INDIANAPOLIS -- Minutes before the defensive tackles took the field Sunday morning at the NFL Scouting Combine, I passed a veteran defensive coordinator on the steps inside Lucas Oil Stadium. His expectation?
"They're not sloppy fat guys anymore," he said. "And this group can rush the passer. Best D-line group in years."
That preview became a great review. By the time the defensive linemen finished their drills, talent evaluators were shaking their heads. "I can't believe they ran so fast," one told me.
Both are fiercely competitive; they obviously aren't alone in that. But there is a tone-setter feel when the big guys show up big.
The 21-year-old Williams told me that the question he was asked often in interviews with teams here was if his breakout 2018 season with Alabama was an aberration or a sign of the player he truly is. His workout indicated the latter. And, to be clear, there aren't questions about Williams. One talent evaluator told me he's a sure thing -- a can't-miss impact player -- much like Giants running back Saquon Barkley was a year ago before being drafted second overall.
Then there's Bosa, who hadn't been seen in action on a football field since he sustained a core muscle injury and underwent surgery in September. In the 40-yard dash, Bosa (4.79 seconds) ran a tick faster than his brother Joey (4.86) did at the combine. And while his results on the field in Indy weren't jaw-dropping, the Ohio State product is clearly respected by the talent evaluators I spoke with as a top-three pick.
I enjoyed this exchange with Williams during the workout: After he ran an impossibly fast 4.87-second 40-yard dash, I asked him if that was his personal best. No, he said. What is your personal best? "I'll show you with my next one."
The 303-pound Williams showed everyone, turning in a time of 4.83. Ridiculous. And against the advice of his agent, Nicole Lynn, who advised him to take the 4.87 ... and run.
In light of Williams' 4.83 time, NFL Research provided the fastest 40 times by 300-pound players drafted in the first round since 2003:
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Murray makes waves: He didn't throw or run or do much of anything besides appear at a press conference and interview with teams. Yet Kyler Murray dominated a portion of this combine.
While watching his fellow quarterbacks throw Saturday, Murray declined to answer any questions on the floor of the combine (though my NFL Network colleague Michael Robinson did have a convo with him), and he didn't do any of the drills. Still, he was an overwhelming presence here. And nearly every talent evaluator I spoke to about Murray's draft potential believes the Oklahoma product will go No. 1 overall to the Cardinals, who drafted quarterback Josh Rosen 10th overall in 2018. Which would be ... remarkable.
I asked several GMs to complete this sentence with one word: "The GM who drafts Kyler Murray is ..." Six said "smart." One said "gutsy." The other (who clearly doesn't believe in one-word answers) said, "is getting a very talented QB with terrific tools."
And a QB who stands a shade over 5-foot-10. Most of the league, at least publicly, shrugged at Murray's height. But Giants GM Dave Gettleman said at his combine press conference, "It's still a big man's game." Another GM told me: "We can't say height doesn't matter. Measurables are why we're here (at the combine)."
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Quad strain waylays Lawrence's workout: I hate reporting on injuries at the combine. After running a 5.05-second 40-yard dash at 342 pounds -- THINK ABOUT THAT -- Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence sustained what was considered a mild quad strain and was sidelined for the rest of the day. That was a shame. It would have been fun to watch him in drills with the rest of the D-line group.
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Sweat flies: There's a chance Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat is still smiling after his blazing 4.41 40. (Seriously, he smiled for minutes on end, and understandably so.) That's faster than Julio Jones (4.42), Tarik Cohen (4.42), Amari Cooper (4.42), Devin Hester (4.43), Odell Beckham Jr. (4.43) and Sammy Watkins (4.43) ran in Indy.
The 6-5 3/4 Sweat weighed in at 260 pounds. None of those skill players is listed at more than 220 pounds.
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Separated by a sliver: How about Michigan teammates Rashan Gary (4.58) and Chase Winovich (4.59) turning in the fourth- and fifth-fastest 40 times among defensive linemen? After he ran his first 40, Winovich -- whose run came while NFL Network was in commercial -- asked me if his family would be able to see it while watching at home. I said yes, we replay all of the 40s that we miss when we return from commercial. I think Winovich then texted home. I love that stuff.
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Tillery a man of many interests: Notre Dame's Jerry Tillery is an interesting prospect. He's a world traveler, is comfortable talking politics and subscribes to The Economist and The New Yorker. After graduating with an economics degree, he told Irish Illustrated last August that he was taking a poetry writing class and an art class, was learning the saxophone and studying Japanese. Being a Renaissance Man isn't always welcome in the NFL, though I agree with colleague Daniel Jeremiah, who said on-air Sunday that he believes that line of thinking has gone mostly the way of the dinosaur.
Tillery's workout Sunday stands on its own; he looked smooth in drills and ran well (4.93). I'm told he impressed in interviews.
And here's a note of caution to the talent evaluators hung up on the does-he-love-football question: The same was asked of Ryan Ramczyk at the combine two years ago. Ramczyk had quit football and enrolled in two technical colleges before finding a home at the University of Wisconsin.
All Ramczyk has done is emerge as one of the better tackles in the league since being drafted 32nd overall by the Saints in 2017.
By the way, Tillery also played through a shoulder injury for eight games last season. He told me Sunday he now is fully healthy.
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Hill working hard to answer questions about dearth of starts: If you like underdogs, you liked Central Florida DL Trysten Hill on Sunday. His work in drills was fluid, and Willie McGinest said on-air that he was impressed. His high effort level was obvious. Not bad for a guy who started one game for UCF last season.
That, of course, was a major topic of conversation in Hill's interviews with teams in Indy. Hill told me he made the most of the opportunities he had under a new coaching staff in 2018, and that other players were better fits in the defensive scheme. He said those who underestimate him are also underestimating UCF. "UCF made me," he said with a smile. He also said, "You don't win 25 straight games without a talented roster."
Hill will be interesting to watch in the draft process; he left an impression as a high-effort and energy guy with impressive burst. But know this -- and Hill does -- teams will keep inquiring about how in the world he made only that one start.
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Jonah Williams says he "might be a terrible guard or center": Early last week, I talked to several talent evaluators who heard a story that LT Jonah Williams was asked by Alabama coaches to move to center prior to last season, and that he declined. Williams told me that playing center was never a serious consideration, and that the conversation was regarding contingency plans should the Crimson Tide sustain injuries to the offensive line.
When Williams met the media Thursday, it became clear he considers himself a left tackle, believes he could transition seamlessly to right tackle and is not sold on playing in the interior -- something he has never done. "I might be a terrible guard or center," he told me after his press conference.
Several talent evaluators believe Williams' future, mostly because of his 33 5/8-inch arm length, could be inside. A few others said they would try Williams at his natural position, left tackle, before thinking about moving him.
This will bear watching.
Williams said he will play anywhere he is asked. "But I'm not going to let people tell me I can't do something when I was the most dominant left tackle in college football."
Credit to Williams for answering every question I had on Thursday and during the workout Friday about where he might play. He was a pro.
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Deiter doesn't sit: The team that drafts Wisconsin offensive lineman Michael Deiter will get a player with a remarkable run of good health and toughness. Deiter started every one of his 54 career games as a Badger. Only Ohio State's Billy Price (55, from 2014 to '17) has ever started more in the Big Ten. Price was picked in the first round by the Bengals last year.
Deiter was also versatile, making 24 starts at left guard, 16 at center and 14 at left tackle.
Deiter returned for his senior year in what amounted to a sound business decision that mutually benefited the Badgers. "I wanted to play inside again," he said. "A lot of feedback from NFL teams was that I had a good year at tackle (in 2017), but that it's not my natural position, not where I project."
Talent evaluators do believe Deiter will find an NFL home at guard.
As for Deiter's durability, he says a 2017 high ankle sprain could have interrupted his consecutive-games streak, but a bye week helped him recover enough to play on. Tough guy. The toughest guys he said he faced in his Big Ten career? Maurice Hurst Jr. and Nick Bosa.
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Edwards' NFL journey took him from QB to RT: Deiter's Wisconsin teammate, RT David Edwards, stands at 6-6 and weighed in at 308 pounds. He's come a long ways from his days at Downers Grove (Illinois) North High School -- as an option quarterback.
Edwards weighed about 215 pounds back then, and eventually was recruited by the Badgers as a 240-pound tight end. "I lasted a year," Edwards said. "I really struggled with catching contested balls. I was really a bona fide tackle at tight end."
Edwards ultimately played in 37 games in his final three seasons at Wisconsin, making 31 starts at right tackle.
"(The NFL) was always my dream," he said. "When I was 6 years old pretending to throw a TD pass, this was the goal."
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Isabella, Metcalf dazzle in different ways: Watching the wide receivers Saturday, it was hard to believe 5-9, 188-pound Andy Isabella and chiseled D.K. Metcalf belonged in the same position group. (Credit Raiders coach Jon Gruden for probably the best take on Metcalf of the combine: "He walked into our room for the interview and he looked like Jim Brown. Biggest wideout I've ever seen.") That's the beauty of sports. But they're both really, really fast.
Isabella, out of UMass, did well for himself, tying Ohio State WR Parris Campbell for one of the fastest 40 times (4.31) of the combine. Showing off that kind of speed is nothing new. When they were both in high school, Isabella outraced current Browns cornerback Denzel Ward in the 100- and 200-meters in track and field. Now, he's learning the ins and outs of playing in the slot. When you watch Isabella's game, it's easy to see him as a Patriot, isn't it?
As for Metcalf, his Saturday was one for the combine ages. At 6-3, 228 pounds and with 1.6 percent body fat, he ran a 4.33 40 and posted a 40.5-inch vertical jump (he wanted 42, he told me). At one point, he shed tears while sitting on the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium and FaceTiming with his mother.
"Very emotional," Metcalf said after his workout. "I'm not supposed to be here right now." He said the neck injury that ended his Mississippi season in October was a C-3 fracture. Clearly, he questioned his football future. Healthy now, he left an indelible imprint on Indy.
By the way, if you're wondering about the 1.6 percent body fat -- as I did -- Metcalf credited his EXOS training in Phoenix, said he consumes a lot of protein, eats very few carbs and cheats on his diet almost never. He did cop to eating one Krispy Kreme donut over these past several months. One.
I asked a defensive coordinator which cornerback could cover Metcalf one-on-one. "There isn't one," he said. "He's a nightmare, a freak. It's Julio Jones all over again."
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Sheffield shows solidarity with DBs after injury: On Sunday night, I got a text from a talent evaluator who was looking forward to seeing Ohio State's Kendall Sheffield run and work out Monday. The evaluator wrote that Sheffield's college teammates, receivers Parris Campbell (4.31) and Terry McLaurin (4.35) had run well Saturday, and noted that Sheffield might be faster than both -- and could be the fastest player in this combine.
Moments later, a tweet from NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport indicated that Sheffield was injured during Sunday's bench press. Awful.
Good job by Sheffield to show up Monday, after his medical appointments, to support his fellow DBs during drills. It turns out, he told me, he sustained a partially torn left pec, and surgery is not required. That's good news.
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The promise of McSorley: A Trace McSorley comp I'd never heard before? San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens. "He has a feel for the game," a talent evaluator told me of McSorley. "At 6-0, he's not the same kind of athlete as Russell (Wilson), but he got my attention on film. On a deep out, his anticipation and accuracy was off the charts. A perfect throw."
Another evaluator: "I love everything he's about. Grit, good kid, winning, great leader."
McSorley embraces the underdog role, which is a good thing. At this point, Penn State's all-time leader in wins (31) and the holder of many other offensive records seems likely to be a late-round draft pick, or possibly an undrafted free agent.
His biggest supporters are Penn State coach James Franklin -- "I wouldn't trade my 6-0 quarterback for any 6-4 quarterback in the country," he told me during the season -- and Saquon Barkley.
A creative coach could utilize McSorley as a Taysom Hill type of weapon, according to a few talent evaluators in Indy. McSorley was asked to do defensive back drills at the combine but declined; his preparation was solely at quarterback. Barkley tweeted that the request was "So disrespectful." It's not completely crazy. McSorley was originally recruited as a safety out of Briar Woods (Virginia) High School.
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Murphy impresses at higher weight: Washington cornerback Byron Murphy knew he had to gain weight after the season. With good training and high-protein nutrition, Murphy gained 14 pounds and weighed in at 190. Lots of protein shakes, he said. Favorite flavor? Vanilla. In the cornerbacks workout Monday, Murphy was a standout. He moved well with the extra weight. Talent evaluators like that.
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Ollison finds way to forgiveness after tragedy: Out of Pitt, running back Qadree Ollison embraces comparisons to former teammate James Conner, the former third-round pick who racked up 1,470 yards from scrimmage in 2018. Who wouldn't? Both are 6-1, 230 pounds, and they have similar running styles. Ollison told me: "James has got a mean stiff arm -- he's able to use his off hand to break tackles -- and I've applied that to my game. He's also a great leader, has great character. And he's a genuine guy. Even when lights aren't on, he's still the same person."
Ollison considers himself the "smartest" running back in the draft. He has the reputation of being a wizard when it comes to the white board, drawing up plays, defensive fronts, coverages, blitzes. "I take a lot of pride in being a student of the game," he said. "I'm never going to go out there and not know what I'm doing. I had four offensive coordinators at Pitt; I had no trouble learning every offense."
But Ollison's most impressive moments have come off the football field. His 35-year-old brother, Rome Harris -- "my football hero," Ollison said -- was fatally shot on Oct. 14, 2017, in Ollison's hometown of Niagara Falls.
Last season, Ollison changed his football number from 37 to 30, the number his brother once wore. He also took the extraordinary step of forgiving his brother's killer, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
"The only way to get past something is to forgive somebody," Ollison said. "If you have hate in your heart, you never get past it. I can't hate anybody. I try to spread love."
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The quirky stat hiding on Armstead's resume:*Ryquell Armstead*'s nickname is Rock. It fits. He's a downhill runner out of Temple who scored six rushing touchdowns against Houston last season. Five were inside the 10-yard-line; the longest was 33 yards. He rushed for 210 yards that day.
Against Tulsa, Armstead racked up 108 rushing yards and a sack. Yes, a sack.
Armstead offered to play defense after injuries decimated the unit. On the sack, his job was to spy the quarterback. He read the play -- recognizing there was no dump-off to the running back -- rushed, and made the sack.
Armstead became the third player in college football history to record a sack and rush for 100 yards in a game.
"I was a captain and I'm a team player," he said. "Anything to get a W."
Armstead wanted to prove his pass-catching ability at the combine after getting only eight targets in 2018. He caught the ball well in drills. He considers himself the "most violent runner" in this draft. At 220 pounds, he said he benches 445, squats 500 and dead lifts 550 pounds.
A few talent evaluators liked C.J. Anderson as a comp for Armstead. That's not bad. They see Armstead as a guy who could have success in spelling an established starter for a couple series a game.
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Barkley's successor trying to stand on his own: Penn State running back Miles Sanders was compared to Saquon Barkley in every single television broadcast last season. The two are close, but Sanders arrived at the combine determined to make a name for himself. He impressed in the workout Friday, showing off the running style he honed as a youngster.
Fourteen years ago, a coach told 7-year-old Miles that if he kept running east-west, he'd make him spend a practice on the offensive line. It happened. Lesson learned. Hit the hole.
Sanders knows he is not widely considered one of the best RBs in this class, but he thinks he is one. "It definitely motivates me," he said. "I love being the underdog."
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But one of his biggest plays in recent memory was a block against Penn State, where he disrupted three defenders, enabling K.J. Hill to score what turned out to be the winning touchdown. "I like blocking because it shows my unselfishness," he said. "I knew how important that play was for us." A lesson? "Good things happen when you play to the whistle."
An Indy native, McLaurin was particularly comfortable at Lucas Oil Stadium; he played seven championship games there between high school and Ohio State.
McLaurin is a terrific success story. He walked on with the Buckeyes, earned a scholarship, distinguished himself as a player and just completed an impressive combine. As for his reputation of being chippy on the field, he said: "I'm very competitive, want to win every rep. I'm not dirty, but I'm a very physical player, always [engaging in] a back and forth with defender. I look at it as being competitive. I don't back down from anybody."
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Drop and give me 10: After the LB workouts Sunday, LSU's Devin White and Kentucky's Josh Allen -- who would instantly upgrade many NFL defenses -- walked down the field together, dropped to the turf and did push-ups. Why? Because each dropped a pass during drills. And the penalty was 10 push-ups. Two players who hold themselves to high standards. Talent evaluators LOVE that.
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"I certainly believe in my son," Pat told me. "He's always accomplished anything he's set his mind to. He's overachieved to a degree because he's so passionate about football."
Could Kyle Shurmur be a Giant? Unlikely, but Pat said he wouldn't rule out anything. "But I'd have to take a step back and let others in the organization evaluate him," he said. Pat Shurmur grew emotional talking about his son. The two had a few dinners together in Indy. Nice story.
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Opinions split on quarterback class: It was impossible to find a pecking order in terms of the quarterbacks in Indy. Literally impossible.
"You're not going to find a consensus," one talent evaluator told me. "I think the jury is still out on last year's class -- how can we know now about this year's?"
An immediate takeaway is that this year's class, with Kyler Murray not throwing or participating in drills, did not wow the NFL crowd at the combine. One GM, whose team does not need a QB, told me he didn't even watch the QB workout on Saturday. That seems to speak volumes.
I liked this from a talent evaluator in terms of the evaluation of Murray in particular and prospects in general: "We're too concerned about what the guy isn't, especially in the case of Kyler. Like Baker (Mayfield), there's a lot he can do. Baker is the better natural passer of the two, and Kyler is the better athlete. Both will be successful in our league, no doubt."
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Ray shares work ethic -- if not musical talent -- with famous grandfather: Boston College DE Wyatt Ray is the grandson of the late Nat King Cole and the nephew of the late Natalie Cole. Wyatt's mother is one of Nat's twin daughters.
From what he's been told, Ray believes he emulates his grandfather in terms of being a relentless worker. I asked Wyatt if he can sing.
"No," he said, "except in the shower."
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Miller determined to make good: When Penn State DE Shareef Miller decided to leave school a year early -- though he has finished the credits for his degree in Rehabilitation and Human Services -- he explained his decision to Sean Spencer, his position coach with the Nittany Lions, like this: "The odds were against me going to college and getting my degree. Now it's time for me to prove myself in the NFL."
Miller told me he feels responsibility to take care of his mother and siblings. While at school, he sent as much of his stipend from Penn State as he could home to his mother. The Philadelphia native also said he wants to be a mentor to young kids who remind him of himself -- those trying to get out of a bad environment in the inner city. Miller said the Eagles asked if being so close to home would be a problem if they drafted him. He said it would not.
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Devin vs. Devin: It will be fun to watch the (friendly) rivalry between Michigan's Devin Bush and LSU's Devin White, as both look to be middle linebackers in the league for years to come. Talent evaluators love both. They come across as exactly what you want in a middle linebacker: natural born leaders.
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Extras, odds and ends
WR Ashton Dulin was the first player from Division II Malone University to be invited to the combine. He might be the last. Malone dropped its football program in February. Still, Dulin could emerge as a draft sleeper. He racked up nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards and scored 15 touchdowns in 2018. Thirty NFL teams visited Malone to scout him in person. He ran a 4.43 40 in Indy. "Work hard," Dulin said. "If you do what you're supposed to do, they'll find you." ... After uneven and incomplete work in Indy -- both in on-field drills and interviews with teams -- it will be interesting to track the pre-draft movements of Florida DE Jachai Polite and Alabama LB Mack Wilson. Both of their combines were just odd. ... Georgia RB Elijah Holyfield boxed competitively from the age of 8 to 14, but said he always had a passion for football. Boxing is in his DNA; his dad is Evander. Elijah said he's "always in shape" because of his training. ... Quinnen Williams and his agent are poised to make history. Williams' representative, Nicole Lynn, told me that Williams would become the first first-rounder in history to have a black woman as his agent. She said that is meaningful to both of them. And she said Williams sought her out for representation. Usually, it's the other way around. ... Old Dominion WR Travis Fulgham caught a TD pass in nine straight games to end the season. Not bad for a player who didn't play receiver until his senior year of high school. His parents are diplomats; Fulgham lived around the world for much of his youth. He said his experience playing soccer, basketball, cricket and baseball (center field and shortstop) helps him track the football. ... Toledo was the only school to offer WR Cody Thompson a scholarship. His 30 career receiving touchdowns are the most in program history. Thompson drew some attention because of his special teams prowess. And rightly so. His blocked punt vs. VMI last September was the craziest you'll ever see. Thompson blocked the punt and secured the ball in the same motion. His momentum carried him into the end zone for a touchdown.