Who will be the DK Metcalf of this year’s NFL scouting combine?
Replicating the marks set by the wide receiver last year might prove impossible, as the current Seattle Seahawks standout took Indianapolis by storm when he recorded a 4.33-second 40-yard dash, 40 1/2-inch vertical leap and 27 bench press reps. But Metcalf was just the latest prospect to seize significant attention at the combine, and a few other players figure to command the spotlight this year.
Posting gaudy numbers, however, doesn’t always result in an early selection on draft day, as Metcalf was not taken until late in the second round. And while the information gleaned from testing and on-field drills can be entertaining fodder for observers, the information learned from medical evaluations and interviews can be even more important.
With that said, here are 11 NFL draft prospects who could create the biggest buzz at this year’s combine, starting next week:
11. Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State
With a massive 6-foot-9 wingspan and 10-inch hands, Aiyuk has rare measurables for a receiver, particularly one who is a shade under 6-0 and 201 pounds. The real key to his game, however, is field-stretching acceleration that should shine through in the 40-yard dash and agility drills. In a crowded group of receivers, anything Aiyuk can do to distinguish himself will bolster his chances to end up in the first round.
10. Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina
Though it might be a misnomer for Kinlaw to be labeled a riser early in the draft process, he clearly has established himself as one of the primary names to know for April. The 6-5, 315-pound All-American earned rave reviews in just two days of practice at the Senior Bowl, and he likely will continue to impress from weigh-ins through testing. Kinlaw has put himself in the same class as Auburn’s Derrick Brown, who also could turn heads, and could continue to build a case to land in the top 10.
9. Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
It’s hard for offensive linemen to stand out at the combine, but Wirfs will earn plenty of attention in the weight room after he broke Iowa’s hang clean record with four reps of 450 pounds last year. At 6-5 and 322 pounds, he also has recorded an astonishing 35-inch vertical leap. Yet on-field work might be the stage where Wirfs impresses the most, as the former state wrestling champion is one of the most fluid pass protectors who will be in action.
8. Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
The combine could serve as a national re-emergence for Reagor, whose electric play was inhibited in 2019 by TCU’s erratic passing attack. The DeSean Jackson comparisons come easy for the 5-11, 195-pound big-play threat, as he forces defenses to respect his deep speed and offers significant value as a returner. His times in the 40-yard dash and three-cone drill should be among the best of the week, though his on-field work might be even more important given concerns about his drops.
7. C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida
Speed and agility are at the center of Henderson’s game. The 40-yard dash and agility drills should provide him platforms to show off his first-rate closing speed and quickness. After bulking up to 202 pounds, he is more powerful than one might think, as shown by his 545-pound squat and 380-pound bench press. Henderson also notched a 10-4 broad jump and 40 1/2-inch vertical leap last summer.
6. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
Don’t pigeonhole Taylor as a plodding Big Ten back. The four-time New Jersey state champion in the 100 meters and 4×100 relay has breakaway speed that portends a promising run in the 40-yard dash. And standing at 5-11 and 219 pounds with a squat of 605 pounds, he is plenty powerful, too. With no clear pecking order on the top running backs, Taylor has a prime opportunity to highlight impressive attributes that extend beyond his instincts on the field.
5. Ashtyn Davis, S, Cal
Calling Davis a former walk-on might give the wrong impression, as he enrolled on a track scholarship before joining the football team. The All-American hurdler reached NCAA Championships as a senior and won the Pac-12’s 2017 meet in the 110-meter event. So long as he has recovered from the minor groin surgery that led him to bow out of the Senior Bowl, Davis is a solid bet to post high marks in the 40-yard dash, vertical leap and broad jump.
4. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Quarterback intrigue might not be running at its peak, as Tua Tagovailoa is still on the mend and presumptive No. 1 pick Joe Burrow has little reason to participate in anything beyond interviews. If Burrow sits out, the spotlight might belong to Herbert. The 6-6, 227-pound passer already impressed in Senior Bowl practices before earning MVP honors for the game, and the combine’s format accentuates his strengths — pro-ready build, arm strength and mobility — while de-emphasizing questions on his touch and ball placement.
3. Chase Young, DE, Ohio State
Much like Burrow, Young doesn’t have much to prove in this setting given the seemingly overwhelming likelihood he lands with the Redskins at the No. 2 pick. Similar to fellow Ohio State product Jeff Okudah, however, he is poised to use the event to reinforce why he’s in a class of his own at his position. Nicknamed “The Predator,” Young has a rare combination of speed, power, length and flexibility. Former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said that Young might be a more physically gifted player than former Buckeye pass rushers and current Pro Bowler brothers Joey and Nick Bosa.
2. Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
Maybe the most anticipated individual drill will take place when Ruggs steps to the line to run his 40-yard dash. His former Crimson Tide teammates already are touting his ability to break Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross’ combine record of 4.22 seconds, and the speedy receiver himself said last year he believes he can improve on last year’s Alabama junior day time of 4.25 seconds. Ruggs’ track speed — he set the 7A state record for the 100 meters at 10.58 seconds — also translates to the field, where he repeatedly broke long gains out of slants and screens in addition to hauling in deep passes. On one touchdown against South Carolina last year, Ruggs said he was clocked at 24.3 miles per hour, which would have easily been the fastest speed of any NFL ball carrier last year, according to Next Gen Stats.
1. Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson
No one else has the across-the-board athleticism that the do-everything Simmons boasts. A former track and field star in high school, he was twice Kansas’ state champion in the long jump and joined the Tigers’ track team as a freshman before focusing on football. At 6-4 and 230 pounds, he ran step for step with Clemson running back Travis Etienne, one of the country’s speediest offensive threats, when the two raced last year. And his marks for the broad jump and vertical leap, the latter of which Clemson measured at 40 inches, could be among the best in Indianapolis. With a strong showing, Simmons can set the new standard for what teams seek in their hybrid defenders.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.