The 2022 NFL Scouting Combine kicks off on Tuesday in Indianapolis. This year will be my 15th making the trip to Indy and covering the marquee event of draft season.
One of the things I’ve learned about heading to the Combine is to not get locked into preconceived notions. It’s good to do the homework and have some opinions formulated, of course. But the Combine is about validating or refuting those opinions with athletic testing and what we can glean from sources about the player interviews and medicals.
With that said, here are some of my random draft thoughts about certain players and teams before the Combine.
--I think Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton is the most talented and potentially impactful player in the entire draft. I still have to finish film evaluation on several offensive linemen and a couple of prominent wide receivers and EDGEs, but it’s hard to fathom anyone grading out higher for me than Hamilton does. He reminds me a great deal of the late Eric Turner, an All-Pro safety for the Browns and Ravens who went No. 2 overall in 1991.
--The team I root for and cover for USA TODAY’s Lions Wire, the Detroit Lions, has a potential need at quarterback. Their positional status colors my prism for how I evaluate the QBs, with a simple question: Is the player a better quarterback in 2022 or 2023 than Jared Goff?
Right now, the only QB who meets that middling threshold for 2022 is Kenny Pickett, and I have some concerns about his age and arm length/hand size. Matt Corral and Malik Willis--in that order--have the best potential to be better than Goff in 2023, either in Detroit or another NFL city. But it’s certainly not a given that any will ever surpass Goff, an average talent who can guide a strong supporting cast nicely but won’t ever elevate a team on his own.
--I’m not going to have Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux as a top-5 player in my final rankings. There is way too much of *insert poking stick “do something” meme* to his game tape. Thibodeaux’s positive flashes are outstanding and I do think he can be a 10-12 sack per season player as a 3-4 OLB. He reminds me of a bigger Jerry Hughes entering the draft.
--My focus for the Combine athletic testing is more directed at the players who don’t perform to expectation than those who rock Indy with incredible workouts. Based on conversations I’ve had with various sources, two players who could underwhelm in workouts and cost themselves in draft stock: Georgia WR George Pickens and Auburn CB Roger McCreary.
--This tight end class is darn near impossible to sort out. In my current working draft of the big board, I don’t have a single TE in the top 50. I have 9 ranked between 51 and 115. This is where a standout athletic display at the Combine can help create some separation. Current favorites from tape study are Isaiah Likely from Coastal Carolina and Wisonsin’s Jake Ferguson.
--Perhaps the player with the most to gain or lose with his Combine experience is LSU CB Derek Stingley. First of all, his medicals are huge. There is real concern Stingley has a Lisfranc injury. If that’s validated by the rigorous medical evaluation at the Combine, it’s a devastating blow. Lisfranc is one of the most long-lasting impactful injuries to players who rely on speed and precise footwork, and no position requires that more than outside cornerback.
Then there’s the regression issue. Stingley’s 2019 tape as a freshman at LSU is the stuff of (worthy) legend. He was a dynamic force, an aggressive and savvy ballhawk who looked like a future NFL All-Pro as an 18-year-old. But since then he’s been largely underwhelming, and his game tape from the season-opening loss to UCLA (one of 3 games he played before injury) is downright embarrassing. His effort against Central Michigan wasn’t exactly inspiring either. Stingley will need to successfully explain why his effort level fluctuates so radically and also why his development stalled. NFL teams can live with valid answers, but Stingley must be honest about it. His Combine is the difference between being a top-10 consideration or the guy who’s highlighted at the bottom of the ESPN crawl as “best available” for an uncomfortably long time.
--I would almost never advocate drafting a specialist, but there are two punters in this class who I would have no problem with any team drafting as early as the late fifth round. Penn State’s Jordan Stout and Matt Araiza from San Diego State are legit weapons.
--Two players I know I’m going to like more than most draft analysts: Cincinnati CB Coby Bryant and Minnesota EDGE Boye Mafe.
--On the flip side, one player whom I’m going to rank significantly lower than the draft analyst consensus: Iowa C Tyler Linderbaum.
--The Philadelphia Eagles have three picks almost in a row, selecting at 15, 16 and 19 overall. It’s difficult to see them using all those picks where they currently sit. There is a lot of talk about trading up, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them trade out of one of the picks, effectively selling it off for more draft capital in 2023 or a useful player upgrade.
Applying the “can he be better than our current starter” lens to the Eagles and QB Jalen Hurts, once again the only quarterback in this class who could possibly be better than Hurts in 2022 is Kenny PIckett. And I don’t expect Pickett to be around for No. 15…