40 things we learned from 2018 NFL combine
INDIANAPOLIS -- The 40 things we learned from the 2018 NFL scouting combine:
1. This seemed like an appropriate spot to talk about Saquon Barkley. The Penn State running back looked like the best overall prospect on the field and charmed the
media during his news conference, which revealed a guy seemingly ready to be the face of a franchise. We'll go ahead and pat ourselves on the back for giving him
to the Browns first overall in our mock draft ... a month ago.
2. Expect Barkley to surface as the top pick in a LOT more mocks (and deservedly so) as the pre-draft process moves forward.
3. After all, are the Browns better off with Barkley at No. 1 and no worse than the third-best quarterback at No. 4, or the top quarterback (there's no consensus
there by the way) and virtually no shot at Barkley?
4. These scenarios aside, new Cleveland GM John Dorsey insists "my door's wide open" to trade offers even though he holds six of the draft's top 65 selections.
5. Even through Barkley is unlikely to last beyond the top two picks, teams in need of running back help will have no issues finding talent and a variety of flavors
in this draft.
6. Meanwhile, clubs looking to beef up at wide receiver ... might be wise to make a strong financial pitch to Sammy Watkins in free agency.
7. Shaquem Griffin. Wow. Twenty reps on the bench with a prosthetic wrist. Ran the 40 in 4.38 seconds. We've seen plenty of players with two hands have far more trouble
hanging onto the ball in drills than he did. He deservedly set the internet on fire over the weekend. What an inspiration. And what an excellent football player --
8. Hard to figure why it took so long for Griffin to get his combine invite, which didn't occur until after the Senior Bowl.
9. New England media members are clearly expecting the Patriots to search for the next Jimmy Garoppolo (assuming the next Tom Brady won't be available at pick No.
31 or later). Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph and Washington State's Luke Falk may fall into that category.
10. Speaking of Falk, kudos to him for trying to spread awareness about mental health issues as he and his ex-Cougars teammates continue to cope with the suicide of
Washington State QB Tyler Hilinski in January.
11. New/old Raiders coach Jon Gruden is struggling to adapt to the post-2011 collective bargaining agreement, which doesn't grant the access Gruden would like to
his players. Playbooks on tablets is also new, as is learning to interpret player tracking analytical data. "Man, I'm trying to throw the game back to 1998,"
lamented Gruden, though he still enjoys the camaraderie and social aspects of the combine. "I might be out after curfew a few times this week. I got a free pass
from my wife, so I look forward to seeing you guys," Gruden grinned to reporters during his press conference.
12. But no Chucky grin when the Raiders lost their coin flip with the 49ers, which allowed San Francisco to pick ninth in the first round and dropped Oakland to
13. Before you potentially sign with the Vikings, Kirk Cousins, you'd be wise not to take too much money and risk degrading Mike Zimmer's defense. Do that, and the
head coach might become difficult to deal with.
14. Cousins is likely to pull down a contract worth $30 million annually, which would reset the QB pay scale. suffice it to say the Packers are motivated to do a
new deal with Aaron Rodgers, whose current pact averages $22 million per season.
15. Ditto the Falcons with Matt Ryan, who averages less than $21 million entering the final year of his deal.
16. Asked who the toughest players they faced in college were, Alabama players almost always cite their battles against fellow Tide players in practice. And we're
pretty sure they're not just pumping up their teammates but telling the truth.
17. This draft doesn't appear nearly as deep at edge rusher as last year's. That's one reason why unsigned defensive ends like Detroit's Ziggy Ansah and Dallas'
Demarcus Lawrence are getting the franchise tag. It also affirms the notion that N.C. State's Bradley Chubb probably won't make it out of the top five.
18. A lack of pressure players is also good news for LSU's Arden Key, who answered a major question by measuring in at 6-5, 238 pounds, more than 30 pounds lighter
than he was during a disappointing 2017 season for the Tigers. But Key now may be back on track to the first round given the premium on his skill set.
19. If you want to rub elbows with NFL power brokers in Indianapolis, St. Elmo and Prime 47 are good places to be after 9 p.m. ... while you're enjoying a nice
20. And if you're looking for Jerry Jones, he's not that hard to find -- at least his luxury tour bus is hard to miss on the streets of Indy.
21. Speaking of Jerry, if you like Florida State S Derwin James, you better start working the phones. Take this advice ... from none other than Derwin James.
22. Hybrid defenders are de rigueur. Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick is regarded in some circles as the draft's best corner. James may be the best safety. But both can
play in the box, cover deep, man the slot or perhaps be a dime linebacker in pass defense. The more you can do ...
23. Poor Orlando Brown. The Oklahoma tackle was the subject of much ridicule, not necessarily wholly undeserved, after his epic combine struggle. But Sooners
teammate Baker Mayfield came to Brown's defense, saying: "When are you ever going to watch Orlando Brown run 40 yards down the field? You can watch last year’s tape
and see he allowed zero sacks. I’d say that’s pretty important for a left tackle."
24. Speaking of Mayfield, the 6-1 Heisman Trophy winner has no issue if you compare him to Tyrod Taylor, Drew Brees or Russell Wilson.
25. Asked about the Mayfield-Wilson comparison, Seahawks GM John Schneider, who might be 5-7, replied, "Well, I am a fan of short guys."
26. Asked about Wilson moonlighting as a New York Yankees spring training player, Seattle coach Pete Carroll said, "The curveball is still giving him a problem, like
it always did."
27. Back to Mayfield, who was NOT keen on comparisons to Johnny Manziel. "We’re two completely different people," he said, though he did praise the fellow Heisman
winner's football skills.
28. Eagles coach Doug Pederson said the team has not talked to Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles about a trade. Yet.
29. Rest easy Chargers fans, your team's brain trust is busy re-evaluating how it assesses kickers.
30. Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson may be one of the top three players in the draft, though his positional value could preclude him from being a top-10 selection.
31. Michigan DT Maurice Hurst's unfortunate experience was a reminder that the combine perhaps primarily serves as a medical filter for NFL teams. Here's hoping the
heart condition that surfaced for Hurst ultimately won't end his NFL dream.
32. However Ohio State C Billy Price was a combine cautionary reminder after he suffered a pectoral injury during the bench press drill. It might be the difference
between being drafted on Day 1 or Day 2.
33. Best name at the combine: Washington State DT Hercules Mata’afa, who said his mom was torn between "Hercules" and ... "Anthony." Said Mata'afa: "With a name like
this, you’ve got to live up to it.”
34. Second-best name at the combine: Notre Dame WR Equanimeous St. Brown, whose full name is actually Equanimeous Tristan Imhotep J. St. Brown. But he finishes
behind Mata'afa because St. Brown's father, John Brown, went to great lengths to make his son's name distinctive.
35. Best brain at the combine? Probably the one belonging to Stanford DT Harrison Phillips, who graduated in just 3.5 years ... with a double major in the science of
technology and sociology with a minor in education. He's also on the board of a non-profit.
36. Quote of the draft, courtesy of Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin when asked about the ruling that allowed Cincinnati backup QB AJ McCarron to
become a free agent: "We didn’t agree with it, but it’s the opinion we have. Opinions are like armpits, we all have them and most of them stink."
37. Understatement of the week goes to Jets GM Mike Maccagnan, who would only concede that quarterback is a "position of interest" to his team.
38. As good a player as injured Steelers LB Ryan Shazier is, his impact as a person continues to resonate. Really nice touch Sunday by Steelers scout Mark Gorscak,
who dedicated part of the 40-yard dash to Shazier, who continues to recover from a spinal injury that's already ensured he won't play in 2018.
39. Gorscak was also briefly in the spotlight Monday, when he erroneously assessed a false start in the 40 to Alabama DB Tony Brown, also a track star who was none
too pleased by the error of an apologetic Gorscak. It all worked out. Brown wound up blazing a 4.35.
40. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell ran a 5.41 40 in a suit, much to the envy of NFL Network host Rich Eisen, who posted a 5.97 in his annual attempt.