Six Observations From the 2023 NFL Combine
Thus, the 2023 NFL collection is complete. It was a big event, as a combine always is, an event that helps us understand the NFL Draft class. All my notes from conversations with scouts, as well as observations of the four days of testing, are below.
A year of broken records
While it’s not a particularly impressive or sporty draft class compared to our yearly expectations, several testers have put their positional groups on the back and posted record-breaking results. In this combine we saw:
The highest vertical jump ever recorded by a quarterback when Florida QB Anthony Richardson hit 40.5 inches…
Anthony Richardson just set a 40.5-inch quarterback combine record with this… pic.twitter.com/68muNURNwq
— Stacey Dales (@StaceyDales) March 4, 2023
…and the longest long jump by a quarterback when Richardson jumped 10 feet 9 inches.
Anthony Richardson is 10-9 in the long jump, an overall record for a QB. pic.twitter.com/TAEC5ijA2h
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) March 4, 2023
Richardson wasn’t the only one to break the jump record, as BYU’s Blake Freeland now holds the 37-inch vertical jump offensive line record. It is worth noting that Illinois Safety Jartavius Martin was close, but only connected 44″ vertical jump record.
6′ 7″ 302 lbs with 37″ vertical?@BYUfootballX @FreelandBlake just set a new Combine record for linemen (since 2003)
: #NFLCombine on @nflnetwork
: Broadcast on NFL+ pic.twitter.com/pyFOqc8Ydz
— NFL (@NFL) March 5, 2023
Now let’s talk about the dash. The new defensive tackle record is held by Pitt D.T. Kalidja Cansey, a 280-pound boxer who has been compared to another undersized defensive tackle from the University of Pittsburgh: Aaron Donald. Kensi broke Donald’s record for most defensive tackles with a 40-yard dash in 4.67 seconds.
Kaliya Kangxi from @Pitt_FB broke his first run, which was the best record of the first 40s.
— Bally Sports (@BallySports) March 2, 2023
Georgia forward Nolan Smith officially rushed 40 yards in 4.39 seconds, which is somehow only the second best run by a cornerback in combine history. But his 10-yard split, which is a good indicator of snap explosive power, clocked 1.52 seconds, a combined record for a pass rusher.
Still thinking about that 10-yard split in 1.52 seconds – a record for wingers – from Georgia’s Nolan Smith. Oooo, baby. https://t.co/qYLANtrPZX
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) March 6, 2023
It seems I forgot one more entry. Which of them? Oh yes. The best possible.
RB Deuce Vaughn of Kansas State is the shortest player (5’5″) ever measured at the Combine since the official data was tracked in 2003. @KStateFB @C_Vauhn22 #NFLCombine2023
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) March 5, 2023
It feels like more and more harvester records are broken every year, which is the result of several things. First, NFL players are getting smaller and lighter as the game modernizes to prioritize passing, speed, and explosive power over running, power, and bulk. That’s why Smith set the record for 10-yard pass rushers—not just because he’s a ridiculously gifted athlete, but because he weighs 238 pounds and can still play as a pass rusher. Ten or 15 years ago, a player under 240 would never have thought of playing the line. The same logic is true for Kangxi, who is so light that he may end up not using a defensive tackle.
But the guys are also getting better and better prepared for the competition. Where before the focus was on getting faster, time and money are now being spent on technique dash for 40 yards. Breaking records doesn’t have to be cheap, but it needs to be contextualized.
With that said, when Smith is drafted at the end of the first round, his 10-yard split will be a big reason – this figure has the meaning for the pass rusher. The same can be said for Richardson, who didn’t make it to the top of the quarterback class.when the season ended, betting markets expected him to be the fourth quarterback to retire in April.— but made it into the thick of the QB1 race. A uniquely explosive athlete, Richardson is more than just a running threat – he’s a potential touchdown every time he tucks a soccer ball.
But for Kansey, a career-high 40 points belies his future in the NFL on defense; the team that selects him must find creative ways to use a defender who lacks functional mass to play in a true defensive position. For Freeland, while jumping hard is cool and his overall athleticism is impressive, short shuttle times matter much more to attackers. and according to this indicator, Freeland was an average tester.
Another record worth mentioning: Georgia TE Darnell Washington has the largest wingspan of any tight end in combine history, with a whopping 83.75 inches. This wingspan was fully demonstrated during the receiving exercises when Washington reached out for a one-handed grab.
OH GOD DARNELL WASHINGTON.
WHAT CATCH. @GeorgiaFootball
: #NFLCombine on @nflnetwork
: Broadcast on NFL+ pic.twitter.com/OYN4vaJ4a3
— NFL (@NFL) March 5, 2023
Perhaps even more ludicrous than Washington’s pterodactyl-like wingspan is his time on the short shuttle. Agility drills are usually reserved for shorter players with faster feet, which is of course not the case for a 6ft 6in tight end. However, Washington had the third best short shuttle All players in this year’s combine with a staggering 4.08 seconds.
This is madness
the fastest short hooks of the WHOLE combine
1. 196 lbs, 6’1″
2. 198 pounds, 6’3″
3. 264 lbs, 6’7″ <--- TE Darnell Washington is a freak fastest short shuttle by a player weighing at least 260 pounds in 8 years pic.twitter.com/8AcZqIVp8C
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) March 6, 2023
Of all the unique athletes in this class – Richardson, Deuce Vaughn, Smith – Washington is the most unique (don’t think too much about it) and the best tester. A player with such an athletic profile can become the best tight end in the league, and not only in the spirit of Travis Kelsey, but also in the spirit of Rob Gronkowski: dominate both the blocker and the receiver.
I don’t know yet where I would choose Washington; I think the league is still trying to figure it out. But man, oh man, he could be special.
Quarterbacks probably see more of them in Indianapolis than is helpful. Their testing doesn’t tell us so many things in relation to their film. But with that said, here’s where I stand among the top four quarterbacks leaving Indianapolis.
Florida QB Anthony Richardson: Richardson was a spectacle on the field, a sensation: huge, well-built and moving like a linebacker. His arm was impressive and he was generally accurate, although his throwing exercise seemed to be slowly fading away. Richardson has been a major attraction in quarterback practice and he did not disappoint. There is no quarterback in this class with a ceiling close to that provided by Richardson.
Ohio State QB CJ Stroud: If it were 2007, Stroud would be the undisputed best quarterback prospect in this class. Accuracy and speed are easier for Stroud than breathing. The ball flies out of his hand, never swings and never misses. He has the same composure, the same equanimity as Jalen Hurts. But he’s the least mobile of the top four quarterbacks, and the NFL is increasingly prioritizing mobility.
Kentucky QB Will Lewis: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with Lewis’ performance this weekend. Lewis came in a good size and checked well – he’s a real handful when he’s climbing – but despite all his bravado on the podium when he talked about having a cannon and bragged about it, Lewis seemed extremely worried about inaccuracy and was throwing without speed. . . And because of his indecisiveness, he was exactly what he wanted to avoid: inaccuracy. I think it would be better for him if he just grabbed it and tore it apart.
Alabama QB Bryce Young: So what do you say? I was very skeptical that Young would weigh over 200 pounds, but he weighed in – thanks to him. Instead of Amazing smallest quarterback to receive a first-round pick (presumably) is now simply the smallest quarterback to receive a first-round pick. I wrote about Yang last week and my concerns about his size and professional prognosis remain.
It was a sleepy day of tryouts in positions that the most impressive athletes often brag about. The wide receiver class lacks athleticism; a group of pass rushers lack star power. Perhaps the most impressive group of testers this weekend was the same group that stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of overall talent: cornerbacks.
I can say with confidence that after testing this week, Oregon guard Christian Gonzalez will be in the top 10. I would even argue that Gonzalez should be ranked with Jalen Carter of Georgia and Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson Jr. as one of the “virtual castles” at the top of the draft. In other words, the 2023 NFL Draft will start with a combination of Carter, Anderson, Gonzalez, and the top four quarterbacks – things get hazy after that.
Gonzalez, who started out in Colorado and then moved on to Oregon, has a quality film that has already placed him at the top of the busy CB class. At Indianapolis, he finished with the best combined sports result of any cornerback, which is very funny when you already have possibly the best movie of any cornerback. Gonzalez’s quality athleticism should come as no surprise – he has two sisters, All-Americans…