INDIANAPOLIS -- The first night of workouts at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine is in the books, with the quarterbacks and pass-catchers taking center stage on Thursday.
While several wide receivers and tight ends chose not to perform all of the athleticism tests, many of those who partook in the events wowed scouts with their speed in the 40-yard dash, their agility in shuttle drills and their explosiveness in the broad and vertical jumps.
Quarterbacks also performed some of those tests, though teams are much less interested in those times than they are in the on-field drills for passers. Organizations in need of a future signal-caller paid close attention to how tightly the ball departed the hand of each quarterback, as well as the accuracy, strength and arc of downfield throws. Most of these passing duos have not worked together in the past, though, so any slight synchronization issues might be overlooked.
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 three players who could use a strong effort at their school's pro day to leave the most favorable impression possible before April's NFL draft.
Moore was consistently explosive during the field drills on Thursday. His shorter routes were crisp, and in the one instance when Moore stumbled, he managed to concentrate on the ball to bring it in. He caught the ball cleanly and brought to mind memories of MLB great Willie Mays when grabbing passes over his head. Moore's 4.41-second 40-yard dash is a nice time for a 195-pound receiver. His performance could land him in the top 100.
It wasn't a contest: Olave was the best receiver in Thursday's second group of wide receivers. He's been called a smooth mover since he arrived at Ohio State, and he did nothing to alter that reputation at the combine. Olave caught nearly everything thrown his way, grabbing several throws well away from his frame whether deep or short. His 4.39 40 impressed more than his 32-inch vertical and 10-4 broad jump. Regardless, Olave planted his flag as one of the top two receivers in the draft.
Okonkwo impressed at this year's East-West Shrine Bowl, and he should continue his ascent on draft boards after a strong workout. His effort started with a 4.52 40-yard dash at 238 pounds, considerably faster than the other tight ends. Okonkwo looked as smooth on the field on Thursday as he did on Saturdays during the season. He didn't catch every ball thrown his way but showed an ability to track passes over his shoulder and adjust to other throws that weren't directly on target.
Watson, a former FCS receiver, proved he belonged on Thursday night, running a 4.36 40-yard dash at 208 pounds. He posted other excellent test results like an 11-foot-4 broad jump and 38.5-inch vertical. He was smooth and nimble in his route running during drills, showing his ability while competing alongside Olave, Garrett Wilson and other FBS stars. Watson's now pushing for a top-50 draft slot.
Willis consistently made things look easy on Thursday night, showing excellent arc on his deep throws. While he did overthrow a couple of shorter targets, his slants got into the receiver's hands in a hurry. The moment wasn't too big for him, and he was encouraging his fellow combine participants during their reps. He chose not to run a 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, but he already has plenty of tape that displays what he can do with the ball in his hands.
Bell needed an excellent combine workout to put aside questions about his athleticism. His 33-inch vertical, sub-10-foot broad jump and 4.65-second 40-yard-dash time did not quiet the concerns. Bell was solid in on-field drills, showing the strong hands that earned him Big Ten Receiver of the Year honors. WR coaches will be interested in his services in the middle rounds, though.
Burks' 4.55-second 40 time is just fine for a 225-pound receiver. His 32-inch vertical and 10-foot-2 broad jump were not exceptional, though, even for a player his size. Burks was inconsistent during his drill work, sometimes looking smooth catching passes but appearing too linear in his movements at other times. With impressive performances happening all around him, Burks' outing was not what he needed to secure the top receiver spot in the draft.
Ferguson needed a big combine performance to climb into the conversation for a top-100 pick. He was steady and solid in position drills, but his 15 bench-press reps and 4.81 40 at 250 pounds renewed doubts about his overall athleticism. The former Badger will still be a good safety valve for his new quarterback when he hits the next level, but Thursday's results likely mean he'll be available on Day 3 of the draft.