Marpet will rise up draft big boards some, but he'll end up in the third round, due to "level of competition" concerns at Hobart. He can play guard or center in a zone blocking scheme.
Missouri offensive linemen Mitch Morse really jumped out on Friday. He showed good technique and footwork. Before the Combine, with limited research on him, I had him as a priority free agent. After the Combine, I went and scrutinized the film and he was great. He would be a good fourth round pick for the Broncos, who they could plug inside on day one.
One offensive tackle who had a great combine, who I knew next to nothing about beforehand, was Florida's D.J. Humphries. I knew his name and what college he was from, but that was about it. Humphries stood out as one of the top offensive linemen on Friday and I immediately went to study his film when the day was done.
Scout.com NFL Combine Coverage
Humphries went from a no-grade, to a late first round grade with his excellent tape. Humphries could be an option for the Broncos at pick No. 28. The Broncos could plug him in at right tackle immediately and he could eventually take over left tackle, after a couple of years.
The top-four offensive tackles, La’El Collins, T.J. Clemmings, Ereck Flowers and Andrus Peat, were a mixed bag, collectively. Collins had a great day, cementing himself as the top offensive tackle in the draft and No. 2 offensive linemen, behind Iowa's Brandon Scherff. Clemmings showed his athleticism, but also why he is considered a raw prospect. He can start day one, either inside, or at right tackle, but he has potential to take over left tackle.
Flowers was up and down on the day. His drills were inconsistent, as was his tape, but he showed what he needed to in order to cement himself as a first round prospect. Flowers might be better as a guard than a tackle in the NFL. Peat had a bad day at the Combine, but his tape is really sound.
Peat may take a small plunge down big boards, but he's still a top-25 pick. One thing these four prospects have in common is that they all will likely be gone before the Broncos pick at No. 28. Flowers and Peat have the best chance to be there for Denver, but neither are great scheme fits.
The centers also had a good day at the Combine. Florida State's Cameron Erving didn’t have the best day, but he answered some questions, and possibly created some more. Consistency is still in issue for Erving. He either shows good technique on a single play or good athleticism, but never both at the same time. His versatility to play everywhere on the offensive line adds to his value, however.
If Erving was just a center, he would be a late second round pick. But due to his versatility, he could go in the first, higher than some expect. His fit with the Broncos is hard to gauge, but right now, I have a hard time seeing him available at No. 28.
A couple of second round players stood out in a positive manner, as well. Oregon tackle Jake Fisher and Auburn center Reese Dismukes, both showed a combination of athleticism and technique throughout the day. While they likely won’t be there when the Broncos pick in the second round, they may be options for the Broncos to trade back out of the first round to snag, or trade up in the second.
A few later round prospects who stood out, not because they had good or bad days, but because they simply confirmed what I saw on tape, were Chad Hamilton, Jamil Douglas, Rob Crisp, Chaz Green, Laurence Gipson, and John Miller. They all can compete right away, but are not guaranteed day one starters. They did answer some questions, but they all need refinement that comes from NFL coaching. All of them, with the exception of Miller, are good-to-great fits with the Broncos as late round prospects.
Two offensive linemen who have been linked to the Broncos, Ty Sambrailo and Jeremiah Poutasi, had bad days at the combine and confirmed the issues that showed on tape when I studied them. They're both third round prospects, based on the tape and the Combine didn’t do anything to help either.
In fact, their performances probably hurt their draft stock. Both showed bad technique and footwork. In the late third round, they are worth the risk though. Sambrailo can compete at right tackle for the Broncos, while Poutasi will be better served inside as a guard in the NFL. He would take a lot of coaching, in order to become more than just a depth option his rookie season.
That about sums up the offensive linemen from day one. Now onto the tight ends.
Maxx Williams solidified himself as the top tight end in the 2015 draft class and the only TE to carry a first round grade. His first 40-yard dash time was a lot slower than I expected, but the second was in the range I figured it should be from his game tape.
Williams showed his athleticism and hands at the Combine. He also showed a willingness to be coached. Before, during and after each drill, Williams was talking to coaches to understand what they wanted and how he could improve. While on tape there are some concerns with his blocking, those issues are overstated and not as big of an issue as some think. Williams is an option for the Broncos at No. 28 and is a great fit, but there is a chance he may not be there.
Former quarterback-turned tight end Blake Bell put together a really solid showing. There were concerns with him from a technical standpoint, due to only playing a year at the tight end position. But the Combine answered some of those questions and showed that he is willing to grow and learn. He is a mid-to-late round prospect. If the Broncos pulled the trigger on him, they would likely need a year to coach him up, before putting him on the field.
The blocking tight ends were easy to spot when it came to the pass-catching aspect of the drills, specifically the gauntlet, which is my favorite drill. Nick Boyle and Ben Koyack both struggled to consistently catch the ball, and answered why they weren’t used often as receivers in college. Both had flashes on tape, but neither have natural hands. Both are mid-to-late round prospects for the Broncos to keep an eye on and consider moving to fullback.
I talked about two of my top five tight ends from the day with Williams and Bell. Rounding out the top-five were E.J. Bibbs, Eric Tomlinson and Jesse James. Bibbs has questions that went unanswered at the Combine, but I was still able to glean a lot. He showed that he is a better pass catcher than what his tape tells.
Tomlinson was one of those blocking tight ends, but he looked like a natural pass catcher as well. By showing that he can catch the ball at the Combine (something he did not get many chances to do in college), he showcased that he can be a complete tight end. In the NFL though, a switch to fullback may be better suited for him.
As for James, he just checked off the boxes. He confirmed everything that was seen on tape and why he is a top-three tight end. Bibbs and Tomlinson are mid-to-late round players to keep an eye on for the Broncos, while James is one to watch in the third round. All but Bibbs can be full-time starters in Denver (Tomlinson at fullback), and Bibbs can be a gadget type tight end, who can sub in, depending on the situation.
I also talked about two of my bottom five tight ends on the day with Koyack and Boyle. Rounding out that group were Clive Walford, Jean Sifrin and Cameron Clear. Walford was getting a lot of hype after the Senior Bowl, and it was hype that I bought into. It was a mistake and one that I tend to make once a year, but after the Combine and going back over his film, he doesn't justify the hype.
Walford is a solid receiver who doesn’t show his athleticism or size off like you want from a tight end. His blocking is really poor and he doesn’t seem to give 100% effort. He's still worth a third round pick, but that is the highest.
Sifrin took time away from football to be a parent, so he is entering the draft at 27 years old. He is raw, but has a high ceiling. Clear just looked bad in all of the drills and struggled to catch the ball. He is worth a risk in the sixth round, if the team has good tight end coaches and is willing to take a 27-year old player who will take some time to develop.
As for Clear, he is a priority free agent and not worth a draft pick. Out of these three, Walford makes the most sense in the third or fourth round. However, Sifrin and Clear could be options to pick up and stash on the practice squad, while they get coached up.
The final player I am going to talk about is Nick O’Leary. There is a common misconception surrounding my thoughts on O’Leary in that, I do not like him. That isn’t true. I like O’Leary as a fourth round tight end, but I believe he'd be best served to switch to fullback in the NFL.
O'Leary's skill-set is more fiting of an NFL fullback than a tight end, mainly because he doesn’t seem to have the ability to cut the seam in the NFL. While his blocking isn’t great, by any means, he understands leverage and uses it. He had a good showing at the Combine, but the stiffness in his routes confirmed to me that he is a pro fullback and not a tight end.
If the Broncos take O’Leary in the fourth, it would make a lot of sense. He reminds me of a certain tight end who played under Kubiak with the Houston Texans, who also has a visit scheduled with the Broncos on February 26th--James Casey.