2023 NFL Scouting Combine stock up/stock down, Day 1: Nolan Smith displays electric athleticism
INDIANAPOLIS — The first night of workouts at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine is in the books, with the defensive linemen and linebackers taking center stage on Thursday.
While several prospects chose not to perform all of the athleticism tests, many of those who partook in the events at Lucas Oil Stadium wowed scouts with their speed in the 40-yard dash, their agility in shuttle drills and their explosiveness in the broad and vertical jumps. Some exceeded expectations, causing their draft stock to rise; others displayed flaws in their speed and/or athleticism (or chose not to perform), hurting their chances of being selected on Day 1 or Day 2 when the draft begins in Kansas City, Missouri (April 27-29).
Below, I list five former college stars who undoubtedly impressed the league’s personnel decision-makers with their test results and on-field performance. I also list five players who could use a strong effort at their school’s pro day to leave the most favorable impression possible before the draft.
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Adebawore looked very athletic for a 282-pound lineman, running a 4.49-second 40-yard dash and registering a 37.5-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-5-inch broad jump. Adebawore’s quick feet were on display during the on-field drills, as he hopped over and around bags like a stand-up edge rusher and worked hard dropping into space in linebacker drills. Though he measures under 6-foot-2, the former Wildcat has good length (33 7/8-inch arm).
Unheralded as a great athlete coming into this event, the 6-4 5/8, 249-pounder jumped 37 1/2 inches in the vertical and 10-7 in the broad jump while posting a 1.59-second 10-yard split. Campbell was as fluid and quick as any larger ‘backer who took the field Thursday, which showed in a 6.74-second three-cone effort. Teams will likely project him as an immediate starter at the next level when they consider these results along with the instincts and toughness Campbell showed on tape during his Iowa career.
Kancey was listed at 6-foot on the Pittsburgh Panthers’ website, but he measured 6-1, 281 in Indianapolis. His arm length measured 30 5/8 inches. That’s not typical for a defensive tackle, but it is a win. His 4.67 40 time was exactly what he needed, recording the fastest time for a defensive tackle at the event since 2003, per Next Gen Stats. It bested Aaron Donald’s time of 4.68 in 2014. Kancey came up short of Donald’s arm measurement (30 5/8 versus 32 5/8) and did not participate in on-field drills, but his film clearly shows his short-area quickness and ability to stand up and swim past defenders off the snap.
Smith was unable to finish his final season with the Bulldogs because of a pec injury, but he certainly showed out Thursday in Indianapolis. The 6-2 edge rusher is relatively slight at 238 pounds and has less than ideal arm length (32 5/8 inches), but his blazing 4.39 40 (1.52-second 10-yard split), 41.5-inch vertical and 10-foot-8 broad jump opened some eyes. Smith did not participate in the field drills, but he had already done more than enough to help himself.
Young flashed as a pass rush star for the Volunteers in their 11-2 campaign last fall and may have secured a Day 2 selection with his performance in Indianapolis. He looked the part of a promising edge player with a 38-inch vertical, 11-foot broad jump and blistering 4.43 40. Young showed his agility in the open field, and his rock-solid upper body and heavy hands made the upright bags pop in drills.
Carter broke out as a junior with the Cadets, racking up 15.5 sacks to get on scouts’ radars. His production dropped in 2022, however, and his performance in Indy didn’t impress. Carter measured over 6-foot-6 but his arm length (33 3/8 inches) is not elite. He did not run the 40-yard dash and put up poor jump figures for an edge defender (30-inch vertical, 9-foot-1 broad jump). He must excel at his pro day to be considered a Day 2 prospect.
Morris was a first-team All-Big Ten selection as a stand-up rusher for the Wolverines in 2022, but his 4.95-second 40-yard dash at 275 pounds did not scream “elite edge defender.” Also, he didn’t help himself with a 28.5-inch vertical and 9-foot-2 broad jump. Morris fell multiple times during field drills, as his tight hips made it tough to change directions and turn the corner. There isn’t much film to judge whether he can play at the five-technique in the NFL, so right now he seems like a man without a clear position.
Roy arrived in Indianapolis as a potential Day 2 pick. He did not run a 40-yard dash on Thursday night, however, and struggled in the tests he participated in (5.0 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle, 8.01 in the three-cone drill) at 305 pounds. During field drills, his movements looked more like those of a nose tackle than a quick three-technique who could be a pass rush factor. Roy will have a role on an NFL defense, but his combine efforts did not push him up draft boards.
Considered one of the most athletic linebackers in this year’s class, Sanders chose not to participate in any testing on Thursday. While the former Arkansas linebacker measured at 6-foot-4 3/8, his 235-pound frame and average arm length (32 1/8 inches) are unlikely to excite teams. He looked quick moving in a straight line during position drills, as expected with his lean build, but he’s not elite when it comes to change of direction. Sanders has received first-round buzz, but on Thursday he reminded me more of 2022 Day 2 selections like Troy Andersen and Chad Muma.
Young weighed in at 294 pounds but did not move as well in position drills as some players who were 10 or 20 pounds heavier than him. He was upright and relatively slow in his movements during short-area agility drills. Young did not run the 40 and his vertical (26 inches) and broad jump (nine feet) did not compare well with the rest of the group. He’s displayed versatility playing different spots on the line for Alabama, but his lack of quickness as a sub-300 pounder probably won’t endear him to NFL teams.
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