Year after year, fans, media, and evaluators alike gather for the unique spectacle that is the NFL Draft Combine. College football’s top athletes will be put to the test in their athleticism, fieldwork, and perhaps most importantly, interviews with teams.
Due to the vast size and the coverage of the event, it is easy to walk away with strong impressions that may form final opinions on prospects, whether those are correct or not. This is all of the more reason why prospects who stand out have a great chance of increasing their draft position. On the other hand, the prospects that do not measure or interview as well may drop their position.
Out of this year’s draft class, there are a number of players who should test very well, combining their size and athleticism to show the type of player they can become. Similarly, there are a number of players who may have great film but lack the ideal athleticism. The combine can be a place for them to prove the doubters wrong.
Below we break down a number of prospects who should test freakishly well, as well as some prospects whose testing numbers will have a large impact on their draft position.
20 Athletic Freaks We Expect to Test Well
QB: Malik Willis, Liberty – In addition to his cannon of an arm, Willis possesses electric speed. At the combine, he should be able to showcase why he is the most athletic QB prospect since Lamar Jackson. Willis’ ability to extend plays, scramble, and move with the ball in his hand is special. He combines size, speed, agility to be very dynamic and he should confirm that at the combine.
WR: Treylon Burks, Arkansas – Burks is one of the most athletic players in the draft, which is even impressive when you add in the fact that he’s 230 pounds. For someone that size, it’s shocking how fluid and twitchy he is. Burks’ straight-line speed is up there with anybody in the class and his acceleration allows him to comfortably maintain his distance from defenders. He also has loose hips, which help him easily change direction at high speeds. On a 91-yard touchdown against Georgia Southern, Burks was clocked at 22.6 mph. The fastest ball carrier in the NFL this past season was Jonathan Taylor at 22.1 mph. The freakiest thing about Burks is that his hands are nearly 11 inches long. In pictures of him running with the football, you can see his entire hand engulf the ball.
WR: Calvin Austin, Memphis – Austin is an intriguing prospect who is looking to rise up draft boards closer to draft similarly to Tutu Atwell last season. While Austin is small, he flies with the ball in his hands and creates separation due to that speed as well. He has legitimate track speed, as he was very good in the 55- and 60-meter dashes back in 2020. It would be no surprise if Austin runs a blazing 40-yard dash and flirts with the fastest time in the class.
WR: Christian Watson, NDSU – A strong showing at the Senior Bowl propelled Christian Watson into many day two conversations. According to Zebra Technologies, Watson ran 20.71 mph during a senior bowl practice, which was one of the highs of the week. At 6-4 and 211 pounds, Watson has the optimal height/weight/speed combination that’ll give him an advantage over corners from the jump. He’s also very flexible and fluid, which is why he’ll likely have success running routes in the short and intermediate areas.
OL: Evan Neal, Alabama – Neal has a chance to be the top pick in April and there is no surprise why. Neal combines outstanding size (6-foot-7 and 350 pounds) with impressive athleticism. As a result, he is a nasty blocker who can easily clear space in the run game and has the ability to consistently match up with rushers of any type when protecting the QB. At the combine, Neal will have a chance to show uncanny athleticism for his size during the drills. Many have seen the viral video of Neal accomplishing a 48-inch box jump landing into a split squat.
OL: Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa – Linderbaum likely could have been a top-40 pick if he had come out last season. However, he elected to stay and continued to grow his game, showing why he is one of the best center prospects of the last decade. Linderbaum is not the biggest player, but he is so quick and technically sound, leading to him being very effective on the interior. His foot speed allows him to get on the defender quickly. Plus, he has the athleticism, once engaged, to get himself in excellent blocking position. He should test well across the board in all agility drills, as there are even rumors that he could run a short shuttle as fast as a low 4.2, which would be rare for someone his size.
OL: Ikem Ekwonu, NC State – The first thing you notice about Ikem Ekwonu is how large of a human being he is. He’s listed at 6-4 and 320 pounds yet still has more than enough speed to get out in the open field and make blocks at the second level. Ekwonu has quick feet, which help him get off the line and maintain his leverage better than most tackles. He also plays with great strength, especially in the run game. On Bruce Feldman’s annual freak list, Ekwonu reportedly had a 30-inch vertical and hit 18 mph on the GPS.
OL: Daniel Faalele, Minnesota – At 6-8 and 387 pounds, it’s clear why Daniel Faalele has the eye of NFL scouts. For someone at that size, Faalele flashes the movements and footwork of lineman much lighter than him. He has the ability to get to the second and third level which is always a nightmare scenario for linebackers and defensive backs. He needs to become more refined as a blocker, but if that happens, he could be amongst the best at his position in the league. While his size is clearly impressive, it remains to be seen how does in actual testing drills. His testing numbers at his size are expected to impress, but conditioning is always a question mark with players who are this big.
DT: Jordan Davis, UGA – Known more for his size than production, Jordan Davis checks in as one of the biggest defensive linemen entering the draft in recent memory. Georgia’s website lists him at 6-6, which would put him in the 99th percentile of NFL defensive tackles, and 340 pounds, which is also above the 95th percentile. If he tests as well as he moves on tape, some team will likely gamble on him early in the first round.
EDGE: Boye Mafe, Minnesota – Nobody can help themselves more throughout this process than Mafe if he performs well again, much like he did at the Senior Bowl. Everyone knew Mafe was raw but possessed the tools necessary to be very good at the next level, and he showed that in Mobile. He practiced well all week and dominated in the game. Mafe can continue that success in this pre-draft process by testing well at the combine. He is a physical freak, so that should be no problem. Even at 255 pounds, he is rumored to have a vertical of 40.5 inches, can broad jump 10-6, run a 40-yard dash at a blazing 4.57, and a short shuttle in the 4.3 range. Not to mention he has a power clean of 400 and squats 653 pounds.
EDGE: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon – Thibodeaux will likely be a top 5 pick in this year’s draft despite some of the rumors circling around him during this process. The combine will be a great time for him to silence the noise and let his cut-up frame and athleticism do the talking. He was a top recruit coming out of high school and three years later it is no surprise that a prospect of his caliber, size, and athleticism is going to hear his name called at the top of his class. Thibodeaux is long and quick off the line, and he should impress many people with stride and acceleration in the 40-yard dash, as well as other drills.
EDGE: David Ojabo, Michigan – With all the talk centered on his teammate Aidan Hutchinson, it’s easy to forget about the standout playing opposite him the entire season. Despite having limited playing time during his Michigan tenure, David Ojabo has still found himself in first-round talks due to his athletic traits. At his best, he displays an ability to win with speed and pass rush moves, and has the hips to allow him to bend upfield and create pressure. He is expected to run a sub 4.60 40-yard dash, which would put him in elite company with previous top edge prospects.
EDGE: Travon Walker, UGA – Walker is a very intriguing prospect whose name has been circulating in and around the first round. Walker is another member of the ultra-talented Georgia defense, as he was able to play multiple positions upfront for the Dawgs. Projecting what position Walker plays best is tough but on tape, it is clear that he can flat-out play. He is big, long, powerful, and quick off the ball. He moves very well for his size and has the physique of a machine. If Walker tests as well as many think, then there is no doubt a team is going to draft him high, betting on his traits at the next level.
LB: Nakobe Dean, UGA – Dean won the award for the nation’s best LB and is now jostling to hear his name be called as the first LB off of the board. Dean combines high-level instincts with phenomenal speed, agility, and a hot motor. While not the largest player, Dean flies sideline to sideline and has shown the ability to run down some of the fastest players in the country. Dean jumped 41 inches in high school and should kill it in the agility drills, in addition to running a very fast 40-yard dash.
LB: Troy Andersen, Montana State – Andersen’s athleticism was center stage at Senior Bowl week as he had strong reps in coverage and showed no difficulty adjusting to higher competition. He finished his career playing linebacker but is athletic enough to also be used as a gadget player on offense. He’s lined up at quarterback, running back, and receiver and has done so effectively. Andersen is the exact type of player that a creative coach would love to get their hands on.
CB: Derek Stingley Jr, LSU – From an athletic standpoint, there is a lot to like regarding Derek Stingley Jr. He has arguably the best hips of any player in the class along with quick feet and a cut-up frame. At a testing event in high school, Stingley recorded a 4.30 40-yard dash and a 42-inch vertical which gave him a SPARQ score of 142.74. With three years at LSU to build on those numbers, he should have one of the most impressive performances of anyone at the combine.
CB: Kyler Gordon, Washington – The former three-sport standout in high school (track/basketball/football), Kyler Gordon is expected to put together a strong showing at the combine. Gordon projects well as an outside corner because of his speed which allows him to stay hip to hip with receivers for extended periods. He’s listed at 6-foot and 200 pounds, giving him an ideal frame for an NFL cornerback. He also has a unique background in kung fu, competitive dance, and ballet which should give him an advantage in flexibility. Strong testing in Indianapolis should have Gordon firmly in the mix for a day 1 selection.
CB: Tariq Woolen, UTSA – UTSA cornerback Tariq Woolen is still largely unknown because he comes from a small school and didn’t play CB all five years he was there. He has an intriguing size/speed combo as he weighed in at 6035 and 205 pounds and was clocked at 22.45 mph at a Senior Bowl practice. It remains to be seen how refined Woolen can become as a corner, but he has all the tools to end up being a serviceable player at the position.
DS: Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame – Hamilton has a good chance to be the highest selected safety since Sean Taylor, fifth overall in 2004, and for good reason. Hamilton has dominated the college ranks since he was just a true freshman, where he solidified himself as the best defensive player on the ND defense. There is no question that Hamilton is a freaky athlete with tremendous size and athleticism in addition to playing with great technique and being very smart. All in all, Hamilton is a special talent, which all stems from his size and athleticism. At the combine, Hamilton should show how freakishly well he moves for a player that stands at 6-4 and 220 pounds.
DS: Tycen Anderson, Toledo – Anderson has been a productive player over the past four seasons at Toledo. He has many intriguing aspects of his game including his versatility and combination of size and speed. He has shown the ability to play either safety spot, nickel, or in the box, as he has the athleticism and size to play at each of them. Despite being 6-foot-1 and 204 pounds, he moves well. In his high school track days he ran an impressive 11.3 100 meter and 22.8 200 meter. If Anderson can show how well he moves at his size at the combine, he will have a good chance of raising his draft stock.
10 Combine Invitees Who NEED To Test Well
QB: Carson Strong, Nevada – Much like the WR position, the consensus top QB in the draft is still up for debate. While Malik Willis may have a good chance of putting his name higher in that conversation, the combine may hurt a player like Carson Strong. Strong has a very solid arm and has done a number of very impressive things throughout his college career. He checks many boxes as a prospect, but there are serious question marks around his injury history and how his knee affects his game. Strong was largely immobile in and around the pocket this past season, leading to him taking many sacks. If Strong can prove his knee is healthy and is able to move well in the testing drills then, he may make himself some money during the event.
RB: Brian Robinson, Alabama – Robinson is a big-time back who is physical and large in size. He stands at 6-1 and 226 pounds — rare size for the position. As a runner, he brings impressive power and toughness to run through tacklers. While he is physical, there are question marks about his speed and his ability to run away from defenses. Robinson can force teams to fall in love with him if he proves he can move well for his size by testing well at the combine.
WR: Justyn Ross, Clemson – After a true freshman season where Ross had 1,000 receiving yards and averaged 21.7 yards per reception, it looked like he was on his way to being one of the top prospects in this year’s class. Ross was the leading receiver on a team that already had Tee Higgins, Hunter Renfrow, and Amari Rodgers catching passes. The expectations surrounding his testing are relatively unknown because of the injury question marks.
WR: George Pickens, UGA – Pickens was in the conversation for best receiver prospect in the draft before he tore his ACL last spring. He is a big-bodied receiver who flashed in spurts during his first two seasons. A strong combine performance might alleviate some of the concerns from his torn ACL and put him right back in the top five receivers mix.
WR: Drake London, USC – In terms of dominance, it is hard to compete with London’s performance during the 2021 college football season. His name is surrounded around the heavily discussed WR1 debate, and the combine should help make the rankings a little clearer. While London has phenomenal size and leaping ability for the position, as he is a former college basketball player, in addition to football. That said, his ability to separate and win over the top is called into question often. London’s 40-yard dash time and agility testing in the 3 cone and short shuttle should answer some key questions that will be beneficial to his draft stock.
TE: Charlie Kolar, Iowa State – After a strong Combine performance, Kolar has a chance to rise with a strong Combine. Some of the best tight ends ever such as Travis Kelce, Gronk, Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis, Jimmy Graham, and Dallas Cark all ran under a 4.70. Even some of the newer guys that are excelling at the position like Kyle Pitts and George Kittle ran in the low 4.5s/4.4s. That is not the only way to have success at the position, but it is clear that athleticism and versatility matter more than ever for tight ends, making it important for Kolar to test well.
TE: Isaiah Likely, Coastal Carolina – Likely’s biggest question mark heading into the Senior Bowl was his height, but he answered those by measuring in at 6-4. If you are just looking at the box score and film, Likely would be everyone’s tight end one. He tore up the Sun Belt over the past two seasons recording 89 catches, 1,513 yards, and 17 touchdowns. He also averaged 17.0 yards per reception and showcased the versatility that so many teams covet today. He is fast and fluid enough to line up anywhere on the field, so it’ll be interesting to see how creative a team is willing to get with him.
OL: Daniel Faalele, Minnesota – As mentioned above, Faalele is a massive athlete and a physical freak, but he must prove his athleticism at the combine. He has flashed the ability to move well, but testing will be important to see if a player of his size can move at an NFL level. If he proves he can move, his stock could soar. If not, some teams may be unwilling to take a risk on him.
OL: Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan – A difficult Senior Bowl slowed down a lot of the hype surrounding Raimann, but he has a chance to regain draft momentum with a strong combine. The tight end turned left tackle should be alongside Tyler Linderbaum among the most athletic offensive lineman in the draft. Raimann has also played wide receiver and has a background in track, so his 40 time is something to pay attention to.
EDGE: Cameron Thomas, SDSU – There was a lot of anticipation surrounding Cameron Thomas’ Senior Bowl performance as people were excited to see how he would handle a step up in class. Unfortunately, an injury on day one put him in street clothes the rest of the week, so teams still have not gotten to see him during the pre-draft process. All they have to go off is film at San Diego State, where his consistent disruption and versatility stand out, but his speed and twitch appears to be only adequate. If Thomas can showcase his athleticism in addition to his existing power and polish, he should hear his name early on day two.