With the NFL combine now in the rear-view mirror, it is my favorite time of the year as we now get to examine the measurables and see if they match up with what we saw on film. And if it doesn’t, then you have to go back to the tape to see what you might have missed.
The combine shouldn’t completely change our opinions on a player, but it does show the range of possible outcomes for a receiver. A receiver that tests off the charts will likely have a higher ceiling than one who tests as a poor athlete. Elite players are usually elite athletes, whereas poor athletes rarely become good players. There will always be exceptions to the rules, but these statements are generally true. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the more notable combine performances from last week and try to make sense of them.
Calvin Ridley, Alabama
Let’s start with the consensus top receiver in the class, Calvin Ridley. Heading into the week, he seemed like a lock to be a top-15 selection. But after his poor performance on Saturday, there are now concerns that he shouldn’t be drafted in the first round altogether. Ridley tested in the bottom-seventh percentile of all receivers in the past several seasons, according to 3sigmaathlete.com.
To Ridley’s credit, his three-cone number was slightly above average (6.88 seconds) and his 40-yard dash was still an impressive 4.43. However, his overall testing numbers leave a lot to be desired. Calvin Ridley has a lot of fans in the draft community, but selecting a soon-to-be 24-year-old receiver with poor athleticism will require a major leap of faith. His best position in the NFL might be as a slot receiver, rather than as an outside receiver.
D.J. Moore, Maryland
One of the biggest winners of the NFL combine was none other than D.J. Moore of Maryland. Moore started off the week strong by measuring in at 6-foot, 210 pounds, well above his listed height of 5-foot-10. At 6-0, Moore will likely get the opportunity to play on the outside, rather than being pigeonholed as a slot receiver only. He continued to dominate in Indianapolis as he ran a 4.42 and posted a SPARQ (speed-power-agility-reaction-quickness) score that put him in the 97th percentile in terms of athleticism. Combine that with his elite dominator rating (in the 97th percentile) and his age (just 20-years old) and suddenly you have an elite prospect. Moore has checked every box that you would like to see from him and should be the first receiver drafted come April. The only concern about Moore physically is that he has just average quickness (6.95 3-cone time), but he more than makes up for it with his explosion and speed.
D.J. Chark, LSU
Since 2010, there have been just four receivers who have run a sub-4.41 40-yard dash and have averaged more than 20 yards per reception in their final collegiate season. Those receivers are Demaryius Thomas, Phillip Dorsett, Breshad Perriman and Will Fuller. Not coincidentally, all four of those receivers were selected in the first round. That will likely happen again in 2018 as D.J. Chark from LSU put on a show at the NFL combine. Chark ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at nearly 6-foot-3, 199 pounds, to go along with his 21.9 yards per reception last year. Chark is a long way from being a complete prospect, but he has the ability to create big plays down the field that NFL teams will covet. Combine that with his excellent performance at the Senior Bowl, and he is essentially a lock to be drafted in the first round.
Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
Christian Kirk was another receiver who had a disappointing week in the athleticism drills. In the weeks leading up to the NFL combine, Kirk was pegged as the next explosive receiver who possessed similar traits to Odell Beckham. Despite running a solid 40-yard dash (4.47), Kirk struggled mightily in the agility drills. Kirk’s 20-yard shuttle time of 4.45 put him in the 6th percentile of all receivers since 2000, according to Mockdraftable. His 3-cone drill and 60-yard shuttle were both well-below average and indicate that he struggles to change direction. With Kirk having very little experience playing on the outside, and with him lacking the elite quickness to be a slot receiver, it’s fair to wonder which of the receiver positions will best suit him at the next level.
Courtland Sutton, SMU
One receiver who shined in Indianapolis was Courtland Sutton of SMU. Coming into the week, there were questions about his overall speed and quickness at the position. Is he closer to Alshon Jeffery or closer to Devin Funchess? Sutton ran a 4.54 40-yard dash, which was a good time considering his size. However, it was the agility drills in which he thrived. Sutton ran a 3-cone of 6.57, a time which is usually reserved for the quickest slot receivers in the league. His 20-yard shuttle (4.11) and 60-yard shuttle (11.06) were also both extremely impressive on their own, let alone given his elite size. Sutton is still a big outside receiver who needs to refine his route running ability, but at the very least, we now know that he has the physical tools to become a better NFL player than he was in college.
Auden Tate, Florida State
One premier receiver who had a day to forget in Indy was Florida State’s Auden Tate. Tate is a massive wide receiver at nearly 6-foot-5, 228 pounds, but with the poor play of Kelvin Benjamin burned into people’s brains, Tate needed to show that he was a better athlete. However, Tate actually tested worse than Benjamin, running a 4.68 40-yard dash with just a 31” vertical. Now the question surrounding Tate is if he should have to switch positions because he just isn’t likely to be athletic enough to win on the outside consistently. With Tate not possessing any average-to-above-average trait except for size, expect him to fall somewhere between the third-to-fifth round of the NFL draft in April.