This is the first installment of a multi-part series previewing the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. The event will be broadcast over four days on the NFL Network, Thursday, March 3 through Sunday, March 6. Today, we’ll look at the wide receivers.
Lions’ pre-free agency needs
The team is in slightly better position this offseason compared to last. Detroit watched its top three options depart in free agency a year ago, and the short-term replacements who were signed flopped in spectacular fashion. Those failed additions were offset by Amon-Ra St. Brown, the fourth-round draft pick who set franchise rookie records for receptions and receiving yards. While quality depth remains a glaring issue, he at least gives the Lions something to build around.
Quintez Cephus also remains under contract. He was performing well before suffering a broken collarbone early in the season. Still, in an ideal setup, he’d be the fourth option on the depth chart. As for Detroit’s other bigger-framed target from a year ago, Josh Reynolds, he’s set to be a free agent, but it’s easy to see the two sides realizing they’re a good match and coming to terms on a new deal.
That still leaves room for another top-end addition and it’s a good year to be looking for one. There’s plenty of starting-caliber talent about to hit the open market, as well as a wave of high-level options in the draft.
Metrics to monitor
► 40-yard dash, vertical jump, 3-cone and 20-yard short shuttle
We can never dismiss the value of straight-line speed at the position, but the ability to quickly change direction, the root of gaining separation out of a route break, is arguably the more important metric for receivers. This year’s triple-crown winner, Cooper Kupp, showcased that with a substandard 4.62-second 40-yard dash, but outstanding times in the two ability drills.
As for the vertical jump, it’s pretty self-explanatory. The ability to go up and high point a football over a defender is a valuable trait, particularly for a prospect projected to line up outside.
► Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
A solid route runner who will regularly make the first man miss in the open field, Wilson amassed 70 catches for 1,058 yards as part of Ohio State’s loaded receiving corps. He didn’t face much press coverage in college, but his quick feet should help him overcome the physicality of NFL cornerbacks through his route releases. The question is whether Wilson will be able to stick outside or is a better fit as a full-time slot.
► Jameson Williams, Alabama
Buried on Ohio State’s depth chart, Williams moved to Alabama where he was able to feature the lethalness of his elite speed. He ended up with 1,572 receiving yards last season, averaging an impressive 19.9 yards per catch. A true deep threat, he can hurt you just as much after the catch on short throws. His time in Indianapolis will be focused on his medical evaluations after tearing his ACL in January.
► Treylon Burks, Arkansas
A fascinating combination of size and speed, the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder gained 1,216 yards from scrimmage last season, scoring 12 total touchdowns. Despite having the build of an outside receiver, most of his production came working out of the slot for the Razorbacks.
► Drake London, USC
There’s a good chance London doesn’t do much at the combine after breaking his ankle in October. That’s a shame, because it would benefit him to answer questions about his speed. He checks the rest of the boxes, particularly his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame. And there’s little denying the production. In the eight games before the injury, he racked up 88 catches, 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns for the Trojans.
► Chris Olave, Ohio State
Like his teammate Wilson, Olave is viewed as a polished route runner. Where the two are different is Olave is more of a downfield threat, averaging 15.4 yards per reception during his college career, while finding the end zone 35 times in 38 games.
Sleepers to watch
► Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama
A former two-sport athlete, Tolbert abandoned baseball to concentrate on football early in his college career. On the cusp on being drafted, it appears he made the right decision. The small-school standout possesses a good frame (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) and outstanding college production. As a senior, he caught 82 passes for 1,474 yards and eight touchdowns, bringing his three-year total to 22 scores.
► George Pickens, Georgia
We didn’t see a lot of Pickens the past two years due to tearing his ACL during the 2020 season. That might provide an opportunity for some team to get a bargain in the draft. As a freshman in 2019, he caught 49 passes for 727 yards and eight scores. The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder doesn’t need a lot of space to make a play, showing consistent ability to come down with the ball in contested situations.
► Christian Watson, North Dakota State
Watson stood out at the Senior Bowl, and not simply because he measured in at 6-foot-4, 211 pounds with massive 10-inch mitts. He’s coming off a season where he caught 43 passes for 801 yards and seven touchdowns. A big-play machine, he tallied 57 gains of 20 or more yards during his college career. He also handled kickoffs duties for the Bison, averaging 26.4 yards per return with two touchdowns.