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4 takeaways from the NFL Combine

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Michigan State at Penn State Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL Combine is in the books. After a week where hundreds of players, coaches, scouts and members of the media flocked to Indianapolis, we now have a slightly clearer picture of the 2023 NFL Draft class. Here are some thoughts after the week’s testing.

Bijan Robinson is a top five player in this class, and he’s worth a high pick.

Bijan Robinson’s status as the top running back in this class was barely contested before the combine, but it should now be completely unanimous. Robinson came into the week with a polished resume as a playmaking, three down back who can run by, around or through defenders. All he had to do in Indy was test as a decent enough athlete and it would cement his place as a first round prospect.

Weighing in at 215 pounds, Robinson ran a blistering 4.46 yard 40-yard dash with a 1.52 yard 10-yard split. Not that anyone ever thought Robinson was slow, but this puts a tangible number on his speed. Robinson has a natural gift for running the football. It is clear on tape. For him to also have measurably top-level athleticism means he is one of the few Blue Chip players in the class.

Is he worth it? That is a question that will be discussed ad nauseam for the next few weeks. In this case, in this class, the answer is a yes. Some fear the wear and tear of the running back position and the supposed replace-ability of running back production.

With Robinson, you have a newly 21 year old player who has seldom been injured in college. He likely has 8 years of high level production ahead of him in the NFL. Does that matter? Does elite running back play correlate to winning football? Well consider how Derrick Henry has carried the Titans to any sort of relevance in the last few years. Or The Giants running their entire offense through Saquon Barkley to a playoff appearance this year. Or Christian McCaffrey catalyzing the 49ers offense late in the season. None of these teams have seen the top of the mountain, but all of them got elite running back play without high level quarterback play. Their quarterbacks were mostly fine to good, usually because of the immense support they got from the running game. Imagine a scenario where you can pair elite running back production with high level quarterback play… So, for the right team, the Robinson pick could make a lot of sense in the first round.

The wide receiver class feels a bit underwhelming, but there are still players to be had.

The NFL has been spoiled the last few years with some truly special wide receiver classes. Look across the landscape of the high level receiver play in the league and you’ll notice most of the best players entered the NFL in the last four years. Even the rookies last year had several difference making players like Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, George Pickens and Drake London.

This class does not feel as strong at the top and the combine did not inspire much confidence in that fact. Despite barely playing in 2022, it still feels like Jaxson Smith Njigba is the best receiver in the class. He posted elite agility numbers, unsurprising if you flip on his tape, and he looked really good in the drills. None of the supposed top guys from the season like Quentin Johnson, Jordan Addison or Jalin Hyatt did much last week to assert themselves over JSN.

Actually, after this week, the player I feel most confident will be a difference maker sooner than later is Josh Downs. Downs was an excellent route runner at UNC who showed great speed before and after the catch. After a strong week in Indianapolis, he could sneak into the first round to be a difference making WR2 on the right team.

The class isn’t bad. It just doesn’t have a Ja’Marr Chase or a Justin Jefferson or a DeVonta Smith or a Garrett WIlson. But it does seem to have a handful of guys who will likely be really solid second options.

This is a great year to need a cornerback

The cornerback class felt deep a week ago and it feels even deeper now. There were about ten cornerbacks who made sense as top 60 type players, and the majority of them ended up testing really well too. Christian Gonzalez, Joey Porter Jr, DJ Turner II, Kelee Ringo, Deonte Banks, Julius Brents, Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson and Riley Moss are just a few players who really showed out. Combine good athletic numbers with their strong tape and you have a ton of players who should go high this year.

Despite a lack of headline players, this is a good year for the Eagles’ needs.

Over the last five drafts, only the 2020 and 2021 classes really stand out in terms of pure star power: Big name QB prospects, flashy offensive weapons, defensive playmakers, etc. This group does not feel like that at all, but that doesn’t mean it is a bad class. Not even close.

For the Eagles specifically, this class feels almost tailor made for their needs. There is immense depth at cornerback and running back. There are some intriguing defensive linemen who can play inside or on the edge. The wide receiver class has some good names in the middle rounds. Same with the tight ends. There are some offensive lineman who feel like natural successors to the Eagles’ more veteran blockers.

For teams looking for a franchise changing player, it might be a little trickier this year. There are only maybe six or seven guys who optimistically could be that type of player. But for a team like Philly that has all the key pieces in place and mostly just needs to fill out the roster, this feels like a good year.

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