Every year, we go over the NFL Combine risers and fallers who have done the most to improve their draft stock after a strong performance in Indianapolis, but we can also take a look at which players stood out in ways that might not be immediately obvious.
Those standouts and prospects who go under the radar at the NFL Combine might be the ones who provide the most value as mid-round and late-round standouts who help their team produce complete drafts.
The best way to do that is to weight workouts for what correlates best to future success at the position. As an example, we can ignore some elements of the 40-yard dash for offensive linemen and focus on agility and explosion.
At some positions, workouts weren’t recorded for key drills. As one analyst that has advised NFL teams put it, “Only 63 of 319 players at the Combine completed testing. That is so sad,” adding “[An] 80% non-completion rate is over the line.”
That can be important, as Cynthia Frelund’s work as the NFL Network’s analytics expert demonstrated last year. She argues that the NFL Combine workouts have historically helped predict success with context in mind, saying “Not every test matters for each position, but for each position, there are certain combine metrics that have more predictive merit based on historical data.”
That’s why we don’t have a standout safety — only three safety prospects performed the short shuttle and only two executed a three-cone drill. Both are critical to evaluating the athletic profile of an athlete. Others, like quarterback, don’t have a solid set of drills that consistently correlate to performance. In those cases, generalized athleticism is used.
Under-the-Radar Draft Prospect Workouts at Each Position
Clayton Tune, QB, Houston
There is no question that Anthony Richardson had an amazing Combine performance. By many measures, it was the best performance ever put together by a quarterback. But beyond him, some others made their way as athletes well worth consideration.
Clayton Tune, at 220 pounds, did an excellent job in that regard. Though his 4.65-second 40-yard dash looks slow compared to Richardson’s, it’s right behind well-known big athletes at the position, such as Jalen Hurts, Colin Kaepernick, and Cam Newton, while placing ahead of Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck, Mitchell Trubisky, and Tim Tebow.
Tune’s 37.5-inch vertical is remarkably impressive, and he had the best agility drills of anyone at the 2023 NFL Combine. Given that the closest relationship we have to QB performance and an NFL workout is in the short shuttle, that’s probably pretty important.
Honorable Mentions: Stetson Bennett, Georgia; Tyson Bagent, Shepherd
Jason Brownlee, WR, Southern Mississippi
We identified Bryce Ford-Wheaton as the single-biggest riser at the receiver position, and that bears out. He has, by far, the best position-specific workout at the position.
It’s difficult to find enough superlatives to praise a player who ran his 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds at 221 pounds. Big receivers like him benefit more from explosion scores, too, so Ford-Wheaton’s 41-inch vertical helps his case. But behind him was Jason Brownlee, another big receiver who needs to win in the jumping drills.
Brownlee did so with aplomb. His 39.5-inch vertical leap at 198 pounds exceeds his weight-adjusted average by over four inches, and his 10’11” broad jump exceeded the expected score by 10 inches.
For a big receiver, the 10-yard split matters more than the whole 40-yard dash, and that’s where Brownlee exceeded Ford-Wheaton, hitting 10 yards in 1.52 seconds to Ford-Wheaton’s 1.54 seconds. It’s difficult to ignore what Ford-Wheaton did, but Brownlee deserves credit.
MORE: 2023 NFL Combine Results
Teams feel the same way about the 10-yard split. The Minnesota Vikings doubled-down on the workout in last year’s draft, with almost every single one of their picks excelling in the workout.
As head coach Kevin O’Connell explained, “No matter what position you’re really at, I think that first step, those initial bursts of being able to go do your job just a little quicker in those first couple of steps, might be the difference between getting a hand on the ball or springing a big run because you get a great fit on a block.”
He added that for receivers, specifically, there is some signal. “Receivers, that initial burst, we’re always coaching our guys to run off the football and really that’s every position because when you can play fast in those first 10 yards, a lot of times, really good things will happen,” he said.
Honorable Mentions: Andrei Iosivas, Princeton; Michael Jefferson, Louisiana; Cedric Tillman, Tennessee
Zach Charbonnet, RB, UCLA
Zach Charbonnet himself isn’t an under-the-radar prospect, but commentators around the NFL underappreciated his Combine performance. Though his 4.54-second 40-yard dash wasn’t all that incredible, even at 214 pounds, that’s not what typically matters for backs Chrbonnet’s size.
Instead, the 10-yard split, vertical, and broad jump correlate more to NFL performance than long speed does, something that 4.53-second Alvin Kamara knows. While Charbonnet’s vertical (37 inches) wasn’t quite as good as Kamara’s (39.5), it’s a great score to go with his 10’2” broad jump.
Charbonnet’s workouts were very close to Bijan Robinson’s, and both are good examples of how long speed doesn’t tell us as much about a running back’s functional athleticism as many other elements of their athletic profile.
Honorable Mentions: Chase Brown, Illinois; Tank Bigsby, Auburn; Evan Hull, Northwestern
Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State
We ended up with a remarkably athletic class of tight ends this year, and though Zack Kuntz rose above the rest when it came to Combine testing, a number of other prospects went under-discussed.
Among them was Oregon State TE Luke Musgrave. Several athletic measurements matter, including the general need to be athletic for one’s size, but the two that stand out for Musgrave are the 40-yard dash and vertical leap.
Musgrave’s run of 4.61 seconds might not seem like it stands out in a crowd of 4.55-second tight ends, but it does at 253 pounds and with a 10-yard split of 1.54 seconds. His 36-inch vertical and prototypical height (6’5 7/8”) all project well at the next level
Honorable Mentions: Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State; Sam LaPorta, Iowa; Luke Schoonmaker, Michigan
Jon Gaines II, G, UCLA
There’s every reason to be impressed with BYU tackle Blake Freeland. Not only did he crush the Combine when compared to all tackles, he did it at 6’8” and 302 pounds. His vertical leap is miles ahead of any other offensive lineman. But when looking at the scores that might best correlate to future performance, Jon Gaines II from UCLA might have him beaten despite having a lesser aggregate athletic score than Freeland.
Along the offensive line, especially along the interior, agility matters. Short-shuttle scores have correlated strongly with success at the position and anything faster than a 4.70-second short shuttle warrants consideration.
Kevin Cole, former data scientist for Pro Football Focus and Director of Data and Analytics at Rotogrinders, found the same. “The signal for the 20-yard short shuttle is probably the strongest for interior offensive line than at any position and for any drill,” he said in his piece breaking down the position.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Guard Class
Two centers and three guards beat that mark, but Gaines had the fastest-such time with a blazing 4.45-second short shuttle, which he essentially confirmed with a position-best 7.31-second three-cone and explosive 1.73-second 10-yard split. He met athletic thresholds in the vertical leap and broad jump — hitting position bests among guards in both — and did it at a functional weight of 303 pounds.
Among all the position-specific scoring, Gaines might have had a better day than any other offensive lineman.
Honorable Mentions: Nick Saldiveri, Old Dominion; Sidy Sow, Eastern Michigan; John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota; Luke Wypler, Ohio State
Jalen Redmond, DL, Oklahoma
While it’s certainly the case that Adetomiwa Adebawore deserves praise for his ridiculous performance at the NFL Combine — running a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at 280 pounds and jumping 37.5 inches in the vertical — he didn’t do the full gamut of applicable workouts at the defensive line position, avoiding the agility drills that correlate most strongly with rushing the passer.
That’s probably fine, as he’ll profile as a wonderous athlete no matter what, but it does open the door for Jalen Redmond from Oklahoma.
Redmond’s arm length wasn’t spectacular at 32 5/8″, but the rest of his measurables profile well to a pass-rushing interior defender, with excellent agility scores and good explosion scores. His 7.30 seconds in the three cone and 4.51 seconds in the short shuttle are both best-overall marks for players projected to play on the inside among defensive linemen from this year’s class. And he did it weighing more than most of the pass rushers at 291 pounds.
Adding a 34.5-inch vertical and 9’8” broad jump on top of that — both well above average — solidifies Redmond’s score as a high-level athlete for the position.
Honorable Mention: Dante Stills, West Virginia
Lukas Van Ness, ED, Iowa
Lukas Van Ness isn’t an underrated prospect by any means, but his Combine performance has gone under the radar in light of what Georgia’s Nolan Smith put together, running one of the fastest 40-yard dashes we’ve ever seen from an edge rusher and following it up with obscene explosion scores (41.5-inch vertical and 10’8” broad jump).
But the problem is he didn’t the agility scores, even more important at EDGE than along the defensive interior, and did it at 238 pounds. Similarly fast 40-yard dash times from Von Miller, Amaré Barno, Montez Sweat, and Bruce Irvin were accomplished at much more functional weights.
Instead, we should be talking about Van Ness’ incredible performance, which has turned out to be one of the best complete Combine performances from an edge rusher we’ve seen in a few years.
He had the fastest time in the most important drill for edge rushers, the three-cone, at 7.02 seconds. With the fastest time in the short shuttle at 4.32 seconds, Van Ness has demonstrated he can be more than a power rusher. That’s a good thing because his vertical jump of 31 inches wasn’t great, yet his 9’10” broad jump and 1.64-second short shuttle helped make up for it.
Doing all of this at 272 pounds is a huge boon as well and speaks to Van Ness’ overall athletic ability.
Honorable Mention: YaYa Diaby, Louisville; Byron Young, Tennessee
Jeremy Banks, LB, Tennessee
We were correct to point out that Iowa’s Jack Campbell likely did more to help himself out at the Combine than any other linebacker at the event. But it’s worth noting that there were a few who were close behind him, something that should be big in a relatively weak draft at the position.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board
Jeremy Banks showed out in the broad jump and vertical jump, the two workouts that correlate most to future linebacker performance. On top of that, his performance in the 40-yard dash (4.53 seconds) is well above the average for high-level starting linebackers and helps his profile. With solid marks in his agility drills, Banks should be higher on draft boards now than he was 10 days ago.
Honorable Mentions: Owen Pappoe, Auburn; Charlie Thomas, Georgia Tech
Julius Brents, CB, Kansas State
Both Maryland cornerbacks, Deonte Banks and Jakorian Bennett, deserve praise for how well they did in the 40-yard dash. But in terms of a complete Combine performance at cornerback, no one helped himself more than Julius Brents despite the mediocre 4.53-second 40-yard dash.
When combining all of the metrics and weighting for what has historically projected future performance at the position, Brents stood out. Not only do his 34-inch arms give his profile a big boost, but his blazing agility times (4.05 seconds in the short shuttle and 6.63 seconds in the three-cone) also demonstrate that his length doesn’t inhibit his short-area quickness.
Having excellent explosion scores (41.5-inch vertical and 11’6” broad jump) helps, too. Doing it all at 198 pounds is crucial as well. Historically, cornerbacks who perform well at drills at lighter weights don’t pan out as much as heavier corners with similar performances.
Honorable Mention: Terell Smith, Minnesota