INDIANAPOLIS -- Readers of my 2022 NFL Scouting Combine recaps from Thursday, Friday and Saturday night might wonder why I didn't just pick the players with the fastest 40-yard dashes and farthest jumps as winners.
I didn't base my selection solely on those results because the combine is a football evaluation event, not the national decathlon team trials. Athleticism testing matters, but so do the movement skills and natural athleticism shown by top players on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf during position drills.
Test results can reflect a player's speed, agility, natural bend and flexibility, but seeing those attributes in a competitive football setting (even one without pads) can reveal a players' skills in ways that even three-cone drills and short shuttles do not.
This is especially true of defensive backs, who took the field Sunday afternoon to show off their pure speed and change-of-direction skills. The "winners" listed below exceeded expectations with their efforts while the "losers" couldn't take advantage of the opportunity to improve their draft stock.
This former Terrapin took advantage of his opportunity at the combine after declaring for the draft as an underclassman. His 4.34 40-yard time (1st among safeties), 37-inch vertical (4th) and 10-foot-10 broad jump (3rd) all belied his thick 6-foot-1, 212-pound frame. It was tough not to notice his combination of strength and agility throughout the on-field drills. Cross was fluid and fast in his pedal and transition in the "W" drill, and caught nearly everything. There's a tough competition brewing to be among the top four safeties in this year's draft, and Cross made a strong case he's deserving of that honor.
Every offensive coordinator in college football knew to stay away from Sauce. Now, NFL teams know he has the athleticism to add flavor to their defense. His 4.41 40-yard dash checked the long speed box. Gardner's hips and agility were just fine during drills, moving laterally and backpedaling with speed despite measuring over 6-foot-3 with an excellent 79 3/8-inch wingspan. Some teams may not like his lean 190-pound frame, but his length and competitive nature will likely entice someone to pick him early in the first round.
McCollum was one of my favorite non-FBS prospects heading into the 2021 season, and his combine performance cemented his status as a late-third or early-fourth round selection. He ran an outstanding 4.33 40 at 6-foot-2, 199 pounds and jumped 39.5 inches vertically. McCollum also displayed speed and agility on the field, flipping his hips adeptly for a corner his size. He missed a couple of catch opportunities but reeled in enough to show he can convert interceptions. McCollum was the only player from his combine group to run the short shuttle (3.94 seconds) and three-cone drill (6.48), and he excelled at both. Cornerback Cobie Durant from South Carolina State (4.38 40) and safety Markquese Bell from Florida A&M (4.41) were two other non-FBS defenders who also ran well and looked fluid in workouts.
Running a 4.38 40 at 196 pounds helped Taylor-Britt's cause to be selected among the top 100 picks in April. He had one of the best performances on the floor, as well, changing directions and catching everything in sight. Taylor-Britt transitioned forward from his backpedal more smoothly than I expected. I thought he might have to move to safety in the NFL, but Sunday's workout and his time at the Reese's Senior Bowl indicate he has the speed and hip fluidness to stay outside at the next level.
The 2021 Jim Thorpe Award winner (top collegiate defensive back) ran a 4.54 40-yard dash at 193 pounds, which is acceptable but looked pedestrian with so many of his fellow defensive backs running in the 4.3s and 4.4s. He adjusted well to the ball when it was thrown his way in drills, but the rest of his workout was ordinary. Bryant looked only adequate in terms of hip fluidity, backpedal speed and change of direction on "W" drills and when shifting from one hash to the other. I suspect he'll be a solid NFL player but his work in Indianapolis will not help him break into Day 2 of the draft.
Like Cross, Joseph is a safety competing for a spot in the top 100 picks. Cross took a step forward in that effort on Sunday, but the former Illinois safety did not join him. He showed some explosion with a 38 1/2-inch vertical jump but was average in his broad jump (10-foot-3) and chose not to run the 40-yard dash. Joseph did not look particularly quick or fluid in drills, which could lead teams to question his coverage ability at the next level.
UPDATE: NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday that Joseph didn't run the 40 at the combine because he tweaked his hamstring recently.
Waller weighed in at just 180 pounds, making him one of the lighter defensive backs in Indy, but he tied for the slowest 40 time in his combine group (4.68) and did not perform the broad or vertical jumps. Waller showed some quickness during drills, but a lack of hip fluidity was apparent as he tried to change directions. His ball skills were only average, as well. I think he could be a serviceable zone corner at the next level, but he didn't help himself with his performance on Sunday.