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NFL Combine 2019: 5 testing stars to watch for Seahawks’ draft

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Colorado v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The NFL Combine showcases players. It raises and lowers draft stock, suddenly turning lesser known prospects into the nationwide talking point. There’s a fair argument to be made that the best scouts don’t need the NFL combine. In truth, most of the testing confirms the #tapegrinding.

Indeed, NFL teams have already watched every player attending the combine and have constructed their big boards. But the boards are a fluid process right up to draft day. Value is accelerated by measurements and figures.

For us—those not involved in the NFL—we don’t have the chance to watch every single prospect; I certainly couldn’t manage it before the combine and the combine is now over. While some hopefuls warrant a re-watch of the All-22 post-combine, others demand a first viewing. Here are 5 players I’ll be watching as a result of their combine testing stardom:

1. Ben Banogu, EDGE, TCU

Playing opposite L.J. Collier, a Senior Bowl EDGE rusher who received first-round hype pre-combine, meant that Banogu slipped under many radars after being named Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Then the beautiful aspect of the combine transpired; Banogu announced himself to the NFL world.

In the “how explosive is this dude?” tests, Banogu dominated. His 4.62 40 was most notable for the ridiculous 1.47 10-yard split. For EDGE rushers, 1.5 seconds is considered elite. Running in the 1.4s? That’s ludicrous. It led all defensive linemen. Banogu further proved his ‘twitch’ by jumping the highest out of all EDGE prospects, with a 40” vert.

At 6ft 3, 250lbs he projects more as a hybrid SAM/Leo in the Bruce Irvin-mold. For the Seahawks, Banogu is a Day 2 player and would help compensate the lack of Seahawk-y EDGE rushers available when they first pick. In 2018, the similarly-constructed Jacob Martin showed the effectiveness of speed rushing on passing downs.

Former Seattle scout and current Senior Bowl-director Jim Nagy added to the undersized rusher discussion:

Banogu’s 7.02 3-cone and 4.27 short shuttle at his size suggest he is a more straight-line quarterback hunter. The 3-cone ranked 6th amongst all EDGE rushers, which may remove him from the Seahawks’ draft board as, since 2010, Seattle has drafted the EDGE with the quickest 3-cone three times. There’s also the natural concern that Banogu could be another combine stud who disappoints in the pros—see Jordan Willis.

That’s why watching Banogu’s film is so important. He might be an athlete whose tape shows him to be an all-round gem. After early inspection, his high motor athleticism requires NFL coaching to develop a clear and consistent pass-rush plan.

2. Miles Boykin, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame

The combine proved how deep the wide receiver group is in this draft. There are a ton of receivers who look like absolute weapons, with this lining up as one of the most athletic pass-catching classes in history. The quick separation, explosive Emanuel Hall, Deebo Samuel, Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin tested brilliantly. Meanwhile, D.K. Metcalf put himself out of Seattle’s range, as I predicted.

Miles Boykin had the best day though. Coming into the combine, many draftniks had him projected as a big-bodied, possession receiver. Indeed, he reached 6ft 4 and weighed in at 220lbs. Then he performed the rest of the drills!

Boykin ran 4.42 seconds in the 40, plus leapt 43.5” vertically and 140” in the broad. That’s the 3rd-highest vert ever. His change of direction skills also shone with a 6.77 seconds 3-cone and a 4.07 seconds short shuttle. To put these numbers in context, Boykin’s testing ranked in the 99.9 percentile amongst NFL players. (Courtesy of Zach Whitman at 3 sigma athlete) This is simply unheard of and easily meets every one of Seattle’s requirements for the position.

The Seahawks are more likely to take a quick separation type of receiver in 2019, as I’ve wrote about in Draft on tape previously. It would fit the offense well, given Brian Schottenheimer’s most frequent route concepts involve a crossing route that requires getting off press quickly at the line of scrimmage and/or beating a man across the field.

However, if Seattle wanted to go for a big-bodied downfield stretcher and give David Moore some serious competition for the safety blanket role, this would be the draft to do it. There are myriad tall receivers who tested well; Boykin needs his tape watching after his historic combine.

3. Ben Burr-Kirven, Inside Linebacker, Washington

Linebackers keep getting lighter. The near-demise of the fullback, the proliferation of spread offenses and the passing increase around college football means linebackers are expected to cover. Be it running with a tight end or merging onto a crossing route; your linebacker better be able to scoot.

Minnesota’s Blake Cashman ran a 4.5 40 at 6ft 1, 237lbs. But it was the local Ben Burr-Kirven who tested most promisingly. After weighing 230lbs and measuring 6ft, Kirven ran a 6.85 3-cone and a 4.09 short shuttle. These placed 1st and 3rd amongst linebackers respectively. Combined with his 4.56 seconds 40-yard-dash (6th-fastest) and impressive showing in on-field drills, Washington games need to be re-watched for Burr-Kirven.

The inside linebacker popped when scouting Taylor Rapp. He was always making the tackles and appeared to be in the right spot. My questions when focusing on the ‘backer will be on his play diagnosis speed, play strength, block shedding and coverage ability. Coming from Chris Petersen’s defense, you can bet his leverage will be exemplary, yet how much of his production was from being kept super clean by the guys up front?

Burr-Kirven must also defy Seattle’s previous drafting conventions at the inside linebacker position. His 34.5” vertical jump is at the 81.7% NFL percentile, shy of the 90th percentile or 39” leap the Seahawks have looked for when previously selecting ILBs.

K.J. Wright is unlikely to re-sign with the Seahawks based on the comments of John Schneider and Pete Carroll at the combine. Seattle’s weakside linebacker spot is one they’d hope to fill with Mychal Kendricks—legal status pending—and Shaquem Griffin. Griffin is a case of coaching and improvements being needed. The Seahawks adding another athletic inside linebacker on day 3 to compete at WILL would therefore be prudent. Moreover, they must add speed to the front 7.

4. Derrek Thomas, Cornerback, Baylor

The oft-repeated fact of Seattle’s draft strategy is that they’ve never taken a cornerback with arms measuring below 32”. The 6ft 2, 208lb, 33”-armed Isaiah Johnson, interviewed on Field Gulls, might have put himself out of Seahawks’ range by: running a 4.4 40, 6.81 3-cone and a 4.06 short shuttle; plus jumping 36.5” vertically and 133” in the broad. The Seahawks have never taken a corner higher than round 3.

Instead, Derrek Thomas from Baylor could be the day 3, late round corner who Seattle takes. He’s 6ft 3, 189lbs with 33 ¾” arms and 10” hands. Boxes ticked. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds, hit 39.5” in the vertical and 131” in the broad. His lightness and 8 bench press reps suggest there is plenty of room to add to his frame and play strength.

Playing in the Big 12, Thomas faced high-powered passing attacks. Nevertheless, he only started 14 games in his playing career, so a rawness in his game will be natural. Him not running the 3-cone also suggests he lacks the short area movement skills you’d want from the position. On the other hand, the rest of the athletic profile is there for Seattle to develop into an eventual starter. If they did it with Tre Flowers last year, they can do it with any defensive back who meets the thresholds.

When analyzing Thomas, the main trait to look for in his game will be aggression. Following their fifth-round selection of Flowers, the Seahawks enthused about the Oklahoma State defensive back’s ‘want’ to get the football and attack each play. If Thomas is around the ball each snap, he becomes a definite candidate for Seattle’s backend.

5. Juan Thornhill, Safety, Virginia

The Seahawks may choose to continue their more ‘interchangeable’ type of safety and add a playmaker in the 2019 NFL Draft. Matchup weapon safeties like Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Darnell Savage put on big-time performances that are a sweet accompaniment to their exciting tape.

Conversely, Seattle may want to take a shot on a pure deep safety. Getting someone super athletic could help the range on the back end. Virginia’s Juan Thornhill had one of the best combines from a safety ever witnessed. At 6ft, 205lbs he ran 4.42 seconds in the 40, jumped 44” vertically (2nd highest ever) and 141” in the broad.

Ultimately, athleticism really doesn’t guarantee success at the position. Instead, the football IQ and prescient aspects of a safety’s skillset are more important. Guys like Zedrick Woods (4.29 40) will get over-drafted despite their tape. Just look at the top-15, 40-yard dash times, for safeties at the combine, from 2010-2018:

  • Troy Akpe 4.34
  • T.J. Green 4.34
  • Justin Cox 4.36
  • Natrell Jamerson 4.40
  • Obi Melifownu 4.40
  • Justin Reid 4.40
  • Dane Cruikshank 4.41
  • Josh Jones 4.41
  • Terrence Brooks 4.42
  • Montae Nicholson 4.42
  • Shamarko Thomas 4.42
  • Taylor Mays 4.43
  • Godwin Igwebuike 4.44
  • Earl Wolff 4.44
  • Budda Baker 4.45

Not many impressive names there.

Like Derrek Thomas, there must be a reason Thornhill didn’t run the 3-cone. Seattle places more emphasis on COD ability, so watch for this at Virginia’s pro-day. Furthermore, in initial scouting and when attending the Senior Bowl, Thornhill seemed to lack the coverage instincts to give him the requisite range for deep safety in the NFL. But, following his numbers, he and his 8 interceptions of 2018 certainly deserve a re-viewing for range.