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2016 NFL Combine Review: Thoughts On Front Seven Players

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Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

By far the most anticipated day of the combine, for me, was the day where the front seven players got to put their athleticism to the test. This defensive line class is tremendously deep, especially along the interior defensive line positions. Arguably five or more players could make a case to be day one picks. However, quantifiable athletic ability is tremendously important with defensive line players because so much of how they are asked to win is fueled by top notch athletic ability. After yesterday, the hopes of a stacked defensive line class took a bit of a hit when a lot of the players who were regarded as top tier didn't stack up athletically.

The biggest letdown, by far, was Noah Spence's combine. The former EKU edge rusher had loads of hype going into the combine as a potential top five pick and a high quality athlete. It came as a surprise when Spence posted average numbers that look even worse when you account for his weight. This was very disappointing given the athletic ability he has shown on tape, but it is certainly one of those things that make you want to backtrack and at least give it a look. There was a report that Spence may have been testing injured, which would explain his poor numbers. EKU's pro day is only a few days away, so hopefully he can assuage people's concerns by showing out healthy.

Another slight disappointment was Andrew Billing's combine. No one expected the 6'2", 310 pound defensive tackle to test like Aaron Donald, but there is reason to believe that the former Baylor standout would have a solid combine. After all, Billings is a weightlifting record holder in the state of Texas. Billings posted a nice 113" broad jump, which is very impressive at his size, but all of his numbers were average or below over average. The truth is that Billings is not winning on a consistent basis from his lower body explosion, rather using brute upper body strength  to control offensive linemen and disrupt pockets. The combine does not have a way to quantify that ability correctly (the bench is not a good test of that), but I think Billings is still going to be an outstanding player. He is just not as athletic as I originally thought.

The defensive linemen didn't all disappoint, however. Two guys who have been relatively unheralded throughout this process were able to stick in people's brain with awesome combines. Emmanuel Ogbah posted an excellent 40 and strong jumps, which make sense given his style of play. Ogbah is a very solid prospect who I hope can get his due now. Even more surprising was Oklahoma's Charles Tapper absolutely wrecking everything athletically. The former Sooner had weird college tape due to odd technique that included a four point stance and frankly he never stood out to me. I absolutely want to go back and check in on him because that type of movement skill is insane. A little bit less surprising, but still not totally expected is how Joey Bosa had a great combine. Thought to be a more linear player, the potential top pick had just ok jumps and runs while posting crazy agility numbers. This is something that took me aback because he never came across as being a nimble player on the tape. Not surprising were Robert Nkemdiche and Sheldon Rankins' combines. Both standout defensive tackles posted pretty stunning all around numbers including Rankins blowing up the jumps. Nkemdiche is a very raw player, but someone is going to fall in love with the size and athletic ability he possesses. As for Rankins, he might be the most polished interior defensive linemen in this class and should be a top 10 pick.

Among the linebackers, no one stood out the way that Darron Lee did, who might prove to be one of the most explosive players in the draft. This is certainly no surprise, as Lee has always been regarded as a top notch athlete. However, to see *those* numbers on paper is eye popping. Lee's teammate, Josh Perry also had a very good combine, measuring in very nicely while running well and testing incredibly well in jumps. Both Buckeye linebackers have incredibly bright futures in the league.

One of the more shocking results, that made me eat my words a bit, was Leonard Floyd's outstanding combine. I have a ton of questions about what he can be in the NFL, but the fact of the matter is that he can contribute to an NFL team at a potentially high level. He is an outstanding athlete at linebacker and could make a great chess piece for a smart defensive coordinator.