The 2023 NFL Combine is fast approaching. Here are the top storylines to keep an eye on as the event unfolds in Indianapolis.
Top Storylines To Watch at the NFL Combine
Following Bryce Young and the Top Quarterbacks
Football is a team sport, but the quarterbacks are always the big-ticket items. And in the 2023 NFL Draft, you have four potential franchise quarterbacks in Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Florida’s Anthony Richardson, and Kentucky’s Will Levis.
With so much talent at such an important position, it goes without saying that the QBs will — shockingly — be the top storyline once again at the NFL Combine. And with each QB, there’s something different to watch.
For Richardson and Levis, the tools take center stage. It’s unclear if either player will test — Levis has been healing from injuries through the offseason — but should they throw, their arm talent will awe onlookers. Testing will be more important for Stroud, whose ceiling as a creator has come under question through the 2023 NFL Draft cycle.
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The most-watched QB, however, will easily be Young. And it won’t be his testing or throwing that people watch. It’ll be his measurements. Listed at 6’0″ and under 200 pounds, some have speculated that Young could measure in around 5’9″ or 5’10”, and approximately 190. Those numbers would place him well outside the prototypical QB standards and serve as a red flag for some evaluators.
On tape, size is rarely an issue for Young, and those close to him vouch for his high-level ability as a player, outside of his outlier size. In fact, his college head coach Nick Saban was a particularly big proponent of Young all through his collegiate career, both as a player on the field and a leader off it.
“He plays quarterback like a point guard in basketball,” Saban said of Young in September. “He’s got talent, but he doesn’t just play with his talent. He’s very well prepared and knows exactly what the game plan is, and what he needs to do to execute it.”
Young’s mode of success proved translatable as an NFL draft prospect. Regardless, his official measurements may invite discourse about his projected durability. That’s something that could have an effect on his stock in April.
Who Will Run the Fastest 40-Yard Dash Time?
Speed is always a major talking point when the NFL Combine rolls around. It used to just be about speed itself, but the function of speed in the modern NFL is becoming more and more important. Every organization should have GPS data to work with as well, but each year, we see that the 40-yard dash still carries weight.
Last year, we saw a historic display of speed across the board. Several players came within a few hundredths of a second of breaking the 40-yard dash record — set by former Cincinnati Bengals receiver John Ross at 4.22.
Baylor CB Kalon Barnes led the way with a 4.23, while his collegiate teammate Tyquan Thornton ran a 4.28. Pro Bowl Seahawks rookie CB Tariq Woolen also ran in the 4.2s, with a blazing 4.26 time at 6’4″. Other notable times included Christian Watson at 4.36, Isiah Pacheco at 4.37, Kenneth Walker III and Garrett Wilson at 4.38, and Sauce Gardner at 4.41.
We probably won’t see the record broken this year, but there are quite a few burners set to sear the track with their cleats next week. Georgia’s Kelee Ringo and Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez are both well-documented size-speed freaks at the top of the board. Other prospects like Tyler Scott, Jalin Hyatt, Andrei Iosivas, Devon Achane, Keaton Mitchell, Deonte Banks, and DJ Turner could challenge for the top time.
What Will Be the Fate of Trade Speculation?
Scouts will be in Indianapolis to watch the prospects, and so will the general managers. But with so many personnel executives in one spot, it’s inevitable that some under-the-table discussions will be had about certain players, fueling the trade speculation that’s already begun to run rampant through the offseason.
Bears QB Justin Fields, Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott, Rams CB Jalen Ramsey, and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers are just a few players who’ve been subjects of trade speculation to this point. There’s also Jordan Love in Green Bay, who may request a trade himself if Rodgers returns as the starter. And with the franchise tag window now opened, the possibility of tag-and-trade discussions taking hold also hangs over the league.
Fields is perhaps the most intriguing player with his name in the rumor mill. He’s a former first-round pick coming off a breakout season in which he ran for over 1,000 yards and accounted for 25 touchdowns.
There’s been talk that Chicago could deal Fields and potentially draft Young at No. 1 overall — but so far, that talk has been completely unsubstantiated. Bears general manager Ryan Poles gave a vote of confidence to Fields after the season.
“I thought Justin did a good job,” Poles said of Fields in a postseason presser, per the Bears’ website. “I thought we changed a lot, we adapted, we tried to put him in a position to be successful. He showed the ability to be a playmaker, be impactful. He can change games quickly. Does he have room to grow? He does. He has to get better as a passer, and I’m excited to see him take those steps as we move forward.”
If Poles is earnest in his confidence with Fields, then the Bears’ trade talks at the NFL Combine will be more geared toward the No. 1 overall pick itself. Already, the Texans, Colts, Panthers, and Raiders have been theorized as potential suitors. The presence of first-round QB prospects in Indianapolis may further encourage them to get a deal done.
Medicals Set To Play a Key Role Once Again
You don’t always hear about medicals being on the forefront of the scouting discussion because it’s so volatile from prospect to prospect. However, it’s one of the most important developments each offseason at the NFL Combine, and each year, we see at least one or two prospects slip because of medical red flags.
Sometimes, those red flags go on to be unwarranted. A few years ago, Jonathan Allen slipped to the middle of Round 1 because of a shoulder issue deemed to be degenerative, but he’s since gone on to become a Pro Bowl defensive tackle. Similarly, Chiefs offensive guard Trey Smith fell to Round 6 because of a history with a blood clot issue but has quickly morphed into a dominant interior blocker.
Just as often, however, those medical concerns are validated. Andrew Booth Jr., widely regarded as a top CB prospect based purely on film, fell to Round 2 last year and missed most of his rookie season due to injury. And Justyn Ross ended up going undrafted because of his medical concerns, before spending his first season on injured reserve.
It remains to be seen who the medical process will flag this year, but several prospects will be under close watch heading in. The most-discussed will likely be Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker, who tore his ACL in November. If he’s deemed to be on track for a full recovery ahead of training camp, he could see Day 2 capital in the 2023 NFL Draft.
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