I’ve never bought too much stock in the NFL Combine. To me, the combine is little more than tremendous athletes making athletic feats appear far too easy. 225 pounds is thrown up on the bench press like it’s 25 pounds. More and more players are running sub-4.5 40-yard dashes. The vertical jump numbers are out of this world. But, all of these workouts are done in shorts and t-shirts, with no coverage, no pass rush, and no offensive lineman in your face. The NFL Combine has become a glorified skills competition among positional players.
But, I do take some small note of top performers of the combine, as I find myself amazed at the physical feats they perform. I especially find myself taking a close look at how my fellow Nittany Lions perform in their tests, and this year’s crop of Penn Staters impressed. Four different Nittany Lions took the top spot at their position in ten different events, including pulling in the top spot in the entire combine in three of those events.
While I don’t necessarily believe the combine is all that important to a player’s draft stock, as I find a better perspective on game tape, but a player’s draft profile can significantly rise or fall with a stellar or poor performance at the combine. It is what it is, I guess.
With that, let’s take a look at where each Draft eligible Nittany Lion will land, post-Combine.
Saquon Barkley- Top Five Pick
Saquon Barkley could have had the worst combine in the history of the NFL, and he still would have been a top ten pick in this year’s NFL Draft. His particular combination of size and speed easily make him the best running back in this year’s class, and perhaps of the last ten years, sans Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette. His talent made him a Heisman candidate despite his numbers being less than that of other candidates. But Barkley performed exceptionally this past week at the combine, topping all running backs in the vertical jump and bench press. Barkley leaped 41 inches from a standstill and was topped by just five athletes at the combine by a half an inch or less. Two of those performers included two Penn Staters. Barkley put up 29 reps on the bench press, which was bettern than multiple offensive and defensive tackles, and good for best among running backs.
I’ve been saying that Barkley should be the number one overall pick in the Draft for weeks now, but I’m not sure what direction the Cleveland Browns plan to take. Regardless if Barkley is the number one overall pick or not, he’ll assuredly be a top five pick in April, and will likely be off the board before the Browns choose again at number four.
Mike Gesicki- Mid-Second Round
Gesicki might be the best athlete to ever play the tight end position at Penn State. Gesicki caught 115 passes over the last two seasons, hauling in 14 touchdowns and over 1200 yards. He’s a great route runner who uses his body to shield defenders exceptionally well. Gesicki also could line up in the slot and cause matchup concerns for much smaller defensive backs. The tight end used his former volleyball skill set to out-jump every athlete competing at the combine, and finish top among all tight ends in the 60-yard shuttle, the 20-yard shuttle and the broad jump. Among the 14 athletes that ran a faster 20-yard shuttle, two were Penn Staters. That leaping ability allows Gesicki to pinpoint the football at its pinnacle, skying above defenders to haul in passes.
What concerns me about Gesicki, and what drops him out of the first round, is his limited body build. He weighs less than 250 pounds and might struggle off the line against attacking linebackers. His lack of size allows limits his abilities as a blocker at the line of scrimmage. I know that the tight end game is moving more and more into the slot, which will parlay directly to Gesicki’s strengths, but to be a true three-down tight end, he’ll need to pick up his blocking abilities in the NFL. While I don’t know if Gesicki will go in the top 32 (I think he goes somewhere around the 50 mark), I do know he is the best tight end in this year’s class. It’s not a tremendously deep class, but Gesicki is clearly the standout star.
DeaSean Hamilton- 3rd Round
Hamilton finds himself in a peculiar situation, as he’s a talented receiver in a very deep receiver class. In fact, there could be as many as 12 wideouts that get selected before Hamilton gets taken in April. Statistically speaking, Hamilton’s best season was his freshman year four seasons ago, when he caught 82 balls for almost 900 yards. After two down seasons, Hamilton bounced back his senior year for 857 yards and nine touchdowns. Hamilton is a dynamic receiver in the slot and down the field. He does a fantastic job of finding footballs in the air and making the needed adjustments to come down with the catch. Much like Gesicki, Hamilton is a crisp route runner, as well.
His slip in this year’s Draft will come because of his lack of explosiveness and speed. He simplye isn’t a burst-type guy at this point in his career. His rise, however, could come if he shows that 2017 was not an anomaly, and that he has, in fact, shored up his drop issues. There are always spots on a roster for a guy who can haul in everything thrown his way and runs good routes. Hamilton has one of those assets down. Now it’s time for continue to improve on the other. I think Hamilton finds himself in the back end of the third round in this year’s Draft.
Marcus Allen- Late 3rd-Early 4th
Marcus Allen, as both Liam and I mentioned in our safeties breakdown last week, is a ferocious hitter. He’s made himself a much better safety in the final two years of his Penn State career, producing 181 tackles in 17 games. Allen has worked with Nittany Lion wideouts to ensure better route recognition. He also has strengthened his coverage ability, making him a more formidable matchup for tight ends at the next level.
I’m not fully convinced he’s ready to stand over top of the field and cover elite NFL tight ends yet, as he still finds himself out of position a little too often. He doesn’t quite have that substantial close out speed either, and as a result, can find himself a step behind the play at times. There will be a team that takes the hard hitting safety and feels very rewarded by his hard work and ability to make an immediate impact on special teams and perhaps in the secondary. I originially had Allen getting taken in the third round, but as I look at it more closely, I think he may slip into day three, and get taken somewhere in the fourth round. A team will be getting a steal that late.
Christian Campbell- 6th Round
Each year, Campbell upped his tackle numbers at Penn State. By the time he was a senior last year, Campbell recorded 45 tackles out of the Nittany Lion secondary.
Campbell’s size is exactly why he could propel himself into the NFL next year. At 6’1″, Campbell stands taller than many of his fellow cornerbacks coming into the Draft. To go along with his good size, Campbell uses his long arms to stay on top of receivers and force them to the outside as often as he can.
I’m concerned about Campbell’s build and scheme fit. While the corner is 6’1″, he is only 190 pounds. He could get beat by stronger, more physical NFL receivers. They’ll get over the top and force Campbell to play from behind off the line. When he gets turned around, he’ll be forced to grab onto jerseys to keep up, drawing too many pass interference calls. I’m also worried if Campbell was protected by playing alongside some equally talented corners in Grant Haley and Amani Oruwariye. The three all stepped up in John Reid’s absence, but I don’t know if any of the trio made out by the uptick in playing time.
Jason Cabinda- 7th Round
Cabinda is the kind of guy you want to see get a shot on an NFL roster. He’s a pure character guy who is incredibly smart on the field. When he’s on the field, Cabinda is always around the football and in the right spot. The linebacker has pure form in tackling, and rarely misses a chance to wrap up a ball carrier. In fact, he finished 2017 with 90 tackles, including 7.5 for a loss.
What bogs Cabinda down is his relative lack of athleticism on the field. He’s pure strength, but he isn’t necessarily a great linebacker in coverage. He’s considered “inefficient” in tackling angles, but this comparison may not be entirely fair to Cabinda, who, as I mentioned, gets into the play far more often than he’s given credit. Cabinda will continually work hard and use his motor to find his way on a team’s roster. He’ll use his intelligence and leadership ability to stay on a roster. He may not get drafted, but he’ll find a team as an undrafted free agent. But I think there will be a team out there that doesn’t want Cabinda to get his pick of free agent deals and scoops him up in the seventh round.
Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports