Watching grown men suit up in spandex and run 40-yard dashes can be an acquired taste, but there are few bigger pieces to the NFL Draft puzzle than the NFL Scouting Combine. This year, 319 prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft (and they still had some snubs) will descend upon Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for a week of measurements, athletic testing, medical checks, and interviews with teams.
While events like the 40, 3-cone, and vertical and broad jumps will create the biggest media buzz, the most important aspect of the Combine are the medical checks. The hours of x-rays, blood work, and other medical exams can be taxing on the players as their medical history is presented to a room full of NFL team doctors and can have the biggest impact on a prospects NFL Draft stock.
On top of the medical portion, the interviews give every NFL franchise a chance to sit down with potential picks to get a better idea of what makes them tick and how much football acumen they bring to the table. The athletic testing isn’t nearly as important as the medicals and interviews, it’s more for cross-checking what the tape shows, but that won’t stop every NFL fan from tuning in.
This year, the NFL Combine’s schedule has changed once again with measurements, athletic testing, and on field work on the same day followed by bench press the day after position groups take the field:
- Thursday, March 2: Defensive line and linebackers (3 p.m. ET)
- Friday, March 3: Defensive backs and special teams (3 p.m. ET)
- Saturday, March 4: Quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends (1 p.m. ET)
- Sunday, March 5: Offensive line and running backs (1 p.m. ET)
Despite the behind the scenes being the most important part of the NFL Combine for actual NFL front offices, the “underwear olympics” are what gets eyeballs on the event. So which prospects have a chance to create the most buzz in Indy?
Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia (6-7, 280)
For the second straight year the Georgia Bulldogs won the CFP National Championship and for the second straight year they have a monster heading to the NFL Scouting Combine. Much like Travon Walker last year, Darnell Washington enters combine week as one of the most physically imposing prospects with his rare size and athleticism.
With the talent overload of the tight end position in the 2023 NFL Draft, plenty of big bodied pass catchers should catch some eyes in Indianapolis, but Washington’s size sets him apart. Looking like a lean offensive lineman, Washington is expected to crack a sub-4.7 40-yard dash and everyone will be watching when he attempts the vertical jump given how often he won at the catch point with his frame, length, and athleticism (he’s also hurdled defenders on the field).
In on-field work he’ll make the other tight ends in the group look like receivers, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if ends up throwing up the most reps on the bench press for his position.
Given his prowess as a blocker and potential as a playmaker, a big NFL Combine can help cement Washington as a top-40 pick. Speaking of tight ends, keep an eye out for Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave to put up the gaudiest numbers at the position (Utah’s Dalton Kincaid would have been another one but he won’t be testing).
Mazi Smith, IDL, Michigan (6-3, 335)
Being the No. 1 player on Bruce Feldman’s annual Freaks List ahead of the college football season is no small feat. This year, Michigan’s Mazi Smith joined the likes of Evan Neal, Kwity Paye, Tristan Wirfs, and Rashan Gary (all eventual first-round picks) at No. 1 on the list.
Smith, who had been inconsistent in 2021, then went out and put together a season of tape to support his ascendence as a top-50 prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft. But how high could he go? It wouldn’t be shocking if after the NFL Scouting Combine some view him as worthy of selection on the first night of the draft.
The space eating nose tackle plays with an explosive first step to knock linemen off balance and violent hands to disengage from blockers and make plays while providing underrated pass rush ability for a nose tackle. The tape is good but the testing could be even better.
Smith is a safe bet to put up the most reps on the bench press out of every prospect in attendance but more impressive will be the numbers he’s expected to put up in the agility and explosive testing. At over 330 pounds he can vertical jump over 30 inches and broad jump over 9-feet, plus he reportedly runs a sub-7 second 3-cone. If he lives up to the hype, Smith’s going to get a lot more attention.
Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida (6-4, 232)
Generally the quarterbacks aren’t among the biggest draws at the NFL Scouting Combine, but generally most quarterbacks aren’t built like Florida’s Anthony Richardson. The redshirt sophomore won’t just wow attendees and viewers at home with his eye-popping arm strength (he’s confirmed he’ll be throwing) but he’ll immediately draw attention during the measurements portion where his muscled up frame and superb size will easily stand out.
Then when testing begins, Richardson will shine his brightest. The only quarterback on Feldman’s Freaks List this year, most expect to see him run sub-4.5 which would put him in rare company at that size (Cam Newton ran 4.6 at 248 pounds, Daunte Culpepper ran 4.52 at 255 pounds, and Colin Kaepernick ran 4.63 at 233 pounds).
Watching a quarterback throw live is always an important part of the evaluation and when the on-field portion of the Combine takes place, Richardson should dazzle with the way the ball jumps out of his hand. He has the most impressive arm in this class and is built to showcase his physical traits in this type of environment.
While some are concerned about Richardson’s readiness for the NFL, his tape shows a player worth a top-10 selection in the 2023 NFL Draft (mock drafts have finally begun trending that way too) and when he puts on a show in Indianapolis more and more people will begin to agree with that assessment.
Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia (6-2, 215)
Kirby Smart sure knows how to recruit, but that’s not news to anyone given the on-field success his Georgia Bulldogs have had since the start of his tenure. Smart knows what he likes, and what he likes is freak shows. Last year it was Travon Walker, Jordan Davis, and Devonte Wyatt doing ridiculous things at the NFL Scouting Combine and this year there will be a few more Dawgs getting in on the party.
At 6-2, 215 pounds, Kelee Ringo will stand out for his size alone in the cornerback group during his time in Indianapolis. He’ll also stand out as one of the heroes of Athens after his pick six in the 2022 CFP National Championship Game, but an inconsistent redshirt sophomore season has made him a polarizing prospect.
Now viewed as a borderline first-round pick by most, Ringo can recapture some of that magic he had over the summer by putting up silly numbers at the Combine. The No. 6 player on Feldman’s Freaks List, the star high school sprinter is expected to clock in around 4.3 flat in the 40 after hitting a 10.43 100-metre time in high school and getting up to an overspeed of 26.31 mph (approximately 23.5 mph in actual speed) during training.
With his size and speed, Ringo has the tools to be a star NFL cornerback but the 3-cone and short shuttle will be a huge opportunity for him to quiet some of the concerns surrounding his change of direction skills.
Tyler Scott, WR, Cincinnati (5-11, 185)
One position that is among the most buzzy of the bunch at the NFL Scouting Combine is the wide receiver group. Not only are fans looking for the next big playmaker for their franchise to select, but lovers of fantasy football want to find that hidden gem who can help take their team to the next level as a rookie. The common choices for which receiver will “win” the Combine are TCU’s Quentin Johnston with his size and explosion and Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt with his track speed, but get ready for Cincinnati’s Tyler Scott.
Scott is one of the best athletes in the 2023 NFL Draft and was No. 54 on Feldman’s Freaks List thanks to his over 40-inch vert, 11-foot broad, and sub-4.35 40-yard dash. If he touches those numbers at the Combine it will only confirm what the tape says, he’s a top-50 prospect.
With the speed to take the top off a defense and the shiftiness to create in the open field after the catch, Scott is one of the most dynamic playmakers in this class and will leave Indianapolis with plenty of fans.
Scott, who should also post one of the best 3-cone times, has reportedly run 4.29 in training and if he gets under 4.3 get ready for the explosion of mock drafts that have him pushing towards going top-35.
Calijah Kancey, IDL, Pittsburgh (6-0, 275)
There are usually a few thresholds you want to see top prospects hit at weigh-ins but in recent years that’s changed some; especially at quarterback. Heading into NFL Combine week the talk of the town is how big Bryce Young will come in at but the defensive equivalent to Young’s weigh-in is seeing Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey.
Kancey is one of the most gifted pass rushers in the 2023 NFL Draft, but the undersized 3-Tech will always have doubters. Just like Young will be an outlier with his size at quarterback, so too will Kancey, who has a chance to go in the first-round, yet if he comes in under six-feet and below 275 pounds that’s going to be hard to stomach. For him it would be ideal if he comes in right at six-feet and at least 280 pounds; he certainly looks smaller than that on tape.
One of the biggest attractions of the NFL Combine both for his size and testing, Kancey was No. 9 on Feldman’s Freaks List and should put up jaw-dropping numbers regardless of his size. Expect a sub-4.75 40-yard dash, a vert of over 31 inches, and at least 28 reps on the bench press; he’s a ball of explosion.
With the concerns over his size, the athletic potential, and his flirting with being a first-round pick, Kancey will be among the most scrutinized prospects in Indianapolis.
Devon Achane, RB, Texas A&M (5-9, 185)
Prospects like Texas A&M’s Devon Achane are what make the NFL Scouting Combine so fun. On tape, Achane is a clear top-five running back in the 2023 NFL Draft with rare burst and shocking contact balance for his size. That size though will put many teams on pause despite the tape and traits.
Rarely have there been running backs sub-200 pounds that have gone top-100 in the NFL Draft and found success, let alone sub-190 pounds like Achane. So seeing just how small he is will be a major talking point throughout the week, luckily for his stock though, he’s going to be one of the top testers in Indianapolis.
Achane has a legitimate chance to run the fastest 40-yard dash out of the over 300 prospects taking the field. A track star in high school who continued the sport with the Aggies, Achane ran a blazing 10.14 in the 100-metre; the 10th fastest time in Texas A&M history. There’s also the 20.20 200-meter time and the 22.2 mph he hit on a kick return touchdown in 2021.
With a likely sub-4.3 40 to go with a likely over 37-inch vert, 10-2 broad, and a potentially sub-7.0 3-cone, Achane could be just another outlier in this class that ends up a top-60 pick.
Keion White, EDGE, Georgia Tech (6-5, 280)
Perhaps the NFL Combine crown for looking the most like a Madden create-a-player will go to Georgia Tech’s Keion White. White came in with nearly 34-inch arms, just under 10-and-a-half-inch hands, and a nearly 80-inch wingspan at the Senior Bowl; he’s one of the most impressive looking players in the 2023 NFL Draft.
The former tight end, who started his career at Old Dominion, should also put up startling numbers for his size during athletic testing. On multiple occasions for the Yellow Jackets, White carried pass catchers downfield and didn’t get burned; outweighing guys by 80 or so pounds and being nearly step-for-step with them is just silly.
Last year, Travon Walker put on a show running a 4.51 40, vertical jumping 36 inches, and broad jumping 10-3 with a 6.89 3-cone. White might not reach those same absurd numbers, but he could get close. He was No. 20 on Feldman’s Freaks List after hitting a top speed of 21 mph on the field, vertical jumping 32 inches, and putting up 225 for 38 reps; this was all while he was around 290 pounds.
The twitch up run disruptor is one of the best power rushers in this NFL Draft class and a sub-4.7 40 would help him secure his status as a first-round pick.
Keaton Mitchell, RB, East Carolina (5-9, 184)
Many of the players receiving major buzz heading into NFL Scouting Combine week are top prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft that will hear their names called on the first two days of the draft. East Carolina’s Keaton Mitchell won’t go until Day 3, but he’s going to be right up there as one of the best athletes in Indianapolis.
The jitterbug of a running back has some of the best stop-start ability in this draft class and was among the most productive playmakers in the country the last two years totalling over 3,000 yards from scrimmage and 25 TDs for the Pirates.
Mitchell, like Devon Achane, lacks size that will push him down the board despite his magnificent playmaking ability, but he’ll be able to quiet some of the doubt by showing out in Indianapolis.
With the ability to vertical jump over 36 inches and having hit 22.6 mph as a ball carrier, one of the fastest times in college football, Mitchell is primed to make himself known to all this week. He also has rare change of direction skills that should help him blow up both the 3-cone and short shuttle.
If Mitchell lives up to the testing hype, he could help himself to being one of the first running backs selected on Day 3.
Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon (6-2, 200)
Every year there’s a top NFL Scouting Combine winner. The freakiest of freaks who just has everybody in awe of what he’s doing and how easily he’s doing it. This year the best bet to take home the award of most athletic prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft is Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez.
Gonzalez isn’t just a potential top-10 pick in the draft and arguably the No. 1 cornerback prospect, the former Duck is the most fluid athlete in the entire class. His bloodlines are preposterous with his father being a former semi-pro basketball player, both his older sisters being All-American track athletes (one of them competed in the Tokyo Olympics).
Like the rest of his family, Gonzalez is a burner, once hitting 23.3 mph on the field and running a 10.72 100-metre in high school. The springy athleticism is there too with him having a reported 42-inch vert and expecting to hit over 11-feet in the broad jump.
All that juice shows up on the field too where he’s such an easy mover mirroring receivers and staying in phase with them while using his hops to disrupt catch points and make plays on the football.
There’s a few prospects hitting the NFL Combine that will be appointment television when they test, but Gonzalez is chief among them and should secure his place as a top-10 prospect in the class with the way he’s oozing potential.
Other prospects to watch:
Tyjae Spears, RB, Tulane
Roschon Johnson, RB, Texas
Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee
Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
Andrei Iosivas, WR, Princeton
Justin Shorter, WR, Florida
Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State
Josh Whyle, TE, Cincinnati
Blake Freeland, OT, BYU
Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
Joe Tippmann, C, Wisconsin
Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson
Adetomiwa Adebawore, DL, Northwestern
Dylan Horton, DL, TCU
Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
DJ Johnson, EDGE, Oregon
Will McDonald, EDGE, Iowa State
Zach Harrison, EDGE, Ohio State
Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson
Drew Sanders, LB, Arkansas
Owen Pappoe, LB, Auburn
Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, CB, TCU
DJ Turner, CB, Michigan
Julius Brents, CB, Kansas State
Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina
Riley Moss, CB, Iowa
Sydney Brown, S, Illinois
Ji’Ayir Brown, Penn State