Combine spillover: Winfield Jr. Fit for Birds?
(ITB Photo: Former University of Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr., above, is the son of former three-time NFL Pro Bowl corner Antoine Winfield. He has the versatility to prosper in Jim Schwartz's scheme.)
The NFL Scouting Combine ended Sunday, but the pre-draft process is just heating up. Pro days start soon. Top-30 visits are around the corner. Draft meetings over the next eight weeks will bring scouts, coaches and executives together for all 32 teams to stack their boards in anticipation of the April 23-25 event. As usual, the Combine brought some exciting moments. Some came from known commodities, like Henry Ruggs’ blazing 4.2 in the 40-yard dash. Some came from sleepers and rising prospects, some of whom were detailed in this ITB.com piece by Andrew DiCecco. Here's all you need to know: A 360-pound Goliath, offensive tackle Mekhi Becton, stole the show with an eye-popping 5.1 in the 40. I spoke to several league scouts and personnel executives while in Indianapolis to see how they felt about some of the workouts and about NFL free agency. Here are some takeaways:
There only 32 first-rounders Sound obvious, right? Problem is, every fringe first- and second-round prospect who turned out an impressive workout gets labeled a first-rounder. But the math doesn’t add up. Take wide receivers, for example. There were four who entered the Combine with a solid first-round label – Jerry Jeudy (Alabama), CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma), Henry Ruggs (Alabama) and Justin Jefferson (LSU). Others who were considered close were Tee Higgins (Clemson), Laviska Shenault Jr. (Colorado), Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State), Jealon Reagor (TCU), and K.J. Hamler (Penn State). More on Hamler later in this story. Impressive workouts were turned in by Baylor's Denzel Mims, Notre Dame's Chase Claypool, Michigan's Donovan Peoples-Jones, USC's Michael Pittman and Memphis' Antonio Gibson.
How many of those 14 are going in the first round? Certainly not 14, and probably not more than five. It’s also a strong class for offensive tackles, quarterbacks and interior defensive linemen, which will push some extremely talented receivers into the second, third and lower rounds. Should the Eagles should trade up for Ruggs, a perfect match for their speed deficiency, or sit tight at 21? It's a fair question. Also, only 10 can go top-10 Again, sounds obvious, but people get carried away with 40 times. I even suggested the Eagles might have to trade into the top 10 to land Ruggs, and maybe that’s true – nobody thought John Ross would go ninth overall in 2017 – but Ruggs going top-10 isn't likely. Figure on three quarterbacks, at least two offensive linemen, at least two defensive linemen, one corner (Jeff Okudah) and one linebacker (Isaiah Simmons) going top 10. That’s nine. Doesn’t leave much room for a big run at wideout. If the Eagles want Ruggs badly enough – and folks around the league believe they do – they might have to jump up to somewhere between 13 and 15. Some personnel folks told me they wouldn't be shocked if Ruggs usurped his teammate Jeudy to be the first receiver taken. Jeudy is the better overall receiver but Ruggs has the elite speed and is considered a safer prospect. Wow from Winfield The Eagles are in dire need of a youth infusion at safety, and Minnesota's Antoine Winfield Jr. has the ideal versatility to fit in Jim Schwartz's defense.
Still, scouts I talked to were genuinely surprised by Winfield Jr.'s 4.45 40 time. One scout told me he anticipated Winfield Jr. clocking above 4.5. Speed and athleticism weren’t viewed as one of the former Golden Gopher's best attributes compared to Winfield Jr.'s versatility, toughness and football IQ. He can play the box, the post and the slot, which is why he's suited for Schwartz’s scheme. But the blazing 40 time at the Combine doesn’t match the tape. “Good player, tad tight,” one personnel man said, adding that he graded Winfield Jr. in the third round.
Still, some teams fall in love with workouts. Winfield Jr.'s 40 might have elevated him into late first/early second territory. Rising up
Believe the hype about Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) safety Kyle Dugger, who continued his ascent up the boards with a tremendous showing in Indianapolis. DiCecco wrote about Dugger (6-1, 217) in Monday’s post. With a top-five finish among safeties in the 40, and top-two finishes in broad jump and vertical jump, Dugger flashed the athleticism that was already evident on tape. One scout told me Dugger would be picked in the late first or early second round. Imagine a first-round pick coming from Lenoir-Rhyne? Could happen.
Honing on Hamler Penn State speed demon K.J. Hamler opted against running the 40 in Indianapolis. Word is, Penn State’s home track makes for better running conditions, prompting Hamler to wait until his pro day to showcase his speed. But Hamler’s football IQ went on display in the interview process. A scout from a team that interviewed Hamler told me the receiver blew the staff away when asked to dissect tape.
The main concern with Hamler, per several scouts, is his size -- or lack thereof. He checked in at 5-foot-8, 178 pounds. That's Darren Sprolesian height. Some scouts noted that any team that drafts Hamler must have a quarterback with a strong arm and plus accuracy on downfield throws because Hamler can't be a go-get-it or jump ball receiver at that size. - Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is an award-winning journalist and member of the PFWA who has covered the Eagles and NFL for 16 seasons. He is co-host of the Inside the Birds podcast with Adam Caplan.