The NFL Combine is back and all is right again with the late-winter football world.
The biggest desire for this year's gathering back at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis from March 1-7 is to see which invited college athletes will put up the biggest numbers, which won't, whose stock is rising and whose is trending downward.
A secondary attraction is to take a look back at a team's previous year's draft class and see how that group performed before they became pros.
The problem this year, however, is that last year's Combine was canceled due to COVID. The draft candidates remained scattered around the country, focusing their workout energies on their colleges' pro days.
While pro day numbers don't translate perfectly to combine heights, weights, times and distances, they're close enough that we can see connections that were being made by NFL teams for the 2021 draft two months later. For instance, the Jets' draft-class-to-be had speed to burn, which showed up during the season and hopefully will continue in the seasons to come.
Here are capsules on the Jets' 10-member class, with apples-to-oranges comparisons across positions and from different pro days, courtesy of such websites as nflcombineresults.com, pro-football-reference.com and NFL Draft Bible:
1A—QB Zach Wilson, BYU
1B—G Alijah Vera-Tucker, Southern Cal
Wilson wowed the reps from the 31 NFL teams in attendance at BYU's pro day (only Jacksonville didn't attend) with his passing drills. He measured in at 6-2⅛ and 214 pounds but didn't participate at the different individual stations due to a hamstring pull. His projected 40 time of 4.8 seconds isn't super swift but still provided him a number of opportunities during the Jets' season to run with the top rushing QBs in the NFL.
Jets GM Joe Douglas has praised Vera-Tucker for "his versatility, his toughness, his character, his leadership," most of those being hard-to-measure Intangibles. But at the USC pro day, AVT showed strength and speed. He was listed by some sources with 32 reps in the benchpress but the Orange County Register, via NFL Network, had Vera-Tucker at 36 reps. And that was tied for the third-most 225-pound reps among this year's class of big men.
The Speed Merchants
2—WR Elijah Moore, Mississippi
4—RB Michael Carter, North Carolina
5B—CB Michael Carter II, Duke
5C—DB Jason Pinnock, Pittsburgh
6B—CB Brandin Echols, Kentucky
Let the speed begin. Moore clocked a 4.35-second time in the 40-yard dash, third-fastest among wideouts and in the top 10 among all timed participants. Moore also showed off his quick twitch and change of direction with a 4.00 in the 20-yard shuttle, second-best among WRs, and a 6.67 in the three-cone, third-fastest among all timed candidates regardless of position.
The first MC hammer that the Jets dropped on day three was the Tar Heels running back. Carter's 4.54 time in the 40 wasn't exceptional but what did stand out, similar to Moore, his fellow rookie skill position star, were his 20 shuttle time of 3.98 seconds — one of the fastest by any timed player in the last five years — and his three-cone of 6.83, second among this year's RBs.
Most noteworthy about MC2's events was his 4.36-second 40 time, putting him, Moore and Echols among the top 10 fastest players, regardless of position, in the draft. Pinnock sped through the short shuttle with a 4.10-second time, tied for 13th-fastest among all positions. His 6.90 time in the three-cone was identical to Carter II and down the list at corner, as was his 4.49 40 time.
Echols wound up starting 14 Jets games at RCB, in part because of his athleticism that was on display at Kentucky's pro day. His 40 time, 4.34 by one source, 4.36 by another, put him among the top five fastest draft candidates regardless of position. Then there was his 42.5" vertical leap, also a top-five figure among all candidates and possibly the best VL by any Jets-draftee-to-be in the past 16 years of combines/pro days.
5A—LB Jamien Sherwood, Auburn
6A—LB Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State
Sherwood and Nasirildeen came into the draft listed as safeties because that's where they played in college. But Douglas, HC Robert Saleh and DC Jeff Ulbrich planned from the start to convert them to LB. The jury's still out on their transition since Sherwood spent more than half the season on IR and Nasirildeen didn't play many snaps on defense.
Sherwood (6-1¾, 216) was in the linebackers' top 10 with a 36.0" vertical and a 10-3 broad jump. He and Nasirildeen checked in with middle-of-the-backer-pack times in the three-cone and short shuttle. Nasirildeen measured 6-3 1/4 and 215 pounds. His FSU pro day was underwhelming because he was gutting out his workout with a hamstring injury that kept him from participating in the 40 and broad jump. Hamsah's best numbers back then: 6-3¼, 215 pounds, and an 81⅞" wingspan.
Big Rig with Zip
6C—DL Jonathan Marshall, Arkansas
Marshall's most impressive event was the bench, during which he hoisted the 225 barbell 36 times. That equaled Vera-Tucker's reps and was tied for third-most among all of last year's lifters. The 310-pound Marshall's most deceptive measurement was in the 40, where he was timed at 4.88 seconds. That was high middle of the pack among last year's timed defensive linemen. But for the 73 top candidates on both sides of the ball that weighed in at 300-plus pounds and ran the 40, Marshall's 4.88 was second-fastest. Thus his selection was also in keeping with the Jets' quest for absolute and relative speed.