Let’s go to the tape, folks. I’m gonna kick it over to my co-host, NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks, from the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine. Go ahead Bucky:
The small-school standout was enjoying a magic carpet ride up the charts following a spectacular week of work at the Senior Bowl. Scouts were discussing him as a potential top-40 pick with plenty of teams viewing him as a potential WR2 in the right system. That narrative will certainly change after he clocked a pair of 40-yard dashes in the 4.6-range and looked nothing like an explosive playmaker on the perimeter. Sure, the scouts will go back to film and assess his dominance against Big Sky competition, but the pedestrian 40 will make it hard to cast him as more than a WR3 in meetings.
That’s right everybody. Your 2017 NFL Scouting Combine’s biggest LOSER: Cooper Kupp.
Thanks, Bucky. Back to me.
The NFL Scouting Combine is an overrated entertainment event. It is a show for the fans more than it is a ceremony of revelations for the scouts. It is a place for team reps to have meetings. With each other. The prospects are a formality. The vast majority of their interviews won’t be for players they pick, some of whom aren’t even players they’re genuinely interested in drafting.
Well before the combine, teams often drafted the best players early. Sometimes there were busts. Sometimes there were diamonds in the rough.
With more than two decades of making the combine a major news event now in our rear view, teams continue to draft the best players early. Sometimes there are busts. Sometimes there are diamonds in the rough. The change in process hasn’t seem to change the results.
So please don’t take today’s post as a condemnation of the following prospects who’ve been deemed “combine losers” around the internet this week. The following players could one day be your diamond in the rough. Simply by “falling” at all, they’ve proven that they had a perch to begin with.
Daniel Faalale, OT, Minnesota
I don’t know that Faalele will fall out of the top-90 picks, or even the first round, but his combine performance this week has landed him in the “losers” column for the internet. At 6’8, 384 lbs—second heaviest player in combine history—the Melbourne, Australia native was expected to be one of the strongest prospects this year. That didn’t happen:
However, it was an underwhelming display, posting 24 reps on the bench press. That put him tied for fifth-worst among the offensive lineman. Given his frame, the anticipation for Faalele was that he was going to pack a punch.
Players that are built to this stature typically rely on strength as they aren’t the quickest on their feet. However, Faalele will require some refinement in order to get himself in the best position to succeed at the next level.
It’s the size that stands out of course, but Faalele wouldn’t be the first massive guy in the NFL. In fact, many of the massive guys have failed to develop into starting tackles—Aaron Gibon, the heaviest player in combine history, was a first round bust for the Lions in 1999. However, Faalale is more than just size and he’s acclimated himself to American football within only the last five years, taking one year away from football during the pandemic.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein sees Faalale as a player who needs time to improve and good coaching in order to reach his ceiling, which is very high.
Enormous right tackle prospect who often feels like he’s going through an internal checklist of movements rather than cutting it loose and playing. Faalele has been able to overwhelm and move opponents with his sheer mass but might need a little more spice in his play demeanor to become a more willful, nasty block finisher against NFL linemen. He’s ready to stuff a face-up rush attack right now, but lacks the lateral change-of-direction quickness to succeed if left out on an island against speed. He’s played just four total seasons of competitive football so his instincts and technique will continue to sharpen. The key to Faalele’s NFL success will be directly tied to how teams accentuate his strengths and mask his weaknesses with coaching and scheme.
A few people have projected Faalele in the first round in the past. I don’t know that I see that happening. More have viewed him as a second round pick, and I don’t know if teams will make the pick that early either. Another NFL comp for him is Zach Banner, a fourth round pick in 2017. That’s more like the Rams ticket.
Lecitus Smith, G, Virginia Tech
Another player drawing mention in the “losers” column has been Smith, a player who has seen his stock fall considerably over the last three months. Here is a chart from NFLMockDraftDatabase, a site that compiles mock drafts around the internet:
That would have Smith going on average at the end of round two, to more like somewhere in the fifth! That’s an enormous fall, so why would Les Snead want to end it?
Well, for one, the “fall” is partly an illusion. We will never know for sure what Smith’s “stock” was before and after the season, or before and after the combine. We only know that Smith didn’t have the season or the combine that his believers expected. It also doesn’t mean that he’s going to be a bad pro football player, his believers may still be right!
What went wrong at the combine? Just about everything:
Things didn’t get any better for Smith upon taking the field either. He didn’t show much explosion during the on-field portion, recording a broad jump of 8’3” which tied for third-lowest among offensive linemen. His 5.19 unofficial 40-yard dash and 1.80 10-yard split didn’t change the overall complexity of his day either after a shaky outing on the bench press.
The Rams are looking at Brian Allen, Austin Corbett, and Joseph Noteboom as unrestricted free agents, Andrew Whitworth is at best a 41-year-old starting left tackle, and Rob Havenstein, David Edwards are free agents in 2023. It’s time to make some offensive line picks. Lecitus Smith didn’t have a great combine, but could he raise his stock with two years of coaching and refinement?
David Bell, WR, Purdue
With adding receivers, you never stop. When you have a chance to potentially add a great receiver, definitely don’t miss your shot. Is David Bell going to be a great NFL receiver? Unclear. He was clearly one of the top receivers in college football, however.
Despite playing at Purdue, not typically known for their receivers, Bell had three 100-yard games as a freshman, then four in six tries as a sophomore, and then seven more times last year as a junior. That included two games over 200 yards, one of which was 240 yards against Iowa—perhaps the best secondary in college football at the time.
I keep hearing that David Bell can’t separate. I just don’t get it.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) February 26, 2022
He’s diverse in his releases, technical with his stems and clean out of his breaks. Just because he’s not a speedster doesn’t mean he can’t get open. #Bears pic.twitter.com/Z4Hs7TfQ5B
Despite that production, David Bell has never consistently drawn first round buzz and nobody puts him near the upper echelon of what is said to be the fastest receiver class in the modern era. He didn’t do anything to help his stock during the combine workouts and he definitely won’t be mentioned with the “fastest” group. Bell posted a 4.65.
Now I’ve been doing this for a long time so I know how some people can “get” when a writer writes something like this, but you know who ran a 4.62 at the combine? There’s no comparison to be made between Cooper Kupp and another wideout, this draft or any other. Kupp serves as an example that playing wide receiver at a high level requires so many other skills besides straight-line speed in workout clothes.
Is it also possible that David Bell’s production at Purdue is not indicative of a future NFL career? Absolutely. Yet his lack of elite athleticism in the modern era of passing could make him available to the Rams as an option on day three.
Am I crazy for suggesting that Snead could draft another wideout this year or are you crazy for thinking that he won’t?
Jake Ferguson, TE, Wisconsin
The great news for Ferguson’s college career is that he caught 36 passes for 456 yards as a freshman in 2018. The bad news is that he hasn’t done much to elevate his game since then, finishing with 46 passes for 450 yards as a senior. The 456 yards as a freshman turned out to be a career-high for Ferguson, but he did have 305 yards in only seven games in 2020 due to the partially-canceled season.
Of course, playing tight end is about a lot more than receiving and college production is often not indicative of NFL success. Depends a lot on the offense your college likes to run. Ferguson stood out as a run blocker at the Senior Bowl and his stock went up.
For a time, it looked as though Ferguson could project as an above-average run blocker with a high ceiling as a receiver. But the 6’5, 244 lb tight end didn’t impress at the combine relative to some other tight ends.
The Wisconsin product had 15 reps in the bench press and put up a 4.81 in the 40-yard dash. He might have cemented himself as a day three pick, which is discouraging since he was in the mix to be a third-round pick.
Why Rams-more tight ends? Well, we should expect to see Tyler Higbee again, but Kendall Blanton and Brycen Hopkins remain very inexperienced. It’s good to have positive feelings about them coming off of the playoffs, it’s still notable to remember that Sean McVay didn’t turn to either after Johnny Mundt’s injury. What if Jake Ferguson is available in the fifth or sixth round?