Stampede Blue has had boots on the ground this week at the NFL Combine. Chris Blystone has been able to sit in on player, coach, and general manager interviews. I was able to join a group of journalists to sit in on last night’s quarterback and wide receiver throwing drills. Chris shared his observations from the interviews for this group earlier this week and here are my observations from watching their players live.
Henry Ruggs III
There was little doubt watching Ruggs III run the 40-yard dash that he had blazing speed. What surprised the group is that the hand times were so consistently lower than the official times. On his best run, which was officially 4.27 seconds, the journalists sitting together independently recorded 4.15, 4.15 and 4.17.
If Ruggs chooses to run again before the NFL Draft, it wouldn’t shock me at all to see him post a lower time by hand than he did in Indianapolis.
Unfortunately, Ruggs chose to sit out most of the throwing and receiving drills. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he needs to put himself under that scrutiny to be a high or mid-first round pick but seeing him catch balls from the quarterback prospects would have been interesting to watch.
Cee Dee Lamb
While Lamb’s 40-yard dash number wasn’t breathtaking relative to many of his competitors, everything else about Lamb was. No receiver in the drills looked more comfortable, natural, and fluid in and out of his routes and catching the ball with his hands.
Perhaps his most impressive drill, in the gauntlet receivers run down the 30-yard line and catch income passes thrown by quarterbacks separated by about 10 yards. Each quarterback is staggered so the receiver has to catch, release, and turn to catch and start the process over again.
In both of his runs through the gauntlet, Lamb cleanly caught the passes his way and ran quickly through the drill. Likely faster than anyone else by a noticeable margin. What made him even faster is that he never swayed at all from the 30-yard line. He literally ran a rope, never broke his stride, and cleanly pivoted on his hips to catch every ball.
A lot of guys run fast in shorts. Lamb shows the kind of balance and natural abilities as a play maker that will separate him from the pack when the lights come on.
In a very loaded wide receiver class, particularly in the early rounds, James Proche stood out in a group that included Jerry Jeudy, Cee Dee Lamb, Denzel Mims, Jalen Reagor and Henry Ruggs III. Outside of Lamb, he had the most consistent performance of the wide receivers in drills.
There may be questions about his speed, given that he did not record a 40 time on Thursday night but a smaller school kid out of SMU should get some attention in the middle rounds and could be a sneaky good pick.
Love had top billing among the throwing group in the evening. He was even more intriguing for the Indianapolis media contingent watching him go through drills given the rumors surrounding Chris Ballard’s interest in him over the last two years. The most impressive part of his performance is that he was clearly the player with the best NFL arm and threw the prettiest deep ball.
His challenges weren’t particularly surprising given his college history and what was asked of him. Placing Jordan Love on a spot and asking him to throw short-timing routes will likely not yield impressive results. He will need to work on being able to throw a complete route tree to have a successful career in the NFL and it is for this reason above all else that he is likely a redshirt prospect if drafted.
That said, Love’s value is not in his ability to sit back in the pocket and throw passes. His greatest value is his ability to make plays while moving to his left or right. None of the drills gave him the opportunity to flex those muscles. That is certainly not doing him any favors.
Love is an intriguing prospects who has the looks of a player who could be really good with the right coaching and in the right system. He also is a player who could never put it together on short routes or get comfortable playing more in the pocket. In that case, he’ll likely not have a long-term starting career.
Perhaps the most consistent quarterback in drills Thursday night was Jake Luton. He looked the most comfortable throwing a full route tree. He had the arm and touch to make life easy for receivers on go-routes and put enough zip on the ball and had enough accuracy to allow the receivers to showcase their abilities on the timing routes.
I had honestly never heard his name before Thursday but after what I saw, I’ll be paying more attention.