This week the NFL descends on Indianopolis, IN for what has been dubbed the “Underwear Olympics.” Athletes will run through a gauntlet of events including the 40-yard dash, bench press, broad jump, 20-yard shuttle, Wonderlic test, positional drills and then interviews. Coaches and GMs will be watching the attendees’ every move both on and off the field. The top prospects will be eager to impress in drills, tests and interviews. Reactions and overreactions will run rampant.
Not unlike Wall Street earnings calls, scouts already have projections for how the participants will measure up. It’s the unexpected that causes valuations to change. Small school prospects and players without much starting experience are the ones most likely to fall in this category, but there are always surprises.
The following ten guys are not expected to join in on the surprise party. They are potential first-round picks because they had decorated college careers and are equipped to play in the bigger, faster NFL. These guys are the known beasts who stand out even among other elite athletes.
The projected medalists in the Underwear Olympics:
Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC
While his stock may take a hit when he is officially measured, it certainly won’t be hurt by his runs and jumps. At about 5’ 9,” Jackson is a Pac-12 champ in the long jump and was hopeful to qualify for the Summer Olympics in Brazil last year. Expect him to pace a loaded class of defensive backs in the 40-yard dash and the broad jump.
John Ross, WR, Washington
Ross is the rare wide receiver prospect who possess elite speed, sure hands and crisp route running. In the first tier of WRs, the speedster has been unofficially timed at 4.30 and 4.25 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Chances are Ross will have the second fastest time of all participants and the fastest time of the top 50 prospects.
Dalvin Cook, RB, FSU
Cook has angle changing, breakaway speed. Throw on any game from his illustrious career with the Seminoles and chances are he breaks a long run. Normally running backs with sub-4.4 speed would be too thin to carry a regular NFL workload, but Cook has what it takes to be an every down back at the next level.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
A human highlight machine, Fournette was a Heisman Trophy candidate for running back late into his sophomore campaign. After running over, through and around defenders, injuries derailed his junior season — the medical checkup will be important for him. Fournette may not test at the top of any one event but his combination of height, weight, speed and strength will be unmatched in Indianapolis.
Myles Garrett, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
The presumptive number one overall pick, Garrett has had three productive seasons as an edge defender against SEC competition. With his burst off the edge and ability to convert speed to power — drawing comparisons to former Aggie Von Miller — his numbers should be off the charts.
Solomon Thomas, DT, Stanford
One of the most controversial prospects in the draft, Thomas’ size would put him as a defensive end in the NFL. However, he has shown that he is best suited to rush the passer from the inside at defensive tackle. Either way, Thomas is incredibly athletic and has been likened to Rams’ defensive tackle Aaron Donald because of the similar size and ability on the inside.
Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
Cunningham is a classic playmaking linebacker. Watching film from his days at Vandy, he flies all over the field and is always near the ball. Cunningham should be the fastest inside linebacker in attendance.
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
The man who always seems to show up in the biggest moments, Howard made plays in each of Alabama’s recent national titles. He has the strength and speed teams covet in a modern tight end but also is an elite run blocker at the position — the best of both worlds.
David Njoku, TE, Miami
Njoku is seen by many to be the clear runner-up to Howard in this year’s talented tight end class. He is less of a blocker and more of a match-up nightmare. If he tests as well as Eric Ebron did a few years ago, he may jump past Howard on many teams’ big boards.
Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
Peppers led a top-notch defense this year at Michigan even though his position was in flux. Coaches will have to decide whether to play him at linebacker or safety, but they will not have to decide who is returning kicks and punts. Peppers is an electric returner who is such a home run threat that Michigan incorporated him on offense as a running back.
The most talked about player from the combine will likely not be from this group. These guys don’t have much to gain by proving what we already know, but they give us the opportunity as fans to marvel at the absurd talent in the NFL.